Archive for the ‘Prayer’ category

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.

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!