Posted tagged ‘caring’

Lean on Me From a Distance

April 4, 2020

Bill Withers passed away yesterday at the age of 81 of heart problems. One of the many songs he had written was “Lean On Me”, the year of my high school graduation, 1972.

His passing at this time in our country’s struggles seems strangely appropriate because it has brought that song back into our minds. It’s a time to lean on one another, even from a socially acceptable distance. The words from the song resonate in our minds and spirits: Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna’ need somebody to lean on.

Each one of us has times where our lean is more pronounced than at other times. Weary health care workers are looking for a wall to lean against for a few minutes. First-responders are in need of a listening ear to lean on. Grandparents lean their ears closer to the phone to hear the angelic voice of their young grandchildren. Pained souls lean into a YouTube video of a church choir singing Amazing Grace.

When Bill Withers wrote those lyrics almost fifty years ago he had no idea that they’d be intently listened to in 2020.

Oh, there are still plenty of people under the illusion that the world revolves around themselves and the purpose of everyone else is to please and pleasure them, but I think this pandemic has brought a new awakening– I guess that would be a reawakening– of how I need you and you need me.

My wife, caring of the need of others, took a half-dozen rolls of toilet paper up to our middle school this week, where bagged lunches were being distributed. Her thought was that those who qualify to receive the free lunches might also need a roll of TP! I walked by the school an hour later just to say hi to a couple of the workers and they informed me that those rolls of TP had not lasted long. They had all been given…quickly!

Leaning on one another, once in a while, means something as simple as that. As Bill Withers sang, “I just might have a problem that you’ll understand. We all need somebody to lean on.”

 

Seventh Grade Social Responsibility

April 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            April 19, 2017

                                 

In my substitute teaching experiences I’ve recently been teaching in the “Portable Village”, a series of four classrooms outside of Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. I’ve worked my way down the classroom line, starting with math last week and following it up the next day with science, and then teaching social studies yesterday, and in line to finish the classroom course with Language Arts next Tuesday.

The Social Studies class I taught yesterday is the same class I did the January long-term substitute position for. I’ve gotten to know these 125 students of “Portable Village”, and enjoy them immensely!

Yesterday my assignment was to show part of a video that dealt with world poverty and possible solutions to it. In the midst of the video I was to stop and get into some discussion about our understanding of what poverty is and looks like. All four classes I taught had incredible discussions. (It also looked impressive when the assistant principal walked in and the class was quietly engaged in the discussion. What a miracle! A classroom of seventh graders quiet for a substitute teacher!)

All of the students were aware of poverty, locally and worldwide. A few of them had encountered poverty first-hand through church mission trips to distant lands, and one student who had recently moved to Colorado Springs from Uganda had experienced poverty first-hand in his family. Hopefully he will teach his classmates about the effects and struggles of poverty.

The struggle I sensed in the midst of these students is the “tipping point”…knowing about the issue and being concerned about it compared to knowing about it and being committed to being a part of the solution of it! What will cause them to tip to the side of commitment?

Unfortunately, the older generations of our society have frequently modeled behavior and attitudes that communicate life purposes of accumulation and being self-absorbed. We are elated to be in America, and separated geographically and life style-wise from the poverty of the world. I sit on my Starbucks stool as I write this, recognizing that the two dollar cup of coffee I’m sipping costs more than a vast number of people in the world will have to feed their families with today. A few minutes ago a mom pulled up in her Expedition, ran in, grabbed her mobile order of four $5.00 drinks and four pastries, which she handed out to her kids in the back seat. Doing the calculation I figured she had just willingly shelled out $35.00 for minimal nutrition. I make that judgment and then realize that I’m about twenty pounds overweight myself!

The challenge will be to bring this group of seventh graders, as well as other students around their age, to the point that they willingly want to make a difference…without injecting Baptist guilt into the equation or catchy gimmicks or celebrity endorsements. Part of the solution, in my belief system, is spiritual. Followers of Jesus are called to care with more than distant sympathy. I come from a tradition (Baptist) that emphasizes personal salvation through a relationship with Christ while we gorge ourselves at church potlucks. Having social responsibility has not been as important as having enough casseroles for people to feast upon. We talk about poverty and hunger even less than we do about tithing.

But maybe this group of seventh graders will glean some things from the new boy from Uganda that will allow them to take a step in a responsible direction! Maybe, just maybe!

Worship Visitor

December 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 5, 2016

                                         

Deacon John raised his voice. “Lord, we know you love us, and now we ask that you would guide us in these coming days. Lord, if it be your will, please give us a sign of encouragement! We’re few in number, but massive in hope. We praise you and thank you! In Jesus name! Amen!”

The scattered few echoed his closing word as they sat back down in the pews ready to hear the Word of God for that day. Friendship Bible Church had existed on the street corner in the small rural village for close to a hundred and fifty years, but it had been dying a slow death for the last fifty. The town had decreased, as had the church’s effective ministry in the community. Young people had been raised in the church, grown up, gone off the college or to serve in the military, and never returned.

But there was hope in the midst of the gathered twenty!

The guest speaker introduced herself. She had served as a medical missionary at a hospital in India, and was back in the area for a few months telling her stories of mission work.

“There was a little boy who arrived at the hospital one afternoon…alone…bloodied…and frightened. My nurses asked him questions trying to find out his name, where he had come from, and what had happened to him? All he would tell them was that his name was Bontha and that he had been beaten by someone. He was bleeding profusely from a deep cut on his arm. We suspected that the “someone” was related to him and he did not want to say who it was. We treated him, stitched up the cut, cleaned him up, prayed with him, and asked him how we could contact his family. He kept telling us no, he did not want his family to know. One of the nurses left him for a few moments to go get him something to eat. When she came back he was gone. We searched and searched but could not find him, and Bontha never came back.”

“Years later I was doing my rounds through the pediatric ward one afternoon and a young man came up to me. He said, “Dr. Jan!” I looked at him, not recognizing who he was. “My name is Bontha!” Suddenly I could see the little boy appearing through the young man’s face. He showed me his arm. “You stitched up my arm when I came here bleeding.”

“My Lord! Bontha, I will always remember that day.” The questions started flowing out of me. “How are you? What happened to you that day? Where did you go? What are you doing now?”

He smiled at me and said that when he left the hospital he did not know what to do and where to go. His father had been in a drunken rage and had beaten him fiercely. When his father stumbled for a moment he escaped from the house and ran away, but as he was jumping over a fence he caught his arm on a piece of metal sticking out of the top of it and tore the skin open. He knew that our hospital was close and people had talked about “the Jesus Doctor” who worked there, so he ran as quick as he could, blood flowing from his body, and made it to the hospital. When he left our hospital he knew of a little church a couple miles away where a man named Pastor John was, and so he went there and told him what had happened. Pastor John went to Botha’s home and confronted Bontha’s father, brought him to a point of complete remorse and repentance, and told him that despite the abuse he had inflicted on his son that God  still loved him. Pastor John took Bontha in for the next month until he believed Botha’s father was ready to have him back. In that time he shared the story of the gospel with both Bontha and his father, and how the son of God was beaten even though he had done no wrong. Both father and son accepted Jesus.”

There were “Amens” wrong most of the people. They were caught up in the story.

“But the story doesn’t end there,” continued Doctor Jan. “For you see when Bontha reappeared that day he told me he was a student in medical school. He was in training to become a doctor. He told me that his experience that dark day when he was so young left a lasting impression upon him. Every time he looked at his arm and saw the scar from that day he remembered the loving care of my nurses and my words of concern for him. It changed his life, and Pastor John, the pastor of a church about the size of this one, took him in and told him of the love of God.”

“I wept as I heard his words! It was a story of misery turned to hope, a life rescued from abuse and changed to promise. Just a couple of years ago Dr. Bontha joined my staff at the hospital. He is now the primary doctor in the pediatric ward. When the Lord tells me that my work is done there he will take my place as the head of staff.”

“And it all began when a frightened little boy showed up one afternoon.” The missionary lady looked around the sanctuary. She saw tears running down the cheeks of some of the saints. There were moments of awed silence. “You never know what is going to happen when you ask the Lord to use you.”

The worship service closed with a time of heartfelt prayer of several people. They sang the hymn “I Love To Tell The Story” with loud committed voices in praise of their calling. Deacon John gave the closing prayer and people began conversing.

And then the front wooden door of the sanctuary creaked as it opened and a young boy that no one recognized wearing tattered clothing came through the door. It was at that moment that everyone knew that God had answered Deacon John’s prayer for a sign!

Enjoying Senior Moments

November 30, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   November 30, 2015

                                          

I’m having more senior moments…like when I was looking for my keys and two minutes later I discovered I was holding them in my left hand…senior moments like that.

But I also enjoy senior moments. Or, put another way, moments shared with seniors. My congregation has some incredible senior folk who are a part of it. They are the most caring, unconditional love-based, surprising group that I’ve had the privilege to pastor. They genuinely support one another, offer to help with rides, call on the phone to someone who doesn’t show up at their group gatherings.

Four of them are now in their nineties, and, although the effects of age are slowing them down, they are people of incredible faith and depth. Yesterday, a cold and snowy Sunday, none of them were able to be at worship and there was something missing. Worship isn’t a choice for them. It’s a commitment, and when they can’t come it is almost always because they are sick, are afraid of falling on ice or the snow, in the hospital, or out of town.

Another of the senior couples delight me with their humor and giving spirit. I am always blessed to be in the same room with them. The wife’s laugh is contagious and joy-filled. the husband’s stories are filled with wit that result in chuckles.

A retired military man and his wife grace me with their friendship. Even though we are not necessarily on the same page politically they are two people who give to others in sacrificial ways. The wife has a heart of gold that causes her to become emotional as she talks about the ordeals that others are going through. The husband serves every Sunday in some way, whether it be transporting one of the seniors or ushering and greeting people.

There’s an African-American lady who is like my “Black Mom!” in fact, I call her “Mom” from time to time. She gives me “instruction”, just like my mom did, prays for me, gives me “the look” just like my mom did. Wisdom and exhortation from her guide me in my journey.

There’s a lady who was a baker. She kneaded the doe for bread and cinnamon rolls. Her love went into each of her baked goods. Now she “kneads” the pains and heartaches of others each day in her prayers. Like working the doe, she works the words of her prayer for the sorrows of others. Her foundations are prayer and scripture.

There’s another lady who is the group guardian. She sometimes senses the indecision of the group and says “Here’s what we’re going to do!” She senses when someone doesn’t want to impose on anyone else, and tells the the person that things will be taken care of. She’s the Joshua in a group of Jack and Jills.

Another lady, who is on the younger end of the seniors, has a gentle spirit, an attitude of grace, and the heart of a servant. A widow, she has encountered her share of sorrow, and knows the journey that many of our senior folk are on.

There’s another woman who moved here a few years ago from another state. She volunteers whenever there is a need…at the local school, for Wednesday night dinners, giving out food to those in need, making quilts and clothing. The last few months have been hard for her as her health has taken some hits. She does not have a high opinion of doctors, but has a very high opinion and love for the woman just mentioned before her.

A widower who has started coming to our group recently is my razor…and also someone I razz. We feel very comfortable giving soft jabs to one another. I had his wife’s funeral a few years ago. She was killed by a drunk driver. Pain and sorrow have punctuated his world, and this group of seniors keeps him anchored and cared for.

Another woman who is fairly new to the group makes the best cookies I’ve ever eaten. In her mid-eighties she has a smile that would like up a cereal box and a warmth that is accepting of others.

Another couple are like Aquila and Priscilla, serving in ways that do not make headlines, but needed. The man has become the best friend of another guy who has endured a life of disappointment and heartache. These two are people who are gifts from God, people who “come alongside” someone in need.

And then there is a transplanted Buckeye who is in the midst of jubilation this week for his college team’s victory over Michigan. He imparts his wisdom to me, and encouragement for decisions made and sermons preached. His emails are always in capital letters. In fact, if they were capitalized I would instantly know someone had pretended to be him.

So many blessings! So much enjoyment that has come into my life from folk who have traveled the journey of life.

As I enter my last month as their pastor I know…i know…I know that I have been greatly blessed!

Crazy Church People

October 2, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 2, 2013

 

 

    I was waiting to speak at a different church when she came down the aisle. The service hadn’t started yet. I thought she had just come from teaching a children’s Sunday School class, because she was wearing a hat with a plastic gold crown scrunched down on the top of it. I assumed she had just been in the pre-school class. I was wrong! She was just being herself!

She engaged me in conversation right away. No, I guess it would more accurately be defined as she started talking to me immediately…with no pauses to allow for what I thought.

She did, however, ask me to move down the pew so she would have a place for her hat and her crown!

I thought to myself “This is going to be interesting.”

During my message she had a running commentary going on the side, kind of like a baseball fan sitting behind the visitor’s dugout. We weren’t on the same page, although I wasn’t sure if we were even in the same book.

The congregation seemed not to notice her. Perhaps it was more like they saw a new sacrificial lamb she was being offered that day. I was looking fluffy!

At the end of the gathering she approached me. I was a bit cautious…and then she asked me to pray for her.

Right after that one of the adults present who had special needs asked me to pray for him. Although I can’t be sure, I think my willingness to be present for the lady with the crown may have prompted him to ask me to put my hand on his shoulder and pray for God’s blessing on his week.

What God taught me is this? Every church has people who are a little…different. Every church has someone…or someones…who are a little crazy.

Truth be known, all of us are a little crazy. It’s just that for some of us our craziness is more noticeable than others. We’re all bizarre in some way. I sleep with my personal “blankie”. In fact, I’ll take it on road trips if I can. That’s not normal! I’m 59! But it is who I am.

I drink coffee from my mug that I got at a Promise Keepers event at the Pontiac Silverdome twenty years ago. I’m prone to not drink coffee if I forget my mug, and yet if I have it I’ll got through eight cups of java in a a morning. That’s weird! I’m crazy!

We may not wear a crown scrunched onto a hat, but we’re all a bit out of whack. It’s part of our “fallen uniqueness.”

What makes a church the body of Christ is it’s ability to love and care for those that no one else wants to be around. That’s what stood about about the church in Rome around A.D. 165 when a small pox epidemic spread through the city. Historians say that up to 5,000 people were dying daily from the disease. Bodies of the dying would be heaped up. And in the midst of this a community of Jesus followers took charge of the sick, attending to their needs, and ignored the dangers.

We are all crazy people, but the gospel is a crazy kind of love story that leaves us baffled.

Crazy!