Archive for the ‘Pastor’ category

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!

Updating My Book

March 1, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 1, 2020

                                        

My recently released book Red Hot: New Life in Fleming received its first review a few days ago. The reviewer gave it 5 Stars. Here is what was written:

I just finished reading this book and I enjoyed it immensely. I would consider this book light reading and to me that is definitely a plus! It deals with bullying and also pressures that are sometimes put on students that we as parents are sometimes not aware of. It has a homespun feel to it and it took me back to my childhood on several occasions. The two main characters show us what true friendship is all about and how they maintain that friendship through adolescent struggles. Most of us can relate to this while looking back on our own teenage years. I highly recommend this book for readers of all ages. You won’t be disappointed.

That was cool!

Okay, true confession! I know the person who wrote the review, although I’m not related to her. She attends the same church my sister does in southern Ohio and is probably reading these words. BUT she was sincere in what she said in her review! That’s just how she is!

On Friday, one of the language arts teachers at the school where I’m teaching read the first chapter of the book to each of her classes. I had kids coming up to me between classes and telling me how much they enjoyed the first chapter.

So now to just get people to read it! My youngest daughter is counseling me to get on Instagram and do that whole thing! She will have to guide me! My sister-in-law has bought a couple of copies and taken them to her town’s public library in Clarendon Hills, Illinois. The Timberview Middle School library has three copies of it for students to check out.ng, In

Going through Kindle Direct Publishing is easy in many ways…until you get to the marketing part of the equation. It’s a whole new experience at that point. 

And while I’m trying to get the first book known, I’ve been revising the second book in the series, Red Hot: New Grace in Fleming. There’s a student at my middle school who read the draft of the first book and has been salivating about the second book. I print off 40-50 pages at a time and take it to her at school. Whenever I’m handing her the new folder of print she breaks out in a grin and receives the newest additions as if it’s food for a starving person. In some ways, it has inspired me to be more disciplined in my revising in order to satisfy her appetite.

A couple of other people I know who have read the first book have been eagerly awaiting the sequel. Well, …their comments are more like…”We’re waiting!!!” I envision folded arms and impatient teacher-types, staring at me with consternation.

So…today I’ll revise 2 or 3 more chapters and push the dogs toward the finish line!

(The first book is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. From March 22-29 is it free on Kindle. Otherwise, you’ll have to fork over $2.99! The paperback is $11.99! Save your pennies!)

Moments

February 29, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 29, 2020

                                         

“Lord, protect me in the moments of life that can bring devastation, nudge me in the moments where something extraordinary is about to happen, and remind me of those moments that brought blessings into my life.”

They can last a second, maybe a few of them strung together. They come when you’re taking a walk around the block that ends up being much more than a stroll, or in the midst of a concert when a song is sung that brings you back to a family memory burying deep inside you. They come upon a mountaintop and also in the overwhelming darkness of a valley.

Moments are sometimes like stop signs thrown up in front of you to bring the tires to a screeching halt. They can be either collisions or proposals spoken from one knee. Either one changes things, changes the course, brings in a detour to the plans, or new energy to the idea.

There was a collision a couple of days ago and a former student of mine was tragically killed. It was one of those moments that will bring heartbreak to friends and family. A car turning too late…another car broadsiding it…and then the chaotic seconds where life evaporates into death. I was talking to a teaching friend of mine about it, who had also taught the student the same year I did, and he told me of a similar event he had experienced in his life about fifteen years before that. In his situation, however, the collision was followed only by a visit to the ER. And yet, the memory of that moment is still fresh in his mind.

On the other side of life’s emotional spectrum, a former basketball player of mine posted her engagement picture on Facebook last week. It had been a different kind of moment, preceded by her fiancee’s planning and prep and followed by tears, laughter, and passionate kisses. 

The thing is, each one of us has moments in our life that resemble a garden bed of flowers, varied and pretty, with a few uninvited weeds thrown into the plot. 

We review our lives and are able to identify each of the moments in the assortment. Birth of a child, death of a friend; a cardiac situation and the completing of a marathon road race; when your best friend shows up unexpected at just the right moment, and the time you rescued someone from disaster. The list is different for each one of us, but each list becomes a summary of our defining moments.

I’ve always envisioned those moments when Jesus healed someone, like the leper or the blind man; or the woman who had a bleeding problem or his encounter with the man who lived in a cemetery. They were moments of transformation in so many ways. 

I’ve come to pray for the kind of special eyesight that helps me see those God-given moments of life, to approach each day with a kind of anticipation and expectation. 

Lord, what might come into my life’s path today that I hadn’t planned on!

Running Ahead of Grace

February 8, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        February 8, 2020

                                    

At our small town Baptist church we have a machine that plays the organ music for the hymns that we sing. Our youth do another song during the worship service where they play a praise song on their Bluetooth speaker and the congregation sings along with them. For hymns, however, we sing with the machine.

Here’s the thing! Sometimes the volume of the music machine is not loud enough for us to hear if we are on the right note, word, or line. Sometimes it runs ahead of us, like an unleashed dog with a wide open field in front of him. Sometimes the machine lags behind, like a shy kindergartener being pulled into his first day of school.

Last Sunday we sang that great hymn, “Amazing Grace”. The music lagged behind and the singers scampered ahead, leaving grace in the dust. It wasn’t loud enough or dominant enough for it to be pursued. Instead, as we finished the first verse, it had become the pursuer.

By the final stanza we had slowed down our hurried vocal pace and seemed to be more in step with what it was that we were singing about. If “Amazing Grace” had three more verses we would have felt synchronized with the emphasis.

It seems that’s how it is with grace. We run ahead of it, run away from it, and run despite it. Our actions sometimes suggest it, but our thoughts betray our lips. The volume of its potential gets turned down and fades into the background of our beliefs.

Finding the rhythm of grace in our lives is challenging. When the crowd sings too quick, staying in step with grace requires resolve and conviction. When some of the group decide it’s not worth singing about at all, grace-filled people decide to stay the course, sing the next words that others find antiquated. 

“…I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see!”

I have found in my years as a Christ-follower that the most amazing moments in a journey with other believers happen when a church finds it’s grace harmony. Repentance and forgiveness seem to join hands and the transformative power of the grace of God seems to make singing the hymn freeing.

It’s like last Sunday! After we finished the last verse that John Newton wrote, and finally got in step with the music, we added an additional verse of our own. We sang two words over and over again to the same “Amazing Grace” tune. Two words again and again.

“Praise God, praise God! Praise God, praise God!”

Following a Laughing Jesus

February 2, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 2, 2020

                            

Christians follow the events of Jesus during Holy Week— his entry into Jerusalem, his last supper with his followers in the Upper Room, the betrayal, his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, arrest, trial, beating, and crucifixion. The Holy Week events go hand in hand with Jesus being referred to as “a man of sorrows.”

As an African-American preacher once preached, however, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”, and he laughed deep and delighted. His words brought grins to the faces of his congregation and shouts of “Hallelujah!”

Some followers of Jesus seem to have been convinced that Jesus was a man of sorrows from birth unto death, that he would have been described as a solemn child who never cracked a smile. It may be an excuse for the dreariness and dryness of their own spiritual journey. 

I remember in my first years of ministry having someone scold me about the fact that she had walked by the room where the Wednesday Night Youth Bible Study was being held and heard laughter. How could I teach the Bible to these kids and let them laugh? I wanted to ask her why her face always looked like she was sucking on a lemon…but I didn’t? I was the rookie and she was one of the church pillars, stone cold and unyielding. 

Scripture tells us that Jesus got upset with his disciples when they rebuked parents for trying to bring their children to Jesus. Children delighted Jesus. He said that the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these. 

In my years of being a pastor I gave hundreds of “children’s sermons”. I can only remember there being one time when I didn’t laugh at something that one of the kids said in the midst of the story. That ONE TIME was the Sunday I had the ingeniously idiotic idea of doing two children’s sermons in the same worship gathering. During the second sermon it was like herding cats. The kids were crawling behind the communion table, trying to escape, and looking curiously at the musical instruments close at hand. It was…memorable! Now, years later I chuckle every time I remember it. 

I can not imagine Jesus being the man of sorrows as children gathered around him. 

In the seriousness of the world Christians need not just the vital image of the Suffering Servant nailed to the cross, but also the joyous Jesus who grinned in the hallelujah moments of His journey.

I find it interesting that science and psychology are doing more research about the effects of laughter. The findings have revealed how laughter relieves stress, boosts the immune system, and relaxes the muscles. 

It seems to me that Jesus-followers should laugh the loudest and longest. After all, we know that after Jesus’ death on that Friday his burial tomb was empty on Sunday and the stone had been rolled away. In essence, He had the last laugh!

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!