Posted tagged ‘Discovery’

What I Like About Church

March 18, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 18, 2019

                                 

I admit that it’s ingrained in me. Sunday mornings have always meant one word: Church! And since our family attended Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky, it meant Sunday morning and Sunday evening. 

I was always a bit jealous of the kids at the Methodist church across the street from Central Baptist. They didn’t have Sunday evening services and, therefore, got to stay home and watch “Walt Disney” on TV. For my two siblings and me, our exposure to Walt Disney had to happen at Leed’s Theatre in downtown Winchester. That’s where we discovered “Old Yeller” and “Big Red”, not on TV!

But I liked church! It was like a warm blanket on a blizzard night. It felt good and right. 

And now 55 years since Central Baptist, and a career as an American Baptist pastor, I still feel right when I sit in a pew, or a sanctuary chair. It makes me wonder though…why? It’s got to be more than just the mark made by a family tradition. Why do I think about being a part of a worship service when Sunday morning rolls around?

I could get all spiritual on you and say right away that it’s because of the grace of God for such a sinner as me, and the forgiveness of Christ exacted by the shedding of his blood…and that’s true! The foundation for being a life-long church participant IS rooted in the gospel of Christ, but that’s not what gets me out of bed on Sunday morning.

It’s not the lure of donuts and Danish’s either, or weak coffee brewed by someone who’s taste was destroyed by drinking watered-down Maxwell House.

I like church because of the intimacy and the memories of intimacy. Not the youth group hay rides we used to go on…not that kind of intimacy, although the memories of them still bring a smile to my face!

The intimacy I’m thinking of was being able to lean up against my mom or dad’s arm and know that neither or them was going anywhere for the next hour or so. There was a closeness to family in those moments. 

A few weeks ago a picture popped up on my Facebook page from seven years ago. It was from Christmas Day, 2011. I stood in the aisle of the sanctuary with a dear man named Rex Davis. I had my arm around his shoulders and he had his arm around my waist. Rex was around 90 at the time. I like church because of moments like that, when the bond of Christ draws us together in an embrace of deep love and connected humanity. 

I like church because of the moments of revelation. Once again, I need to clarify about that term, because it’s been associated with suspect snake oil salesmen. For me, the moments of revelation come as I sit in silence and ponder, or as a scripture verse is read for the umpteenth time, or as I gaze at a stained glass window. Things get revealed to me about myself, or about the One I’m encountering. I live in a world that is so noisy I’m blasted with false revelations every day. I’m told my life needs certain things- products and services and such. Snake oil now comes in a variety of cultural flavors. In church, true revelation is hinted at if I desire to follow its path.

I like the hope of church and the hope experienced in church. Weary souls stumble through the doors and then a short while later leave rested and reassured. The hurting share their wounds and are carried back to healing. The lonely and broken-hearted are able to be embraced and held in place. A world of trouble is put into perspective by the message of the God who draws near.

I don’t go to church to be impressed by the perfection of the pastor, or the performance of the participants. There’s something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth- like sweet cream gone bad- when church tries to outdo the other places of worship in the same zip code, something fake and foreign to my senses.

And so I go each Sunday, ready to receive and willing to give. I’ve long since stopped using my mom and dad’s arms as a pillow for my head, but I still have others who I know I can lean on, if and when I need them!

Simple Gifts That Run Deep

December 23, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            December 23, 2015

                                        

Each Christmas for the past…I don’t know…fifteen years Carol and I have said that we aren’t going to buy Christmas gifts for one another…and we do! Each Christmas I search for something special that I think she would enjoy. She has a bit of her mom in her; her mom who would give gift suggestions to her children such as a new spatula…or a used paperback mystery from the public library cast-off pile.

Each Christmas I try to be sneaky and hide a few present that I’ve purchased for Carol. Unfortunately, my memory of where I hid them is not spot on. I’m still missing something I bought for her three Christmases ago. It’s hiding someplace in the house. I don’t even remember what it was I got for her, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t edible.

Each Christmas our trash cans get filled with wrapping paper and packaging contents. Grandkids commence to dancing with toy boxes, while our grown-up children discover twenty dollar bills in wrapped empty boxes of Triscuits and Cheerios.

But the gifts that mean the most at Christmas never come with a price tag. The best gifts aren’t secured during an early morning dash on Black Friday with a crowd of crazed consumers. The gifts that run deep within us are those moments when a hug is shared, a story is told, and a family prayer is said.

For me the simple gifts that run deep will include the discovery of Christmas by our nine-month old granddaughter. As her older brother and sister jump around in hyper-giddiness she will watch and begin to get a sense that Christmas is a special time.

A simple gift for me will be to see a young family with a two-week old daughter, plus her older brother and sister, light the advent candle during the Christmas Eve service. A little while later, after carols have been sung and scriptures read, a simple gift will be the singing by candlelight of “Silent Night” by the gathered worshipers. It is a few moments of calm and peace that hush the chatter in my soul.

A simple gift will be the voice of my 87 year old father that I will ring up on Christmas Day. It gently nudges the sadness within me that comes from being several states away. I will be blessed by his chuckles as he shares the recent stories of happenings in his senior living complex. Any relationship is a simple gift. A visit with my dad is like a drink of the deep water from my Papaw Helton’s well- renewing and quenching.

Finally, the last simple gift of Christmas Day will be when I lay my head down on the pillow that night and know…because I know…that I have been blessed.

Coffee With Jesus…Second Cup

July 10, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       July 10, 2014

 

                                   

 

I stare at the coffee that has been altered with a dose of cream and two sugars. I admit to myself that I prefer my cup of coffee to be this color rather than the original pouring of brew.

“You’re right!” I whisper across the table to Jesus. “When it comes to coffee I don’t think of it in any other way than with the add-ins…the disguises, as you say.”

“How easy it is for that to be interpreted as the norm. Likewise it is easy…perhaps inevitable, for things of the soul to get mixed in with the distractions of life to the point where a person can’t distinguish between the two.”

“Help me understand!”

“For instance, on the sleeve of your coffee cup there is an advertisement for a kind of tea. The woman who is promoting the tea, it says, is inviting people to take a few moments to pause and reflect each day. Notice that there is even a web site to go to. Do you see the name of the web site?”

“SteepYourSoul.com!”

“So suddenly drinking a cup of tea gets equated with the caring of your soul.”

“Perhaps it’s some powerful tea.”

“And many people will believe it. As they sip it they will assume that it is satisfying their souls.”

“I sometimes feel that way about church on Sunday.”

“Say a little more.”

“Don’t get me wrong! It’s not bad, but sometimes…many times…my soul doesn’t get touched, poked, or breathed into.”

“Aren’t you the pastor?”

“Yes! Sad, isn’t it?”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Back to the interrogation questions again, are we?”

“Just helping you discover again.”

“I think…I think it’s perhaps because we confuse the cream for the coffee. It’s getting back to that idea of knowing what the essence of something is and what are the disguises.”

“Keep going.”

“Come on! You’re Jesus! I’m just telling you what you already know.”

“And I appreciate it.”

“So most of the things that I lead the congregation in doing in worship dance around the King…without ever dancing with the King. I don’t know if that makes sense or not.”

“I love your use of images to explain what is hard to verbalize. Staying with that image, perhaps dancing with the King is too intimidating because the dancer is afraid she will step on the King’s toes.”

“Dancing from a distance.”

“Dancing around the purpose, without dancing with the purpose.”

“I often feel guilty because…I’m leading the dancing around the purpose.”

“That’s quite a burden to shoulder.”

“And you know about carrying burdens.”

“Let me suggest that you let me carry that one, also.”

“I’m not very good about surrendering.”

“Not many people are.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED

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.