Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Believing A Small Church Is Worth the Effort

October 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            October 15, 2017

 

Yesterday twenty five people descended on an aging church building in a town of five hundred people to be a help. Bill Hale, nine days my junior but years ahead of me in wisdom and craftsmanship, developed the idea along with our area denominational staff person, Mike Oldham.

The idea was to invite a few churches and individuals to come to Simla, a small town on Highway 24 that you would have no reason to go to if you weren’t heading someplace past it, and provide some labor for a few hours that would allow the church to get a few needed projects completed.

The First Baptist Church of Simla is a congregation of about twenty dear people. Bill Hale, Ed Stucky, and myself have been sharing pulpit responsibilities there for the last year and a half or so. They do not have a pastor, although they do have a parsonage right next door to the church.

The group of servers came from Pueblo, Greeley, Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Texas, and, of course, Simla! They ranged in age from four to seventy-four. One man, who owns a company in Colorado Springs, brought his “bucket truck” that allowed limbs and branches from the trees in front of the church that are about as old as sarcasm to be cut back. The carpet in the sanctuary was shampooed, the church sign was touched up with paint. There was painting done to the outside of the building after a power washing was done, and the wood frames of the stained glass windows got a needed fixing up. Sidewalks got edged, weeds got pulled, and the lawn got mowed and trimmed. Massive efforts that meant so much to the people of the church.

What I’ve learned from Simla is that small churches are worth the effort. For me Simla has become my home church. Most Sundays when I’m not speaking there I still travel the forty-five minutes east of Colorado Springs to worship with the “salt of Simla.” Small churches have a purpose. It may not revolve around budgets, staff, and packing the sanctuary, but they have a purpose. The Simla Saints have started doing community ministry efforts with the United Methodist Church a block down the street. They’ve even had discussions about how the three churches in town might have occasional worship services together, interchanging the pastors as the speakers. This past summer they made a good-sized contribution for the beginning expenses of a missionary family who had already been commissioned  by the American Baptist Churches to go to Chiapas, Mexico, but were trying to raise the last few thousand dollars that were needed as seed money. The Simla Saints gave the contribution and also started supporting the missionary family on a monthly basis.

They will never be a mega-church. They wouldn’t know how to handle that. The town of Simla has shrunk by two-thirds in the last twenty years. Mega-churches rarely happen in villages of diminishing size located between here and nowhere. Every week, however, fifteen to twenty people gather in the sanctuary of this church. They don’t whine about their size. Size does not effect the purpose or change the mission. Their purpose is to be Light in a community that struggles to keep on going.

Too many churches are trying to be great! Churches already have the greatest story to share. Sometimes it seems a congregation is trying to be greater than the story!

Simla is a love story of hope that tells of God’s love story. Call me simple, but when I retired from the ministry that’s what I was looking for…and it causes me to keep on keeping on!

What Character Qualities Will I Teach My Players?

October 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              October 11, 2017

                    

Last night I met with four other men who I will be coaching alongside this coming high school basketball season. During the course of the evening we talked about offenses and defenses, practice plans, try-outs, and schedule, but we spent the most time talking about what the foundational characteristics were that we looked to teach our players. More than just teach, to model for our players!

Twenty years from now when I meet a former player for a cup of coffee what is that I hope to see his life rooted in? What will I be overjoyed about as I talk to someone who has turned 35?

There are a lot of coaches who have been entrusted with opportunities to speak into the lives of their young athletes…who are simply scoundrels! Being a high school basketball official for years I’ve seen how their teams have often taken on their personalities…bad attitudes, sour disposition, arrogant, prone to temper tantrums.

So the men I’ll be working with are committed to emphasizing the development of character in our young players. Last night we talked about four foundations:

            Integrity

            Selfless

            Reliable

            Gracious

All four go against the flow of our culture. “Integrity” seldom makes the headlines. Scandals and conspiracies draw larger audiences.

“Selfless” gets applauded, and yet we live in a time of entitlement. During a recent sports season I had a couple of players who had missed significant practice time because of injuries. When it came to preparing for the last game of the season both of them wanted to be the running backs again. In practice I positioned one of the players at Offensive Tackle. He didn’t like it. After a few plays he asked to be subbed out because he needed to do some more stretching. The other boy kept, who had missed the previous three games, kept asking me “When am I going to run the ball?” Both of them had exhibited actions and attitudes that communicated that they did not understand concept of team. The result was they caused more trouble than they were worth. As I begin this new basketball season the character quality of “selfless” will be the first foundation I emphasize.

“Reliable” is a word that we used to take for granted. An employee was expected to be at work…and working! My son, who is a chef, often talks about his frustrations with workers who just didn’t show up for work. The effect of such an absence puts more pressure and work on those who are there. There’s a lot of people who float in and out of our lives who can not be relied upon. “Dr. Phil” makes a living out of telling life stories of people who aren’t reliable, and the ripple effect of such.

“Gracious” goes to one of my favorite words…grace! I’ve encountered a lot of players who stepped out of line when grace was being handed out. They criticize and demean their teammates. Wouldn’t it be awesome to play on a team where there is a recognition of everyone trying their hardest, committed to a team effort, and recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and needs the grace of their teammates? Grace, on an athletic team, means picking someone up off the ground instead of making them want to sink into the ground.

So this basketball season we’ll seek to lead our teams to victories, but we will also seek to lead them on a path towards being young men of character.

I’ve been out of high school for…Good Lord!…45 years now, but I still remember the people I went to school with who were jerks. Perhaps they’ve changed since 1972, but since I now live five states away I don’t know. My impression was etched in my memory a long time ago. I will strive to take my players on a journey this season that will help lead them towards young men of exceptional character.

And then when we sit at table in Starbucks in 2037 sipping some medium roast together I’ll attempt to hold back tears of gratitude over who this young man has become!

The Incredibleness of Carlsbad Bats

October 8, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    October 8, 2017

                             

Carol and I visited Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico yesterday. Since we now have our National Parks’ Senior Passes we’re on a mission to check off the parks in the coming years. As we checked in at Carlsbad yesterday the ranger asked to see my ID. Obviously, she couldn’t believe I looked old enough to have a Senior Pass…or something like that!

We explored the caverns for about three hours. Incredible! Mammoth Caves in Kentucky is another national park that we need to visit, but I wonder if Mammoth is kind of like going skiing in Michigan after you have first skied in Colorado?

And then we stayed around for the “bat show”. Each evening around dusk the Brazilian free-tailed bats exit the caverns and take flight for a night of finding moths and other bugs to feed on. One of the park rangers tells the hundreds of people gathered in the “bat amphitheater” located by the entrance to the caverns what is about to happen, gives some interesting information about the bats, and, if the bats haven’t exited yet, answers questions.

And then it happens! Without any alarms or horns sounding the bats begin emerging from the cavern entrance…and it is incredible. Bats use sonar to guide them. As they exit the cave they use a swirling motion, almost like a tornado, to exit and head off into the sky. the number of bats that call the caverns home is as much as 1.2 million. When they exit the cavern it is an event that goes on for 30-40 minutes. The quieter the crowd the closer they will come to the people sitting there. Carol and I stayed until the end. By then most of the audience had cleared out, and we noticed that the bats got closer and closer to where we were sitting by the end.

They were quiet…kind of! When we cupped our hands behind our ears we could hear the faint sound of their wings flapping, and little squeaks. Mostly, their presence was announced by a scent in the air that was a bit nose-wrinkling.

It is encounters such as this that causes me to praise the Creator. The care and concern that God had for…bats, for how they live, how they survive, how they help the environment. It reminds me of Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:26-27 about God carrying for the birds of the air. God’s hands of care seeks to take away some of the worries of life that bring chaos of our day.

Missing God

September 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 30, 2017

                                             

Carol and I were driving home from a wedding recently and she said to me, “I think that’s the first wedding I’ve been to where God was never mentioned.”

“You’re right! No prayers, no blessings, nothing with any spiritual meaning to it!”

Of course, why invite the presence of God if he isn’t a part of your life? Seems a bit contradictory to do that! At least this couple was being authentic in their ceremony. How many other marriage ceremonies have been spiritual in appearance, but the One who created love goes missing afterwards?

I don’t want to create a whole divine conspiracy on the basis of God not being invited to one marriage ceremony I attend, but I think we’d be idiots to think that the importance of the Almighty has not taken a dip! In many lives he’s segregated from the daily routines and opportunities. He’s like Uncle Fred who never gets invited to family gatherings any more because no one feels comfortable around him.

Instead of God being at the center of our lives many of us now look for how he might fit into our lives. He’s like that weird puzzle piece that needs to go somewhere, but I’ll put it to the side until most of the rest of my puzzled life gets put together.

The secular wedding ceremony was like a wake up call for me. In what areas of my life do I relegate God to the luggage rack, attached to the top of the vehicle of my life but strapped to a place where I can’t hear him?

In what ways am I “faking it” with my Jesus journey?

In what ways is the church faking it? In what ways is the church hindering the relevance of the spiritual faith of its people?

Those are all tough questions which are being asked by less and less people the more God goes missing.

Years ago one of the young ladies on my basketball team responded to a directive I gave to the team before the season started. I had told them that if any of them had boyfriends that they were to put them on the back burner for the next three months. This delightful young lady (who is now in law school) looked at me and said, “Coach, boyfriends are like a pocketbook. They’re just an accessory!” We still laugh at that storyline years later!

But, you know something! God has become an accessory for many of us, and has been easily shoved to the back burner!

Feeling My Worship Age

September 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              September 27, 2017

                                   

It was a bad sign! In the Sunday announcement sheet under informational items there was that blurb that was probably intended to be a forewarning of what was about to come!

“Ear plugs are available at the Information Booth for anyone who needs them.”

It’s a bad sign when they care about your hearing! When I was pastoring we cared also, but it was for those who had diminished hearing so they borrowed a hearing device that helped amplify the sound of the speaker or music. This was the other direction. This was: “We’re going to turn up the volume so much that you’re going to be thinking you’re standing by a jet engine on steroids! So you might want to put these in your ears!”

I’m 63 and I realize I’m sneaking up on crotchety! I’m becoming like a dear saintly lady from the church I pastored in Mason, Michigan. Grace Ankney was  a great lady who couldn’t hear squat! And she would let the speaker know that by yelling from her third row seat, “I can’t hear you!” I don’t remember what Grace’s spiritual gifts were, but she scored low on hospitality!

And here I was about to shout “I can’t hear myself!” But, of course, I couldn’t hear myself so I didn’t say it.

I realize the church I was attending last Sunday is designed for a younger crowd…soon to be younger deaf crowd…and there are all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. I’m a person of grace who is fairly tolerant about circumstances and situations. I remember the “worship wars” of the 1980’s when that period’s older generation fought hard against the new worship music that was settling upon the hearts of congregations. Our leadership council had several hours of discussion about it. We did planning retreats where we sought to figure out the direction we were going in worship, while being sensitive to those who liked it the way it had been…for fifty years!

I remember one young man from my church asking me if the lady who played the organ could take the parking brake off! On the other side, an older couple left for greener, hymnier, pastures because we had sung a couple of praise songs that had produced clapping, albeit Baptist clapping, which sounds kind of like the light patter of rain on the driveway.

And now I was that couple…longing for a calmer sanctuary of praise music. Just to be fair, the songs we sang last Sunday were all familiar to me. I knew the words to three of them, but since I couldn’t hear my own voice I never sang any of them. It wasn’t that I was being vain. Although people say I have a good voice I’m not infatuated by the sound of it. I just like to know that I can hear the words that I’m speaking or singing!

And now I’m starting to type kind of crotchety!

I’m a “has been” who is still being. This Sunday I’ll travel back out to the little congregation of twenty in a town forty-five minutes from where we live and give the Sunday message. We’ll sing some songs together in a sanctuary with great acoustics, and I’ll get a bag of fresh produce from a couple of farmers who bring in their excess each week. It will be totally different from my experience from last week where we had to park a few hundred yards away. This Sunday at Simla everyone can park right next to the building.

Perhaps that’s who I am now…a participant of a small congregation journeying together in a slow walk. At Simla this Sunday we won’t need ear plugs. Two sixth grade boys will take up the offering. There will be a Sunday bulletin, which we really won’t need because the order of worship is almost always the same. And after church people will grab a cup of weak coffee, a cookie, and stand around talking for a good 20 to 30 minutes.

That’s now where I feel at home, it’s where I sense the closeness of God and the struggles of his saints, and I’m okay with that!

When You Feel Spiritually Indifferent

September 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  September 24, 2017

                                

But I’m a pastor!

That’s usually my reaction to having an honest admittance of being at a point of spiritual stagnation. Pastors are suppose to have the glow of Moses, the wisdom of Solomon, and the spiritual chanting of the monastic desert fathers. Instead of profanity every other word we’re suppose to punctuate our language with spiritual language like “Yes, Glory!” and “Praise his name!”

So what should I do when I’m in a place of indifference? Deny it? Hope it’s like a bunion that’s on my foot that no one will see and will just go away…someday…maybe…I hope so?

I’m indifferent about a lot of things…stewed tomatoes…professional basketball, even though I’m a basketball coach and still lace the sneakers up at age 63!…Walmart…Nebraska…generic cereal…there’s a lot of places, events, and items that I am totally indifferent about. Translated: I could care less! But my relationship with the Majestic is different. I care, I love, I serve, and yet there are those times when I just want to be left alone and be spiritually irresponsible!

I’m about to slap myself into some sense!

Most of David’s songs and laments to the Lord in the book of Psalms deal with his plea for God to not turn his back on him.

“How long, Lord? Will you forgive me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

“My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.” (Psalm 27:8-9)

It’s sobering to realize that God might be saying words with similar ideas towards me. How long will I disregard his presence? How long will I ignore his importance?

As I ponder the wandering a number of solutions come to mind. Reading scripture more, or memorizing the Word; a spiritual retreat; sitting down with Oswald Chambers; getting into a weekly bible study; finding a mentor or spiritual counselor…there’s a whole book of possibilities, but getting past the apathy is the highest hurdle to jump over. The other possibilities will help me in the staying on course.

I know I’m not the only one who deals with this, and yet I think I am the only one. I’m not alone and yet I feel like I’m all alone. People who have never been passionate about God don’t understand what I’m saying, and those who have been passionate and then lukewarm like a glass of day old Coke left on the kitchen counter have a sense of where I am.

I’m heading to church in a few minutes to listen and to hear, to investigate and ponder. Indifference is not like dry erase markings on a white board. It can’t be suddenly erased in a moment, but must be gradually smoothed away to uncover the spring of spiritual water.

Hitting The Hole of the Church’s Mission

September 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         September 21, 2017

                           

I wiped the cobwebs off the golf clubs and went, along with my friends Mike Oldham and Reggie Fletcher, out for a stroll around the golf course this past Monday. None of us were going for our PGA tour card. In fact, even though it was September 18th it was the first round of the year for all three of us.

None of us were on our game. When you play one round a year you don’t have “a game”! I was hitting the ball okay, mostly keeping it out of the rough, sand, and water. You need to understand something about my golf play. I don’t get upset if I hook it, splice it, miss it, or even hit a shot off the tee that doesn’t make it past the women’s tee. I also don’t get that excited about a good shot. I just enjoy the experience, the sunshine, and the fellowship.

The interesting thing, however, is that all three of us had a hard time putting the ball in the hole. The little white ball- or, in Reggie’s case, pink ball- went to the right of the hole, the left of the hole, rimmed around the hole, and short of the hole. To putt the ball in the hole was like trying to get a Cleveland Browns’ quarterback to throw a touchdown pass! Or, I should say, a professional quarterback of any Ohio NFL team!

We laughed at our ineptness. It wasn’t that we were trying to miss, but missing was the only thing we were consistent in doing.

And it hit me that the mission of the church often goes that way as well! The mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. It’s as simple as seeing the hole on the seventh green, and yet the simplicity of the mission is complicated by our ineptness in hitting it. We veer to the left to focus on discipline problems in church members, or we veer to the right to emphasize a sub-point of a doctrinal belief. The church hits a budget issue and pulls up short of the mission. It misreads a downhill slope and winds up twice as far from the hole of the mission.

I kept asking myself how I could be on the green of a four hundred yard hole in just three strokes, but then have to putt the ball three times before it went in? How could I come so far so quickly, but then fail so easily?

In terms of the church hitting the hole of its mission, the closer it gets to completion the greater the chance of having the mission derailed. In my years of pastoring churches I experienced this multiple times. It might be rephrased as “gaining momentum”, but it seemed that as we headed towards the hole of the mission something or someone would cause us to veer to the side. Squabbles, crises, disagreements about the music we were singing in worship, arguments about the children’s ministry, division about how much ministry should be done outside the walls of the church compared to ministry within the walls…there always seemed to be something that took our ball off course.

For the church to hit the hole of its mission a couple of things are important to remember. One is that it must read the green. Sometimes what seems to be the case is not the case. That little ridge on the right wasn’t seen, or that break on the left wasn’t probably diagnosed. I can remember a few times when I thought we had consensus on a certain direction only to have it derailed by a portion of the congregation who didn’t want to say anything to begin with, but then decided to speak up as the ball was rolling towards the mission. Some of those situations were simply because I didn’t read the breaks, or misread the situation. Others were because of a passive resistant group who simply wanted to stonewall the direction. When the church misreads the green it must recalculate the direction from a different point.

Second, the church must admit it missed and aim at the mission once again. In golf there is a definite difference between professional golfers and weekend duffers. Churches are kind of like that, also! There are churches that are better at reading the obstacles and distractions that will keep it from staying true to the mission, but there is not a single church that always reads the situation correctly. Since grace it vital to who followers of Jesus are, grace must be a part of the journey. When I putted my ball and it went three feet to the left of the hole I had to be willing to start from a different point and continue my quest. It’s the same for the Body of Christ. What needs to be changed to have the next attempt be better aimed at the hole of the mission?

The game of golf is the great revealer of failure. On Monday my frequency of failing was in abundance. Perhaps my once-a-year visit to the golf course had something to do with my game being haphazard! There may be a life lesson there for once-a-year worship attenders as well, but I won’t go there! I’ll just veer off to the left, so to speak!