Archive for the ‘Pastor’ category

Realizing What We No Longer Have

April 2, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 2, 2020

                        

When I recently taught 7th Grade Language Arts for 8 weeks, I noticed somber-faced students entering the building at 7:30. Although some were excited about being at school for another day of broadening their educational experience, most were as excited as a skateboarder at a geriatric bingo night.

Many of them longed to be anywhere but a classroom. Some of them had arrived at the notion that their purpose in life was to drive teachers looney. 

And now they are just one example of a long, long list of realizations of how good we, and they, had it! E-learning has been more taxing than their 57 minute class times in the school building. Teachers expect them to still be students and most of them can no longer be convincing when they say to their parents that they don’t have any homework.

Sometimes we don’t realize what we had until we no longer have it. No workouts at the Y! No booth at Red Lobster! No library to browse amongst the rows of books! Our routines have been knocked down like Lego blocks that we assumed were firmly in place, and now new routines, less certain and more like a Jenga tower, are being assembled.

Last Sunday I attended three worship services in different parts of the country- southern Ohio; Champaign, Illinois; and Pleasanton, California. Of course, all three were streamed into my study at home. It was a unique experience, and it made me realize how much I miss the “community of presence” when a church congregation meets together. I was fed the Word and yet I missed the fellowship that touches my spirit.

Grandkids miss grandparents and vice-versa. Waving to one another from the other side of a car window doesn’t do it. In some ways, it elevates the loneliness. 

I miss my writing stool at my local Starbucks and the baristas who I would joke with each day, giving each other new first names that began with our first initial, like Bartholomew for my “B” and “Catastrophic” for the barista whose first name begins with “Cat.” 

I miss the days when you didn’t look at people with suspicion— Does he have it? Shouldn’t those young people not be hanging around there?— or cut a wide berth around an elderly couple walking in the opposite direction.

We realize that things will never, in our lifetime, be what they once were. Our future plans are on hold. Our questions about when we might take a vacation have no clear answers. Our special events just lose some of their specialness when we participate by Zoom.

And I also think, in the midst of these cataclysmic changes, that many of us have come to realize how much of our lives have been revolved around things and events that, in the larger scheme of things, really aren’t that important. Many of us are coming to the discovery that our lives don’t have much depth to them at all. We’re shallow, like multiple text messages that just keep saying “Hi!” and “What’s up?” Perhaps, in the midst of this journey, we’ll dig deeper roots into things that matter…relationships, purpose, and spiritual nourishment. 

I think of the story of Job in the Old Testament. It’s painful, in many ways to read. Job has the good life, things seem to be in perfect harmony for him. And then it all comes crashing down…wealth, health, the respect people showed toward him. But at the end of the story, after Job has everything else stripped away from his life, he finds that nothing and no one can strip away his relationship with God.

Realizing what we no longer have may help us understand what we do have and can’t be taken away! 

Being Out-served

March 27, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      March 27, 2020

                                    

A young woman, consumed with the number of her followers on Instagram, was interviewed by Dr. Phil about her self-centeredness in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. She had partied and been apathetic toward the idea of taking safety precautions to protect herself and, more importantly, others from contracting the virus.

When Dr. Phil directed his anger at her about putting others at risk through her carelessness, she responded that it wasn’t her problem. In fact, she indicated that Baby Boomers, like Dr. Phil, were the problem. 

He had a few things to say to her!

Her perspective, based on narcissism and arrogance, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from those who proclaim to follow Jesus. Instead of placing ourselves on the throne, Christ-followers seek to serve the One who is on the throne. Sometimes that serving is clumsy and misguided, like buying your wife a weigh scale for her birthday thinking it will help her be more healthy, but the mindset is right— seeking to benefit someone else’s life.

In these uncertain times, if too many people with the same attitude as the young woman are populating one side of the world’s see-saw and too few people are helping at the other end we will all suffer from the imbalance.

I still remember a message conveyed almost 25 years ago at a Promisekeepers conference in the Pontiac Silverdome by an African-American pastor named Efrem Smith. He encouraged us to out-serve our spouses. The same principle could be used in regards to out-serving our parents, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers. His point was that our tendency is to think about ourselves, our wants, our needs, who’s going to wait on us, who’s going to bring us satisfaction, instead of figuring out how we can help others to know that they are valued.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he wrote these powerful words that indicate what Jesus’s mindset was:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

  And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!”        (Philippians 2:5-8)

I’ve been blessed to have seen this picture of selflessness modeled for me by numerous people who have been parts of my life. My dad served my mom with patience and care. In her last few years of life when Parkinson’s was limiting her mobility, Dad waited on her as his calling. When Mom was bedridden and the disease had impacted her ability to formulate words, Dad cared for her without grumbling. He did not do it out of obligation, but rather out of his desire to show her that he still loved her. 

That character was evident in many of my professors at Judson College and Northern Baptist Seminary. The willingness to sit and listen to students at lunchtime in the student commons or continue conversations after class over a cup of coffee was the norm, not the exception, as our teachers sought to help us toward maturity of mind and meaningfulness in life.

Serving one another, and seeking to go the extra mile for one another, has become a key ingredient of our marriage. Truth be told, it is so ingrained in our relationship that we don’t think about it when we’re in the midst of it.

Since we’re confined to our surroundings for the foreseeable future, having the nature of a servant is crucial. In fact, the idea for this Words from WW came from Carol. She had remembered me talking about this message by Efrem Smith so long ago. I’m hoping that, in the midst of my failures and shortcomings, that she has felt loved, cherished, and served. 

The Battle Within to Stay Within

March 25, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 25, 2020

                            

The governor of Colorado spoke, a mixture of anger and pleading in his voice. He was asking people to stay at home, practice social distancing, wash their hands, and watch out for one another. As news of the number of infected New Yorkers alarmed us, more alarming were the scenes of people congregating together to play full-court basketball, lay on the beaches, and crowd into Costco.

In New York Governor Cuomo’s press conference, his arteries were about to pop out of his neck he was so angry at some of the citizens of his state. For many, it seems that the pandemic is something that will pass from the news in a few days. No biggie! 

It tells us of the battle within each one of us, the struggle to do the right thing versus our strong-willed determination to do what we want. Each one of us faces it multiple times each day. 

Yesterday was our granddaughter Corin’s fifth birthday. Carol and I drove over to our daughter’s house with presents, but we stayed a few feet away from our grandkids as we celebrated in the driveway in front of their house. Our desire was to hug and embrace the little birthday princess, but our greater hope is and has been, that all of our family is safe and remains healthy. The battle was evident. We’re accustomed to hugs and loving touches, but we had to blow kisses to one another instead.

Scripture talks about that internal struggle…frequently! The Apostle Paul does a personal tug-of-war in Romans 7, where he goes back and forth trying to understand why he has a tendency to do the things he knows he shouldn’t do, while also recognizing his desire to do what is good. 

There’s Simon Peter, who would do anything for Jesus, and then denying he even knew the man. There’s Paul’s categorizing of the sinful nature (“the acts of the flesh) and then the fruit of the Spirit (the characteristics of someone allowing the Holy Spirit to lead him/her) in Galatians 5.

There’s the conversation that Jesus has with a young man in Matthew 19. The young man asks Jesus what good thing he must do to get eternal life? When Jesus narrows the focus of the discussion down to the man’s obsession with his wealth the line was drawn in the sand. It was a line that revealed what the struggle and, consequently, what his priorities were. The scripture says that “he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

The battle is different for you than it is for me, but it is still that inner tussle for following the ways of God, following what we know is right, versus giving into our hunger to satisfy ourselves in the moment.

The current pandemic has clearly shown examples of self-sacrifice. A 72-year-old Italian priest named Don Giuseppe Berardelli, infected with COVID-19, gave up his ventilator for a younger person who was sick. The priest had been suffering from a respiratory condition for some time and his church had bought the ventilator for him previously. Father Don died two days ago, a week after giving his ventilator up.

Volunteers are helping gather and deliver food, neighbors are checking neighbors, people are praying for one another. The good acts of humanity have been frequently needed harmonies of sweet music.

But our propensity for dumbness and deceit has also been evident. New scams are suckering in desperate people. People are stealing toilet paper from places of business. Stubborn self-centered folk are thumbing their noses at following protective guidelines. 

Crazy people in crazy times!

Let me tell you what my hope is. My hope is that the God of heaven changes hearts in these coming days, causes people to look into the mirror and discover who their number one foe and number one advocate is, and brings us into new and deeper realizations of how precious the gift of life and our loved ones are.

Losing All Our Toys In Order To Find Our Way

March 19, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               March 19, 2020

                             

I first met Bill Dohner at a SonLife conference in Chicago in the early days of 1999. I was talking to a pastoral search committee from Colorado Springs, trying to discern God’s leading. He sat down beside me before our first workshop and we did introductions. 

“I’m Bill from Mason, Michigan.”

“Good to meet you, Bill! I’m Bill from Colorado Springs.”

It didn’t seem like a coincidence. As we became more acquainted, he told me his story. At that time he was working at Cook Communications, but it had been a long journey getting there.

He and his wife, Jeanie, had lived in Tennessee, where Bill’s employment situation had been very lucrative. In his own words, he told me, “We had all the toys! A boat, Ski-do’s, motorcycles, nice cars…all the toys we didn’t need.”

And then his employment situation changed drastically and he was looking for a new job. He thought it would be easy to find one, maybe have to take a reduction in pay, but he wasn’t worried about it. However, no new position was offered. He’d interview and not be the choice. They went month after month, burning through their savings and wondering why God was doing this?

They began selling off their “toys” and realizing that their lives had become a bit out of balance. When their last “toy” was sold, Bill received a call from Promisekeepers, based in Colorado, and was offered a position with the ministry. 

He said to me, “Bill, I’m not saying that this needs to be everybody’s experience, but, for us, we needed to lose our toys before we could see our true Hope.” 

Sometimes there needs to be some kind of loss before we can gain. Sometimes our “toys”, whatever they may be, need to disappear in order for us to become grounded again. Sometimes we trust more in our “toys” than we do in our Shepherd.

Bill’s journey became more and more rooted in faith. Promisekeepers had a cut in staff and that’s when he went to Cook. After being at Cook for a few years his whole department was eliminated and he took a position with Family Ministries in Little Rock. Before the position was even offered to him in Little Rock, he and Jeanie had signed a lease for a house.

Someone from Family Ministries said to him, “Wait a minute! You signed a lease before we even offered you the job?”

“Sure! We knew this was where God wanted us to be and we figured he’d catch you up to it.”

A Faith Gathering or A Separation of Caring

March 15, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     March 15, 2020

                     

Congregations are wrestling with the question: do we gather together in worship or do we recommend that our worshippers stay away this Sunday just to be safe?

Does not meeting say something about our lack of faith? Does gathering together say something about our lack of concern for the well-being of the attenders?

Pessimists will focus on the downside of any decision. Optimists will see the upside. Quite honestly, I think this is one of those situations where the teachers of the law and the Pharisees would be sitting in front of Jesus, trying to trap him into making a statement that would support their opinions; and I think Jesus would redirect their questions bathed in legalism and void of grace by asking them another question…you know, one of his questions that had a simple spiritually wise answer that they were afraid to say!

Could it be that Jesus would ask those of us who are trying to get an answer that supports our already determined position if we love God and people?

Sheepishly, we would look at Him and answer yes. 

And He would reply, “Then show it!”

The pessimists and optimists would look at one another with confused interpretations, some troubled and others hopeful, seeking to understand the message in the message. Like Samson’s riddle, we search for the answer that shows how strong our commitment to God is. 

One of the translators, stuck in the moment, asks Jesus what it will look like and he adds a sorta’ clarification.

“Show your love for God by loving your people. If your people need the gathering of the saints to feel loved, then gather your flock; but if by gathering your flock your people feel threatened and unsafe, then ask them to practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, solitude, and meditation. Anoint the ill and pray for the afflicted.”

The greedy disciple in our midst carelessly reveals his heart. “But what about the weekly tithes and offerings?”

And Jesus stares at him for a moment before saying, “There are some things that are more precious than a personal check placed in a plate, such as the pricelessness of someone feeling loved and cared for.”

There are other questions that go unasked as the listeners realize how shallow they really are. Like, what about the coffee and donuts…and “But, our praise team worked hard to perform this new song!”…and “But it’s Lent!”

And so some congregations realize that the gathering of the saints is the needed medicine while others know a week of Sunday social distancing is what their faith community is called to observe.

The optimist in me conjures up the thought about the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. For us to take an extra week to cross the Jordan doesn’t seem so bad!

The Possibility of Entitlement Conversion

March 14, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 14, 2020

                      

 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Romans 6:11-12)

As the world locks arms…from a distance…to battle the Coronavirus, the problem children emerge as well. Hospitals are discovering that some of their important items are being stolen. Hand sanitizer and rolls of toilet paper are flying out of hospitals as fast as they are appearing on grocery store shelves. 

And yet other people in this great world are discovering the joy of serving their fellow man. And others still are looking at the self-centered nature of their lives and making about-face turns. 

Perhaps this pandemic can light a fuse for the conversion of our entitlement culture. When the life and death of others becomes the final jeopardy question, will enough people take themselves off their thrones and realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them? 

Stealing hand sanitizer from a hospital is a sign that dark hearts still lumber through our land, but to have people looking out for one another— their neighbors, their elderly parents, canceling major sporting events, concerts, and church gatherings— says that there are still willing hearts in this struggle.

Maybe, just maybe, this world crisis will spawn a spiritual crisis about what is really important in this short life of ours and what’s simply not necessary. Maybe, just maybe, there will be an awakening about what should really rise to the top and what is simply like toilet paper, a lot of fluff! 

Life In The Shadow of Death

March 7, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 7, 2020

                                 

The long lines at Costco hit the evening news. Shoppers were stocking up on a year’s supply of bottled water, hand wipes, and facial tissues. When an illness is still shrouded in mystery, history has told us over and over again that people rush toward any possible remedy or, at least, look to take any precaution possible. 

At Starbucks this morning I could not use my own reusable cup. For the immediate future, they are serving coffee in their disposable paper cups, and when you want a refill they give you a new cup. 

The shadow of death that looms over our lives right now is scary…and revealing. There is the fear of death that rings true for many of us, but, more than that, the uncertainty of death is what scares most of us. 

Not to trivialize the coronavirus concern in any way, but I can’t help but compare these tensions in the uncertainty with an amusement park ride at Cedar Point in northern Ohio called “Top Thrill Dragster”. Several years ago my kids convinced me that I needed to ride it with them. I wasn’t sure, but they dragged me to the ride. When we finally reached the front of the line, two of the ride workers were hosing out the front car…a bad sign! However, it was the uncertainty of what I was about to experience that caused me to shudder. That racing into the unknown is what is causing us to be wary of large crowds, wash our hands more, and be more observant.

The shadow of death has that effect. 

As a follower of Jesus, I also go forward with the assurance of Psalm 23 echoing in my mind. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and staff they comfort me!”

Back in first-century Rome when the plague went through the city, the sick were discarded from their homes, left to live and die on the streets and in the shadows in their final moments of life. It was the followers of Jesus who embraced the diseased and cared for them in their final hours, often willingly becoming infected themselves. 

They loved Jesus, and it was the love of Christ that brought their compassion out for others. Understandably they did not have the knowledge about diseases and spreadable viruses that we have today, but there was peace within them as they stood in death’s path. In the midst of the virus concerns, the evening news also showed scenes from Tennessee’s recent tornadoes…and the long lines of people coming to volunteer in any way they can!

Whatever these next few days may bring us— more long lines at Costco but short lines at movie theaters, cancellations of commitments and even reduced attendance at Sunday worship— may we always be reminded of the Holy Presence that walks with us in the shadows!