Archive for the ‘Prayer’ category

Noisy Contributions

April 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 April 2, 2019

                                     

     Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence.”     (Mark 12:41-42)

My friend, Ed Stucky, gave a message on Sunday about “offerings”. I always learn some “behind the scenes” stories of the Scriptures when Ed speaks, and this was no different.

When the crowds came to the temple the people would place their coin offerings in metallic containers (probably made of silver, gold, or bronze). The larger the offering the louder the noise of the coins hitting the metal. The louder the noise the more attention the giver would receive. The noise indicated the size of the contribution, and the wealthy status of the contributor.

It reminds me of the Society Page in our city newspaper’s Sunday edition. There are pictures of men in tuxedoes and women in evening gowns holding glasses of wine, with the headline “Benefit Raises $250,000 for Family Crisis Center!”

Not that raising money for a cause is a bad thing, but in Jesus’ time the rich wanted to be seen for the size of their gifts more than the generosity of their hearts. They liked to make a lot of noise!

And then there is a widow who places two small coins in! They are lost in the noise of the crowd, and she slips away unnoticed, invisible, and now poorer than poor. Jesus seems to be the only one that notices her. After all, the temple needs a lot of noisemakers to keep things going, not the slight sound of unimportant pence that make no impact! 

Jesus is impressed by what the widow has given and chosen not to keep, rather than what the rich have chosen to keep rather than give! It’s a counter-cultural thought that escapes the notice of everyone else.

It also signals a principle that gets overlooked or completely ignored. That is, it is usually the noisemakers in our culture that are visible and those who hardly are able to make a sound who become the invisible.

In saying that, it’s easy to place the focus on groups and categories of people who don’t have two coins to their name, but each of us also have people in our lives that easily become invisible. It’s easier to focus on categories of the voiceless rather than the man we see everyday sitting alone at Starbucks or the middle school student who has become invisible to her classmates.

Who makes the most noise these days? What noise SHOULD my life make?

Perhaps the forgotten prayer that needs to be whispered again is “Lord, may the noise that my life offers always be an echo of your spirit speaking to me and through me!”

What I Like About Church

March 18, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 18, 2019

                                 

I admit that it’s ingrained in me. Sunday mornings have always meant one word: Church! And since our family attended Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky, it meant Sunday morning and Sunday evening. 

I was always a bit jealous of the kids at the Methodist church across the street from Central Baptist. They didn’t have Sunday evening services and, therefore, got to stay home and watch “Walt Disney” on TV. For my two siblings and me, our exposure to Walt Disney had to happen at Leed’s Theatre in downtown Winchester. That’s where we discovered “Old Yeller” and “Big Red”, not on TV!

But I liked church! It was like a warm blanket on a blizzard night. It felt good and right. 

And now 55 years since Central Baptist, and a career as an American Baptist pastor, I still feel right when I sit in a pew, or a sanctuary chair. It makes me wonder though…why? It’s got to be more than just the mark made by a family tradition. Why do I think about being a part of a worship service when Sunday morning rolls around?

I could get all spiritual on you and say right away that it’s because of the grace of God for such a sinner as me, and the forgiveness of Christ exacted by the shedding of his blood…and that’s true! The foundation for being a life-long church participant IS rooted in the gospel of Christ, but that’s not what gets me out of bed on Sunday morning.

It’s not the lure of donuts and Danish’s either, or weak coffee brewed by someone who’s taste was destroyed by drinking watered-down Maxwell House.

I like church because of the intimacy and the memories of intimacy. Not the youth group hay rides we used to go on…not that kind of intimacy, although the memories of them still bring a smile to my face!

The intimacy I’m thinking of was being able to lean up against my mom or dad’s arm and know that neither or them was going anywhere for the next hour or so. There was a closeness to family in those moments. 

A few weeks ago a picture popped up on my Facebook page from seven years ago. It was from Christmas Day, 2011. I stood in the aisle of the sanctuary with a dear man named Rex Davis. I had my arm around his shoulders and he had his arm around my waist. Rex was around 90 at the time. I like church because of moments like that, when the bond of Christ draws us together in an embrace of deep love and connected humanity. 

I like church because of the moments of revelation. Once again, I need to clarify about that term, because it’s been associated with suspect snake oil salesmen. For me, the moments of revelation come as I sit in silence and ponder, or as a scripture verse is read for the umpteenth time, or as I gaze at a stained glass window. Things get revealed to me about myself, or about the One I’m encountering. I live in a world that is so noisy I’m blasted with false revelations every day. I’m told my life needs certain things- products and services and such. Snake oil now comes in a variety of cultural flavors. In church, true revelation is hinted at if I desire to follow its path.

I like the hope of church and the hope experienced in church. Weary souls stumble through the doors and then a short while later leave rested and reassured. The hurting share their wounds and are carried back to healing. The lonely and broken-hearted are able to be embraced and held in place. A world of trouble is put into perspective by the message of the God who draws near.

I don’t go to church to be impressed by the perfection of the pastor, or the performance of the participants. There’s something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth- like sweet cream gone bad- when church tries to outdo the other places of worship in the same zip code, something fake and foreign to my senses.

And so I go each Sunday, ready to receive and willing to give. I’ve long since stopped using my mom and dad’s arms as a pillow for my head, but I still have others who I know I can lean on, if and when I need them!

Baptist Pastor (Retired) Confessional

March 9, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 9, 2019

                       

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, that day where the sign of the cross marked up the forehead of a number of folk. It also marked the beginning of the Season of Lent, a journey that takes the Christ-follower to the cross of Christ. 

Many a Christ-follower give up something for Lent. My friend, Ron McKinney, gave up meat for Lent one time and overloaded his bean consumption. A wise person stayed upwind from him until Easter Sunday. I was confined in a small space with him one afternoon and my nasal hairs were pulverized!

Confession is something that happens often during Lent. People seem to be more willing to have “Come to Jesus” moments where they admit their shortcomings and temptations, kind of like Peter’s sobbing after he denied Jesus three times!

Since I retired from pastoring three years ago the focus of my confessions has changed somewhat. I no longer have to repent of thoughts of certain “thorny people” from my church being duct-taped to one of the sanctuary walls, or wanting words of correction to come to my mind to convince a couple of folk that “bitchiness” is not a spiritual gift.

My confessions are usually now uncovered from any churchiness, and more connected to typical daily life patterns.

For example, I love John Sanford novels, especially one of his main characters, Virgil Flowers. They are laced with Minnesota law enforcement humor…and a few “f-bombs!” One day this week I was reading my daily passage in the “One Year Bible” about Peter denying Jesus and then picked up the latest Sanford novel where a man vehemently is denying he killed someone…complete with profanity! I felt the Baptist guilt coming my way! I confess, but it’s due back at the library so I’ve got to finish it.

I confess that I’ve avoided the supermarket recently until after 8 P.M. so I can miss the Girl Scouts selling their cookies. The sale ends tomorrow so, beginning Monday, I can shop earlier. 

I confess that I love fried foods. After all, I was born in Kentucky, where the common cuisine understanding is “If you can eat it, we can fry it!” I’m specifically drawn towards fried fish, about the worst thing, health wise, you can eat, but ummm-ummm-ummm!

I confess that I’m prone to using the same facial tissue to blow my nose more than once…okay, more than twice! It’s disgusting, but I justify it by saying I’m being “cost conscious!”

I confess that I wasn’t chagrined by the fact that we cancelled Sunday morning worship last week due to the weather. I was almost giddy! I’m not sure what that says, but please do not feel that you need to analyze me…or judge me!

I confess that I’ve recently been using sermons that I preached 25 years ago. The theology hasn’t changed, but I’ve had to revise some of the illustrations and references like “visiting the Oldsmobile dealer, K-Mart, and the latest cassette tape I purchased.” 

I confess that I often dream of slam-dunking, being the author of a best-seller, and fried scallops! 

I confess that I had planned on giving up putting sugar in my coffee for Lent. I got through the first day…and then backslid to the sweetening! 

And finally, I confess that I so often take the blessings of God for granted, the grace of God as a given, and the love of Christ as an assumed right! I fall short in reaching my God-given potential and habitually forget that he walks closely by my side!

That Judgmental Evangelical Church!

March 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     March 4, 2019

                      

Carol and I sat back and watched an episode of Criminal Minds last night. We can’t keep up with all the recorded episodes we have on our DVR, thus the episode we watched was from last October.

Without going into the plot too much, a woman is killed and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) team is sent to investigate. In looking at the way the woman has been murdered, investigating who her friends are, and her routines, they summarize that there is some connection between what has happened and the church she attends.

That’s when the term “evangelical” gets used! She was involved in an EVANGELICAL church. The way it’s said you could almost put in parentheses after it “You know…one of those!” as the person turned to the side and spat!

The next scene has the team interviewing the pastor. His character comes off as self-righteous and judgmental. Envision a pastor with a whip! The viewer immediately does not like him and, after all, he’s the pastor of one of those EVANGELICAL churches! You are given the impression that “fun” is a four letter word for him.

Several other indicators are that he and his church are narrow-minded, critical, ready to shun sinners, and legalistic. They probably don’t even drink root beer!

Such is the general public’s, or at least those in the entertainment world, view of evangelicals! I wouldn’t have been as bothered by the episode if they would have just said “church”, but those who produce the show probably don’t understand what evangelical means.

The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word “euangelion”, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, an evangelical church focuses on the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ.

That good news includes the grace of God, forgiveness, love, acceptance, hope, and peace. 

Some evangelicals, rightfully so, have made a mess of evangelicalism! They’ve reversed the mirror of Jesus. Instead of people seeing the image of Christ in his church they see a bunch of people who seem to have been sucking on lemons too long! I’ll be honest! There are a number of people in churches I’ve served who are about as pleasant as hemorrhoids!

It should not be! “Good News” has become religious rhetoric, and grace has been replaced with guilt. 

One of my closest friends in ministry, Rev. Tom Bayes, recently urged me to write a book about “church stuff”. Tom and I, along with our other clergy friend, Rev. Chuck Moore, spent years serving churches in the Lansing, Michigan area and sharing stories over lunches. There was a lot of laughter in the midst of our burger-munching. I think I’ll take him up on his request. The book, however, will revolve around a pastor who laughs, jokes around with the people of his congregation, enjoys life, and exhibits the Joy of life. AND he will be a pastor who firmly holds to the belief that Jesus is “Good News”!

Maybe I’ll even make him…you know…one of those Baptist pastors!

When Christians, and Their Churches, Disagree

March 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 2, 2019

 

In my 36 years of shepherding flocks (“Pastor” comes from the Latin for Shepherd), I guided congregations through a few briar patches of heated discussions and thorny issues. Sometimes my style fit and sometimes it didn’t. When I was president of the Mason School Board back in Michigan, since again, my style fit and, although we had a few disagreements too work through, we always managed to come through the discussions with a high respect for one another.

As a pastor I remember differences that we had about renovating the sanctuary. Two different churches I pastored over the years had the wood paneling on the sanctuary walls…you know, the paneling that showed up in the basements of homes back in the 50’s and 60’s! Each was gradually brought along to seeing that a change would not offend Jesus…but it took time. We considered switching out pews for chairs in one of the congregations, but one person protested vehemently. Her concern was for one of the senior saints of the congregation, that he might fall over in his chair and hurt himself. We disagreed with her, but did not force the issue. The saint, who lived to the age of 91 was loved by all and anything that might harm him (though we doubted that a chair would increase the chances of injury) became a point that we longer wanted to debate. 

Churches are hot beds for conflict and disagreement. When people are passionate about an issue or situation…and there is passion on both sides…the depth, or lack thereof, in Christian community becomes evident. In that respect the church mirrors the world instead of becoming different from the world. 

Let’s be honest! Too often the church is simply a commercial for the world instead of a repository of the love and grace of God. What I said to a 7th grader student a couple of weeks ago, who was trying to minimize the amount of classwork she had been asked to do, I could also say to a  number of church folk. “So what you’re saying is this is you.” I made an imaginary dot in front of me, and then drew an imaginary large circle around it. “And this is the world, and the world revolves around you. Is that what you’re saying?”

Our churches are dotted every service with people who have that mindset!

True confession: I’ve been that “dot” a few times myself!

Words like “surrender”, “sacrifice”, “servant” echo through the Bible. “Sacrifice” appears 54 times in the New Testament and “servant” gets mentioned 157 times. They are words we say in our liturgies and write in the church covenant, but often get pushed to the side when things are going against our opinion. Sides then get chosen and sometimes all holy hell breaks loose! 

In recent times a few churches have resembled more hell than holiness. Prominent church pastors have gone to war with some of the leaders of their churches. When the pastor of a mega-church gets relieved of his duties it rarely ends well for anyone. When denominations have doctrinal disagreements or differences over contemporary issues, unfortunately, it rarely ends in a good way. The battles make for good news in our drama-addicted culture, but after the heated fog lifts there always seems to be a lot of wounded people laying around. 

Of course, even Jesus couldn’t bring his disciples to 100% agreement! But after he rose from the grave, and the Holy Spirit was poured out, his remaining eleven were able to unite to the point that they changed the world!

All things are possible!

Christianized Swearing

January 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  January 22, 2019

                               

I was raised in a household where swearing didn’t happen. About once every five or ten years my dad would be on opposite from  my mom on some issue or situation that he would clench his teeth and say “Shit! Virginia!” Like I said, about once every five or ten years. Other than that no one cussed…ever! 

Perhaps they did behind closed doors or in other places, but I highly doubt it!

I think my Uncle George did because he also drank alcohol. Growing up Southern Baptist I got the feeling that swearing was linked to alcohol…kinda’ like peanut butter and jelly!

So we christianized our swearing. We didn’t say “Oh, my God!” That was like fingernails scratching a chalkboard! We said the accepted “Oh, my gosh!” Gosh did not raise eyebrows, but gosh was simply the bleached out form of God!

My exclamation of choice these days is “Goooodddd Lorrdddd!”, extending the pronunciation of each letter as much as possible. When I’m really upset I shout, “Crap!”

Growing up instead of saying “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” we said “Geez!” and “Geez Louise!” like it needed a partner!” We only said “Jesus” when our Sunday School teacher was looking for an answer to a question…no matter what the question was! (“What river did the Israelites cross as they were entering the Promised Land? Yes, Bill!” “I think it was Jesus!”)

The words we used to express our disbelief, dismay, or anger were indications of our sanctified walk with the Lord. Those “other people” let the devil guide their tongue in speaking the forbidden utterances. 

We took the James 1:26 words to heart. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

Saying “Oh, my gosh!” was our own sign that we had a tight grip on the reins. It gave us the false illusion of being aligned with Christ. We were maturing in Christ as we exclaimed “Oh, my word!” 

We were easily fooled. We thought we were saved by using the right words rather than saved by grace. Slowly it would become apparent that people at church who didn’t swear DID DO other things, like gossip, keep a tight rein on their money, and chastise anyone who recommended any kind of change. We discovered that the spoken words were purified but there were bitter spirits and jealous hearts.

We were a bit like the Pharisees. We had tamed tongues and twisted spirits, the right words but the wrong motives. 

I still don’t swear- once again, a byproduct of a household where it was not welcome- but I recognize that it doesn’t make me saint-worthy. Each day I am thankful for the grace of God more and more. My prayer is that He makes me more like a  Mother Teresa and less like that other name that begins with Mother and continues with an “F”!

Handling The Wounds of Injustice

January 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 21, 2019

                            

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – Dr. Martin Luther King

Perhaps it’s apropos to the emphasis of this weekend that the Saints are dealing with the pain of injustice!  A trip to the Super Bowl was almost assuredly thrown to the ground just as their receiver was. 

As we watched it- even those of us who aren’t Saints’ fans- we yelled at our televisions, “That’s a penalty!”

But it wasn’t! And we walked away muttering, “That’s just not right!” 

As I said, it’s appropriate for it to be a part of this weekend, a time when we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, who pointed his finger at systems, institutions, and discrepancies in the Land of the Free and said “This isn’t right!”

How we handle the wounds of injustice tells us who we are. It reveals our beliefs, or lack of, our callousness and caring, our self-centeredness and our concern for others. 

First of all, we must come to grips with the fact that injustice is a part of our lives. Rather it be a stolen football victory, the mistreating of a certain segment of our population, or even a student being falsely accused of cheating and suspended from school, injustice has a pocket somewhere in each of our backpacks. It happens on the avenue through town as Mr. Speed Demon races ahead going 65 in a 40 mile an hour speed zone. We cringe and grit our teeth at the gall that the guy has for so blatantly going outside of the accepted driving practices. 

It happens with the insurance companies that seem to rule the medical treatments of our lives. When a cancer patient is told that the treatment he needs will not be covered by insurance it makes us wonder what the purpose of insurance is? It strikes us as unjust to leave the decision of treating a potentially deadly disease to a for-profit company that has already been receiving our money.

So how do we handle the blows of injustice? Do we turn the other cheek? Do we strike back? Do we pout? Do we march? Do we strike? 

When teachers get taken advantage of, or taken for granted, do they just keep on keeping on? When the rent on an apartment escalates by a third while a teacher’s salary goes up 3% do they say “Oh, well!”?

Martin Luther King gave us an understanding for how to approach events and circumstances that aren’t right. He identified it, zeroed in on the roots of its existence, questioned its fairness, and promoted a new direction built on justice for all and hope for the future. Hate can pervert a system to grasp injustice, but hating injustice offers a path towards healing!

There are, however, injustices in our world which we can not quickly change! They become the fuse for our frustration that ignites our anger. Simply put, they become our prayer heart cries that we forget to pray about! 

Prayer becomes the invitation for the God of justice to counsel us about our grievances and take action in the struggle. It becomes “the talking it out” with the Lord. 

We tend to forget that in a world that seems out of control we worship the Lord who is always in control. Injustice will always seek to overwhelm us, but God will always walk with us!