Archive for the ‘Faith’ category

Every Blessing Leads To A New Problem/Challenge

November 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        November 15, 2018

                            

Recently I was worshiping at a church my daughter attends. The pastor talked about blessings, being blessed and the gratitude of experiencing the blessings of God. In the midst of his message he made a profound point that struck me so much I wrote it down!

He said every blessing leads to a new problem! 

I’m sure we could substitute the word ”challenge” for blessing if need be, but I’ll stay with problem just to press the point.

The first gathering of Christ-followers, who became the first church, prove it. Acts 6 begins with these words:

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1)

To break it down it would read like this: The number of disciples increased, and the number of problems increased as well!

At stake was the very reputation of the first church. Like a restaurant getting a bad Yelp review they were at risk of being labeled as uncaring, “all words but no action”, fake, a flash in the pants. Their blessing led to a new problem.

I wonder if there were some “who wished for the old days” when you didn’t have to stand in line and there was room in the meeting room? Kind of a New Testament version of the Hebrews longing to return to bondage in Egypt!

Going back to when Jesus traveled from place to place healing people and speaking truth, he kept drawing larger and larger crowds. The blessing of a healed life was accompanied by twenty more people following Jesus looking to be healed. Jesus didn’t see it as a problem, but his disciples sometimes gave the impression that they were at their wit’s end because of it. Like the employee of a major retail store on Black Friday…a sense of dread about the next twelve hours or so!

Every blessing leads to a new problem. In Colorado Springs the blessing of having a mission that is concerned about the homeless and impoverished, called the Springs Rescue Mission, has led to new problems. Perhaps this is where the word “challenge” would fit better! The mission has almost always been at capacity in the housing of the homeless in its shelter. They’ve expanded the number of beds with a new facility. It still can not accommodate all of those who need shelter, but it’s a blessing to the city. The blessing has come with new challenges, like opposition from those who are concerned about public safety and having a large number of homeless people in a certain area of the city, increased health issues that the homeless population brings, and the increased challenges of leading homeless people back to a more settled life.

On one hand Colorado Springs thanks God for the Rescue Mission, but on the other the effectiveness and caring of their ministry and mission has resulted in more challenges for them and the city.

Blessings do not lead to an eased existence and a comfortable life. Blessings are simply a step on the road that stays obedient and faithful as it follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

It’s like our family gathering last night! We had dinner at our house, all ten of us- our three children, two son-in-laws, three grandkids, Carol, and I. What a blessing to have family tonight! Carol fixed an amazing dinner, that culminated a couple of days of anxiety and worry 

about whether it was going to be okay; the grandkids ran around like they were on sugar-highs; the noise level was sometimes deafening and the number of conversations going on at the same time were plentiful. We had to put up another table alongside the dinner table to fit everyone. The dishes were piled up afterwards, and Grammy and Granddad’s energy had been consumed!

And we knew we were blessed! 

We wouldn’t want it any other way! Blessings bring problems and challenges, and we’re smiling in the midst of our exhaustion!

The Light Shines Into the Hatred

October 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 28, 2018

JESUS: In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

There’s something about hate that gathers headlines. In recent times it seems to be surfacing in violent and venomous ways. Shooting people and hurling angry words make the nightly news and, in this election time, fills up the TV commercial time. 

Extremists seem to be getting bolder in the acting out of their weirdness and prejudices.  And people, otherwise known as your average citizens, aren’t sure of what they can say because it might be taken the wrong way by someone who will attack like a pit bull in return.

Jesus talked about being light in the midst of darkness, and to let light shine that people might know that goodness still lives and that God still reigns. He wasn’t talking about establishing a publicity ministry that spins out nice stories, but rather entering the shadows of the world as called people on a mission for God. 

It’s a bit of a quandary for those of us who follow Jesus. Light should get noticed and yet, in our culture, “getting noticed” often goes hand-in-hand with tooting our own horn, seeking attention, and even arrogance. We’re often stumped by having a humbleness about our walk with Jesus and letting people know how great our acts of kindness are. Is there “too humble” and also a point that is “over the line arrogant?”

To use a different analogy, friends of ours moved to Alaska this summer. As the fall days head towards winter they are noticing “the absence of light” more and more. Of course, as we head towards mid-December that absence will increase each day. There will come a time, perhaps, when they become more accustomed to the darkness than the absence of light. 

Unfortunately, it may be an analogy of our world right now. We’re more accustomed to darkness than aware of the light’s absence. 

Being light does not blind like the high beams of a car. Light is assuring. It’s altering. Our stairway at home has a light that shows how many steps there are still to take before reaching the bottom. More than once I’ve tried to navigate those steps without the aid of a light and, even though it’s a staircase I’ve gone up and down thousands of times, there is still an uncertainty in the darkness. The light, however, never fails me.

If I am a light that shines for Jesus I don’t need to make sure people are noticing. I can just be who he has called me to be, and who he has called me to.

Someone who opens fire at a Jewish synagogue, kills 11 and wounds 6, will get the headlines. It tells of the price of hatred. Being light in the midst of this devastation will mean different things for different people. At worship this morning I’ll raise up Tree of Life Synagogue to pray for. In Pittsburgh there may be other “people of light” who will come alongside the grieving in love and support. 

What I believe as a follower of Jesus is that light will surpass the darkness…sometime  and someday, individually and collectively. When I find it hard to open up the daily newspaper I remind myself that light will ultimately triumph.

Like my friends in Alaska who will be asking the question, “Will we ever see light again?”; the answer is…yes! Don’t get used to living in the darkness! Keep believing that light will come back!

The Church I Don’t Have to Attend to Attend

October 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 21, 2018

 

It’s the reality that unsettles me!

The church is different than it was when I was growing up. Heck! It’s different than when I pastored! 

Not that it didn’t change at all when I was pastoring! I remember the first Sunday back in Mason, Michigan when I used power point slides to go along with my message. A twenty-something person came up to me afterwards and told me that I had a great message and that the slides on the screen had made it even better. And then a sixty-something lady came up to me and said the message was great, but the slides had been a distraction. That was a wake -up moment about generational differences at that time (early 1990’s). The power points continued each Sunday after that and the older lady got used to it!

Carey Nieuwhof said that “the gap between how quickly you change and how quickly things change is called irrelevance!” The contemporary church has rarely had the adjective “innovative” attached to it. 

It’s like the church is still learning the multiplication tables and culture has moved on to algebra. 

And yet, some churches have often rushed to change because what the culture says has occupied the driver’s seat of the mission and Jesus, although still in the vehicle, is just one of the passengers…kinda’ like Grandpa, still well-respected but no longer allowed to drive!

Social media has changed how the church functions. That’s understandable, as long as we don’t build a new garage simply because we came home with a new car. 

In a growing number of churches people no longer have to be physically present at an on-site worship service to be a part of the congregation. Aunt Lucy can now stream the worship service and watch it at home. Social media and technology have now made it possible for people to be a part of a church in a different state across the country.

The importance of having a  sense of “community” has been packed in the trunk. The new clamoring is about “connectedness.” 

Connectedness has been confused with being the twin sister of community! People confuse being connected on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter with being a part of a spiritual community. 

A wise middle school principal, seeing how social media consumes so much of a typical adolescent’s time, takes this approach. 

“You have to manage your social being with being social.”

In other words, our social being has the potential to minimize our ability to be social. 

That being said, there is something about the Body of Christ coming together in a worship setting, taking the bread and the cup of the communion experience and sharing with one another, having someone ask if the church can gather around him and touch him with their hands and prayer. Perhaps those things are antiquated elements of a church that is passing away, but I guess that means I’m ancient!

Negative Feast or Negative Fast

October 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 14, 2018

                          

Years ago an amazing woman named Jeannie Dohner came to our church and talked about “The Negative Fast”. Jeannie had dealt with cancer on two different occasions and in the midst of our struggles she had noticed how negative her viewpoint had become about many things that were really blessings. During that second bout with cancer God impressed upon her the idea of “fasting” from the negative. She would not say that the negative fast cured her, but it did set her mind and attitude in a better direction. 

There are plenty of people in this world who feast on the negative. They can see the bad in anything and anyone. They would have found something to gripe about when Jesus fed the 5,000! They get tired of days that are sunny and 72 degrees. Everything in the world is too expensive, even items in the free pile!

Negative people consume our energy; they dent our zest for life. I’m not sure how they got that way. Perhaps some of life’s problems and struggles pounded them for so long that they could no longer see anything positive. Maybe they’re a spitting image of either their mom or their dad! That is, their negativity is a learned behavior. They may even complain about how negative their dad was!

In our political climate there is a buffet of negativity. How many of us have grown tired of the negative political ads that paint one candidate as being the incarnation of evil and the other candidate as the new messiah? Don’t you just want to grind your teeth when one of those TV ads comes on? 

And yet those ads are effective in changing people’s minds! That’s why there’s a never-ending flow of them! “Negative Nellie” wins more times than “Positive Peter”.

Which points to a sad truth! That we are more effected or influenced by the negative than we are by the positive! We tend to believe negative news more than upbeat stories. 

What if we took a fast from the negative this coming week? What would that do for us? What would that do for the people around us? Perhaps, just perhaps, it might even cause the naysayers to stutter on their thoughts.

Maybe, just maybe.

Married To A Spontaneously Kind Person

October 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 7, 2018

                          

We were sitting in Cracker Barrel enjoying an unscheduled dinner out after a hectic day of substitute teaching and coaching (me) and watching the grandkids (Carol) for our oldest daughter and teacher, Kecia, who had parent-teacher conferences. Our conversation traveled through the wanderings of our days…the things the kids said, the players for the 8th Grade basketball team that I was deciding on, and national news items.

And then she was up!

A table of three sat behind us and to my left. I had noticed people sitting there on our way in, but I hadn’t given it another thought. Carol had! She went back to their table as they were finishing their meal. They were three senior citizens, one in a wheelchair, one with a cane, and the third now pushing the wheelchair as they began to leave. I heard conversation and thank you’s, but I didn’t know what exactly was happening. 

And then Carol brought their meal check back to our table and put it on top of our own check. “We’re paying for their meals!” 

“Okay,” I agree, knowing that it really isn’t a vote that she’s asking for. It is just how it is!

The three people are hobbling out as I say to Carol, “Well, I’d better go pay this so they don’t think they’re trying to sneak out (An impossibility taking into account their lack of speed and that they have a wheelchair!). I’ll be right back!”

The three thank me again as I come up behind them. The looks on their faces are priceless. Someone had done something really, really nice for them that had taken them back. I could tell that they’d be talking about it for the rest of the evening.

My wife is like that. She is spontaneously kind. She’ll give a quarter to a kid who is short on change for the candy he wants to buy at 7-11. She will ask someone who looks like they might be confused or lost or both if she can help them in some way. When our daughter calls at the last minute to see if Mom can watch one of the grandkids who has suddenly become ill Carol is out the door before she ends the cell phone call. 

Her kindness is sometimes scheduled, but, more often than not, is spontaneous…lived out in the doings of the day. She would tell you that the Lord led her to pick up the check for those three people. It just happened. In the midst of eating her bacon and eggs God cleared her vision to see what she needed to do. 

When I say “cleared her vision”, what you probably don’t know is that she had a cornea transplant operation thirty years ago because of a disease called “Keratoconus”, which is a gradual deterioration of the cornea. Her vision will never be good. She now plans her driving trips with “an eye” on when sunset is scheduled to occur because she does not like to drive in the dark anymore. 

Side note: Her vision at sporting events is always 20/20 however! She sees things that the officials miss all the time!

Spontaneous kindness! It’s who she is! She will open doors for people, and always say thank you to someone who opens the door for her. She’s also not afraid to give a piece of her mind to a middle school student who has someone be kind to him, but does not acknowledge it.

And the thing is, I see that tendency towards spontaneous kindness filtering down through the next two generations of our family. Kecia goes over and above for her third grade students and her school. I remember David, our middle child who is a restaurant chef, stopping at Chick-fil-a one morning on his way to work and buying a bag of chicken breakfast biscuits for his cooking staff just to say “Thank you!” Lizi, our youngest, works with families whose children qualify for Head Start and other resources. 

And now the three grandkids are showing tendencies towards being kind, not coerced to do so but rather out of the doings of daily life.

The three people walking out of Cracker Barrel with smiles as full as their satisfied tummies is just the latest blessing from the woman I married, and for the woman I married!

Be Kind or Be Kinda’ Kind

September 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 25, 2018

                            

At our middle school, as any other middle school, there has been a lot of information and discussion about bullying- what it is and what to do if you are the person who is being bullied? 

This school year there has been an initiative to have students and teachers think about doing the polar opposite of bullying. It’s the idea of being kind. Teachers and administrators wear t-shirts that say “Be Kind” on the front. (I’ve got one of the t-shirts!) Since school is only into its seventh week it’s hard to make any “kind” of determination on the effect or non-effect of the initiative yet. 

Students ARE influenced by slogans and sayings, images and symbols, but I’m not sure how well a school can teach kindness. It’s on a different plane than learning algebra, what the functions are of the three branches of government, or the different body parts of a grasshopper are. 

From my Christian faith, kindness is one of the results that emerges in the life of a Christ-follower as he/she allows the Holy Spirit to take up residence in his/her life. Kindness, along with other characteristics like perseverance, self-control, and peace are called “fruit of the Spirit.” That’s not to say that someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus can’t be kind, but I’m more comfortable with the belief that the Spirit can develop it within my life than in the idea that it can be taught to be a part of our human nature. 

Middle school students are a bizarre community of many things- kind and thoughtful, self-centered and obnoxious, unorganized and wrinkled, understanding and supportive. Perhaps teaching and emphasizing kindness will cause a number of them to think about what they say and do before they do it,  but I’m hesitant to believe it will change them for a lifetime. It may simply make this school year a little more tolerable!

I’m not so naive as to believe that if someone is a Christian he/she is automatically kind. I know a lot of people who identify themselves as Christians who are simply jerks! I wouldn’t let them date my granddaughter or walk my cat (if I still had a cat)! 

Jesus modeled kindness for his disciples. His disciples were a bit clumsy in how they showed such a practice, but it finally sunk in. Early followers of Christ were known for their kindness. It grew out of their spiritual relationships and from the life of their community. 

Can schools teach kindness that has sanitized from anything resembling Jesus? Time will tell, but it may end up being more like a “kinda’ kind!”

Longing For the Simple Church

September 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        September 23, 2018

                           

I’ll be driving out to Simla, Colorado this morning to give the morning message at First Baptist Church. Since I retired from pastoring at the end of 2015 I’ve made the 50 minute easy drive to Simla on most Sundays, even Sundays I’m not scheduled to speak.

As I reflected on my new place for preaching 36 years of sermons I discovered why I enjoy Simla so much. 

It’s simple!

First Baptist Church in Simla is about as uncomplicated as you can get. On a well-attended Sunday morning there may be 20 people crowded into the sanctuary that seats over a hundred. Years ago the church was filled, or close to it, and then the main industry in town closed and people moved away, or died, or became more interested in something different on Sunday mornings. No one seems to have moved down the block to the Methodist Church. They are as lean in numbers as the Baptists.

Simla reminds me of a simpler time, and probably the most enjoyable time I had in my years as a pastor. It was when I went to pastor the First Baptist Church in Mason, Michigan. Although it was my first experience as the pastor of a church, having served as a part of the pastoral staff in two previous places, the congregation of Mason helped me as I learned and didn’t threaten execution when I failed.

I remember the people…Durwould and Elsie Collar, Ken and Ardis Bystrom, Russ and Freida Vincent, Harry and Phyllis Smith, Marie Lyons, Lorraine Demorest, Tim and Karen Chora, Ed and Pat Myer, Eva Collar, Eleanor Hart, Otto and Mary Heikkila, Harold and Carol Anderson, Howard and Kyoto Wandell, Katherine Every, and Ivan Heincelman. Each name conjures up memories and conversations that chiseled me a little closer to being a good pastor. 

It was a simple time. That is, church seemed more like a summer picnic in the country than a week of meetings and responsibilities. It seemed like we enjoyed one another a little more and treasured moments like sitting in a booth at A&W and eating lunch together or having a Saturday morning men’s bible study where we ate donuts and drank coffee.

We didn’t have social media. Our media was a mention in the Ingham County News weekly newspaper…maybe! Our biggest crisis during those years was when a couple left the church because we weren’t nearly as spiritual as Jim and Tammy Bakker. 

Simla brings back memories of those days, days of joy, peace, and community. This morning as I travel on Highway 24 it’s like I’m going back to what was and maybe what still can be.