Archive for the ‘Faith’ category

Giving It a Jesus Spin

January 19, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 19, 2020

                                   

Years ago there was a car accident at an intersection. Four witnesses coming from different directions gave their statements to the responding police officers. Each witness gave a different accounting of what had happened, and each believed their words were the only ones that were true…even though they differed! When the officers pieced all the eye witness accounts together they came to the conclusion that each statement had some of the truth in it, but not all of the truth.

Our culture has a certain contrariness to it. There’s a stubbornness that tends to believe that my truth, or your truth, is the whole truth, not to be questioned or minimized. 

In Jesus’ day the religious folk would put their view of the Law upon a situation. In John 9 there’s the story of a blind man who Jesus healed. When Jesus’ disciples came upon the man they asked Jesus who had sinned, this man or his parents. The struggles of life were blamed on someone’s sin. That’s how they understood the workings of life. Jesus brought them to another perspective: The man’s blindness was to allow the work of God to be displayed. The scripture doesn’t mention the disciples reaction at that point. Maybe they were confused, or maybe they came to a new understanding of the ways of God. 

The man’s neighbors come in next and can’t quite grasp that this is the same man who has never been able to see. They take him to the Pharisees who investigate the healing. These men can only see the healing through the lens of the Sabbath. That is, he had gained his sight during the Sabbath. Jesus had spit in some dirt, made some mud, and put it on the blind man’s eye lids. That constituted working on the Sabbath. They could only see the situation through the application of the Law.

I’ve noticed that there are those who frequent churches today who seem ready to press their view of situations as if it has a monopoly on  the truth. The thing is instead of the Pharisees seeing things through the Law, people today put a “Jesus spin” on their personal preferences. It smacks of “Jesus justification”, the attempt to validate my belief by attaching Jesus to it. Sometimes, dare I say, it seeks to validate our prejudices by trying to convince people it’s what Jesus would want.

Social media is a stampeding ground for people to do their Jesus spins. There’s a difference between politely and respectfully disagreeing and “Facebook Pharisaism”. 

The man who Jesus healed of blindness was convinced that Jesus was from God, but no matter what he said he could not change the perspective of the Pharisees. In fact, towards the end of the story they throw him out of their gathering. They had their understanding based on the Mosaic Law. They didn’t want to be bothered with the truth…or the Truth. 

I have certain beliefs that have nothing to do with Jesus. Like popcorn should only be eaten with an accompanying soft drink, and always root for the team that Michigan is playing…unless it’s Notre Dame! 

I also have preferences such as the NIV Bible, baptism by immersion, and Starbucks coffee. I’m openminded enough, however, to believe that Jesus can speak to me through other Bible translations, a different baptism celebration, and that he did not ordain Starbucks to be the coffee for the saints. I keep my personal preferences separated from questions that are indications of what Jesus would do.

There are certain scriptural truths that are meant to be trumpeted, such as grace, love, forgiveness, hope, and peace. So often, however, we become blind to seeing life through them.

Small Church Baptism

January 17, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     January 17, 2020

                    

She came to me after the church worship service back in early December and said “Pastor Bill, I’d like to be baptized.” 

“Okay! That sounds good!” Actually, I was taken back a bit by the request, not because of the young lady in front of me, but rather because I’ve known her for four years, seen her grow up, and hadn’t thought about this step in her faith journey.

Plus, I’m not really her pastor, although I sorta’ am. I share the Sunday morning speaking opportunities with my friend, Ed Stucky. So…we’re sorta’ unofficial co-pastors. The fourteen year old asked me to baptize her because I’ve been her middle school camp pastor the last two summers. 

“So…when are you thinking of doing this?”

“Oh, like the last Sunday in December or around there.”

“Okay, let’s talk about what it means and your understanding of why we do it, and why you want to be baptized.” 

We went through our scriptural understanding for why Baptists practice immersion…and then we went back and looked in the baptistry at the front of the sanctuary. That’s when I realized that the church hadn’t had a baptism for a while…like years! Old wooden doors were being stored in the tank. A few spiders had moved in for the winter. We also discovered the missing church crock pot, a leftover brownie (I think it was a brownie!), and someone’s missing hat and mittens…okay, just kidding on the last three!

For us to do a baptism required some rearranging. The wooden doors had to find a new home or doorways.

We prepared. Last Sunday it happened. 

But here’s the thing! Simla First Baptist doesn’t have a heater for the baptistry, and the church’s hot water heater has the capacity of a tea kettle. The church moderator and his wife arrived at 6:45 that morning to fill the baptistry for the 10:15 worship service. They emptied the hot water heater and then started boiling pots of water on the stove. Bless them! Unfortunately, the tank holds a couple hundred gallons. I had visions of a YouTube video I had seen entitled “West Virginia Extreme Baptism”, where a couple of young boys get dunked in a creek where you can see the snow banks on each side.

When I stepped down into the water with my bare feet and an old pair of jeans I immediately thought of my 104 degree hot tub back at our home. I have never done “cryotherapy”, but thought this might be comparable. I smiled at our small congregation, trying to hide the discomfort. I thought of the comfort of Methodists sprinkling a few drops on someone.

I’ve had baptistry issues for a number of years. When I pastored in Michigan the heater was broken on a February baptism Sunday. One young boy getting baptized jumped from the steps to the ledge in front of the baptistry when his feet first touched the water. I literally had to pull him into the water before I was able to dunk him. It’s been a few years, but I think I remember holding him under a few extra seconds just out of my irritation.

And then there was the Christmas Eve when our baptistry was leaking and we placed an inflatable kid’s wading pool shaped like a whale inside our baptistry. 

No leaks this time around, just a few ice cubes!

When I lowered the young lady into the water and then brought her back up her eyes became as big as saucers. It was an awakening experience in more than one way for her. The congregation smiled. 

It was good!

And the doors will not be moved back in. We expect another baptism in the next few months…like August!

Polishing My Shoes

December 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 25, 2019

                      

It brought tears to my eyes and it was only shoe polish.

As I dressed and got ready to leave for the 4:00 Christmas Eve service I went to the closet and retrieved the shoe shine kit. The black polish rubbed smoothly over the leather of my dress shoes. As I brushed the shoes into a shine I was taken back to the same scene played out again and again about five decades ago. Every Christmas Eve my dad would instruct me to shine my shoes. It was a tradition that I didn’t appreciate as a teenager. After all, my shoes would only be seen for a few moments. Otherwise they’d be planted partially underneath the pew in front of me at First Baptist Church in Ironton, Ohio. It seemed like busy work, just something to keep me from watching TV for a few minutes.

But to my dad it was important. There was always the unspoken idea of looking your best and, at church, giving of your best. Polished shoes were an act of devotion to Jesus. If our family couldn’t bring gold, frankincense, or myrrh we could at least show up with some shine and show the Christ-child that we had put a bit of thought into our preparation for worship. 

To my dad it wasn’t just for looks or to impress anyone. It was part of his faith identity. He’s the one who taught me how to put the proper knot into a necktie…and it was another part of the Sunday church prep. To this day I can’t put on a necktie without looking into a mirror. It’s how he taught me to tie it and I’m sorta’ necktie dislexic!

The memories of those moments washed over me as I moved the brush back and forth over my Oxfords. Christmas is about happy kids, joy-filled moments, and the glad tidings of the season. 

But Christmas is also about remembering the parts and the people that have made up the journey. In the joy of the Bethlehem birth, for me at least, there is the moan for the passing of the past. All I can do is honor its memory by continuing its practice.

And so I slip on my shoes and then stand in front of the mirror and make the loops of my necktie. My dad would be proud. He always figured that if he was proud of me Jesus would think I was all right also! After all, in so many ways he was a reflection of Jesus.

The Long Silence

December 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 22, 2019

                                            

Life seems to be noisy these days. Two of my kids will be at the Lions-Broncos football game this afternoon. They’ll stand out because they’ll be cheering for the Lions. Seventy thousand noisy lunatics and they’ll be there. 

Meanwhile, Carol and I will be experiencing a different kind of noise— the noise of our three month old grandson wondering where Mommy and Daddy are. Life seems to be diverse in its types of noisy cries and protests.

Sometimes life is so populated with noise that we can’t hear the silence. Sometimes in our rush to negotiate the situations of life we don’t recognize that there is a moment of holy quiet. 

In the Bible there’s the story of Abraham being given the promise that he will have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abraham, however, got a bit impatient waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise and rushed to solve the problem himself. The last verse of Genesis 16 identifies him as being 86 years old…and then there is a 13 year silence. Genesis 17:1 tells the reader that he is now 99.

13 years of silence from the heavens. It took that long for God to get Abraham’s attention.

Other than bleating sheep and angels praising God the story of Jesus’ coming is punctuated with times of silence. 

A silent Zechariah. A silent confused Joseph. A silent but obedient Mary. Shepherds in terrified quiet during the visitation of the angel. 

Silence has a way of focusing our attention on the next important word that is about to be spoken. Sometimes it’s a long silence, painful to sit through and confusing to our reasoning. Sometimes the silence is renewing. 

And when the silence is from God it is either unnerving or, troubling as this sounds, unnoticed. Some of us wait with anxious anticipation for what God will say and do. Others are so consumed with the chatter of the world that they haven’t noticed the tightened lips of the Lord. 

May today be a day of listening in spite of all the noise!

My Small Town, Small Church Bethlehem

December 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 15, 2019

                            

I’m not against the mega-church. It has its mission, purpose, and place. A lot of my friends are involved in mega-churches in various locations around the country. I’m just not a big church kind of guy.

Most Sundays I’m sitting in a rock hard pew instead of watching a band rock out on stage. The church I attend is about a 45 minute drive from the half-million people city where we live, in a small town of 500 people. The church is about as unsophisticated and un-seeker sensitive as you can get…and yet there’s something that touches my spirit when I worship there with about 15 other people. 

It’s my small town, small church Bethlehem, off the beaten path and unnoticed, a block from the Methodist church that is equally unnoticed and set back in time.

In our city’s newspaper this morning there was a special section that focused on the demise of the small town. It was like a eulogy for what used to be a main fabric in the Americana tapestry, but is now slipping into being part of a memorable past. There was a yearning in the article for a return to the richness of small town communities and weeping words about its fading away.

The same obituary points could be stated about the small town church. Most of the people who move to Simla, Colorado— the few that would apply to, that is— are either running away from something or arriving to disappear from the hustle and bustle of urban life. 

Most of the visitors who come through the doors of our church aren’t quite sure what they are getting themselves into. There’s no church nursery, children’s church, organist, pianist, or welcome center. The congregation is rarely singing the right notes that the “music machine” is playing and last Sunday we didn’t have a single Christmas carol where the number of verses in the hymnal was exactly the number of verses that the machine sounded out.

And yet I’m drawn to its homespun charm and chatter. The coffee is weaker than even Mrs. Folger’s would make it, and someone’s niece that we’ve been praying for this past year is always referred to in the bulletin as so-and-so’s “neice.” It is a church that functions out of an unwritten but defined structure and readily admits that we’re all cracked pots or crackpots.

It has never been lost on me that the birthplace of Jesus was a small town, a village, and that the first visitors were shepherds from the countryside. It took the Magi, representatives of royalty and the upper crust, much longer to show up.

Perhaps my eastern Kentucky rural roots have had too much influence on my perspective, but I hope small towns and small churches can continue to be part of the spiritual journeys of the folk I rub elbows with on Sunday mornings. 

We’ll worship together on Christmas Eve, a special service that they asked me if they could have. I told them that they didn’t need my permission to have a Christmas Eve service and they replied, “We know, but we need you to speak.”

Okay!

The last Sunday in December a young lady is getting baptized. It prompted two questions that needed to be answered. Who’s going to move the old wooden doors that the baptistry is being used for their storage space; and two, does the heater still work? Actually, the second question was more like “We sure hope the heater works!” Since my tootsies will be submerged in the water, I’m offering up a prayer for warmth as well.

Could it be that, just like in first century Bethlehem, God might bring new life and new hope to the the proclamation of the gospel through the unlikely rebirth of the small town, small church Bethlehem.

Bethlehem, after all, means “house of bread”, and the church in Simla, along with the weak coffee, has cookies just about every Sunday after worship. It’s usually a sweet ending to a morning of being blessed.

Thanks-Living

November 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 28, 2019

                                

Today is our son’s 36th birthday. Unreal! Oh, and it also happens to be Thanksgiving Day, a day where we offer thanks, become more cognizant of thanking people, and, for many of us, join hands with others around a dinner table and say grace.

As I do a life analysis the immensity of the blessings in my life are overwhelming. It causes me to live my life out of a heart of gratitude. That is, “thanks-living”!

This morning I’m sitting on my Starbucks stool where I have written almost everyone of 1,100 posts. I’m tipping my baristas who know me by name, who know that I almost always get a tall Pike Place coffee, and know which stool I always sit on unless there’s an intruder. They will thank me for my tip, but they won’t quite understand how they bless me by setting the right mood for me to write in. Unless I’m substitute teaching I’m on this stool to start the day, facing out towards Pike’s Peak. That’s right, looking at Pike’s Peak drinking my Pike Place!

I notice that we live in a world— perhaps culture is a better term— where ungrateful people seem to be as common as the rabbit and squirrel populations in our neighborhood. There may be a connection between the level of ungratefulness and the epidemic of entitlement. 

I wish I could do a research project (but since I flunked Sociology 101 my first term of college I would be at a loss as to how to go about it) that could figure out the correlation between entitlement and ungratefulness. That would be interesting! An entitled person might respond that he’s entitled to feel ungrateful.

Back to thanks-living! Each day I’m aware of the grace of God upon me, his compassionate love. 

           Psalm 9:1 says “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” Life is lived out of a heart full of gratitude. 

I realize that who I am today and how I live today has been greatly influenced by those in my past…my parents, both gone to glory…my wife, Carol, who calculates the cost of decisions with careful consternation ( A lot of “C” words in that statement!)…kids and grandkids, who bring the blessing of laughter to my life…and friends and mentors who have walked with me for parts of the journey. 

I see the handprints of James Payson Martin and Chuck Landon, my first two ministry mentors, upon how I practiced pastoring. I can hear the wisdom of my ministry colleagues, Chuck Moore, Tom Bayes, and Mark Sommers, as they advised and encouraged me through the years. I can count myself blessed to have friends like Dave Volitis, Ron McKinney, Ed and Diana Stucky, and Janet Smith, who bring a richness to my life.

Grumpiness is not an adjective that people would use in describing me. I wasn’t even grumpy when I was drinking the 128 ounces of liquid in preparation for my latest colonoscopy. I’m the reflection of my dad, who approached life with optimism, a smile, and a warm greeting. Perhaps that’s also why I’m a proponent for thanks-living.

And now, like tipping my baristas this morning, I seek to live out my thankfulness. It comes out uncomplicated most of the time, like saying “Good morning!” to each student who walks down the hallway at Timberview Middle School; taking Carol to 7-11 for her morning Diet Coke with crushed ice; and chuckling during the verbal exchanges with four year old granddaughter Corin that may cover the subjects of ballerina outfits, bugs, and building blocks all within a five minute time frame.

I’m completely consumed with thankful-living!

The Shadow Over Grace

November 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  November 17, 2019

                                       

This morning I’m witnessing an incredible view of Pike’s Peak “peeking” through the low hanging clouds around it. It’s almost as if the mountain has battled to be seen, struggled to rise above and take a breath of air.

The interesting thing for me is that, as I viewed this sight, I was pondering a statement made in a sermon recently. The pastor said that we begin to value righteousness and lose sight of the graciousness. Righteousness, or our leaning towards it, has a way of pushing grace under the clouds. It becomes smothering.

One reason for that is that righteousness, the striving to do what’s right, is much easier to define. What is the right thing to do is often much clearer than the gracious act of caring.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d much rather be around people who do the right thing, the wise thing, than people who do the stupid deed. Followers of Jesus, however, have a way of endearing themselves to his righteousness and relegating his graciousness to the footnotes. Sometimes we forget that one of the reasons Zacchaeus was up in a tree, besides his small stature, was because the people were short on grace. They wanted to see Jesus, but not a despised tax collector. 

Church folk have a tendency to be like that also. The scenario and names of the characters have been changed, but the plot is the same. Someone shows up in Sunday worship who has had sin in their life (Like…that’s not true for some of the frozen chosen!) and the great separation begins. I’ve seen some people, who have committed life-errors, be treated like a swollen joint by the righteous, iced out.

A friend of mine told me of a church he attended that was very accepting and friendly. After a few Sundays he decided he would let his adult Sunday School class know about some of the struggles of his past. The room temperature suddenly dropped to freezing.

Truthfully, it is difficult to balance righteousness and graciousness. Some folk are so excessively gracious they inadvertently cheapen it. Others are so wary about grace they treat it like the family valuables, locked up in a safety deposit box only to be brought out for a moment and then put away for another six months.

And so we have the story of Zacchaeus, who climbs above the inflexibility of the righteous to be able to experience the grace of Jesus…and then a new way of life!

By the time I finished writing these words Pike’s Peak had climbed completely above the clouds, looking freed and beautiful. I wish it was as easy and natural for grace to do the same.