Sermon Feedback…Unplanned!

Posted August 14, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Community, Death, Faith, Freedom, Grace, Humor, Jesus, love, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   August 14, 2019

                              

I spoke to the Simla Saints last Sunday. Simla, Colorado is a sleepy-eyed town of a few hundred folk about 45 minutes east of Colorado Springs. First Baptist Church of Simla is composed of about 20 good natured souls of various ages between 1 and 92 (although the married 92 year olds moved to be with their daughter in a different town too far away). 

They are a congregation that enjoys laughter, potlucks, and after-service cookies.

And most of the time I enjoy being with them. Last Sunday was enjoyable…and then they started asking questions about the sermon!

I spoke about Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus. Both sisters made the same statement to Jesus, but I suggested that their different personalities might have  caused their statements to have different meanings to Jesus. I talked about Martha’s attention to detail and getting the work done, and Mary’s interest in sitting and listening to Jesus.

They were with me! We traveled the sermon journey together, punctuated with laughter and an occasional nodding of the head (with eyes still open).

And then we went to talking about prayer concerns…kinda’!

After a couple of prayer concerns were mentioned one of the women said, “I’ve got a question.” She was looking at me. “It says that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters a couple of times. So why did he wait to go to Bethany?”

“Well, I think he…ahhh…well….ahhh…”

A “Martha” speaks up. “And Pastor Bill, if Martha didn’t do the work how was it going to get done? Fixing a dinner for a group was a lot of work. They didn’t have microwaves back in those days.” I nodded my head in agreement, hoping that she had put a period on the end of her point.

“Good point!”

From the right side of the sanctuary…”And Mary didn’t seem to be that concerned about how the food was going to get on the table. Seems a little irresponsible to me!”

I begin to come to Mary’s defense. “But Mary was focused on Jesus. It seems that she was often sitting at the feet of Jesus.”

Back at me! “And expecting her sister to do all the work!”

“Well…ahhh…I….ahhh….”

“And Lazarus is just sitting there, also. He’s not helping.”

“Well, he did just rise from the dead,” I suggest.

“…and isn’t doing anything! He’s had a four day nap, for crying out loud!”

“Well…ahhh…”

“I’ve got another question,” said the woman who had initiated this unplanned sermon feedback session. “Does Martha believe Jesus can change things, even though her brother has already died?”

“That’s a great question!” 

When a pastor is at a loss as to how to answer a question, affirming the greatness of an asked question is a good go-to.

Back to the “Martha”. “I think Martha gets a bad rap here and Mary seems to be exalted.”

“Great point!”

The unplanned sermon feedback session goes for another five minutes. It’s filled with me saying profound things like, “Well” and “Ahhh” and “Hmmm”.

And then, thankfully, we get back to the clarity of prayer concerns, where there is no debate. The congregation has enjoyed the unplanned. I have a hunch they enjoyed how they made me stammer and look clueless most of all. Maybe next time I’ll ask for the prayer concerns to be mentioned BEFORE the sermon.

The Pain in Laughter

Posted August 10, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Death, love, marriage, Parenting, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 10, 2019

                                      

Last week I wrote about the tragic loss of a father of five (“Answering the Why”, August 4; WordsfromWW.com) in a road accident. The family was in the midst of a move from our city to another community. It was a new beginning, new challenges and opportunities, new friends to make and schools to attend…and then in a few seconds everything changed. My blog post focused on the “why” questions of life that we strive to answer and yet we can find no answer.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the father. During the course of the service there was pain and there was laughter…and there was laughter, acting like a blanket, bringing some warmth to cover the chill of the deep, deep pain.

The laughter was healing. It drew the gathering into the story, the person. It swung like a grapevine from the heartache of loss to the loss of opportunities to the emptiness of Dad’s chair at the table.

Every chuckle about a past encounter or a humorous saying was tempered with the realization that it would never occur again. And yet the laughter was ointment for the aches of the journey.

I’ve thought a lot about this tragedy in the past week. In the midst of the accident details there’s a sense of injustice and a rising amount of anger. The laughter helps simmer the unrest that has been planted in people’s souls.

My mom’s last few years were filled with the afflictions that Parkinson’s Disease can bring. The loss of mobility and the devastating effect on her ability to speak. My sister and I recently retold “Mom stories”. It’s been five years since she passed and, although we remember the pain, we shared the stories of who she was, experiences we shared and conversations we had…and we laughed. The humor brought her back to us. We could see her sitting in her chair, watching “Dancing With The Stars” and working her crossword puzzle. We remembered how she would use her “Baptist Mom Guilt” on us to make us do things we didn’t want to. 

We could envision the times when she would grab on to Dad and say her classic line of romance to him: “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” We would pretend we were grossed out by the dining room affection, but it really caused us to chuckle…and still does.

There is pain in life and laughter in the pain. It is not an escape from the grief, but rather footwear for the journey. The steps begin with the uncertainty of a tightrope and gradually gain a steadiness as we balance our mourning with the memories.

Our souls cry out. Our laughter helps us to keep going.

God Grue (Glue)

Posted August 6, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Grandchildren, Humor, Parenting, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              August 6, 2019

                                                  

Yesterday I sat in the swing on the back deck of our house. My 4 year old granddaughter, Corin, sat beside me and engaged me in conversation. Errr….she talked, I listened!

Topics ranged from unicorns to ballerinas to ambulance sirens…and then she saw my toe nails!

“Granddad, what’s wrong with your toe nails?”

“They’re old and ugly.”

She got out of the swing to do a closer inspection. “This one, Granddad, is quacked (cracked)! How did it get quacked?”

“Sometimes that happens to toe nails when you get older.”

She poked at it. A diagnosis was being formed, but she proceeded to the next toe which was apparently having some of visual issues as well. 

“What about this one?” she asked with a look of four year old disgust.

“It’s just old also.”

A couple of other questions from the miniature physician brought her to the point of offering a solution. She crawled back up onto the swing and shared her assessment.

“I think you should cut your toe nails off and get new ones.”

“Oh! I should cut them off?” I asked with a hint of horror.

“Yeh…and get new ones.”

“Do you think they sell new toe nails at the store?”

“Yes, Granddad. You can cut your quacked toe nails off and get new ones.”

“I think that would hurt.”

“No, it won’t. God grued (glued) us together. He grued our arms and legs on…and our toe nails.”

“So if I break my arm God could just glue it back on?”

“Yep! He has “God grue” that he uses.”

“Okay! You have nice toe nails.”

“Yes, I do!”

Suddenly, she begins to inspect my fingernails. Here we go again!

Answering the Why

Posted August 4, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Community, Death, Parenting, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 4, 2019

                                       

A friend of mine lost her husband two days ago in a traffic accident. He was 45 and they are the parents of five children, the youngest two adopted as a result of their mission experiences in Africa.

They were in the midst of a move from Colorado Springs to another community about 30 minutes away when the accident happened. In other words, they had just uprooted from where they had lived for a long time to relocate to a place that is strange and new.

And I keep asking the question that has no suitable answer: Why would God allow someone so vital to so many other lives to be taken? 

It’s a question that gets rephrased and asked in numerous ways. We don’t understand tragedies. We cringe at the appearance of heartache, not just in our lives but also the lives of others. 

It’s convenient to theologize the pain with the unhelpful statement, “Who can understand the ways of God?” That’s about as useful as burlap toilet paper! (Sorry for the visual!)

There’s also a tendency to philosophize the wounds by talking about the side effects of a world that is highly developed and complex. Once again, that does not help. 

But we’re a society of answers, people that believe any question has a valid solution. We struggle with the idea that some questions don’t have agreeable answers.

My life is littered with unanswerable “whys”. Why did my mom have to suffer with Parkinson’s in the last few years of her life, a form of the disease that caused her to lose the functioning of her arms and legs, and effected her ability to speak?

Why did my friend and mentor, Ben Dickerson, have a heart attack and pass away at the age of 65 when he had no apparent signs of heart problems? That question still haunts me 11 years later.

Why did a gunman open fire in an El Paso shopping mall yesterday, killing 20 people? 

Why do bad things happen to good people? 

There is an unsettledness in my spirit this morning as I consider the numbing grief that my friend is experiencing. Two days ago the family of seven moved boxes into their new home, and now life has become uncertain and grey.

The lack of answers means I can’t let it go. It tumbles over and over again in my thoughts. Perhaps that’s part of the unsatisfying answer. My sense of caring about the pain in another is an indication of the sacredness of relationships, the importance of coming alongside those who are wounded.

It’s not THE answer, but at least it begins to lead me down the path to a hope-filled understanding.

Grandkids Negotiations

Posted August 3, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Community, Freedom, Grandchildren, Humor, love, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 3, 2019

                                   

It has been “Grandkid Week” for Carol and me. Their mom, and our oldest daughter, went back to school for several days of teacher’s meetings. That, plus she and our son-in-law are participating in a race this weekend called “The Beast”, so we’ve got the three “grands” until Sunday afternoon. By then I may be the beast!

For reference, they are ages 4, 8, and 11…close in age if you fast forwarded about 30 years, but worlds apart this weekend.

If I was updating my resume I could add the experience of “grandchildren negotiator”, for you see getting these three to agree on what activity they want to do, movie they want to watch, dinner entree they want to eat, and bed they want to sleep in is on par with getting China and the U.S.A. to shake hands on a trade agreement.

Dissension surfaces in the form of whining and stomping away from the bargaining table.

“No, Jesse!” directs the four year old. “You’re the bad man. Reagan and I are the good guys!”

“I don’t want to be the bad man.”

The four year old starts to whine. It’s her “go to” to get her way. “You have to.”

“How about,” offers the 8 year old, who often tries to find a way to compromise, “Jesse begins as the bad guy and then we’ll switch places after five minutes? And then, Corin, you’ll be the bad guy.”

The four year old digs in deeper. “No, I don’t want to be the bad guy.” She folds her arms in front of her to reinforce her position of no compromise. It is a picture of conflict between differing personalities and ages. 

They can not come to agreement. The compromiser looks for common ground, but the ground is loose sand that is constantly shifting. 

Time for Granddad to offer arbitration to settle the differences. Reagan will be in agreement, Jesse will consider it, and Corin will frown about any solution that differs from her way. She is the strong-willed child who will someday be either a corporate CEO, the owner of a professional baseball team, or entrepreneur with a defined vision. 

“How about if all of you are the good guys doing battle with an invisible bad guy?”

Jesse agrees and starts play-acting as if he has a light saber. Corin frowns. Reagan says to her sister, “And Corin, we can pretend that we’re protecting the newborn baby from the bad guys.” It has the feel of a similar storyline from the first two chapters of Matthew. It’s her Sunday School lessons emerging in her play. She reasons with her sister and puts her arm around her shoulders to help her understand the value of the scenario. 

The added touch brings the four year old back to agreement and for the next 15 minutes they work together on the mission. The 11 year old then decides he doesn’t want to play any more…and the whole series of negotiations starts over again.

Meanwhile, Carol and I are envisioning a different storyline, one that involves naps…long naps!

The 40 Year Hitch

Posted July 28, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, Community, Grace, Grandchildren, Humor, love, marriage, Parenting, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 28, 2019

                                          

It’s been 40 years since we exchanged vows. Crazy! Doesn’t seem that long! It occurred to Carol and me last night that several of our aunts and uncles attended that wedding ceremony, conducted at Community Presbyterian Church in Clarendon Hills, Illinois on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. We thought they were old! We figured out last night that we’re now OLDER than they were when they listened to a couple of 25 year olds covenant to love one another. Yikes!

We were two different people in many ways. I had deep roots in eastern Kentucky. Think J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy! Carol was “big city suburban”. Both of our fathers had served in the military in very different ways, my dad as a cook in the Navy and her dad as a pilot with the Army Air Corps. Her family was a bit more affluent than mine, but both of our families had a closeness that stays rich in our minds.

Carol had been raised in the Catholic church. I had always been a Baptist, first Southern Baptist and then American Baptist. Growing up Catholic, she had heard about a Baptist seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and she assumed that the students there walked around dressed like Franciscan monks, wearing robes, sandals, and sporting shaved heads. I assumed she liked fried fish since it seemed like all Catholic churches had Friday night fish fries. 

We quickly learned that our assumptions were wrong, and discovered what was right about each of us that seemed to mesh us together in a comfortable relationship of laughter and shared life.

In our first year of marriage we learned about grace and forgiveness. We were like two rookies heading into our first season together. Carol knew that I loved pecan pie and she made one for me, an expression of her love for her new husband. I ate a piece of pie and expressed my gratitude to her. It was very good! Let me emphasize that! It was very good! But then the next day went by and the next day after that. Late meetings and softball doubleheaders kept me from eating the second piece of the pie. About five days later when I finally thought about having another piece, Carol stopped me. Some green stuff has started growing on the pie crust! She was crushed and I experienced what it means to “eat humble pie”. Forgiveness was extended. Forty years later if I have a desire for pecan pie she points me in the direction of the local Village Inn and suggests that I go there and have a piece.

She learned the privileges of being the spouse of a pastor, but, more often than not, she experienced the unjustified expectations of it. People blessed us in so many ways and people brought heartache and frustration to us. She listened to me on numerous occasions as I came home from a church meeting that had been frustrating and left me questioning my calling as a pastor. On the other side, I listened to her deep sighs after being with the three kids all day. I was her chance to talk to an actual adult, her opportunity to tell someone the funny stories of the day and the new sayings our kids would spring on her.

We supported one another as we went through the deaths of each of our parents, never an easy journey. We cried tears of joy as each of our daughters walked down the aisle with their new husbands. We experienced the joy of grandparenthood together. 

When you walk with someone for 40 years you realize that it’s difficult to remember when you weren’t walking together. Roughly two-thirds of our lives have now been spent eating meals at the same table, taking walks around the neighborhood together, and being in love.

In the midst of our journey it occurs to us that the improbableness of our relationship has flowed into the inconceivable thought of not being married to one another.

As I’ve said before, sometimes we don’t think about being blessed when we are in the midst of the blessing. I have been, I am, and, God willing, I will be for a long, long time!

The Messiness of Being Heard

Posted July 26, 2019 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Community, Faith, Freedom, Grace, Humor, Jesus, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    July 26, 2019

                          

I’m coming to the end of a week of middle school church camp, six days of weirdness, laughter, and tears. Once again, I’ve been in the role of camp pastor. It’s been my privilege and plight for several years now. Call me a “strange-o”, but I enjoy it!

To be given the opportunity to talk to emerging adolescents about what it means to have a walk with Jesus is awesome.

Towards the end of our week we have an hour that is labeled “Messy Games” on the master schedule. There’s a reason why it gets positioned towards the end of the journey. Going back to Young Life youth ministry philosophy, as a youth leader we “earned the right to be heard.”

In middle camp camp philosophy you earn the right to get messy. Shaving cream, egg yolks, chocolate syrup, maple syrup, flour, water balloons and canons…you earn the right to be the target that brings joy and accomplishment to the lives of middle schoolers.

I knew I had been heard for the previous five days when several kids plastered me to the point of being unrecognizable. 

I had talked about faith and they felt free to “foam me up.”

I had talked about showing extravagant love towards Jesus and they felt free enough to lighten my hair up with a few extravagant touches of caramel syrup.

I talked about believing that just a touch of the fringe of Jesus cloak, like the woman longing for healing in Luke 8, can change things…and they felt free to touch me up with streams of chocolate syrup.

Getting “messed up” is the middle school signature upon your acceptance letter. It’s their validation of your ministry and indication that you talked with them not to them.

Saturday morning means that it’s time to load up and head down the mountain, final embraces and goodbyes, the retelling of the funny experiences of the week and tears for what has been. 

I finally got the shaving cream washed out of my shorts last night. My ears have lost the sweetness of the maple syrup, and I know that I’ve been blessed.