Archive for the ‘Prayer’ category

Would Jesus Be On The Teachers’ Side?

April 17, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         April 17, 2018

                          

Since West Virginia public school teachers rallied at their state capital and exited their classrooms for almost two weeks, there has been a stream of teachers in other states that have followed West Virginia’s lead.

Having served on the school board and as the president of that school board, plus having a sister, brother-in-law, niece, and daughter who are either retired teachers or currently teaching, plus married to a lady who got her degree in deaf education and still works with special needs students, plus being a coach and a substitute teacher myself (Did you follow all of those plusses?), I’ve had to look at public education from different perspectives.

Being a pastor I also have a habit of contemplating how Jesus might view an issue or converse with a certain individual? Would he care? Would he offer wisdom? Would be simply be present to listen? Would he be swayed by the majority opinion?

Scripture gives us stories of Jesus interacting with children. Matthew 19:13-15 tells the story of children being brought to him “…to place his hands on them and to pray for them.” The disciples had their priorities messed up and started rebuking those who were bringing the kids to Jesus. Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

That brief story communicates a few things about Jesus and those who impact and instruct our kids. Like foundational arithmetic the rest of the problems rely on the beginning beliefs.

Start with those of the present who would play the roles of the disciples! Jesus’ discomfort- perhaps too nice a term!- with the disciples was their interference in allowing the connection between the children and the Teacher. They minimized the importance of the little folk, taking on the attitude that Jesus’ time was better spent with the older generation.

Drawing the story into the present, it seems that those who make decisions about education that involve everything but the face-to-face contact between teacher and his/her students have a responsibility to not place obstacles in the way.

If you’re wondering who that might be the answer is ALL OF US! Government that sees the challenges of our schools but treats the situation as if you can treat a broken arm with a butterfly bandaid…state boards of education that are more enamored with state testing scores than classroom educational discoveries…school boards that have to make tough decisions…parents who send their kids to school each morning after a donut breakfast and a packed lunch of Cheeto’s and Oreo Cookies, and then blame their child’s poor performance on incompetent teachers…teachers who have lost the passion for leading young minds in the discovery of new learnings…and the communities that continually vote down school bond issues because they have bought into the myth that teachers are overpaid and the schools have all the funds they need.

In regards to the disciples, all of us have the DNA within us to be educational rebukers!

Would Jesus be on the teachers’ side? He would be on the side of those who are committed to their purpose, impassioned with the importance of their calling. Like the children who were brought to him he values those who “place their hands of influence on them”. He values the opportunities that are weaved into the relationships between the teacher and her students. When Jesus placed his hands on the children it was the indication of his blessing of them. He values teachers who are blessings on the lives of their students. Most of us can recall who some of those “blessings” were when we were in our school years. (We can also probably remember a few teachers whose classes we “persevered” through!

Would Jesus be on the teacher’s side? He would be on the side of those who understand that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I might interpret that in two ways: That messing with the raising up of our kids is upsetting to Jesus, the Teacher; and secondly, that the education of our children needs to have a long-term view. Teachers are shaping, not enabling, the minds of our future leaders and influencers.

There is a saying that we’re all familiar with…”you get what you pay for!” Perhaps there should be another saying that rises above that: You reap the blessings of what you’re willing to sow!”

Static Church Cling

April 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       April 9, 2018

                                      

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:42, 44-46)

A few days ago I pulled one of my tee shirts out of the dresser, put it on, and started another day. It felt a bit different, tighter maybe, but I attributed the snug feeling to the two servings of lasagna I had eaten the night before. I often associate tight clothes with the previous night’s dinner entree’…not the oversized bowl of ice cream!

A few hours later I went to change clothes to go to basketball practice. When I took the tee shirt off I discovered one of my handkerchiefs attached to the inside of the shirt. Static cling had drawn it to its hidden position while in the dryer. The crackling of the static electricity still present sounded as I unconnected it. I felt a bit silly, but at least the hanky wasn’t hanging out behind my shirt like a piece of toilet paper!

The first church in Jerusalem could be said to have static church cling… in a good way. They hung together, developed a deeper level of fellowship, and relied on each other for love, life, and support.

The description of who they were began with the verb “devoted”, and then three times in three verses the adverb “together” is used. They clung together! The health of the Body of Christ depended upon the connectedness of its parts.

With static cling in our clothes there are certain products that we use to reduce the “togetherness” of our clothes.  There are fabric sheets and other antistatic agents that lessen the chance that a handkerchief is going to be sticking to the seat of your pants.

Our culture, in many ways, is an antistatic church clinging agent. People are busy, and busyness is an effective reducer of people connecting with one another. On the other hand, to have a church fellowship meet together more often…just because!…is not the path to deeper bonding either. Church busyness is simply cultural busyness spiritualized. There needs to be purpose behind the clinging.

Two of the draws of social media are its superficial solution for the need for relationships and its availability when the person wants it.

Our culture lends itself to relationships that are superficial and meaningless. Church culture usually mirrors that. The most meaningful relationships in these uncertain times seem to come about because of causes that seek justice and correction, but, once again, they are mostly short-lived and lack relational depth.

The decline of churches can be attributed to a number of factors. Perhaps one of the ways of renewal will lead us through the rediscovering of our devoted purpose and the re-clinging of our belief that the gospel guides us to personal transformation and also transformation together.

Living Longer, Living With Purpose

March 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W                                                         March 3, 2018

           

My father passed away two weeks ago three months shy of his 90th birthday. He lived a long life, and for that we are thankful. Carol and I are now the oldest generation of our family. There is no one above us and two generations below us.

Death makes a person ponder and think about where he/she is in the living of their life. I turn 64 in two months and, although I’m fairly healthy and active, I understand that I’m closer to entering the pearly gates than I am to the memories of those high school days.

There’s more research and study being done of the longest-living people around the world. Are there common themes? Are there communities that have a higher percentage of people who are a hundred years of age or older? Are there certain aspects of our world’s opportunities that tend to decrease the possibilities of living longer?

Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones and The  Blue Zones solution draws out some secrets of living long in his books. Blue Zones are places that he has identified in different places around the world that have a high number of people who live long lives. It’s interesting that Loma Linda, California is the only Blue Zone he mentions in his sharing of information with TIME magazine in the February 26, 2018 issue. Loma Linda is a haven for Seventh-Day Adventists, a denomination that avoids meat; eats plenty of plants, whole grains, and nuts; and emphasizes community and a day of rest (Sabbath) each week. Loma Linda Adventists live 10 years longer than their fellow Americans.

This is not to convince everyone to become Seventh Day Adventists, but rather to note a few of the trends that seem to be “preaching” to us.

Community, rest, diet, and (I’m putting this one in there as well!) purpose. Howard Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside also draws out the importance of some of the values that are a part of a faith community and our religious traditions: respect, compassion, gratitude, charity, humility, harmony, and meditation. Of course, when a faith community becomes more about power, bickering, discord, and being judgmental the opposite can happen. People can lose their spiritual relationship in the midst of the chaos of congregational dysfunction.

Although I grieve that my dad has passed on, I rejoice in the fact that he lived a long life that had purpose. All of those values that Friedman draws out as a part of a faith community were also evident in Dad’s life.

And the thing is…people are more and more wondering how to live longer and seeking to live longer, but living longer just to live longer is kind of like hitting the golf ball twice as many times during a round of golf. It’s not really what it’s about! Living with purpose and, hopefully, longer…like my father, is where I seek for my life to follow!

Dad’s Bible

February 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         February 25, 2018

                                               

I brought Dad’s Bible home with me this past week. Laurence Wolfe passed away on the fifteenth of February four months shy of his 90th birthday. His Bible has been speaking and reaffirming to me who Dad was and is.

A Bible often does that…communicates who the owner is! It shows his search for truth and the value he placed on wisdom and revelation. Sometimes it also reveals the lifeline that the person held on to in facing difficulties and weaknesses.

My dad’s book of scriptures has verses underlined on most of the pages. Not a single verse in the Book of Psalms is underlined, but Proverbs is well-used. “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” (Proverbs 3:13)

“He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.” (Proverbs 14:21)

“Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.” (Proverbs 16:6)

Wise counsel would be a term people would associate with Dad. I remember the number of phone calls he would receive at home after he retired from the Social Security Administration. People would call him for advice and guidance on how to approach a situation with his former employer. He would listen and offer…wise counsel. I’ve got a feeling that Proverbs was a book he read often to help ground him in the area of wisdom. The Book of James echoes that belief. Underlined in the first chapter are these words: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt…” (James 1:5-6)

And then a bit later. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13)

Paul’s letter to the Romans seems to have been a favorite book, as well as the Gospel of John. In the midst of the gospel one verse gets emphasized. “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” (John 14:24)

Dad’s Bible tells me other things about him as well. Any verse that is emphasized is underlined with great care to make sure the line is straight. It reminds me of a father who was always organized. A task worth doing- even underlining a scripture verse- was worth doing well!

And then there is the prayer list! It was tucked between pages in the midst of Nehemiah. The list held the names of friends, family, his pastor, his church, and his country. Some of the names were of people who had been struggling with health difficulties, and others who were struggling with spiritual difficulties.

In the coming months Dad’s Bible will be the Bible that I read, discovering in the midst of the Word of God the man of God that my father was. In a way it will be like a continuing conversation with Pops, visits that I am extremely grateful for.

Dad’s Things

February 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 19, 2018

                                             

It’s a small apartment located at the end of the first floor in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex. Dad has lived there for about the last three years, making new friends and acquaintances with other travelers of life’s final chapters.

Later on today and tomorrow my sister and I will spend some time over there going through some of his possessions, and breathing in the memories.

Dad passed from this life to the next on February 15 at the age of 89 years and 8 months. His was a life well-lived!

His apartment is a testimony to who he was and what had become entwined in his life.

There are the oxygen tanks that testify to his health limitations. Like a changing autumn landscape, I had noticed the changing interior of his apartment when I would come for one of my visits to southern Ohio from Colorado. Medications, the medical supplies a diabetic would need, blood pressure monitor, and (Sorry, Dad!) a good supply of adult diapers, his apartment spoke about that winter season of life that most of us will arrive at.

Scattered through the living room, bedroom, and closet are numerous items with the initials “U.K.” on them. Dad graduated from The University of Kentucky. He was proud of his Wildcats, suffering through many a football season and much happier most basketball seasons. There are UK shirts, hats, mugs, plates, flags, and the 1951 UK Yearbook. He had attended Kentucky after getting out of the Navy, but it wasn’t easy. He had married Mom, welcomed Child #1, our brother, Charlie, and provided for his growing family as he wore the hats labeled student, employee, husband, and father. Things were not easy during his UK years, and yet those years shaped him with the elements of resolve, perseverance, and organization.

Come to think of it, using the word “scattered” to begin that last paragraph would be the antithesis of who Dad was. His apartment is organized. His papers are organized. His cupboards are organized. By golly, his dresser drawers are organized!

There are Rotary remembrances. The service club had been a part of Dad’s life for close to forty years, joining the Ironton, Ohio chapter not long after our family moved to the town in 1969. Service defined Pops! He fit well in the organization that was sewed into the community’s fabric. But he also served the church, served his neighbors, and served our mother in their sixty-five years of marriage. He served as her caregiver in the last few years of her life, and at Wyngate he did those little acts of service. I remember my sister telling me that Dad tutored a woman who lived in the apartment next to him on how to give herself an insulin shot. She was scared to death, but Dad was able to bring down her anxiety about being poked and help her jump over that hurdle.

Pictures and pictures! Photo albums filled with pictures…framed pictures…pictures attached to his refrigerator…pictures with meaning and memories. The pictures give “snapshots” of his journey…family, church, laughter, friendships.

Going through Dad’s things, I realize, is important for my walk of grief. It’s ointment for my aching soul as I cry out for my father to come and sit beside me. Most of the things in his  apartment will end up going to Goodwill or to someone else who needs furniture or dishes, but for now I need to be amongst “his things”. It’s a part of letting go and finding peace.

The Hand Grasp of My Father

February 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                February 16, 2018

                             

“Dad, look who’s here to see you!”

I entered his hospital room and caught sight of the elderly man, withered and worn out. His dinner tray, that he hadn’t the least bit interest in, was in front go him. Perhaps a six year old should be made to eat his peas and carrots but not an 89 year old man in his last hours.

He mumbled a few words when he caught sight of me. I think he said, “Well, hi, son!”

And he grasped my hand with firmness and purpose.

That hand had grasped me a number of times over the course of my life. Sometimes it conveyed discipline and disappointment, and at other times it told me of a father’s pride in his son’s accomplishments and decisions.

I remember that hand on the back of the bicycle I was learning to ride. I’d be wobbling like a Saturday night drunk riding it down the sidewalk. Dad would be jogging along behind me keeping me propped up, firmly grasping the back of the seat. From the front it must have looked like a car in serious need of the wheels being aligned, but from the back it was a view of the youngest child taking another step in the long ride of growing up.

“Dad, I can’t get the lawnmower started.”

Dad came out to the garage where I was struggling with the machine. His hand firmly grasped the handle on the end of the pull cord and he pulled. On the second pull the motor took off and he looked at me with a slight smile that non-verbally communicated “You’ve got to put a little muscle behind it.”

“Thanks!” I sheepishly replied.

I remember the grasp of the hand at the end of my ordination service on June 24, 1979. I had just been given the charge to ministry, been prayed over, and congratulated…and then there was Dad’s hand grasp telling me how proud he was of me, but also the importance of the calling.

Last summer we stood in a side classroom of Beulah Baptist Church. The worship service had ended a few minutes before that and there was a woman who had requested that the deacons pray for her. A serious medical condition had been discovered. They invited me to join them in the prayer circle around the lady. I stood next to my father, Deacon Emeritus of the church, grasped his hand, and then listened to him and others pray for the woman. His hand hold was firm, just as his faith in the power of prayer was strong.

Within an hour we held each other’s hands around the dinner table as he prayed for the blessings of God upon our meal and family.

When I would come from Colorado to visit him in the past few years he would reach his hand towards me at meal time, grasp it with care, and pray the dinner grace.

After several minutes in the hospital room he finally releases his grip and allows my sister to feed him the chocolate pudding from his tray. Unlike the peas and carrots he eats all of the pudding. It’s the last food he will partake of, a taste of sweetness that describes the effect of his life on so many others.

Less than a day later he passes on…and it’s okay! Like his hand grasp, he is a man who had a firm grasp on what is important in life.

That last grasp of the hand. I’m extremely thankful that God allowed me to have it. In my memories of Pops i’ll hold on to that moment for a long, long time.

The Last Stool On the Right

January 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              January 21, 2018

                               

I sit on my stool this morning drinking my Pike Place medium roast and staring out at the snow flying past the window. The storm obscures my usual view of Pike’s Peak, but there is still a sense of peace in the scene in front of me. My earbuds bring soft music to my ears and I sip my morning brew with an attitude of gratitude about God’s hand of grace and abundant blessings.

The last stool on the right at the Starbucks on the corner of Union and Briargate Parkway is my sacred place, or perhaps better phrased, my sacred seat! Some spiritual pessimists may question my choice for where I sense the closeness of God, but I’m okay with that…as long as they stay off my stool! Strange as it may sound, it is from this perch that I have my deepest spiritual ponderings and quiet (with music in my ears) moments with God. Perhaps I should call it “Coffee With Jesus”!

Each one of us needs our space, but we too often neglect to look for some sacred space. We minimize the urgency of holy whisperings in the midst of the culture’s noise. As I sit here this morning God brings people to my mind even as I’m pecking out the words of my blog post.

Ray Stromenger, having a heart procedure tomorrow…my dad passing blood in his urine…one of the young ladies I used to coach in basketball, Autumn Boyles, who torn her ACL in her game last Thursday night…Diana Stucky, who I know will be dealing with a health condition she has in the midst of the change in weather we’re dealing with…my niece, Jennifer Graham, recovering from surgery…Henry McIntosh, in his journey of loss as he grieves his wife’s passing…our neighbor’s, the Nash’s, who lost their eighteen year old grandson back in late October…Nate and Alyssa Price, celebrating the birth of their son. The longer I sit here the more names and faces keep passing through my mind, many because of the down moments of life, but some because of the mountain top events they are shouting about.

Psalm 16:11 says “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence…”

 

That Psalm is referred to as a “miktam”, a term that many believe is unclear or untranslatable, but some believe it meant that the Psalm attached to it was of such importance that it needed to be engraved in the hearts and minds of the ones saying it.

I sit in his presence experiencing the quiet joy of the morning, and reciting those words once again…”You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

My sacred spot usually runs through three cups of coffee, one blog post, about fifteen recorded songs, and then it’s time to journey back to the rest of my day. It’s an intimate time, oddly enough, in the midst of a gathering crowd of coffee drinkers.

I’ve warmed the stool for the next journeyer as God has warmed my soul. Amen.