Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Carrying The Weight of the World

August 20, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 20, 2016

                                  

There was a situation recently that took a bad turn for a friend of mine. Even though he was not responsible for the outcome his immediate reaction was to take the blame and question his value as a person. Even though the root of the problem was planted in the bad decisions and words of others he still felt guilty.

I felt bad for him. The next time I see him I’ll make it a point to tell him what an incredible person he is. Perhaps if I, and others, tell him that enough times the scales that seem to tip so easily to the side that gets “down on himself” will be balanced. The thing is…this person is a caring, compassionate individual who will do anything to help someone else.

I have had long stretches in my life where I tried to carry the weight of the world. If there was a conflict in the church I pastored there were many times that I assumed the responsibility or, bore the guilt even though I was not the culprit or instigator. Mind you, sometimes I was the culprit, but my ability to differentiate between being the cause and not being the cause was limited.

It is difficult for many of us to not bear the blame. We often throw around that saying that we live in a wounded world, but what we detour around is the fact that each one of us is wounded. One of the side effects of being wounded is to carry the blame. Another of the side effects surfaces in some wounded folk who willingly make someone else the source of the problem. Not assuming any responsibility is the scar of their woundedness.

Guilt-carriers and guilt-givers…we’re all cut from the same mold.

One of the things I love about writing is that I can think through a snappy response that will put the attacking person in their place. If only real life was like that! But it isn’t! Too often the verbal accusations are thrown in my direction and I catch it like a sure-handed tight end, but then fall to my knees in misery and self-flagellation of my spirit.

I’ve preached numerous sermons and talked to even more people about the fact that Jesus took our sins upon himself when he went to the cross. I’ve recited those words from Isaiah 53:5-6 countless times:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions,

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

    and by his wounds we are healed. 

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

    each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all.

But sometimes even the messenger surrenders to the voices and retreats back into that place of doubt, and picks up the weight of the world once again. It is part of who we were, and it is part of the lie that we keep believing over and over again.

We treat the redemption of Jesus like a home mortgage; one that won’t get paid off for thirty years or more…so we keep thinking we have to make the monthly payments.

One of the most powerful scenes I’ve experienced in any movie came in the film entitled The Mission. Robert DeNiro was cast as one of the main characters, a man who bore the guilt of killing his brother in a dispute. A Catholic priest who has set up a mission to one of the primitive tribes in one of the mountain areas of South America has him join him at the mission. To get there they must climb up part of the mountain beside a waterfall. DeNiro has a net tied to him that is carrying the weight of various possessions in it. He won’t let anyone else help him. He must carry the weight. The scene is painful to watch as he slowly climbs the mountain. There are more elements to the story that I won’t go into, but at the top of the mountain one of the men of the tribe takes a knife and cuts the rope away from DeNiro and tosses it over the side of the waterfall. The implications are clear. The weight-carrier has been freed. It’s the beginning of healing for a tormented soul.

I think of that scene often as I’m about to bend over and pick up the weight of a situation. When someone throws the blame in my direction I’m getting somewhat better in remembering that I’m not the sure-handed football tight end but rather one position over, offensive tackle- an ineligible receiver! I don’t need to catch everything that is thrown in my direction!

The Two Davis’s

August 12, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 12, 2016

                                      

I made two visits this week. Both of them were to men whose last name is Davis. One of them celebrated his 41st birthday on Wednesday. The other is 95! Neither of them has a lick of hair on top of their head- one because his dad paved the way for that hairstyle, which has been followed by all three sons, and the other because…he’s 95, and the top of his head looks like a telescope view of the moon’s surface!

One of the Davis’s is the Sultan of Sarcasm, the other is content to get settled in to telling the listener a story.

The younger Davis has taught middle school social studies for fifteen years…perhaps being the reason why sarcasm rises to the surface for him so often. The older Davis was a postman, familiar with the lives of those that he delivered important letters from loved ones to.

I was the pastor to both of them and their families. Since I retired from being a pastor a few months ago now I am a friend to both of them.

I refer to the older Davis as my “Colorado Dad.” He possesses many of the same great qualities as my father has. The younger Davis could be my son, but I prefer to see him as one of  my peers. We have shared many a lunch together in his school classroom, talking about this and that.

Both of them are dear to my heart.

Both of them have cancer.

The older Davis is in his final days. I sat by his bed yesterday, probably for the last time. He drifted in and out of sleep. I held his hand, he told me how much he loved me. My heart ached to see his frail figure. The two of us had golfed together a number of times over the years. I would drive long and to the right, and he would drive short but right down the middle of the fairway. He would be putting it in for a bogie, and I’d hope for a bogie putt. At the end of our nine holes he would be about a 46 and I would be a 48. BUT he was 90 and I was 57! We enjoyed each other’s company so much. Every time he greeted me we would embrace and he would whisper to me “Love ya!”

About five years ago I officiated the funeral service of his only son, who had died in a motorcycle accident. I grieved with my Colorado dad as the sorrow overwhelmed him. A parent should never have to bury one of their children. It was a confusing time for him, and I mostly listened to his questions about why things happen. It was also at that time that he started asking me more questions about heaven, what it would be like and whether he would be reunited with his son there?

I held his hand for one last prayer by his bedside, and then he dropped into a medicated slumber again.

The younger Davis was discovered to have a tumor in his brain six years ago. He had just done a state high school championship game in basketball and a month later had a seizure. When a second seizure happened shortly after that he was checked out at the hospital. The test revealed the tumor. Three months later surgery was performed to get as much of it as possible. Ninety-five percent was removed and the follow-up treatments took care of the rest.

But cancer is like the neighbor’s dog who keeps coming into your yard and pooping. You clean up one mess and the lawn looks pristine again for a while, and then you look out the window to see the canine leaving his mark again. Cancer is kind of like that. It is a time in a person’s life that is filled with crap! The crap of dealing with insurance companies…the crap of scheduling appointments…and the crap of never-ending anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

My friend’s cancer came back. We continue to pray for healing, but hope too often is getting shoved into the back seat. On Wednesday his family had a birthday celebration for him at the rehabilitation facility he is a patient at. Hopefully he will be able to return home next week with some skills that will enable him to better function in his home. The future is uncertain, and he knows it.

My visits with him are often punctuated with quiet moments as each of us deals with where we are in the journey. I brought him a totally inappropriate birthday card that I knew would bring a deep chuckle to him. One of the comforts of our friendship is that we can be a little off-color with one another and not be embarrassed. In fact, we expect a little political incorrectness in our conversations.

Our journey has gone into the deep valleys of new tumor growth, but also ascended some high mountains of clear MRI results.

Bottom line! I have been extremely blessed to be a part of the journeys of the two Davis’s! The depth of a friendship is discovered by the bruisings of life.

Giving Choices

August 8, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               August 8, 2016

                                        

For years, and years, and years I would write a personal check each Sunday morning, put it in an offering envelope, and place it in the offering plate at church as it passed me by. I believed then, and I still do, that the pastor of a church should model giving.

And then I retired at the end of December!

Now what?

Carol and I now had some choices to make.

The past few months have caused me to rethink how we give, to whom do we give, and why we give. Perhaps our reasons for financially supporting a person or organization include some elements that might be trends…or, perhaps not!

One of the factors we now weigh revolves around “relationship.” We now support four different individuals or families in various ministries and missions because we know them. One of them is related to us, another was a part of the youth group years ago back in Michigan, another is a young lady who I coached in basketball, and the fourth are personal friends of mine who are married to one another. Relationship is pivotal because it tells us whether this is “a mission on a whim”, or there has been consistency in the life journey of the person. We’ve also given one-time gifts on a number of occasions for someone who is going on a short-term mission trip. I’ve noticed that we are much more open to giving when we personally know the person. The relationship helps us sense that we are a part of the ministry.

The second factor could be called “purpose.” What is the purpose of the ministry? What does the mission focus on? If we aren’t sensing purpose in the mission then a budget deficit is no longer a reason for us to contribute to it. Purpose is huge.

For us purpose trumps results! We can be swayed by a happy bottom line, but the first Baptist missionary in Burma, Adoniram Judson, didn’t baptize his first convert until he had been there six years. His purpose, however, never changed. He was charged with sharing the gospel with the people of Burma. In today’s terms, his annual reports the first five years would not have looked very good.

We must believe in the purpose of the ministry for us to support the ministry.

The third factor would be “integrity”– the integrity of the ministry. Integrity includes elements like financial responsibility, trust, commitment to the future of the mission. A ministry or mission is different than a bank. I deposit money into my bank and trust that it will keep my funds safe, and even give me a few cents interest on it each month. A ministry with integrity understands that I give my gift to it to be used for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Any church has “savers” and “spenders.” Put another way, any church has those with very conservative spending habits and those who, like Adoniram Judson, believe “that the future is as bright as the promises of God.” There are settlers and there are pioneers. In this time of our lives Carol and I want our financial gifts to be used for a significant purpose. We shy away from “settling.”

Sometimes a ministry, especially the ministry of a church, communicates more about the utility costs than it does the mission. That, I believe, affects the view of the ministry’s integrity. Over the past twenty years or so there have been enough examples of missions and ministries mishandling funds or being dishonest about its finances. We need to see integrity in the organization.

Finally, there needs to be “a tug on our hearts” for the ministry of the person or the organization. Do we sense that God is leading us to be a part of this? Quite frankly, there are a number of things he is not leading us to partner with. We aren’t THE answer, just a small part of the solution. Each person or ministry we now contribute to has tugged on our hearts.

Where we are right now in our life journey may be where most people are in regards to their decisions to support causes and concerns. It is a new place for us that has caused us to do a lot of praying and thinking. Our money is not our own, and never was. We’re simply called to be wise stewards of it in the support of God’s Kingdom!

The Silence of Sunday

August 7, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 7, 2016

                                    

When I was pastoring one of the favorite times of the week would come on Sunday morning for about an hour and a half before anyone else arrived at church. I’d be the only one in the building and the quiet of those moments would prepare me for the next few hours of preaching, teaching, and pastoring.

The quiet was nourishment for my soul.

The phrase in Psalm 23 that always seems to speak to me greatly is where the Psalmist says “He leads me beside quiet waters; he restores my soul.” Quiet waters…soothing rain…peaceful thunder storms…silent snow. For me it seems that I associate many of life’s most peaceful moments in the “quiet waters” of life.

This morning my physical body is still “feeling the noise” of spending yesterday with our three grandkids. Quiet moments kept their distance from us. Our grandkids seem to feel comfortable enough with us to use their loud voices…all the time! The two older grandkids frolicked in the turbulent waters of our hot tub. The youngest granddaughter, who is sixteen months old, delighted me with her actions and words, and yet her endless energy left me exhausted. This morning quiet waters sound very appealing. Therapeutic waters for an aching lower back sound pretty good, also!

It seems that we live in a world that doesn’t appreciate silence, a culture that doesn’t see value in quiet. We’re addicted to noise. We’ve fallen to the deception that noise means life.     Sometimes noise is used to block out noise. I’m writing this while sitting in Starbucks with ear buds firmly inserted listening to music, in order to block out the noise of Starbucks. Weird, huh?

Quiet is disturbing to many of us. Strange that “disturbing the peace” usually is the result of excessive noise. The silence of a moment is the probe into my soul.

If you look in scripture you’ll find that silence is usually a part of someone’s encounter with the holiness of God, or the judgment of God. It’s like the boot camp buck private standing before the drill sergeant. No words are needed; in fact, no words better even be said! It is the realization for the private of who he is.

The silent moments of scripture are deafening experiences.

Quiet waters and deafening silence.

“Lord, lead me today beside quiet waters. When my life is speaking too much and listening too little, silence my spirit to get my attention back on what you are saying! Amen.”

Pokemon Go-ne

August 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 5, 2016

                                  

I confess! I have not played Pokemon Go. In fact, the closest I’ve gotten to playing Pokemon Go was playing…

”Poke-r”…like twenty-five years ago!

I did play a lot of Space Invaders…back in the day!

Oops! I just dated myself…no, I just antiquated myself…like an eight track player!

What I do know, from personal experience and the stories of others, is that just about anything that we do…anything that we engage in, should be done in moderation.

There are exceptions to that rule of life, like loving your family- I don’t think you can love them enough-; or praying- I don’t think you can pray enough, although it seems like it is hard for many of us to pray at all. There are exceptions like those and a few others that, quite frankly, we are not in danger of approaching over usage!

Pokemon Go is the current craze. I’m not in the camp of people who willingly and fervently condemn it. There always seem to be naysayers who trumpet the doomsday message of a variety of things and events. Through the years I’ve heard of a long list of subtle devices of the Tempter to snatch us away from God. The list has included bowling, any kind of dancing where the hips rotate and swing too much (with the exception of square dancing or any version of dancing involving elderly people!), movies, skateboarding, video games, beach volleyball, push-up bras, tattoos, and mascara. Satan seems to have more products than amazon.Com.

Pokemon Go is an amusement. (We’ve come a long ways since “Pong!”) It isn’t a demon. It is taking the industry of gaming to a new place, and new places are scary for those of us who are in love with old places.

The tipping point with Pokemon Go, and with many other amusements, practices, and even disciplines, is when someone is obsessed by it to the point that it takes over their life. Like the guy who was focused so intently upon it that he crashed his car into a police cruiser! That’s probably a little over the edge. Or people who are incurring roaming charges and spending large amounts of money playing the game that started out as being free. Like the Japanese Olympic gymnast who recently racked up $5,000 in roaming charges playing the game.

Like I said earlier, just about anything can become an obsession. Through Scripture the principle is taught over and over again that excess is a main cause for sorrow and pain. Excessive rich food leads to a variety of health issues. Excessive work leads to relational distance and, in many cases, physical ailments. Excessive spending leads to financial ruin. Excessive material possessions leads to a lack of appreciation for the simple gifts of life.

Solomon’s excesses in riches, women, and thoroughbreds caused him confusion with God. The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is kind of his trying to find his way again, a sounding out of a life that had lost its meaning.

Moderation helps us keep balance and clarity in our life. Moderation keeps us from chasing after whims and obsessions. It seems like there are people on The Dr. Phil Show everyday who have lost any sense of balance in their lives, and so they make the decision to go on national television and let everyone else see how screwed up they are. I’ve never seen anyone on that program who is having a hard conversation with the host because their life is in balance.

Balanced lives do not make for good reality TV!

I’m going to try to download the Pokemon Go app today and experience it a little bit. I want to try it out some…not too much! I will not allow it to take me away from the 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle currently covering our dining room table that I am obsessed…I mean, that I am putting together…gradually and in moderation!

Fleeing The Embarrassment

August 4, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               August 4, 2016

                                  

Yesterday I was at a stoplight waiting to turn right onto a six lane road in our area. The green arrow to turn left was lit for the vehicles coming towards me. I waited for four cars to make the turn, and then the green light appeared for me. I did not see the young lady who was beginning to cross the street. She noticed that I was beginning to turn and hesitated out of nervousness. I should have just stopped at that point, but, instead, I swung wide around her to the far lane and proceeded.

My thought at that moment was some guilt and shame at causing her a moment of questioning her safety, and my embarrassment at seeming to be in a rush to go…nowhere!

But then I noticed the car that had been behind me in the turn lane correctly pausing to allow the young lady to cross in the crosswalk before proceeding in the same direction I was going.

My thought at that moment was “He/She saw what I just did, and if that person catches up to me at the next red light they are going to give me “the look”, yell at me, and tell me that I’m going to Hell.”

I speeded up to get away from the pursuer!

Isn’t it interesting in our world where everything seems to get filmed by cell phones how we worry about those we fret are watching us?

Kind of like belching in a vacant area of a store and then looking around with embarrassment to see if anyone heard it!

What is it about that moment? The fear of being discovered to be a lawbreaker, the anxiety of being seen as doing something our mom would have scolded us for in our growing up years? What causes us to look in our rearview mirror to see if we got away with it?

The car that was “pursuing me”, actually turned right at the very next block. I experienced instant relief, like a get-away vehicle from a bank robbery.

Why?

Like David and his reaction about the after-effects of his Bathsheba rendezvous, I like to think that I get away with things that would cause me embarrassment. It is how I am wired. In fact, I think it’s how most of us are wired. In a world where the gray area is growing like the creature in the 1958 film The Blob, I believe we’re still fairly clear on what is right and what is wrong.

Some of us just like to think we’re getting away with things! Fleeing the embarrassment is the certainty of my imperfections, the signature on my humanness.

Church Life

August 3, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 3, 2016

                                           

“He touched me….oh, he touched me! And oh, the joy that floods my soul! Something happened, and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.”

The congregation closed the song with several heart-felt “amens” from the twelve gathered souls for Sunday worship. Most of them smiled in the warmth of the words, the truth of their meaning.

I told them the Mark 5 story of the woman who had a feminine hygiene problem for twelve years and had been “ritually unclean.” She came to where Jesus was and risked a touch of the edge of his garment. She just wanted to be clean. She was emotionally distraught, felt spiritually unworthy, and had been afflicted for so long that she had become almost invisible to people. The story was retold to ears that were listening and heads that were nodding in agreement.

“People may not be ostracized for the same reasons today, but you know, we have a way in the church of making people feel like outcasts and minimizing certain ones because of this, that, or the other. My guess is that most of us have been made to feel like we don’t matter at one time or another.”

“And the thing is…when we’re gathered as the Body of Christ, that’s where we should always feel loved, accepted, and valued.”

They were with me as we journeyed this story. Their church had been larger at one time, but things happened. People moved away because of jobs, kids grew up and went off to college and didn’t come back, and some of the saints had passed on to the next life. Those were all journeys that were a part of life, the things that just happened. It was the other losses that kept wounding the few faithful. Words that had been said in the heat of the moment, unforgiving spirits and non-repentant hearts, power plays and personality conflicts. All those things that people expected in other places, but cut more deeply when they were a part of the community of the King.

But sometimes a church needs to go deep in the valley to see the sacredness of the fellowship. Pain sometimes makes the good days more cherished.

“How might we touch one another today as the Body of Christ? Who in our community is like the woman who just longs for a touch of hope, a touch of healing? Who might we invite to join us in this sanctuary of brokenness as we seek to be a place of hope?”

The words were being felt in the midst of the congregation’s soul.

“How might the words to that song that we sang be experienced in our lives, and the lives of those around us?”

“Amen.”

It wasn’t the end of a sermon, but rather the transition to reflection and action. Prayer concerns were shared. One person shared a deep concern that was weighing upon her. We stopped to pray, but before we prayed we gathered around her, laid hands upon her weary shoulders and touched her with care. Tears streamed from her eyes and ran down her cheeks on a path towards healing.

There was a wholeness that was coming back to her, and in that wholeness was also a sense of wholeness in the midst of “the gathered.”

Church life can often be the death of us, but sometimes a church near-death experience is their resuscitation to a new life and a deeper hope.


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