Archive for the ‘Prayer’ category

Agreeing to Love in the Midst of Purple

November 7, 2020

I remember the worship wars of the 1980’s. It was a time when church congregations did internal battles over praise music versus traditional hymns. Quite honestly, the “hymn camp” was nastier than the praise music lovers. One man in my congregation would leave the sanctuary until the praise music was done, and he made his protest known.

The worship wars, however, had been preceded by the “Holy Spirit fights.” A number of churches actually split over the third person of the Trinity. More precisely, the friction was focused on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and, to narrow it down even more, the differences were over the baptism of the Holy Spirit manifested in the “speaking in tongues.” For those unfamiliar with those terms it might sound foolish, and in many ways it was. Congregations would divide over their views on a spiritual issue. Go figure!

And now, in recent years churches have taken political sides and fractured over voting preferences. A recent article in Christianity Today magazine focused on the division in churches that are “purple”, a mix of red and blue, Republicans and Democrats. More times than not, pastors have felt the pressure to lean one direction or another, instead of creating a oneness that is rooted in Christ. The dislike for one another is the current issue that seeks to take the church’s mission and purpose away from Jesus. It’s the worship wars and Holy Spirit fights transferred to political preferences. In a nation that is polarized, the church has allowed itself to float down the stream along with the rest of the venomous vessels. It’s anchor to “The Rock” (Jesus Christ) has begun to be torn away. Instead of being a community of transformation and renewal, for the most part, it is simply a reflection of a divided nation.

Jesus prayed a prayer as He faced his impending death. In it he prayed this:

” I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one –  I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

Oneness…unity, words that were right in rhythm with other descriptions of the church…community, Body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers. It seems that most churches these days resemble the dysfunctional New Testament church in Corinth rather than the One that Jesus prayed for.

The pandemic has caused enough chaos in the ministry of faith communities. Now, our distaste for those who vote differently than we do has fractured the church even more. We have gone from a bandage for the cut to needing a hard cast to heal the fracture.

I think I’m going to go back and re-read The Politics of Jesus by Yoder published in 1972. I need to hear from a voice that doesn’t have a dog in the fight.

The Blessing of Moments

November 1, 2020

“So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” (James 1:16-17, The Message) 

A student in the special needs class at school sees me in the hallway and calls my name. I call back to him and we come together and touch elbows. I give him a “You look awesome, baby!” compliment and he grins so wide I can see all his of teeth.

I play peek-a-boo with our 1-year-old grandson, each peek punctuated with his smile and a dancing, wobbling, walking combo away from me.

I catch the last few moments of the Michigan State victory over Michigan and chuckle. One Green-and-White man’s blessing is another maize-and-blue’s curse!

I walk by Ralph’s house, our 84-year-old neighbor up the street on the corner. We talk about what is and what was, and bring laughter to each other.

They are the moments of life that too often never get considered as the blessings, special seconds that fill in the gaps as we move from one obligation to another. We have this habit of equating blessings with significance in size…promotions, prizes, and prestige. The blessing of a greeting or a peek-a-boo moment gets skipped over as we focus on the headline events of our lives.

The uncertainty of our times makes our sightings of the blessed moments even more important. They are the scattered glitter in a fabric of shadows. See them as you travel through each day…the missing front tooth in the grandkid’s smile, the Far Side cartoon that you’ve chuckled at a dozen times already, the young child who stops in front of your house and salutes the flag that flies from your front porch. Look for the moments that bring melody to your life. 

Here’s the thing! When I realize how numerous my blessings in the moments are I’m overwhelmed by…by…I guess I could simply say, my blessedness!

Saying Please to God

October 25, 2020

A dear friend of mine was telling a story to children at church on a Sunday morning. The point he was striving to make was that we don’t always get what we pray for because God knows what we need. My friend had talked about how he had prayed for a red Corvette, but never received the answer to his prayer.

As often happens with Sunday morning children’s stories, his tale of past personal episodes was slightly derailed by the side point of a six-year-old boy who felt led to explain the error of my friend’s ways. To six-year-olds the solution often seems as obvious as the nose on your face. He tried to soften the harshness of the answer with the gentler word “maybe” as the beginning of his counseling advice.

“Maybe you should have said please!”

Red Corvettes are just a “please” away. There’s a simplicity in a please, and yet if the granting of our prayer concerns was dependent upon our politeness in the words of our prayer our streets might be backed up with red Corvettes and other speed-driven vehicles. No one uttered a prayer with a please and asked for a Yugo (the car that was made in Yugoslavia and resembled Fred Flintstone’s stone-age vehicle).

Perhaps reverence in our conversations with God would connect the depth and intimacy of our prayers more. A prayer request, in some ways, should seem more than asking if the dinner bowl of mashed potatoes would be passed…please! And yet, in other ways, it should be similar to that in the naturalness of the relationship.

God, our Father, desires to hear the longings and aching of our heart. He’s okay with a please attached to it, but is touched by the pleas.

All of us have our wants that we think will bring completeness to our lives, but some of those wants dilute our desire to connect with the Giver. There are times when God gives us something that we didn’t even ask for- no please even required!- but don’t be expecting a red Corvette to roll into your driveway!

The Joyride of Faith

October 10, 2020

I was watching a story yesterday about the Howdy Ice Cream Shop in Dallas, Texas. It was inspirational in so many ways, especially how the owner, Tom Landis, has employed people with special needs to staff his stores.

During his TV interview with Hoda and Jenna on NBC’s Today Show, he made this statement: “It’s been faith on a joyride searching for hope!” Man, I love that!

The shop had been struggling during the pandemic. Landis came to the crossroads point where he said, “God, I can’t do this!”, and he received the whispered reply, “You’re right! YOU can’t do this!” Word filtered through the community about the struggles of the shop that has given a number of people with special needs the opportunities to work and learn about running a small business. Soon donations that topped $100,000 came into the business from the community and people who had heard about Howdy Ice Cream.

On the Today Show, Marcus Lemonis surprised Landis and Howdy’s vice-president, Coleman Jones, with a $50,000 grant.

As Landis said, “It’s been faith on a joyride searching for hope!” Wow! So often we view faith as an extra topping on top of a basic life sundae instead of being crucial to the foundation. It’s seen as being a step of desperation in the struggle to bring things back into balance.

I’m envisioning faith being in the passenger seat of a convertible Corvette, sporting a pair of sunglasses and allowing the breeze to blow through its hair. Instead of lights flashing to signal an emergency, it heads in the direction of the brightness.

That may sound like strange imagery for something we usually talk about in intangible terms. We tend to keep faith in a fog to protect its identity and shape.

Tom Landis has seen it as the vehicle to move forward, and in heading forward he has discovered a busload of people hoping someone would believe in them. As he once said, “Too often we see them as people with disabilities, instead of people with abilities.”

It makes me want to hop in my car and drive to Dallas for some Dr. Pepper Chocolate Chip ice cream.

The Balance of Fear and Courage

August 22, 2020

Fear and courage are two over-used words in these days of hoped-for vaccines, election tensions, and employment uncertainty. They are hyped and griped in the media, echoed in the quivering tones of our voices, and thought about in the aloneness of our homes.

The middle school where I’ve coached for twenty years and substitute taught for the last four called me up on Tuesday to ask me to come and teach a language arts class for the next several weeks…or months. So I said…sure!

It manifested some fear in a couple of family members. Not body-trembling, nail-biting fear, but fear and anxiety about a 66-year-old entering a school building. My fear, on the other hand, was focused on the new Blob monster called “the virtual classroom”. On a laptop screen in front of me all these faces will be staring at me, causing me to wonder if I’m unzipped or have a piece of chive attached to one of my front teeth.

Fear can be a benefit. Cockiness usually leads to some bad conclusion, like the Soviet sub commander in The Hunt For Red October whose excessive opinion of his mastery leads his First Officer to say to him, right before the sub blew up, “You have killed us!” Fear can be a guide that tells us to proceed with caution or reconsider our direction.

Courage is the awareness of fear and the determination to stay the course. Courage demands the possibility of a bad ending of some kind, but also the potential for a beneficial conclusion. Courage is not self-seeking, but rather mindful of the good that can be done for someone else.

Fear is often trumpeted in such a way that it causes us to think that the end is near. Unfortunately, courage is sometimes communicated as if the person portrayed is like the new messiah and has no fear.

At my school this week I witnessed a teaching staff that all had fears and, from what I could see and hear, all had courage. It’s a courage to keep guiding the educational canoes filled with kids. I use that picture of a canoe, having known the unstableness of such a vessel as it moves down a stream…especially with hyper adolescents occupying its paddles.

There are some anxious educators, wanting the best for kids and trying to navigate around all the rocks and low-hanging tree branches as the classroom canoes face the rapids.

As some wise advisor once told me, “Time to put your big boy pants on!” And I would add “And pray!” Psalm 23 seems to be even more relevant each morning about 7:30!

“Though I walk through my virtual classroom of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me!”

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! 

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!

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!