Archive for the ‘Death’ category

Hand Me Down Life

November 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 19, 2017

                                

Yesterday the freshmen boys basketball team I coach had their team picture day. The varsity and junior varsity squads also had their pictures taken. A few of the varsity players were looking at the uniforms that the freshmen were wearing and remembered that they had worn those same uniforms two years before when they were playing junior varsity. If a former player three years older than them had been there he could have said that he remembered wearing the same uniforms when he was on the varsity.

Hand me downs. The freshmen uniforms for this year had been handed down through the years. The life of a freshman basketball player is saturated with “hand me downs!”

Being the youngest of three meant that a good part of what I had growing up had been handed down to me. Thank God that I was always the original wearer of my underwear…Towncraft “tightie whities” from J.C. Penney’s. Most everything else had been worn or used by my brother or sister. My bike had the dings and dents from two previous people learning how to ride it. My baseball glove was about as big as the rest of my body because Charlie had used it, and was still using it.

Some of my toys were hand me downs. The plastic cups I drank from had my siblings teeth marks on them. Most of my tee shirts and coats had my brother’s body scent still attached. It was a day when garments lasted longer, not necessarily because they were better made, but because they had to endure.

At some point in my life, however, the purpose of the hand me downs shifted. Several books that are a part of my personal library had been handed down to me by Dr. Floyd Norton while I was the Assistant Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan. Floyd was a fan of Elton Trueblood and believed his writings would benefit my calling as a pastor.

And then there was the hand me down wisdom and learnings that Chuck Landon, senior pastor of that church, passed on to me. Things to do and not do, how to work with boards and committees, effective visits to some of the elderly folk, how to plan a sermon…all these and more he passed on to me.

In our journey most of us become thankful for what was passed on to us, and, after we realize the value, we long for the day that we can pass on our hand me downs to others. A couple of years ago I passed on to Bill Hale the portable communion set that Rev. Elmer Boyd’s widow had handed down to me. Bill was entering a late-in-life career as a pastor. And the clerical robe that Dr. Ben Dickerson’s widow, Alice, had passed on to me I in turn passed on to Rev. Rich Blanchette as he entered the ministry.

We go from being blessed to being the blesser, and whereas I wasn’t that keen on having my brother’s sweatshirts relocated to my dresser drawers I was especially thankful for the gifts from some saints that encouraged me to press on.

Elton Trueblood still has a section in my library, but Rich and Bill have received a number of other books from me to assist them in the fulfillment of their calling. Some day I’m sure they will do the same. The older I get the more precious are the things passed on to me.

Generic Christianity

November 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           November 17, 2017

                                         

Starbucks is decorating their stores with Christmas…err, Holiday gifts and ornaments. Although they have a dark roast coffee called “Christmas Blend”, as far as I can tell it is the only reference to the name we place on December 25. They use words and terms like “joy”, “peace”, and “give good” to point to the festive holiday time without saying Christmas.

Starbucks keeps it generic in order to be more appealing…and raise the profit margin. I don’t fault them for this. Although I enjoy my coffee I don’t see it as a spiritual experience to sit on a stool in a Starbucks for an hour…as I’m doing now!

Christianity and the Christian church, on the other hand, should stand for something solid and transformative. The Christian faith is decorated with words like “redemption”, “transformation”, “grace”, and “forgiveness”. They are pillars built on the sacrifice of Christ.

It seems that churches are in danger of becoming generic in their presentation, their terminology, and their beliefs. I’m not talking about churchy terms like benediction, narthex, Eucharist, and sacraments. No, I’m going in a different direction…kinda’! Instead of mirroring Christ, the church too often mirrors culture. Instead of counter-cultural we mostly go with the flow. Instead of transforming we have been mostly transformed…by the NFL, The Bachelor, and CNN and Fox News.

There are encouraging signs, however! The relief efforts of various churches and faith organizations in recent months to help those affected by flooding and hurricanes has been awesome. It reconnects with the early Christians in Rome who would minister to those dying of smallpox. The epidemic that killed as much as a third of the population in AD 165 spared no family. Even the emperor, Marcus Aurelius, succumbed to it. Families would push their sick out of the house and into the street to die alone. Followers of Jesus, however, remembered their Savior touching lepers and healing the sick, and so they willingly became infected with the disease in order to show love and compassion to those who were dying. John Ortberg, in his book Who Is This Man? (page 38) refers to sociologist Rodney Stark who argues that one of the primary reasons for the spread of the Christian faith was because of the way Jesus followers responded to sick people. Comforting the afflicted gets us back to our roots.

Generic Christianity sets up a buffet table of doctrinal sample and avoid…like the prime rib of beef and the peas and carrots. This looks good for me and that has no place on my plate. Generic faith gets customized for my taste. Prayer may have a prominent place but grace gets avoided; worship is appetizing but confession is about as appealing as week-old fruit salad.

Authentic Christianity is life-changing and, perhaps, that’s why it gets avoided. It requires our surrender, our yielding.

Coaching With People of Integrity

November 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 11, 2017

                               

Yesterday I began a new adventure! It was the first day of high school basketball tryouts. I’ve been a part of high school girl basketball team staffs for eleven years. Yesterday was my first day as a member of a high school boys basketball staff.

It isn’t my first experience coaching boys, mind you! I’ve coaching boy’s basketball at Timberview Middle school in Colorado Springs for 17 years, and am in the midst of coaching The Classical Academy 8th Grade boys team for the second year. (Yes, I will coach three teams this year for those who are wondering about my sanity!)

What makes this season exciting for me is that I’m coaching with five other men who I hold in high regard. They are all men of integrity. One of them, Leo Swiontek, was my son’s JV basketball coach back in 1999-2000.

I knew this was going to be an interesting adventure when we had a coach’s meeting one evening at the home of the head coach back in October. We talked about emphasizing specific aspects of character during the season…subjects such as reliableness and selflessness. The head coach made the statement that when he meets up with a former player twenty years from now at a Starbucks, and the player is now in his mid-thirties, he wants to be able to see that his former player is a person with great character, a man of integrity.

Integrity is a word we throw around a lot these days. With the numerous cases of sexual abuse that have hit the news in recent weeks it would be nice to see a man in the headlines for his integrity instead of his indiscretions. Integrity, however, is not something that a person blows his horn in announcing.

The five men I’ll be coaching with range in age from 26 to…me! I’m the old fart at 63! Three are teachers at the school, two work in other professions, and I am kinda’ retired. My wife keeps saying those words: “I thought you were suppose to be retired!”

The six of us coach at the largest charter school in the state, a school known for its academics, high expectations, and 90% of its graduates going on to college. State championships have been numerous in track and cross country, and last year in soccer. Basketball, however, has been mediocre in its wins and losses record. One reason for that is that the school does not accept any new students for high school. Families sign up their child to be a student at birth. No one transfers in, but some transfer out!

I raise that issue as a point about integrity. I see too many high school coaches hanging out at youth athletic contests hoping to influence someone who can dunk a basketball to come to their high school. Yes, it’s against the rules, but coaches who have no integrity seem to get around that…or not be concerned by that.

At this school who we have on the 8th Grade team is who we will have on the 9th Grade team, and who we will have on the JV team the next year after that. There’s something good about that. It allows us as coaches to have a greater impact on the lives of our players. Two years ago one of the athletes at the high school died. I watched the varsity boys coach walk alongside his team during that. His availability to them in the valley of the shadow of death impressed me and made me want to be on his staff.

Two years ago when I was coaching the JV girls team at the same school I had the opportunity to coach with a young woman who was a person of integrity. Even though she was less than half my age Kasey Lucero always was consistent in how she treated and related to her players. This year my 7th Grade coach is one of her former players, and I see the handprint of Kasey’s influence upon her life. That’s a win in my book!

This morning we run about thirty young men through the second day of tryouts. Some are starting to sport facial hair. Some should give up trying in regards to that. Some have reached the limit to their height, and others are praying for a few more inches. There are some deep voices amongst them and still a few others that resemble chirping birds. I hope all of them end up making the world a better place to live! That would be a lot of wins!

Seeing the Good In the Bad

September 10, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          September 10, 2017

 

Natural disasters seem to be frequent headliners these days. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis…they seem to be as common as a Bronco’s blitz! Carol and I have many friends who have gotten chummy with Hurricane Irma in the past couple of days. We’ve been watching Facebook to make sure each of them is okay. I’ll call a couple of  my friends today to check on them.

Some people see situations such as Irma and the earthquake in Mexico and see only the downside of it. I’m sure there will be several people this week who will equate the rash of recent disasters as evidence of the second coming of Jesus.

I take a different view entirely! Perhaps the ravished areas of the world are an opportunity for people to experience the sharing of their resources, love, and compassion.

I called my friend, David Volitis about a week ago to wish him a happy 60th birthday! We were able to talk for a few minutes, but he told me he was in Corpus Christi helping with the recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey. He had celebrated his 60th birthday by working a fourteen hour day clearing debris. It is an example of the good of people emerging in bad situations.

One of my favorite books is John Ortberg’s Who Is This Man? It tells of the unpredictable impact of Jesus upon the world. Ortberg tells of an epidemic of smallpox that broke out in Rome in AD 165. Between a third and a fourth of the population perished from the disease, including Marcus Aurelius, the emperor. People responded in panic. At the first sign of illness a person was pushed away from their family, throwing them into the street before they were dead. But a community in that city who followed a man who would touch untouchables cared for the sick and dying. They were even willing to be infected by others with the disease in order to be caregivers for the Caregiver. And as a result of their sacrificial giving the Jesus movement spread.

In essence, the way Christians responded to the needs of a community that confounded people’s understanding of the limits of love and sacrifice ended up drawing others towards Jesus.

Any time there is a disaster such as Irma and Harvey people will be confused and devastated. We experienced that a few years ago with two major fires in the Colorado Springs area, Waldo Canyon and Black Forest, that burned down over 800 homes. From that an organization emerged- a coalition of faith-based and secular organizations- that developed a partnership for responding to tragedy. It took two consuming fires to make that happen. Good can come out of bad.

It’s like the story of Jesus’ life and death. Resurrection happened in the midst of the pain of death. It happened with the adulterous woman that Jesus encountered. Forgiveness and cleansing came out of guilt and shame. It came to a boatload of disciples being tossed to and fro in a fishing boat. Jesus woke up and calmed the waters. Peace and assurance came in the midst of a storm.

A number of people in Texas, Florida, and Mexico have lost everything they own…and there will be those who will come alongside them making sure that they will be okay.

Dog Lovers And People Who Walk By

September 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 7, 2017

                      

At Starbucks this morning a woman walked her dog up to the restaurant, leashed him to a chair right outside the entrance, and went in to get a cup of coffee. The canine lay down and waited. I watched with interest as a number of people entered and exited the business. Several of them noticed the dog and, with smiles on their faces, bent down to give him a few strokes and pats…a few moments of dog lover’s affection!

Others walked in and out and either didn’t notice or didn’t care. They had places to go, mobile orders to pick up on the counter, kids to get to school…life to live in other places!

Dog lovers are passionate about their “best friends”. You’ve got to be passionate if you’re going to walk him with a plastic bag in one hand and the leash in the other, while allowing him to lift his leg at every tree or bush he comes upon. If you’re willing to pick up your pet’s poop you are passionate!                      

My neighbor up the street has three Yorkshire Terriers. Three! He is often out in front of his house with his “three ladies plus his wife”. They have a bond, and I’m sure that when one of them passes on Ralph will experience deep grief. If the loss of someone grieves you…you are passionate about that person…or pet!

So what about being passionate about following Jesus? There are many of us who are, and many others who, like the dog at Starbucks, just walk by and don’t notice. Jesus followers smile at their Savior and get caught up in the journey that makes a difference in their life and life pursuits. Those who don’t know Jesus walk by with minimal interest. Many of them see the passion of Jesus followers as being comparable to dog lovers who have to pick up their pet’s poop. In other words, if you’re not in love with Jesus why would you want to mess with it?

Let’s be honest! Many of us have enough drama in our lives as it is. Why would someone want to add the drama of church to it? Some of the deepest wounds come in the midst of people who are deeply involved in churches.

And yet…with passion comes drama! If Fido doesn’t get his walk, or he rips up a pillow in the living room when unattended, or it seems that there’s something wrong with him health wise then the drama gets elevated in the house. Amongst people who are passionate about Jesus drama and intensity go up when things like injustice, the death of one of the saints, or a crisis of disagreement surfaces.

Passion holds hands with drama.

A dog gives a dog lover someone to walk with. Jesus gives me someone to follow. Now, if I could just convince my wife to let me have a dog that I could walk as I follow Jesus!

The Grief of Living Long

August 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 5, 2017

                              

Long life seems to be congratulated, celebrated, and strived for. It is tacked up on the bulletin board as a goal, a destination.

The dark side of long life is when everyone has dropped out of the race of life and you become the last one still running. That is, when your spouse for the life journey, all of your friends, and anyone else who used to come to your high school class reunion has passed on. All of those people you’d pick up the phone on a Sunday night to call, or would call you, and check on are now checked off. It is the harsh truth of the long-living.

I didn’t quite understand it in all of my years of pastoring the flocks of different congregations. I can remember the words of a number of elderly folk whose spouses had passed on. There was a longing for God to move them on as well. They were ready for this journey to be over and the next eternal journey to begin. I misunderstood that to be a longing to be in heaven where there is no more pain and suffering, but that longing was disguising the pain that comes with the loss of a special relationship.

My dad’s best friend, Bill Ball, passed away this week at the age of 92. The loss wasn’t unexpected, and yet sometimes we procrastinate coming to terms with its arrival. My dad is 89 and wherever he goes he is now usually befriended by either a cane, a walker, or motorized scooter. Having Bill Ball pass on was a wound to his spirit. About three years or so ago there was Dad, Bill Ball, and Ralph Carrico. Ralph passed away, a victim of cancer, and I saw how that grieved my father, but he had Bill Ball to grieve with alongside him. They supported one another through the loss of their friend. This time around he’s having to struggle through the journey by himself. Yes, his family is comforting him in the midst of the sorrow, but the reality of the situation is that the “long-living” experience a profound form of grief that grows out of the longevity.

My sister and I took Dad to the “viewing” of his friend on Wednesday night. There is something necessary for the living to view the deceased, and something painfully revealing. As my dad stood there beside the casket staring down at his old friend he wept. His body trembled as the tears found their way down his face. He knows that he is in the winter of his own life, but outliving your friends is a weight that he must drag with him for the rest of his days.

And there’s really nothing that his family…his three kids, seven grandkids, and eleven great-grandkids can do for him to make it okay.

I remember a song by Charlie Peacock from twenty-five years ago. It was entitled “Now Is the Time for Tears”, and it begins with the words “Now is the time for tears. Don’t speak! Say no words! There is nothing you could say to take this pain away!” Dad’s grief is not to be fixed, but simply to be present with.

We often talk about life as being a journey. The other part of that, however, is that life is to be journeyed with others. I can see the loss etched into Dad’s wounded face. He just finished another round of radiation treatments this week for another skin cancer episode on his nose. His nose and ears have been cut on and radiated so many times that his face has often looked like a battlefield, but this pain that I can see is not connected to any cancerous growth, or demanding treatment plan. It’s simply the look of loss, the mask of long-lived sorrow!

Bill Ball, Mr. Encouragement

August 1, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              August 1, 2017

                                

God graces our lives with various saintly people who may simply say a kind word, give us a nudge in the right direction, or travel with us for a while in our journey of life. Those of us fortunate enough have some of these saints watch us grow up and become like “angels with skin on” who ponder our maturing and pray that our life has continued purpose and depth.

I’ve been blessed numerous times by the cloud of witnesses who have followed my wanderings. One of them passed on to Glory yesterday. He was one of my dad’s best friends…kind of like the last men standing, as Dad is now 89 and his friend, Bill Ball, was in his early nineties!

To me, Mr. Bill Ball was Mr. Encouragement! Our families attended the same church, even sat on the same side of the aisle, although Bill and Sue Ball sat a few rows closer to the back door and my parents were a few rows closer to the choir. As I progressed through high school my parent’s leash got longer and I was allowed to sit with my friends in another pew, but just about every Sunday Bill Ball would head towards me after the morning worship service and ask me how I was doing?

He became interested in my high school running progress. I can still remember him giving me a couple of pieces of coaching advice. Specifically, he told me to work on lengthening my stride just a bit. It was when I was heading into my senior year, and his encouragement to work on that one aspect of my race helped me break the school mile record that had stood for over a decade. But it wasn’t just advice he gave me! It was “encouraging advice!” Bill Ball showed me the difference. Encouraging advice gives the listener the confident belief that what is being told to him can become the soon to be reality! I can remember several times, when after a Sunday morning conversation with Mr. Ball, I wanted to go out for a run that afternoon. There are people who make you feel like the world is against you so why even get out of bed, and then there are people like Bill Ball who make you believe no mountain is too high for you to climb!

“Mr. Optimistic” had bought himself a new car about six months before his passing at the age of 92! He lived a life of possibilities. Each day was a new opportunity, a new adventure. Each time I’d come from Colorado for a visit Dad and I would try to get together with Mr. Ball for lunch at Rax Roast Beef or Frisch’s Big Boy. For some reason I still remember that he ordered a Brawny Lad the last time we had lunch together. Each shared lunch was another occasion of laughter, sharing old stories, and…encouragement!

I’m feel very fortunate to be back in Ohio visiting Dad this week. It means I’ll be able to be the encourager to his three awesome daughters, perhaps being able to share with them just a hint of how their dad motivated me to run faster and encouraged me to be who I wasn’t sure I could be!