Archive for the ‘Prayer’ category

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. The 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!

Sitting Bedside With Someone Awaiting Glory

November 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        November 25, 2018

                            

There are people who come into your life for a season and bless you for a lifetime!

Jim Newsome is one of those people, arriving with his wife Pat in the last three years or so of my final pastorate. A gentleman and a gentle man, a man of faith and a faithful friend, he is now in his final days.

And he’s okay with it! About a month ago he was discovered to have pancreatic cancer. Jim, now 84, understands the prognosis and for his final days he is resting at home, welcoming friends from near and far who have come to have final visits and conversations.

Carol and I went yesterday and sat beside his bed. When we left I said to her, “That was a great visit! I’ve never laughed so much sitting beside the bed of someone who only has a few days to live.”

In fact, when Jim and Pat received the news of his cancer and entered into hospice care, Jim’s comment was “I’m ready to go, but when’s it going to happen?” He said it like a Frontier Airlines passenger whose flight keeps being delayed- a common occurrence it seems with Frontier!

We talked about his life, how the Lord has guided his life, and various situations where this couple, who celebrated 64 years of marriage two weeks ago, simply trusted that the Lord would lead them.

Jim survived polio when he was in the Navy. He spent a month in an iron lung, realizing that several other sailors at the time were succumbing to the disease. It caused him to give thanks to the Lord and to understand that God had a purpose for his life. For him to live to the age of 84 would not have seemed possible back in the early 1950’s. 

Yesterday he told us stories that caused our souls to laugh. His skin color is showing some signs of jaundice as the disease affects his liver, but his face continued to smile. He told us stories of life redirection, like how a bout with pneumonia that landed him in the hospital short-circuited his graduate studies for his Master’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado. When Pat came back to the hospital the next day, worried and wondering, Jim told her that he and the Lord had talked it over and gotten it figured out. A few days later someone they knew, connected to a mission organization, called him and asked if he could do some welding work for him. Twenty years later he retired from the organization!

As Carol and I left they shared with us that they were grieved when I retired at the end of 2015 from ministry, more specifically stopped being their pastor. I replied, “The best thing about pastoring is the relationships, and the hardest thing about pastoring is saying goodbye to those people you’ve had special relationships with. 

Jim and Pat Newsome are people that I’ve been blessed to know, and saddened to leave. We joined hands and prayed as Carol and I were about to leave. As I came towards the end of the prayer Jim squeezed my hand. It was his punctuation mark on our friendship. 

“Jim,” I said, “if I don’t see you again I’ll see you on the other side!”

He looked me in the eye and replied, “Plan on it!”

The Light Shines Into the Hatred

October 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 28, 2018

JESUS: In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

There’s something about hate that gathers headlines. In recent times it seems to be surfacing in violent and venomous ways. Shooting people and hurling angry words make the nightly news and, in this election time, fills up the TV commercial time. 

Extremists seem to be getting bolder in the acting out of their weirdness and prejudices.  And people, otherwise known as your average citizens, aren’t sure of what they can say because it might be taken the wrong way by someone who will attack like a pit bull in return.

Jesus talked about being light in the midst of darkness, and to let light shine that people might know that goodness still lives and that God still reigns. He wasn’t talking about establishing a publicity ministry that spins out nice stories, but rather entering the shadows of the world as called people on a mission for God. 

It’s a bit of a quandary for those of us who follow Jesus. Light should get noticed and yet, in our culture, “getting noticed” often goes hand-in-hand with tooting our own horn, seeking attention, and even arrogance. We’re often stumped by having a humbleness about our walk with Jesus and letting people know how great our acts of kindness are. Is there “too humble” and also a point that is “over the line arrogant?”

To use a different analogy, friends of ours moved to Alaska this summer. As the fall days head towards winter they are noticing “the absence of light” more and more. Of course, as we head towards mid-December that absence will increase each day. There will come a time, perhaps, when they become more accustomed to the darkness than the absence of light. 

Unfortunately, it may be an analogy of our world right now. We’re more accustomed to darkness than aware of the light’s absence. 

Being light does not blind like the high beams of a car. Light is assuring. It’s altering. Our stairway at home has a light that shows how many steps there are still to take before reaching the bottom. More than once I’ve tried to navigate those steps without the aid of a light and, even though it’s a staircase I’ve gone up and down thousands of times, there is still an uncertainty in the darkness. The light, however, never fails me.

If I am a light that shines for Jesus I don’t need to make sure people are noticing. I can just be who he has called me to be, and who he has called me to.

Someone who opens fire at a Jewish synagogue, kills 11 and wounds 6, will get the headlines. It tells of the price of hatred. Being light in the midst of this devastation will mean different things for different people. At worship this morning I’ll raise up Tree of Life Synagogue to pray for. In Pittsburgh there may be other “people of light” who will come alongside the grieving in love and support. 

What I believe as a follower of Jesus is that light will surpass the darkness…sometime  and someday, individually and collectively. When I find it hard to open up the daily newspaper I remind myself that light will ultimately triumph.

Like my friends in Alaska who will be asking the question, “Will we ever see light again?”; the answer is…yes! Don’t get used to living in the darkness! Keep believing that light will come back!

The Church I Don’t Have to Attend to Attend

October 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 21, 2018

 

It’s the reality that unsettles me!

The church is different than it was when I was growing up. Heck! It’s different than when I pastored! 

Not that it didn’t change at all when I was pastoring! I remember the first Sunday back in Mason, Michigan when I used power point slides to go along with my message. A twenty-something person came up to me afterwards and told me that I had a great message and that the slides on the screen had made it even better. And then a sixty-something lady came up to me and said the message was great, but the slides had been a distraction. That was a wake -up moment about generational differences at that time (early 1990’s). The power points continued each Sunday after that and the older lady got used to it!

Carey Nieuwhof said that “the gap between how quickly you change and how quickly things change is called irrelevance!” The contemporary church has rarely had the adjective “innovative” attached to it. 

It’s like the church is still learning the multiplication tables and culture has moved on to algebra. 

And yet, some churches have often rushed to change because what the culture says has occupied the driver’s seat of the mission and Jesus, although still in the vehicle, is just one of the passengers…kinda’ like Grandpa, still well-respected but no longer allowed to drive!

Social media has changed how the church functions. That’s understandable, as long as we don’t build a new garage simply because we came home with a new car. 

In a growing number of churches people no longer have to be physically present at an on-site worship service to be a part of the congregation. Aunt Lucy can now stream the worship service and watch it at home. Social media and technology have now made it possible for people to be a part of a church in a different state across the country.

The importance of having a  sense of “community” has been packed in the trunk. The new clamoring is about “connectedness.” 

Connectedness has been confused with being the twin sister of community! People confuse being connected on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter with being a part of a spiritual community. 

A wise middle school principal, seeing how social media consumes so much of a typical adolescent’s time, takes this approach. 

“You have to manage your social being with being social.”

In other words, our social being has the potential to minimize our ability to be social. 

That being said, there is something about the Body of Christ coming together in a worship setting, taking the bread and the cup of the communion experience and sharing with one another, having someone ask if the church can gather around him and touch him with their hands and prayer. Perhaps those things are antiquated elements of a church that is passing away, but I guess that means I’m ancient!

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.