Posted tagged ‘Baptist’

Living For Sameness

June 28, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        June 28, 2016

                                   

I have my routines. I take a shower when I get up in the morning…every morning. A shower-less morning throws me for a loop. I function like a zombie in blue jeans. I can hardly even remember to put underwear on. (TMI!)

My life is sectioned into routines. Some of them are good and could even be classified as disciplines. Some are compulsive behaviors that make me think I’m just another Adrian Monk (from the TV series on USA Network Monk). Still other routines are simply things and actions that help me feel comfortable and in control.

In effect, I do a lot of living in sameness. My hamburger has to have tomato and onion on it. I drink a glass of soda whenever I have popcorn. I sleep with my personal blanket…otherwise known as my “blankie.” I sit in the same place whenever I watch television in our family room. I live in sameness. It reduces my stress level.

Sameness is okay…to a point!

A pastor friend of mine made a statement recently in describing a church. He said that the church was committed to living for sameness. I loved that statement because it describes a lot of congregations. On the other end of the spectrum are churches who are committed to constant change. They are hyperactive organizations that jump around like balloons that are released full of air but not tied shut. Both types of churches are committed to living for sameness- one to no change and the other to constant change.

Sameness, in some cases, becomes what we worship. I grew up believing that the Doxology was always sung after the offering was received. It was the cue for the ushers to bring the offering plates back to the front of the sanctuary. When I heard it sung one Sunday in a different point in the worship service I was caught off-guard. Did I sleep through the offering?

In my seminary days I worked for a year in a Presbyterian Church. The senior pastor, Dr. James P. Martin, was a great pastor and mentor. He taught me a multitude of things about ministry. But I had been raised Baptist all my life! I could see things only through a Baptist lens. When I questioned why the Presbyterians didn’t have a Sunday night service…”like we Baptists did!”…he gave me a great response that I’ll always remember. He said, “Well, Bill, what it takes Baptists two worship services to do we can do in one!”

Classic!

It helped me understand that things do not always have to be the same. Change can be a good thing. After all, the Christian faith is about transformation. A person, and a congregation, can’t be transformed and remain the same.

I’m not proficient in being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. I’ve missed a ton of stop signs and Spirit whispers, but I also sense that if given a choice many congregations would choose to stay rooted to sameness instead of being led by the Spirit. Like my “blankie”, there is comfort and safeness in sameness.

What amazes me about the first church is that although they were rooted in Judaism they were transformed by the Gospel and led by the Spirit. They were changed, but anchored to the Change Agent.

Having An Unclear Peace

April 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 18, 2016

                                 

Peace is a highly valued condition seldom understood and, most of the time, awkwardly explained. It is searched for like the Holy Grail, elusive to find and fleeting when experienced. It gets treated like a chemical formula…two parts this and one part that…but it’s not confined or easily defined.

Sometimes peace is experienced in the knowing, finding out a diagnosis and having a sense of peace about it. Sometimes peace takes a long time in the arriving. I remember standing beside the hospital bed of a young mother who had just lost her unborn baby. It took a long time for her and her husband to have peace about the loss. They grieved a long journey and asked a lot of questions that mostly began with the word “why?”

But sometimes peace comes in the lack of clarity. It’s the sensing that things are going to be okay no matter the outcome. It is the best kind of peace, because it is not dependent on what someone says or does, how circumstances play out, achievement or rejection. It’s walking into the fog that often descends along the banks of the Ohio River without reservations.

Peace gets linked up with happiness like they are twin sisters, but happiness is more like a distant cousin who shows up at weddings and reunions.

Recently I experienced a sense of peace in a time of uncertainty. There was a decision that was to be made by a committee that affected me. I knew that the decision was out of my control, and, remarkable as it sounds, I had peace about it regardless of the outcome. The disappointment in the news was minimal, as would have been the excitement in a decision that was positive.

Those moments of unclear peace are few and far between. Perhaps it is because I’m getting older…and older…but I view those times as ways that God redirects us. We’re prone to struggle against the wind instead of going with it. That doesn’t mean that everything is going to be cheesecake and champagne (or since I’m Baptist, Baptist champagne…otherwise known as 7-Up!), but experiencing peace is never discovered when we keep a death-like control grip of our life direction. It’s letting God chair the meeting, but knowing that he will always involve you in the dialogue.

I’ve experienced what the Bible says about peace. It surpasses all understanding. That’s comforting, knowing that today is also “Tax Day”, and the IRS got another kind of “piece” from me!

The Worship of Excellence

May 18, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 18, 2015

                                  

Our church strives to do things the best we can in worship of our Lord, but I could write a book on the number of times when we have fallen short of excellence. Here’s a few examples:

-We are a Baptist church that has had a baptistry that kept leaking…bad! One baptism Sunday there was hardly enough water in it to qualify the person to be a Methodist, let alone a Baptist. One memorable Christmas Eve we baptized people in the inflatable pool of my grandkids that was shaped to look like a whale…including the tail! Joe, one of the people being baptized, and I still joke about him getting baptized in the belly of a whale.

-One Easter Sunday we had the wrong video shown. Instead of a nice beautiful melody that made the resurrection sound celebrate (which it is!) we had a video of heavy metal music that I’m pretty sure mentioned Satan and demon worship a few times. Awkward!

-A couple of people have done special music who missed more notes than hit them.

-People still remember my “oops” slip in a sermon when I referenced giving out “Lady Godiva” chocolates. Red face!

-I’ve led the reciting of The Lord’s Prayer a couple of times and I gone blank on the words. When the pastor stops midway through the prayer the silence becomes like a wave moving though the congregation.

In many ways we are a Lake Wobegon congregation!

We strive for our best, but often miss excellence.

And yet, I’m okay with that. People put their hearts and souls into using the gifts God has given them, and if that falls short of a concert hall experience…that’s okay.

Our culture…and especially church culture…worships excellence. It worships the seamless flow of worship where “dead time” is almost non-existent, and people can marvel at the precision, the timing, the carefully manuscripted event.

There is a difference between a worship experience and the worship of excellence. The first is about an encounter with God that stirs the soul. The second is a production that is a delight to the senses. One is spirit-moving and the other is foot-stomping. One gives us the feeling that God is seeing the condition of our heart and the other is a taste treat for our eyes.

The worship of excellence is like a glass of evening wine that is satisfying for a few moments with our feet propped up as we sit in the recliner. A worship experience is “new wine” that quenches the thirst of my soul.

We worship excellence. The difficulty is that the worship of excellence is prone to have grace evicted. Sometimes church culture is a mirror image of a professional football stadium crowd who break out into the booing of their team that is falling short of excellence in a contest. Very rarely is anyone on the field giving less than their best effort, but pro football fans have a tendency to check their forgiveness at the door…or after the third beer!

Worshiping excellence leads us to critical spirits where less than perfection is not tolerated. The worship of excellence does not allow students and interns who are still trying to figure out and be perfect. Worshipping excellence is about keeping score like Olympic gymnastics judges.

Worshipping excellence becomes deaf to prophetic voices. The words of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel would not gain a hearing in a gathering of excellence worshippers.

There are those who have been gifted by God in the leading of people into a worship experience that will be remembered as being excellent…and we thank God for those he has so incredibly gifted. A gifted worship leader will always lead people to God, not to an experience.

In my office are several “drawings” from my grandkids. They will never be in an art studio, pinned to a wall with quality lighting on them to bring out the vibrancy of the colors, but they are works of art that bring delight to a grandfather’s heart…more meaning to me than a Rembrandt, and even more understandable than a Picasso.

Sometimes we encounter a display of love, such as that, and we respond “Excellent!”

Failure To Lunch

March 2, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                              March 2, 2015

                                                  

I’m trying to slow down! Yes, I talked about that last week…and here goes again! If I repeat myself often enough perhaps i’ll start hearing what I’m writing.

I had my moments last week where I remembered my words and fasted from going fast. I sat and pondered at times, did not speed on the ice-covered roads that covered our area, went to bed at decent hours, and even took in a movie with my wife (McFarland).

But there were the other times! I slowed down enough that a cold caught me.

Here’s my challenge this week. Sometimes fasting from going fast isn’t the answers to all the ills and problems. Another challenge for me this week is not just slowing down, it’s also to not pile the plate high with the week’s buffet of things that need to be done.

The excuse that I so often use is that they need to be done! If I don’t do them they won’t get done! As a pastor it’s easy to get whirlpooled into that trap. Every congregation has people within it who think the pastor has all the time in the world and are very free to assign him something else to do. And most pastors are not good at saying no. It’s the Baptist guilt element rising to the surface, that tells us that we can never do enough for Jesus. Baptist pastors have a hard time with those verses in the Bible where Jesus goes off by himself and takes some time to ponder. We can’t relate!

Last week I had one day that was loaded with this, that, and the other…little of which had any eternal value connected to it…and at about 3:00 I realized I had failed to lunch. Perhaps it was the three month old cookie that I consumed at 10:00 that made me forget, but regardless…lunch came and went and I ne’er noticed!

The tyranny of the urgent will always attempt to keep us from caring for our soul!

One good thing that happened last week was a gathering on Wednesday of a pastor’s group that I highly value. We intentionally take time to be still, reflect, pray, and share. It’s called a “Together in Ministry” group, or TIM group, and it causes me to value the sharing with the saints.

Now I come to another week of possibilities and problems, people in need and people in peril. How will I journey through this week? Reflectively? With eyes seeking glimpses of Him? How will I journey through this week with those who I love the most? With the third grandchild due to emerge into this world any day now will I be able to fast from going fast look enough to celebrate a new gift, a new grace?

I’ll let you know…in a while!

It’s Friday, And Sunday Is Coming…Again Already!

June 7, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          June 7, 2013

 

It’s Friday, And Sunday Is Coming…Again Already!”

 

Some people think I’m suspect because I don’t cuss…but I do say “Crap!”

Some people think I’m half a bubble off center because I have a personal “blankie” that I sleep with, and its name is not Carol. Its name is…Blankie! Carol has her personal electric blanket. Its name is not Bill!

And some people think my salvation is suspect because, for one, I preach from a manuscript, and, two, there are some Sundays that are a real struggle to give a word from the Lord. Ask any pastor who is trustworthy and they will tell you that. There are times where the message is about as easy as a root canal. The preparing of it is like being in rush hour traffic where there is no rhythm…stop and go…accelerate and brake.

Years ago Tony Campolo gave a message that he borrowed from an African-American Baptist pastor, entitled “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming!”

Classic! Awesome!

For most pastors there are times, however, when the scream is “It’s Friday, and Sunday is coming again already!”

So soon? Last Sunday might have lifted the roof, but then it’s on to the next Sunday. Pastors are like catchers in baseball. The starting pitchers only appear every fifth game. The third baseman fields four or five grounders or line drives the whole game. But the catcher is in every play. He makes a great stop on a wild pitch, but then it’s on to the next pitch. Catchers don’t take pitches off.

Pastors don’t take Sundays off!

Yes, I know we really do. It’s called vacation, and yet how many times have I heard the joke, “Vacation? You only work one hour one day a week.”

Although said in a teasing way, a lot of people wonder what pastors do between Sunday noon and the next Sunday at 10 A.M. That sense of Baptist guilt stays with me, and so I find myself preaching eight to twelve straight Sundays before I take a Sunday off.

In the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23) there is a condemning statement made by the Lord towards the false prophets of Jeremiah’s time. A number of them were making claims, or speaking oracles and claiming that they were from God…and God said “No way! That’s not of me!” In Jeremiah 23:34 the Lord says, “I will punish that man and his household!”

Can you envision my Adam’s apple (“laryngeal prominence” for the smarter folk) rising and falling

six inches as I gulp deeply?

So, it’s Friday and Sunday is coming again and the folk who show up at 10:00 for worship are expecting a word from the Lord…and I’m saying to the Lord “Can I get a word? It can be short. It can even be Greek! It can even be in the old King James! Lord, just give me something!”

A fresh word, a new word.

Perhaps you think that this is just some affliction that pastors deal with.

No, it is something any follower of Jesus deals with. Some people want a word, but they’re too busy to hear it. A cell phone in one ear and Coldplay rocking it through the ear bud in their other ear. Or some people want a word in a take-out container, quick and easy. Those are two extreme situations connected to our hyper lifestyles.

But many of us who seek to touch the fringe of Jesus’ robe find ourselves from time to time grasping and missing. We deal with moments of indecision as to what direction God went in.

We want a fresh word, but we’re having a hard time forgiving the jerk who cut us off driving to church. We want a word from the Lord, and yet we’re not ready for the next step that word will take us to.

It’s Friday, and for many of us we long for Sunday, a new beginning…a fresh start. And for others, “Sunday” is an approaching time of uncertainty that we hope…we hope…is fresh wind and new wine!

Would Jesus Defriend me?

May 27, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   May 27, 2013

 

Would Jesus Defriend Me?”

 

I was doing some cleaning house today. Facebook friend cleaning, that is!

Something had to give. I was starting to feel like an extreme Facebook friend hoarder. And it isn’t that I’m that popular. I don’t want you to think that “I’m all that.” I can’t even remember what LOL stands for! I don’t even play Farmville, or whatever the new games are that some of my Facebook friends keep requesting me to try.

It’s just that I’ve continued to accumulate friends like books. My personal library includes more books that I’ve never read than books that I have read…and I keep buying more. Amazon makes it too easy!

So today I started making the “friend cuts”, like it was an NFL free agents camp.

Too weird? Cut!

Can’t remember who she is? Cut!

Too many requests to play Bingo Blitz? Cut!

Bad memories of? Sliced!

Tendency to say stupid things? Gone!

Michigan State hater? Cut, cut, cut!

Facebook gangsta’ picture poses! Tossed!

Infatuated with “Bridezillas”? Hurled!

Snooki followers! Fried!

In a matter of a few minutes I was able to shave away some excess friend-age. I almost felt like I was in Washington, deciding on what stays in the budget and what gets the ax.

It wasn’t that I was ruthless. I still have two Ruth’s in my friend list,and, coincidentally, I was reading the Book of Ruth this morning.

Go figure!

I discovered that defriending with Facebook is almost as easy as friending. It didn’t involve heated conversations, or physical violence. All I had to do was make my way to the appropriate list, point the finger (the one next to the thumb, mind you!) at “defriend” and click.

See ya!

And then I got to thinking, like a good guilt-ridden Baptist would, whether Jesus would ever defriend me? Would me cut me from his list if I hadn’t IM’ed him for a while? Would he scrutinize my posts and block me like a Halloween movie? Would he become disinterested in what is going on in my life? Would I not make his “A” list and get tossed in a holy cut-back?

Would Jesus be my friend until someone better came along?

And, of course, the answers to all these questions would be that Jesus would never defriend me…regardless! No matter how much time I gave to Farmville instead of him…no matter how many instant messages I didn’t reply too.

Even…no matter how many rumors I circulated about him!

Jesus would never defriend me…no matter what!

“The Last Shall Be…Left Out!”

March 5, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          March 4, 2013

The four servers returned to the front with the communion cup trays. My assistant and I prepared to receive them, proclaim the words of Jesus, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood! Whenever you drink of this cup you proclaim my death until I come again. Drink of it, each of you!”
But there was a problem. We looked down at the trays that the four servers were holding.

Empty. Empty. Empty. Empty.

Four sets of eyes looked up at us with a sense of “puppy-dogish-ness!” We had run out of communion before everyone was served. Or at least…six of us were served! It wasn’t because the sanctuary was so packed out that there simply wasn’t enough. For some reason our communion preparer has fixed less on this day than usual. In addition to that we had the celebration of communion as a part of the worship gathering in the midst of the service, as opposed to being at the end. Thus, the children who normally had been dismissed for “Children’s Church” were participating in communion with us.

The six of us at the front of the sanctuary, the last to be served, were now left out. Paul talked about the gluttonous Corinthians boozing up at the gatherings of the church in Corinth. Those who got there early were tipping back a few before late arrivers- those who had to work longer days- got there. The result would be a group that over-did and another group that did without.

But in our situation no one was tipping more than one of the tiny plastic communion cups.

And there was no “multiplying of the cups” miracle. We just did without.

Drink of it, most of you!”

The last shall be first, except on some communion Sundays where the last are just left out.

Perhaps some regular church attenders, rigid in ritual observance, committed to the faith while also being void of grace, would look at such an event and call for a congregational meeting. Some might have qualified it as sacrilegious. For us it just was…what it was! No one felt led to run down to the kitchen and see if there was any Baptist wine still in the frig (Welch’s Grape Juice). We just went on. In some ways there was a deeper bond that became a part of our gathering at that point. Our story together had just added another chapter.

It seemed fitting that those who served were the ones who didn’t have anything left for themselves. Serving the Lord is giving it up even when we realize there may not be anything left  for ourselves.

I’ve been to a few Baptist potlucks where the end of the line got fruit jello, and the front of the line had about five different layers of food smothering their plates. Communion, however, is a little different.

Maybe I should bring to our church leadership the idea of a “BYOB Communion Sunday.” Although it might be a little unnerving to look out at the congregation and suddenly seeing a bottle being passed back and forth in the back rows. Maybe we’ll have to do a “BYOGJ” instead- bring your own grape juice.

I think I’m going to inquire of my Lutheran friends to see if they have an extra chalice laying around some place. Would that be sacrilegious for a Baptist to use a Lutheran chalice…or vice-versa? I don’t know, but for at least one pastor this past Sunday’s communion was an intimate experience even though the cup was missing.