Posted tagged ‘Abraham’

Gathering in Silence

March 7, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     March 7, 2014

 

                                    

 

Silence is golden…and increasingly uncomfortable, it seems! People are putting down $300 for headphones that will allow them to keep the noise in…their “noise preference”, that is!

There’s a reason why we wish for “peace and quiet.” The two are often linked together.

And yet, we live in a noisy world that elevates sounds and echoes and voices…and has a hard time knowing how to handle silence.

Millions watch “The Voice” each week. Nascar has a following of even more than that, as people flock to the raceways to cheer at the sounds of the engines revving.

Last Sunday I did a children’s story before the congregation received communion. I talked about the meaning of the elements…the bread and the cup…and asked the children to be extra quiet and still as we took communion that morning. We didn’t filter the silence with music…we just kept quiet. I’ve never had a communion experience quite like that! There was complete silence as we gathered together around the Lord’s table. it was…good!

A friend of mine recently made the comment that the silence of God sometimes brings people together.

We wait for a word, a leading, a whisper.

The noise has a way of drowning out lips that are sealed. We believe that God is ever-moving, and, as a result of that, we erroneously think that there must be constant chatter and loud praise.

A scripture that always has intrigued me comes at the end of Genesis 16 and the first verse of Genesis 17. I won’t quote it here, but simply say that it indicates a gap of thirteen years in Abram’s life. God had promised Abram that he was going to father a great nation, but things weren’t happening quick enough. Sarai wasn’t getting pregnant and neither of them was getting any younger, so they took things into their own hands and brought in Hagar to be a substitute wife. They could only trust God so long with what was going on. The emptyness of Sarai’s womb was too much silence for them to handle.

And so God was “silent” for thirteen years to further help them to realize that HE was going to bring a son into the lives of Abram and Sarai. Abram means “exalted father.” Abraham means “father of many.” Thirteen years of silence can bring us to a more attentive place, and God strengthened that listening by changing a name.

Sometimes God seems to be silent in our churches and in our lives, and we panic and begun to orchestrate holy moments. And yet, it is in the silence that we can quite often go to a deeper search…a testing of our faith…a point of confession and repentance. It’s a pathway through the wilderness, and yet we are hesitant to proceed.

Quite often I ask a question of a men’s group that I lead. The flow of conversation about pro football, hunting, new car models, and building projects has been going non-stop…and then the pastor interrupts the warmness, the male bonding, by asking the question “So what has God been doing in your life?” Or “What’s God been saying to you ?”

Silence invades the conversation. I realize that it is easier, and not as threatening, to talk about Cabela’s and outdoor grills than holy conversations, but the quiet that follows the question is deafening.

Some of our most meaningful times together have then flowed out of that question that is allowed to simmer for a bit.

Silence does end up leading us to the gold.

 

Caught Between What Is and What I Hope

June 21, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        June 21, 2013

As I stand in line at Wendy’s Hamburgers I’m having a “caught in the middle” moment. I’m caught between wanting to be healthier and wanting a Double Stack with Cheese. What I hope for is in a battle with “what is”, and “what is” is hungry for what my tummy says I urgently need.

Which one will win? More often than not it’s the “what is.” What I hope for seldom gets a grip on reality.

How often are our lives in similar tug-of-wars?

I want to become more knowledgeable about scripture, but I can’t seem to fit the reading of the Word into my life as a spiritual discipline.

I want to walk three miles a day, but the couch always seems to become more comfortable about the time I’m suppose to put the pedometer on.

I want to surrender myself to worship, but I’m always afraid of what people might think.

I want to get my taxes done early this year, but April 15 always seems to be the day that I finally file.

I want to start saving money to have when it is time to buy a new car, but Kohl’s is having a once-in-a-lifetime sale this week…and Target is giving $10 off for every $100 spent next week.

But here’s the “caught” that I’m seeing more and more in churches, and that my denomination, the American Baptist Churches, seems to be struggling with. It’s the “caught” that leaves us conflicted.

It’s the hope of new life without leaving the old life.

It’s “the Abraham moment”, where he took the step of faith. Hebrews 11:8 describes it this way: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to as place that he would later received as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (NIV)

God promised him that he would inherit a place that he had never seen. For many of us we would not be able to go any further until the realtor’s review of the place had been secured, complete with pictures. We know how the “what is” looks already. The “what is hoped for” has to look as good.

If it had been brought up for a vote, the Hebrew people would always have voted for Egypt and slavery over the unknown and freedom.

I’ve pondered what it was that drove Abraham to get up and leave what he knew to go to a place he did not know? What took him from being a settler to being a pioneer?

Briefly put, Abraham received a call and he had a vision.

The call was from God to go, and he showed Abraham where it was he was to head to after he actually started moving. Carol knows that is a picture of my dream vacation. Get in the car and then decide which direction to head in. (Hasn’t happened yet! I guess you can say that I haven’t received the call from Carol to do that!)

What is God calling me to? What is he calling you to? Truth be told, few of us are aware or even looking to receive a call.

The vision that Abraham had was of a city with foundations, whose architect and builder was God. He had a picture of what could be. That must have been very difficult to stay on course with that vision when night after night he was sleeping in a tent with no buildings in sight.

Call and vision for people who are caught. What determines our decision?

Health vs. Double Stack with Cheese.

What determines whether our denomination, that this weekend is meeting in Overland Park, Kansas, and will talk about new hope, new possibilities, and new directions…and then face the reality of congregations content with the “what is”…what determines if the ABC actually moves?

Call and vision to something that isn’t yet, but more and more people can see.

That is the “caught moment!” Double stacks with cheese are always the easy way out!

Old Voices With New Sound

May 9, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   May 9, 2012

 

One of my closest friends in ministry is Tom Bayes. He, Chuck Moore, and I (Wolfe) met together for lunch every other Thursday for several years when we were all pastoring churches in the Lansing, Michigan area. We referred to ourselves as “The BMW Lunch Group” (Bayes, Moore, Wolfe).

Tom has a little southern twang to his voice that is distinctive. He and I were roommates on the first trip to Israel that both of us were on. He harassed me in humorous ways about the fact that I was only bringing back a pack of caramel candies to my wife from the Holy Land.

Tom and I talked on the phone about three weeks ago for a solid hour. He sounded like…Tom!

Last week I got a call on him that I couldn’t answer at the time, so I called him back a while later. The voice on the other end wasn’t Tom. It sounded like an 80 year old cowboy sitting around a campfire eating beans and chewing tobacco. It wasn’t his voice.

He asked me how I was doing.

“Fine…do you know who you are talking to?”

“Sure…Bill Wolfe.”

“And this is Tom Bayes?”

“Yes.”

“Tom Bayes in Illinois.”

Chuckle. “Yes.”

“Man, it just doesn’t sound like you.”

Our conversation went on. He was telling me a couple things about his wife, Diane. But it felt uncomfortable, because I know Tom’s voice and this didn’t sound like him. Finally, after just a few minutes I made some excuse about needing to be some place, and we ended the conversation.

The thing is, it was Tom. The problem, or the change agent if you will, was Verizon or AT&T. The connection made him sound different. I was used to him just sounding one way. (Of course, I never thought about the possibility that he sounded the same. It was my hearing that had changed.)

As people of God our hearing is often tuned in to a spiritual monotone voice. We can only hear one thing, one note, one voice, one way. One is a number that is used in Scripture quite often to talk about unity, focus, purpose, and wholeness, but we often play it out by thinking that the voice of God gets heard in only one way. When the voice is different than what we’ve been accustomed to it becomes just a little bit too weird.

In Scripture, Abraham heard from three visitors, Moses from a bush that was blazing, Balaam from his mode of transportation, Mary from an angel, Joseph from an angel in a dream, Elijah from a gentle whisper. The way God communicates his message is always truth, but in a multitude of forms.

Can we hear in new ways?

I’ll admit that it was tough to hear my old friend Tom with a new voice. Spiritually speaking, however, I believe you can teach and old church how to hear in new ways.