Archive for December 2017

Year End Review

December 31, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 31, 2017

                                      

Two years ago today I retired…kinda’…from being the pastor of a church. I used that day at the end of 2015 to finish packing up my office, moving the 2,000 books to the confiscated fourth bedroom of our home which had been repurposed to be my home study. I remember piling the books in there making it resemble a book-burning pile…minus the burning.

Now, two years later, many of those books have been handed off to a couple of guys who are in ministry- Bill Hale, just beginning his first pastorate in Kelso, Washington and Rich Blanchette, Air Force Chaplain at the base in Los Angeles. My study has become more organized…sorta’!

Two years into retirement makes certain things fade into the background and other things become more dominant. That is, I now get to make choices on what I invest my time in and what I could care less about. It’s a pastor’s reward for surviving all those church council meetings and church members who were bitter about life and thought you were the cause of it!

Today also happens to be the end of another calendar year. It is that traditional time of reviewing and resolving. I look behind me and see the swerves of the past year’s journey and look to chart the new course ahead.

Today is a time to evaluate what worked and what needs to be cast off, what should be continued and what needs to be put out of its misery.

Here’s my short list:

NO MORE!

Playing early morning basketball at the Y

Basketball Officiating

Serving on committees

Subbing for Kindergarten PE class

Subscribing to Sports Illustrated

Eating green chili

Reading instruction manuals!

Reading Amish fiction (OK! I never actually started!)

Watching CNN or Fox News

KEEP ON KEEPING ON!

Writing this blog

Wrestling with the grandkids

Continue writing the “Fleming” book series

Substitute teach, especially 7th graders

Coaching basketball

Eating blueberries

Getting together with old friends because I want to

Working out at Villa Sports

Preaching to the saints at Simla First Baptist

Increase my laughter

Figure out what brings me joy

Listen to the whisper of the Lord in the midst of the noise of the world!

Read, and try to read without falling asleep!

Go on vacation with my wife!

Go on vacation with the whole family!

That’s about it! Two years into retirement I’m getting a firmer grasp on what needs to stay and what needs to go. In essence, I believe it’s getting more grounded in what God would have me do and be. And that’s a good thing!

Self-Centered Generosity

December 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             December 30, 2017

                                     

The year 2018 will be a telling experience that will show just how generous middle-class Americans are. New tax laws will reduce the benefits “kinda”… for many of moderate-income to give to charitable organizations.

One of the changes in the new tax laws includes a doubling of the standard deduction. That means an individual filer can deduct $12,000 and a married couple $24,000 without itemizing their deductions. Estimates are that less than 10% of taxpayers will continue to itemize their deductions. Thus, the incentive to give to charity will go to how genuine a person’s generosity really is!

Except for this year! Charitable organizations are seeing an increase in giving as the year ends for givers to take advantage of itemizing deductions. In other words, some people are being charitable in 2017 who will think twice about giving next year. It smacks of self-centered generosity. “What do I get out of this?”

To be honest, churches have been scrambling for years to make ends meet. In 2016 the typical church attender gave about 2.5% of their income to their church. During the Great Depression of 1929 the percentage was estimated at 3.3%! Generosity has not exactly run roughshod through the pews as things are. Now most ministries are expecting a decrease in giving to budgets that are already looking pretty threadbare!

So 2018 will be a year of indicators! Are Americans, especially followers of Jesus, generous or only generous when it helps their tax burden?

It’s not like there won’t be people in need next year. In Colorado Springs there are not enough available beds to take care of the growing homeless situation. The various shelters are looking for options to increase capacity, but more capacity requires more money to fund the ministries to the poor…and where will these funds come from?

The optimistic faith-based view of the coming situation is that the nation will see the heart of Jesus in the incredible outpouring of financial support from his followers; that Christians will take seriously Jesus’ directive to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. That’s a view that could indicate a spiritual renewal in our midst!

The pessimistic view is that the tax law changes will show just how greedy and self-centered we really are!

Speaking Hope In the Christmas Shadow

December 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               December 26, 2017

                                  

Yesterday our three grandkids ran around our house like sugar-hyped squirrels, excited about the wrapped presents that they would soon tear into. It was a great day of brisket chili, chilled shrimp, homemade Chex mix, and pie. The bounty of food items on the kitchen island was simply dressing for the family time, laughter, and the playing out of various family traditions.

Yesterday was a feast in the midst of a time when Carol and I have encountered several families in the midst of emotional famine. This Advent Season seems to have been more about speaking hope to various folks in the shadow of Christmas.

On Friday I had attended the funeral of Ray Lutz, a fifty year football and basketball official who was one of my officiating mentors. At 77 he had passed away suddenly. Funerals close to Christmas have a sadness to them regardless of how old the departed is.

On Saturday the wife of my friend, Mark Miller, went into the hospital…and is still there…with some serious health complications. Crystal, the mother of four, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day laying in a hospital bed, a time that had always been spent gathered around the family Christmas tree and dinner table. There is something deeply discouraging for a mom having to be monitored by ward nurses on Christmas Day instead of being the monitor of the family festivities at home.

And then on Sunday afternoon Carol and I went across the street to our neighbor’s house to express our condolences. Their eighteen year old grandson, a young man I had watched grow up, played basketball in our driveway with, and had coached in middle school football, was murdered a few weeks ago. We hadn’t heard about it until a former neighbor told us. We sat and talked to the grieving grandparents whose hearts were broken. To go through Christmas with the absence of one of the young ones is a journey walked with heavy emotional boots. We could not understand the depth of their grief, but we could sit at their kitchen table and listen to their hearts.

And finally to talk to my dad later on that same day and offer him encouragement. Just a few days released from his latest hospital stay, he has slowed down a good bit and now has to make choices about what he has the energy to do and not to do. Each day he is a gift to us, but each day is also a struggle  for him layered with uncertainty. I’m so thankful for my sister who watches over him since I live four states away.

Ray Lutz’s funeral was a community sharing of hope. The hundreds of folks to attended brought hope and encouragement to the family. The laughter caused by the staring of stories was like a soothing ointment to the wounds of loss.

With Mark and Crystal Miller I was simply a presence that symbolized hope in the midst of confused despair. With our neighbors Carol and I assured them of our prayers and support. It was an assurance to them that we will walk alongside them as they take each day ahead.

With my dad I simply spoke hope to him about his grandkids and great grandkids. That things are good with them. It provided some laughter in his soul as he pondered the stories of their lives.

Christmas sometimes is all glitter and lights; and sometimes it’s simply a word of hope that we suddenly realize is the greatest gift we could ever give!

The Inclusiveness of Christmas

December 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             December 24, 2017

                             

Our nation has always had a battle over who belongs and who doesn’t, whether it be in certain areas, positions, occupations, or institutions. It goes back to even before the patriots of the 1770’s.

American history is dotted with issues over who could own land and who couldn’t? Who was allowed to vote and who wasn’t (which in many cases was also tied to who owned land and who didn’t)? Immigrants who came into the country in those days, and even for the rest of our existence, were pushed into certain locations. In the late 1800’s Chinese immigrants were viewed with suspicion and often mistreated.

In the early 1800’s many Protestant families in our country didn’t celebrate Christmas because it was seen as being too Catholic! Talk about religiously biased!

When I was growing up the phrase “they live on the other side of the tracks” was an indication of division based mostly on race, as well as economic class.

In recent times the debate about who belongs and who doesn’t has taken different shapes, and the battles have been fought in various venues. Agreement rarely raises her beautiful face. Instead the ugliness of humanity- our amazing ability to mistreat one another- often emerges.

A wedding cake battle in Colorado brings the issue of accepting everyone into the arena to go up against a couple who have deep religious beliefs about same-sex marriage. It has been a case where neither side has yielded.

In another area of life illegal immigrants are being sent home. Higher walls are seen as being part of the answer. Churches have offered sanctuary to those who could be deported. It’s a battle over what is legal versus what is humane? 9-11 will always make Americans suspicious of those who are noticeably different than white middle-class citizens…although Timothy McVeigh was about as white as you could get, and he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Here’s a hard statement that Christians who are also  Americans have a difficult time hearing: Our Christian faith is not always in line with our American pride and ways. That is never more apparent than at Christmas time when we talk about the birth scene of Jesus. His very pregnant mother and his father couldn’t find any space in the inn so they were pushed out into a stable. The birth was witnessed by livestock. Shepherds may have arrived a bit later, and wisemen from the East came sometime later on, perhaps even months.

The idea of our savior not having a place where infants usually were born is an indication that the gospel is not just for the normal folk, those who are accepted and valued. Shepherds were not to be seen or heard. They were expected to just stay out there and take care of the sheep, and yet Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd.

Christmas reminds us that God welcomes everyone, and that his people are to be welcoming. We may not agree with everyone, their life choices, lifestyles, and opinions, but we are to be purveyors of grace and peace.

Each of us comes into a different arena from time to time where the battle between being a devoted follower of Christ wrestles with our passion for our nation. Those two often become entangled and difficult to discern which is which. What is Christian is often also American, but sometimes that “arm” that we thought belonged to Christ was instead the arm of patriotism that got mistaken for belonging to Jesus.

And the thing is, it’s always been that way in our nation!

Thinking The Best, Seeing The Worst

December 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 21, 2017

                     

The world is populated with pessimists and optimists, Norman Vincent Peale disciples and Doomsday prophets. I tend towards the optimistic side of the spectrum. When I hear that someone might have committed a misdeed I respond with an optimism towards innocence.

When watching a basketball game, now as a former basketball referee, and a suspicious whistle is blown I respond to the disbelief of those around me with a belief that the one who whistled had a view of the play that no one else had. Sometimes my optimism crosses over into absurdity!

Yesterday the wife of a friend of mine had surgery that was complicated. In fact, the surgeons believe they will need to operate again after she heals up some. My positiveness, and my belief in a God who heals, carries an assuredness that the situation will work out in good ways, that there will be a positive, awe-inspiring conclusion.

Of course, I’m an optimist!

The reaction scale is balanced with pessimists to keep things from resembling Pleasantville.

My initial reaction on the recent sexual revelations of a number of celebrities and elected officials was to not believe. After all, Matt Lauer spent time as a news reporter and anchor at WOWK-TV in Huntington, West Virginia. That was one of the channels I watched while I was growing up in Ironton, Ohio across the river and in the shadow of Huntington. No one who worked at WOWK could have done anything wrong, could they?

I also held out hope for the existence of Santa Claus until I was a teenager. It was a depressing day when I found out he wasn’t coming!

And I tend to believe that all door-to-door vacuum cleaner salespeople have my best interests in mind!

The world needs both optimists and pessimists. Pessimists have a way of irritating me, but I realize that my cheery outlook on life probably makes a few pessimists grind their teeth.

As a long-time pastor my faith congregations went through times of optimistic faith and pessimistic re-evaluating. Each fall as the church council prepared the budget for the coming year one viewpoint or the other would tip the scale. Some years there was a confidence that the year ahead would be blessed and a time of growth…and the financial vision was approached with that in mind. Other years the “downside of lifers” carried more weight and we planned a trimmed down budget.

Notice the terms! Financial vision and budget. They are monikers for the two different perspectives.

It seems 2017 has tilted to be a year of increasing pessimism. It filters through our newspapers each day. It rises to the surface in our conversations. I can even see it emerging in my driving attitude. I’m now prone to verbally insult the guy in the BMW that just cut in front of me. In fact, I’ve developed a pessimistic attitude about BMW’s all around.

Life has hit this optimist hard this year. Things I never thought people could possibly do have been done. The evil side of saints has shown its ugly presence.

I have a fear that I’m crossing over to the dark side of pessimism! God help me!

Eric the Christ Child

December 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 19, 2017

                                    

(This is based on a true story that occurred on Sunday, December 17, 2017)

Three year old Eric arrived at the Methodist Church excited about his role in the Children’s Christmas Play as the baby Jesus. Even though he was a bit old to play the newborn babe he was the youngest available to fill the position. His mom was as excited as he was. She had her son scrubbed and spotless. A clean child seemed to be a prerequisite for Eric to act like Jesus.

They entered the sanctuary where there was already buzz and laughter. Two young girls in glimmering white dresses pranced around the front of the sanctuary. They were playing the role of angels to the disbelief of their brother.  Another girl who was about five was a third angel but she didn’t have a white dress. Instead she wore a red one. The devil, however, she wasn’t! It was a wardrobe decision based on financial resources, not theological assumptions.

Two handfuls of adults were scattered around the small sanctuary waiting with expectation. If the children’s program ran long the pastor had already forewarned them that she might not give the sermon for the morning.

They were hoping for slow-speaking children!

The pastor would need to exit following the service and drive the twenty miles or so to the other congregation she served. Worship in the Methodist Church was on a time limit!

The children were assembling themselves…three angels, two shepherds, and Jesus. Eric started heading up the center aisle, but Mrs. Book, the director, stopped him halfway to the altar. He was still wearing his red Santa hat. Red Santa hats were not a part of Jesus’ wardrobe. She eased it off the young boy’s head and handed it back to his mom. Eric’s long flowing hair was now fully visible.

The angels let him get settled in the chancel area in front of the communion table. There were probably a lot of theological ramifications to the going-ons but no one wanted to stop and have a discussion. Any veteran of children’s programs at Christmas time knows that pure theology is secondary in importance to cuteness and costume design.

The angels wrapped a white blanket around a sitting Jesus. Eric was ready to be the messiah!

The play started. The angels, standing on the left side of the platform, started talking to the shepherds, who were standing on the right side of the platform. Jesus was visible between them, taking in the dialogue. A few lines into the conversation he spread his arms to his sides and took on a messiah-like look. Since he had no dialogue lines to say it was his contribution to the action. After all, the angels were talking about him. He couldn’t just sit there and look uninvolved.

The play ended. It went long enough and the pastor couldn’t preach. The message had already been heard anyway!

And the messiah came dancing back down the aisle to where his mom was keeping his Santa hat safe!

Playing Through The Wrong Keys To Find A Note Of Harmony

December 18, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 December 18, 2017

                  

Yesterday I drove out to the hamlet of Simla, Colorado for the children’s Christmas program at the Methodist Church, followed by speaking at First Baptist of Simla. I had been invited to attend the children’s program and told the invitee that I would try to make it. It was delightful as only a small town small church can be.

For the offertory two young girls, both around ten years of age, played a piano duet. Both were dressed in beautiful shiny attire, beaming with excitement and a bit of nervousness. They positioned the sheet music in front of them and then carefully took their seats on the bench. They each took a calming breath, placed their fingers on the keys, and one of the girls whispered “One, two, three, play.”

The first notes were uncertain and wavering. Five notes in to the song they glanced quickly at one another, offering mutual encouragement for the adventure.

And then there were the uneven notes, one earlier and one later in its sound…another wrong note beginning to be played but as quickly as it started the playing finger slipping to the right note next to it. The small congregation of twenty of so “hoped” them on, longing for the next played sounds to be the right notes.  It was two girls risking failure but hoping for discovery.

And then in the midst of the effort and searches suddenly a few notes of perfect harmony sounded! One of the girls looked at the other with an expression of surprised delight, as if she was saying “Did we just do that?”

A few moments later they synchronized the playing of their last keys and breathed a sigh of relief. The gathered faithful clapped in appreciation of the experience. Even though their offering of talents was a bit short of perfect it was sweet music to the souls of the saints. The young ladies looked out at the church and displayed smiles of satisfaction and finished business.

It reminded me of the church, sometimes struggling to find the harmony as the struggles of ministry surface. Wrong decisions made with the right intentions, right choices made with the wrong intentions…like two young girls seeking to work together to play beautiful music and often missing the notes.

And then, all of a sudden, moments of harmony surface in a ministry that is mostly uncoordinated. The moments bring smiles to the faces of the weary, peace to the spirit of the Body. Just when it seemed that a bond with Christ would never be discovered again it suddenly appeared.

Ministry is more often like a pair of ten year olds playing a piano duet than the rhythm  of a symphony. If it was always such sweet music it may not be appreciated nearly as much. Paul made note of it when he wrote in Romans 12 these words: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those to mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with those of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:15-16)

There was no conceit sitting on the piano bench yesterday, just two young girls freed by the church to risk imperfect talents in the ministering to the saints. It was my closest connection with the Holy the whole day!