Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

The Christmas Sunday Quandary

December 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 10, 2016

                              

It seems to be a topic of leadership team conversations at a number of churches across the country. What happens if Christmas Day lands on a Sunday? Does a church still have its Sunday morning worship service…or not?

In a 2005 survey about ten percent of churches said they would not have worship on Christmas Day. My guess is that you could probably triple that percent for 2016. Most of those who are having services readily admit that attenders will have more pew room to spread out in, as numbers will be substantially down. Many churches who are having services are scaling down for it… shortening the time frame, eliminating children’s groups and/or childcare, minimizing the number of people responsible for various elements of the service.

Almost every church that is more liturgical in style is continuing as usual. The make-up of most of the churches that are not meeting on Christmas Day are composed of congregations comprised with a high number of young adults; or churches that would be characterized as non-denominational evangelical.

In an increasing number of congregations the heavy emphasis on Christmas Eve services is the main reason for not meeting on Christmas Day. Mega-churches close to where we live are having five services during that day, with the first one beginning at 11 A.M and the last one at 7 P.M. It’s a marathon event for the church staff, thus no services on Sunday.

On Sunday many of their attenders will frequent a different establishment. Starbucks! It’s open on Christmas Day! Or they will be in front of the TV watching NFL games. They’re still playing!

Such a worship quandary doesn’t appear on the church council very often. The last time it happened was 2011. The next time after this year will be 2022, and then 2033! Besides the heavy Christmas Eve emphasis the main reason for canceling Sunday services is the word “family.” Family seems to trump Jesus! I’m not saying “humbug” to an emphasis on family, but it seems almost like going to the hospital before the birth of a new baby, waiting with expectancy, and then leaving before the new arrival comes! After all, Christmas Day is in celebration of Jesus’ coming; Christmas Eve is about Mary going into labor.

Perhaps Christmas Day worship should be an even higher priority this year as we go through a time of national disunity, and a time when peace seems to be fleeting. The birth of Jesus is the trumpeting of new hope, and God’s saving grace.

This will be my first Christmas as a retired pastor, a has-been! The first time in the past 38 Christmas Eves when I have not been involved in a Christmas Eve Candlelight service, and the first time I will be given the choice of being of the congregation as opposed to leading the congregation. I can sleep in on Christmas morning…or until my bladder wakes up! I can sit by the fireplace and drink egg nog and wait for the grandkids to come over. I can turn the TV on and watch a worship service that is well produced…or I can show up with some of the saints and sing of new life, new hope, and “God is with us!”

Worship Visitor

December 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 5, 2016

                                         

Deacon John raised his voice. “Lord, we know you love us, and now we ask that you would guide us in these coming days. Lord, if it be your will, please give us a sign of encouragement! We’re few in number, but massive in hope. We praise you and thank you! In Jesus name! Amen!”

The scattered few echoed his closing word as they sat back down in the pews ready to hear the Word of God for that day. Friendship Bible Church had existed on the street corner in the small rural village for close to a hundred and fifty years, but it had been dying a slow death for the last fifty. The town had decreased, as had the church’s effective ministry in the community. Young people had been raised in the church, grown up, gone off the college or to serve in the military, and never returned.

But there was hope in the midst of the gathered twenty!

The guest speaker introduced herself. She had served as a medical missionary at a hospital in India, and was back in the area for a few months telling her stories of mission work.

“There was a little boy who arrived at the hospital one afternoon…alone…bloodied…and frightened. My nurses asked him questions trying to find out his name, where he had come from, and what had happened to him? All he would tell them was that his name was Bontha and that he had been beaten by someone. He was bleeding profusely from a deep cut on his arm. We suspected that the “someone” was related to him and he did not want to say who it was. We treated him, stitched up the cut, cleaned him up, prayed with him, and asked him how we could contact his family. He kept telling us no, he did not want his family to know. One of the nurses left him for a few moments to go get him something to eat. When she came back he was gone. We searched and searched but could not find him, and Bontha never came back.”

“Years later I was doing my rounds through the pediatric ward one afternoon and a young man came up to me. He said, “Dr. Jan!” I looked at him, not recognizing who he was. “My name is Bontha!” Suddenly I could see the little boy appearing through the young man’s face. He showed me his arm. “You stitched up my arm when I came here bleeding.”

“My Lord! Bontha, I will always remember that day.” The questions started flowing out of me. “How are you? What happened to you that day? Where did you go? What are you doing now?”

He smiled at me and said that when he left the hospital he did not know what to do and where to go. His father had been in a drunken rage and had beaten him fiercely. When his father stumbled for a moment he escaped from the house and ran away, but as he was jumping over a fence he caught his arm on a piece of metal sticking out of the top of it and tore the skin open. He knew that our hospital was close and people had talked about “the Jesus Doctor” who worked there, so he ran as quick as he could, blood flowing from his body, and made it to the hospital. When he left our hospital he knew of a little church a couple miles away where a man named Pastor John was, and so he went there and told him what had happened. Pastor John went to Botha’s home and confronted Bontha’s father, brought him to a point of complete remorse and repentance, and told him that despite the abuse he had inflicted on his son that God  still loved him. Pastor John took Bontha in for the next month until he believed Botha’s father was ready to have him back. In that time he shared the story of the gospel with both Bontha and his father, and how the son of God was beaten even though he had done no wrong. Both father and son accepted Jesus.”

There were “Amens” wrong most of the people. They were caught up in the story.

“But the story doesn’t end there,” continued Doctor Jan. “For you see when Bontha reappeared that day he told me he was a student in medical school. He was in training to become a doctor. He told me that his experience that dark day when he was so young left a lasting impression upon him. Every time he looked at his arm and saw the scar from that day he remembered the loving care of my nurses and my words of concern for him. It changed his life, and Pastor John, the pastor of a church about the size of this one, took him in and told him of the love of God.”

“I wept as I heard his words! It was a story of misery turned to hope, a life rescued from abuse and changed to promise. Just a couple of years ago Dr. Bontha joined my staff at the hospital. He is now the primary doctor in the pediatric ward. When the Lord tells me that my work is done there he will take my place as the head of staff.”

“And it all began when a frightened little boy showed up one afternoon.” The missionary lady looked around the sanctuary. She saw tears running down the cheeks of some of the saints. There were moments of awed silence. “You never know what is going to happen when you ask the Lord to use you.”

The worship service closed with a time of heartfelt prayer of several people. They sang the hymn “I Love To Tell The Story” with loud committed voices in praise of their calling. Deacon John gave the closing prayer and people began conversing.

And then the front wooden door of the sanctuary creaked as it opened and a young boy that no one recognized wearing tattered clothing came through the door. It was at that moment that everyone knew that God had answered Deacon John’s prayer for a sign!

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!

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.

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!

Slow to Listen…Really Slow!

November 9, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 November 9, 2016

                                    

Frank Luntz is a CBS new correspondent who has covered elections and done group interviews for two and a half decades. Last Sunday night 60 Minutes aired parts of an interview that he had with a mixed group of voters. Luntz left that interview a bit downcast because of the outrage of the group that communicated several things.

One of those key learnings he pointed to was that people don’t listen. That might sound simple and uncomplicated, and yet there’s a lot more behind it. He made the point that he lost control of the group five minutes in. People wanted to talk, but people didn’t want to listen. The presidential election simply mirrors that fact in our nation. People are slow to listen…really, really slow!

Another way of stating it is “I’m going to say something and you’re going to listen, but you, on the other hand, have nothing of value that I will listen to.

Luntz made this revealing statement: “People listen to anything that affirms themselves instead of informing themselves.” We’ve taken the Book of James statement to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19) and reversed it. Now we are deafly slow to listen, NASCAR quick to speak, and unstably quick to become angry!

Social media has unknowingly encouraged this. Someone can spout off venom and not hang around to hear the reactions. It is easy and, in some ways, relationally shallow to speak on Facebook, and exit out before hearing the thoughts of others.

This slowness in listening runs through a variety of systems in our world. Parents don’t want to hear the concerns of their child’s teachers concerning his behavior. Students don’t want to listen to their teachers, who they have often written off as irrelevant. And sometimes teachers don’t want to listen to students who disagree with an idea or are slow in understanding what is being taught.

In the youth sports world there is a decreasing number of officials. One main reason is the verbal abuse that is heaped upon them by parents, coaches, and players. And think about it! A sports official is simply someone who is making judgment calls…rulings…on situations that occur in the midst of a game. A number of officials have been physically attacked in the midst of athletic contests in recent years.

We don’t want to listen to anything that we have decided we disagree with! We have become very skilled in not listening!

Yesterday my 8th Grade boy’s basketball team got waxed. We went into the game 4-0 and left 4-1. But, and here’s what I told them after the game, hopefully we learned from the experience. We didn’t leave the game talking about how bad the officiating was or what poor sports the other team’s players were. On the contrary, the game was well officiated and the players on the other team acted just as well as my players did. We just got beat…and we listened with our minds to what was being taught to us.

In the coming days may each of us strive to be quick to listen and a lot slower in speaking. We need that. Our country needs that. I’m hoping that when Frank Luntz does another group interview before the 2020 election he will be able to hear what is being said, not just a room full of disgruntled folk who have a lot to say and nothing to hear!

If you want to respond…I promise I’ll listen!