Archive for the ‘Prayer’ category

Too Quiet To Think

October 13, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   October 13, 2018

                                         

   My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”   (James 1:19, NIV)

Yesterday I substitute taught for a 7th Grade Language Arts teacher. The lesson plan for each class consisted of taking attendance and then taking the class to the school library (now called the LMC, which stands for Learning Media Center). The school librarian would then tell the students about a few new books the LMC has and they would spend the rest of the class period silently reading. 

Tough day! What did I do? Read some and did some rewriting on my book manuscript…plus, made sure the students were reading, not goofing around- a task that required considerable energy!

Libraries are not the same as they were…45 years ago. When I went to the Briggs Public Library in Ironton, Ohio you could hear a pin drop…and that pin better not drop again! It was quiet, studious, a fine place to locate one of the back wrenching volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and do research on such interesting subjects as the Hoover Dam, mollusks, and the North Pole. 

Libraries today are gathering places, social settings in the midst of books and magazines, and gaming rooms. A place in Colorado Springs where I do much of my book writing is called Library 21C. It’s a great place…as long as you have earbuds! A few weeks ago I was sitting in one of the seats at the long window counter on the lower level. A man three seats away was doing a job interview on his cell phone. Good Lord! The librarian at Briggs Public would have grabbed him by his ear lobe and marched him to the door.

Things are different! Silence is no longer golden! It’s been devalued!

One of the 7th Grade girls, who is energized by the social aspect of life, didn’t seem to be reading the book in front of her yesterday. 

I’d scan the room and when my radar caught sight of her she would suddenly look down at her book. Thirty minutes into the class’s silent reading and she was on page 2. I walked over to her and said, “Hey! Let’s get busy!”

“What?”

I glanced at her book. “You’re on page 2!”

“No, page 3!”

“Okay! Page 3 and we’ve been here so long you should have read the book and written a book report on it already!”

Her eyes opened wide. “We have to do a book report!”

“No, no, no! I was exaggerating, but if you had really been reading you’d be further along than page 3.”

“I can’t think!”

“Why?”

“It’s too quiet in here!”

“What?”

“It’s too quiet! I can’t concentrate when it’s too quiet!”

“Are you serious?”

She nodded, and I realized that we were realizing- Okay, maybe I was realizing!- one of our generational differences. I read while I’m sitting in the swing on our back deck, or in my study, or at bedtime…all places where quiet and peace can follow me. This young lady operates in a world of chatter, instant communication that could better be named instant distraction, and noise. 

Noise has replaced silence as the new golden. Silence is now an indication that something’s wrong. Silence also indicates that we’re listening, and in a noisy world we no longer listen very well. 

And so what do I do in the midst of a culture that now values loudness and multiple mouths speaking at the same time? What do I do? I put my earbuds in and listen to the rhythmic noise of music to block out the noise of the other voices. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it is my new silence.

Longing For the Simple Church

September 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        September 23, 2018

                           

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

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

It’s simple!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clueing In The Almighty

September 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 3, 2018

                               

(The seed thought for this blog post comes from hearing a sermon by Rev. Ed Stucky)

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13-14, NIV)

Sometimes we treat God like he’s the parent of teenagers…and we’re the teenagers! Remember those days? You know, when, in your opinion, your parents were completely clueless!

We believe it’s necessary sometimes to tell God what he doesn’t seem to know. It’s one of the ways we can stay in control, believing that God doesn’t have it all together, a divine being with developing dementia. 

The Bible gives us more examples of people trying to correct God’s poor decisions than people who took him his word. Moses tried to straighten him out at the burning bush. He was sure that God had mistaken him for someone else, kind of like Isaac mistaking Jacob for his brother Esau. 

Ananias felt God needed an update on who Saul (to be renamed Paul a little later!) was and what he had done. Like a royal advisor, he brought necessary intel to the Almighty All-knowing on this man coming to his city. 

If the Scriptures are filled with examples of people doubting God’s directives we can be assured that it’s a recurring story in our faith journeys. When God directs it’s rarely for something that we would naturally do. For instance, he didn’t have to tell me to go to Starbucks this morning and order a cup of Pike Place coffee. He knows that it’s part of my routine. However, if while I’m at Starbucks he nudges me to give a $20 bill to a man who has just walked in I might very well inform him that I only have one “Jackson” left in my wallet. To which he would reply, “So?”

Faith in the Lord is a slippery thing. We talk about it, learn scriptures that convey it, read stories of it’s existence and magnificence…but when the rubber meets the road of our life we challenge Jehovah God’s intelligence and wisdom. It is the evidence of our fallen nature. We’re prone to believe in the wayward guidance of the Deceiver that sounds good rather than the trusted voice of the Deliverer that causes a queasiness in our digestive systems.

Lord, we believe! Help us in our unbelief! 

Going Back To Familiar Places

August 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 26, 2018

                            

In recent weeks I’ve revisited places that had been part of my life from the near or distant past. Some of the spots brought back memories of when I ran around in child-sized jeans, white tee shirts, and Converses…like my old elementary school, Victory Heights, in Winchester, Kentucky, where I attended first and second grade…and Central Baptist Church in that same town where our family frequented three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. 

Other places I revisited brought tears. I drove past the farm where my Papaw and Mamaw Helton lived until about 25 years ago. It now like an ongoing rummage sale, cluttered and in disrepair. grimaced at the loss of what was.

I I traveled up the road to the cemetery where my dad now has been laid to rest beside my mom, and I weeped and smiled and weeped again, thinking of the good times and now the loss.

This past week I substitute taught in the classroom where my friend, Greg Davis, taught. If he was still teaching it would have been his 8th Grade social studies class I would have been instructing that day. Greg passed away not quite two years ago having fought the brain cancer courageously for 6 years. There were a multitude of Fridays when I would have lunch with him in that classroom, talking about the triumphs and the struggles. As I led four classes of eighth graders this past week I was acutely aware of previous conversations I had had in that classroom. 

This morning I return to the church I pastored for 16 years to give the morning message for the congregation’s 60 year anniversary service.  A quarter of my life has been spent in that building leading the congregation. I retired at the end of 2015. Even though I delivered almost 700 sermons in that sanctuary, today will seem strange. It will be the first time, besides the Sunday when I was candidating to be their pastor in June of 1999, that I will deliver a message NOT as their pastor. I’m now “a former!” 

I’ll look forward to seeing folks I haven’t seen in two and a half years. I’ll remember and smile, and maybe even cry.

There are places we’ve been that bring chuckles back to our soul, and places that cause us to remember the pain…and often the most meaningful places of our lives are the ones that have been a mixture of the two extremes.

At my old church I remember the incredible people, the special stories that got written and lives healed, and I also remember the difficult meetings and the individuals who had the spiritual gifts of agitation and annoyance. 

Of course, I can also remember the same chapter titles from my 15 years as pastor of the First Baptist Church back in Mason, Michigan…the saints and the sinners, the blessed and the beasts.

When you live most of your life from a place of grace, love, and hope you see the warts and the warmth. 

Today I’ll look to remember the changed lives and disregard the challenges to the Body’s life. And God will be glorified!

The Following of Fallen Leaders

August 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 20, 2018

                             

The allegations against Bill Hybels, Lead Pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, have caused a torrent of unrest and a flood of tears in the Christian community throughout our country. Hybels began Willow Creek back in the 1970’s and it has influenced the thinking and ministry of thousands of churches around the world. 

The allegations of inappropriate flirtations and embraces that lingered too long have come in the midst of the tidal wave of other “MeToo” movement outraged voices. The accusations against Hybels have traced acts of inappropriateness back to the 1980’s. 

It’s sad! It’s sad for everyone that has had to speak in this tragedy, from accusers to accused to church leaders to the two people who had already been named to succeed him as pastor, and who now have had to back out of their decisions. 

I’ve read several books that Bill wrote, attended a few Willow Creek services, been a Global Leadership Summit conferee, and referred back over the years to lectures from those Summits that Hybels gave. 

And now the church of Jesus Christ has its mouth open in disbelief! Questions thunder from the pews. Was it all a farce, a big show with no substance? When he was seeking to attract unchurched people to attend Willow Creek what were his true motives?

When leaders fall questions abound. We want our leaders to be above reproach. In fact, when a leader with a great personality has accusations hurled at him/her most of the followers initially react defensively in support of the accused. 

Side step! We all fail and fall. When a leader we follow fails, however, it’s similar to when we were kids and heard a rumor that Santa Claus isn’t real. We refused to believe it until some of our friends confirmed the suspicions. We don’t want our leaders to be fallible!

Back to the blog road! When people idolize certain personalities they tend to not see the impending avalanche until it’s too late. 

There are those people who are cynical and skeptical about everything…and there are those people who would believe the earth is flat if a certain person said it. 

So…in recent months big-time football coaches, famous actors, politicians, mega church pastors, priests, denominational leaders, film directors, civic leaders, other professional athletes, and CEO’s have been held responsible for past actions. Accusations have been made against our current president, but his supporters have been acting as shields in defense of him. We’re not sure yet how that one will play out.

When followers become disillusioned with those they’ve believed in, it leaves a mixture of apathy and outrage in its wake. Who is speaking the truth if the truth tellers are found to be suspect? 

A conflicted form of grief fogs in our understanding of how life is to be lived and how the world operates. And where there is grief there must be a chapter of healing- slow and painful, seeking to find that firm place to step onto. 

And, finally, where there is grief over what has been and what is there will be the ripple effects of loss and revision. Things will change. The people who journeyed in the caravan known as “church” will not be the same. The disillusioned will seek to find different kinds of oases and we can only look at them and say “We understand!” 

The Monster Under The Bed

July 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         July 1, 2018

                                        

I’m not sure where I got the idea or how it penetrated into my imaginative mind. I just know it was there as soon as I leaped into bed at night. In fact, it became a habit for me to leap from a safe distance away onto my bed, like jumping from one cliff to another.

I had never seen the monster, but I had convinced myself that he was there. I’m sure my older brother, Charlie, helped in the bringing me to that belief. We shared a bedroom and I often became the gullible younger brother in his pranks and schemes. Four and a half years difference in age can sometimes do that.

Common sense and logic would tell the typical person that the monster wasn’t real. All you had to do was ask yourself some clarifying questions, like “Where does he go in daylight hours?” Or “Why is he always under my bed, but never my brother’s?”

But when it comes to monsters in dark places and six year old boys, common sense and logic take a hiatus from the scene.

I slept with both hands and feet IN the bed. No body part could be hanging over the side. That would be like accidentally sticking your hand in the water at the lake and having an alligator latch onto it! I had heard stories…probably from my brother!

Monsters live in dark places, I had been told. They live in the shadows of our life, repelling any hints of being safe, always ready to devour.

My mom always made me make my bed in the morning. It made no sense to me. Orderliness didn’t alleviate my fears that the creature wouldn’t return. And, after all, I was going to mess up the bed again in about twelve hours. If I got sucked into the abyss that night would someone else make my bed the next morning? You don’t touch crime scenes, you know!

I’m not sure when it was that I stopped fearing the unseen monster and became more convinced in the presence of the unseen God. My younger brother-side tells me it might have been shortly after Charlie became bored with the terrorizing of his little brother, but I have no evidence that is true. I think my fears of the underneath dark began to subside when I discovered “the light” of God and the abundance of scriptures that talk of God being the light and the light shining into the darkness.

At some point in my childhood journey the fear of my fears was tilted by my faith In God. The courage to let a hand or a foot hang carelessly over the side of my bed became a nightly risk of my reckless faith.

Nowadays when the shadow of a fear draws close to my thoughts, causing me to be uncertain and hesitant about life, I remind myself of the Light…”The Lord is my light and my salvation! Whom shall I fear? (Ps. 27:1)

I don’t even leap onto the bed anymore…unless I’m playing!

Guide The Steps of My Path, O Lord!

June 30, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 30, 2018

                       

  

PSALM 31:1-5 (NIV)

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;

let me never be put to shame;

deliver me in your righteousness.

Turn your ear to me,

    come quickly to my rescue;

be my rock of refuge,

    a strong fortress to save me.

Since you are my rock and my fortress,

    for the sake of your name lead and guide me.

Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,

    for you are my refuge. 

Into your hands I commit my spirit;

    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

As I run laps around the Timberview Middle School track I notice the footprints in front of me, and the weeds on the inside curve of the oval. The footprints are probably mine, and yet, they are also an assuring sign that it is a path that has been taken before. The weeds are an indication of the chaos of life that can so easily get in the way.

In my trudging ahead I do a lot of pondering about the presence of God, his protection and guidance. Sixteen laps gives a runner a lot of time to think, pray, and question. The questions come on each lap as I round a curve and encounter a headwind. 

In the thirty-first Psalm David writes a verse that has carried me through some hurtful runs and life hurdles. He says, “Since you are my rock and fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.” (Ps. 31:3)

Rock. Fortress. Two strong and grounded objects. So firm and planted that they will not blow away, they will not be moved. 

Lead me. Guide me. Two directives that indicate movement and action. 

Yesterday as I ran around the track I came to a point in the oval where my shadow was ahead of me, another part where it was beside me, and a third stretch where it was behind me. The shadow “shadowed” me…always!

The strength and firmness of God is unshakeable. Nothing I do can uproot Him or cause Him to abandon me. Like the presence of a shadow- sometimes longer and sometimes shorter in length…sometimes leading the way and sometimes trailing behind…sometimes walking beside me, ready to give a hearing to my heart cries and convince me that all things are possible- the unmovable God moves with me!

It reminds me of the strength of my dad’s shoulder when I was a child! As our family sat in a church worship service and I inched towards slumber I would lean against Dad. His shoulder could be trusted to be a resting spot, a cushioned place of strength. When the service was close to ending he would not suddenly jerk away like Lucy tricking Charlie Brown in another of his ill-fated attempts to kick a football. Dad would slowly help me reposition and move on from a place of rest to the next steps of our journey. 

In my daily runs and running of life I lean on God, am led by God, but am never left by God.

The Lord God Almighty leads us, stays close to us, and is our strength! Amen!