Posted tagged ‘Celebration’

The Why’s of Christmas

December 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 16, 2018

                              

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it changed things!

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 it REALLY changed things! That’s not meant to say Dickens was more important than Jesus, but rather to make a point about what we have done to Christmas.

Before the British author wrote the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Christmas was not viewed as a major holiday. In fact, in the early part of the 1800’s very few American Protestants celebrated Christmas because it was seen as being “too Catholic!” 

Dickens’ tale of greed turned to generosity brought a different spirit and perspective to the season. It helped that he was already a recognized author with novels like Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop. 

Christmas now dominates our calendars. I asked the children during a recent Sunday morning worship what they knew about the Season of Advent. One boy’s response was “Isn’t that when we do a calendar where a piece of chocolate pops out for each day?”

Yes…and it’s also the season that has become populated with other yearly sweets…like fruitcake, fudge, and candy canes. It’s the time of the year when our mailbox gets product advertisements for almond toffee candy, over-priced pears and apples, and popcorn in a tin! 

I know…I know, I’m sounding like a “Bah! Humbug” withered old man who doesn’t wasn’t to part with his nickels and dimes. Actually, I love Christmas! I love it even more now that I’m not a full-time pastor. I can now actually enjoy the season and meditate on its message, as opposed to planning extra services, and taking care of all the church-related extra details.

Sometimes, in all our busyness about the business we forgot to think about the why’s of what we’re doing. Celebrating the Christ-child becomes a short-term sermon series…and then we move on. Christmas is seen as an emphasis, complete with decorated sanctuaries, children’s programs, and star-shaped cookies (There’s that sweet thing again!). 

But the coming of Immanuel was a foretold event that was meant to change things forever. It signaled God’s love for his created, and reconciliation then and now. That has been, and should always be, the why of the event.

Charles Dickens raised the popularity of Christmas by writing a story about a man who was visited by three ghosts, who MADE him see his past, his present, and what was yet to be. In essence, it had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus but rather of personal revelation of how one man’s deeds and misdeeds affected others. 

It’s a great story, but not THE story. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. God has been and still is writing the story of grace, forgiveness, and new life.

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!

Wedding Rain

July 3, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               July 3, 2016

                                          

I am fortunate in many ways. One of those is being asked by couples to be the officiant for their weddings. I get the privilege of guiding them through their vows, grant the groom permission to kiss his new bride, and introduce them as a newly-wedded couple. Most of the time it’s a pretty cool experience. I stand up front in my marrying and burying suit and give the bride’s mother the nod as to when to stand.

In a time when a lot of people seem to trash the covenant of marriage it seems that a wedding is still seen as being that blessed event, a time of celebration and recognition of this new union.

When I meet with couples who are looking to get married we don’t talk about the wedding until the last session. All of the sessions we have are focused on what it means to be married…the challenges, the adjustments, hopes and dreams, expectations and dealing with frustrations. We talk about communication, deep and meaningful versus shallow and meaningless.

After those sessions then I guide the couple through the wedding ceremony, creating a celebration that is God-honoring and representative of who they are.

Weddings are also unpredictable. One ceremony I officiated was interrupted by the curtain in the chancel area of the sanctuary beginning to fall down. At another ceremony years ago one of the groomsmen passed out for a few moments. We got him propped up and continued. I tell those stories to the couple and make the point that we will not let the unplanned and unpredictable ruin the day; that the ceremony is about the two of them, not about perfection. It’s about them saying their vows to one another, not the fluff of the event.

This weekend I had the honor of presiding over the wedding ceremony of two young people who are awesome “kids!” I’ve known the young lady for seventeen years, coming to be her pastor when she was seven years old. The young man works at the same restaurant that my son is the chef for. He’s like a six foot three inch teddy bear who is deeply in love with his new wife. Fitting their personalities, the wedding was at a ranch. “Big Mike” and his groomsmen were decked out in blue jeans, dress shirts, ties, and black western hats. It fit! I was the only one in a suit, but they let me do the ceremony anyway.

And, of course, the weather reports were as indecisive as a kid with a dollar bill in a candy store. It could be okay…it could be raining…it could be sunny…it could be sunny with rain! The bride took a stand. “We are not getting married inside! If it rains, it rains!”

We pressed on, and at 1:55 the cousin of the bride began escorting grandparents down the aisle. At 2:00 the bridesmaids started their walk.

At thirty seconds after the clock struck two the rain started!

I took my glasses off and put in them in pocket. I motioned for the bride’s uncle to the front with an umbrella. He took his place, looking like my bodyguard/assistant, as the bride came down the aisle. The closer she got to the front the heavier the rain came…and there was no turning back!

We began as the bridesmaids wiped the raindrops off their brows. I trudged ahead, abbreviating statements without minimizing the sacredness of the ceremony. The bride smiled the whole time. The groom grinned as wide as the corral. We moved ahead through vows and the exchanging of the rings. My prayer got shortened a little bit, and Big Mike literally laid a wet kiss on his bride’s lips. I had them turn and face the umbrella-ed audience and as I pronounced them man and wife the rain stopped!

Eleven minutes! The ceremony took eleven minutes. It rained for ten minutes and fifty seconds!

And they were okay with it! In my prayer I asked that, just like the shower, God would rain down his blessings upon the newlyweds in the coming years, that they would look back at the day of their wedding…the rain and the gathering of family and friends…and see it as a symbolic reminder of how blessed they are.

I’ve always sensed that God has a sense of humor…God-humor, I guess you could call it. And wouldn’t you know it? About thirty minutes after the wet wedding the sun emerged to shine down upon the two “kids”, who now seemed a little more grown-up!

Baptism Day

June 28, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   June 28, 2015

                                                 

Baptism in the Baptist church is a celebration that drenches the soul! It isn’t an invitation to a funeral, but rather an expression of the deep flowing grace of God, the life-giving story of the gospel visualized in a person standing in the midst of the waters.

This morning was an awesome experience in the sharing of people’s faith journeys. Four adults…some new to the faith, and others who have journeyed with Jesus for a while, entered our “church tub” and testified of their faith.

The event was punctuated by the fact that other people were involved in the baptisms. In our congregation when someone gets baptized I encourage them to ask someone who has been instrumental in their faith journey to be the one who dips them into the waters.

The first woman to be baptized was helped into the water tank by her husband. She had been serving faithfully for the past several years in our congregation. We just assumed that she had been baptized…but sometimes assumptions get the best of us! As her spouse asked her if she knew Jesus in a personal way I could hear a slight emotional crack in his voice. He looked into her eyes with love and compassion, and she back at him with the same loving gratitude. As he lowered her into the waters I was there to give physical assistance…since both of them are into their sixth decade. Wait a minute! So am I! After she came back up to her feet, husband and wife embraced…and more than a few tears were being shed by those watching!

The second woman was baptized by her in-laws…mother in-law and sister-in-law. They had walked with her through moments of loss and births of children. They didn’t turn their backs on her when she expressed doubts about faith. In the background, although not in the baptistry, was her grandmother-in-law who had been praying for this day to happen for the past several years. What a story of walking with someone in doubts and discoveries!

Finally a husband and wife came to be baptized. They asked me to be the one who took them back into that expression of the death and resurrection of Christ. The husband and I play basketball together. We trash talk each other on the court…in Christian love! But in this moment I fought back the tears of joy of seeing two lives wanting to serve the Lord. Parents of three young children they have been through some difficult times, times of searching and asking tough questions, and times of trying to figure out this thing called “walking in faith.”

Four faith journeys coming together for a few moments of mass celebration. I don’t know if anyone will remember a word I said that morning in the sermon, but there were four messages of transformation visualized that no one will forget!

From Father to About-To-Be-Married Daughter

October 10, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 10, 2013

 

 

Dear Child Turned Into Woman,

 

I’ve experienced a shower of joyful tears in recent days as I’ve pondered your approaching wedding. Your mother has labored hours and hours in anticipation of the event, and I know the labors of love have been preceded by years of prayers of love.

You are being wed to a man to look up to. Well…you usually do look up to anyone who is older than eleven, but you look up to Mike because of his character and qualities.  He has a spirit of determination within him, and he is determined to be a husband of strong character and substance.

So what can I say to do as you approach this transition from single young lady to new wife?

Be who are you are! Mike loves you for who you are, not for who you might be. He was drawn by your tender spirit, your sensitivity for those who are hurting. He loves your gullible nature and adorable laugh. He loves your strong convictions and commitment to principle. And he loves your fearfulness and, odd as it sounds, your fearsomeness. He loves your need for his input, although I don’t think you need to call him to see what kind of toilet paper you should buy at Walgreen’s! You can keep calling your mom for input on things like that.

Be grounded and surrounded! Continue to be a learner of the Word and a journeyer with Jesus. Beginning a marriage needs the spiritual blanket of prayer and support. Take each other’s hand at dinner and say a prayer of thanksgiving. Find some others who are followers of Jesus and join with them. Stay away from churches with hype and lot for a church of substance and authenticity. Question why you believe what you believe, and discover where your spiritual roots are solid and which ones need a bit if fertilizing.

Be addicted to laughter! Nothing brightens up a home light shared laughter. You’re good at that. Your life has been abundantly filled with laughter. You and your sister laughed so much together as you were growing up…and you still do! One of the joys as your father has been hearing sibling chuckles, even though I was clueless as to what you were laughing about.

Be weather-resistant! That is, you and Mike will encounter storms. Life has it’s times of blessed sunshine, but also torrents of rain. Stand firm! Stand together. As your parents get older there will be those health scares and realities that will bring stress to your life and Mike’s life. There will be disagreements that you will encounter with your husband. Don’t ever let life situations and storms rise above your love and commitment to one another. The depth of your marriage is directly related to the persevering through difficult times.

Be willing to ask. If you need advice call us. Both you and I know that you call your mom about eighty times a day to talk about wallpaper, reality TV shows, and the price of shampoo. I get it! I don’t like wallpaper, reality TV, or what the brand of my shampoo is. But if you need some advice on something, don’t be afraid to call. On the other hand, marriage is an opportunity for you and Mike to now figure out some things on your own. He can be your adviser and you can be his adviser. I’m okay with being the next layer down.

Be my daughter…still! I’m extremely proud of you. Who you have been, who you are, and who you will be. Each of our three kids is special to us. Who would have thought our kid who kept kicking down the “For Sale” sign in front of our house at 816 Cindy Street, Mason, Michigan, would one day marry Michael Terveen from Spearfish, South Dakota? Although you will legally be Mrs. Elizabeth Terveen, you will always be “Lizi” to us. We treasure our relationship with you, which although will take on a different dynamic, will not change at the core. You are our daughter…and now I’m crying tears of joy!

Father of the Bride Reservations

September 27, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 27, 2013

 

 

     Fifteen days until my youngest daughter’s wedding! We’re shifting into wedding gear tonight. that’s like Nascar drivers entering into the final lap. There is a reckless abandon as we take the engines to their limit.

For us that means cleaning a couple of rooms at the house tonight. I have to clean my home study! That’s about as appealing as gargling Geritol!

Garage vacuuming is on the horizon. Cleaning the outdoor grill will soon be upon me…even though we won’t be using it.

A wedding is an event, kind of like our own Super Bowl festivities without the commercials…or the football game.

On October 12 at 4:45 (estimated) I’ll walk my baby down the aisle to be wedded to Mike Terveen. I’m happy…and reluctant at the same time. She has been ours for twenty-five years. We remember when she was born at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan. We remember her first day of school…missing two front teeth as she smiled. We remembered when she was eating at a Pizza Hut and she was totally unaware that  a piece of sausage was stuck to her right cheek. We remember when she was on the Homecoming Court at Liberty High School, and when we dropped her off at college seven hundred miles away from home and considered relocating just off campus!

We also remember when she introduced us to Mike, and we could tell that she was smitten. The next few years included break-ups, sorting out differences, solidifying the relationship, and then a ring. Mike called me to ask my permission to pop the question. I appreciated that.

As I consider “the walk” in two weeks I am even more amazed that God would give up his son for people like me. Just as I have reservations about giving the hand of my daughter to the man she will journey on with, I can’t imagine that our Heavenly Father didn’t have any reservations about handing his child over to those who would put him to death.

Some might accuse me of distorted theology, but for me to view God as a totally willing participant is to make him into an insensitive, stoic deity. It had to have grieved him more than anything else. As Jesus struggled to Golgotha under the weight of the sin of the world his father must have struggled in some way.

Giving my daughter in marriage to the man she loves is simply a transition point for me. It’s a celebration even as I display eyes that are red. But imagine God giving his son up, not because of a celebration, but because of a death sentence. What depth of love for us does that convey?

This is my baby that I walk down the aisle, but this was God’s Only!

Amazing love!