Posted tagged ‘Ecclesiastes’

Getting Through It

November 14, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    November 14, 2013

 

 

      I’ve discovered that life is filled with “getting through it” moments! People talk about getting through it in a variety of ways. Getting through final exams week…getting through potty-training…getting through the coming month of work overload…the list is endless!

There is a danger for people to go through life “getting through it.” Life is rarely enjoyable and productive when it is saturated with just trying to get past things. Sometimes it is necessary, like when someone is going through a divorce and he is just trying to get to the next day.

As a pastor I’ve had those times where you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. You start memorizing verses from the book of Ecclesiastes. There is no joy in Mudville…and you’re the pastor…the one who is suppose to always have a happy face on.

You just want to get through it!

My toughest time in 34+ years as a pastor were the summer months before my oldest daughter got married. The church was in turmoil, people were jumping ship like it was the American Baptist Titanic, the “joy” of a pastor had changed one letter to the “job” of a pastor. Each Sunday I was just trying to get through it.

And I did…with the help of some great friends who stood alongside me and kept me propped up.

So…life does have the “getting through it” moments, but life is meant to be more than that.

And so you ask someone how their week is going and they respond “Just tryoing to get through it.” Wednesday is viewed as a time of achievement point because a person is over the hump in regards to the work week. That doesn’t really apply to pastors. I’m not sure what “hump day” is!

Following Jesus was always meant to be about green pastures and quiet waters as much as it is to be about perseverance and turning the other cheek.

And, as I led off with, there will always be “getting though it” events in our lives. Ask a student what his favorite thing about fifth grade is and he may very well answer “Getting through it!” What comes after fifth grade? Summer vacation. Ask a high school student what their favorite thing about biology is and you will rarely get an answer like “Dissecting animals.” Most students, if given a multiple choice, will choose “Finishing” as their answer.

I see parents who have a hard time enjoying this moment in their kids’ lives because they think it will be better in the next phase.

The Apostle Paul wrote that “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)  He was living the moment, because he didn’t know what tomorrow would hold for him.

Let me encourage you…to walk a day at a time, live in the moment, be present in this time, and know that the Lord will never leave you or forsake you. Don’t be content to just get through it.

Fighting Against A Hardening of the Heart

August 5, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              August 5, 2013

      Next month I have the wonderful experience that happens each September called “Annual Physical.” I get poked and prodded…no more explanation needed! One of the tests I undergo is one where sensors are attached to different areas on my chest and the doctor is able to see whether or not my blood is circulating adequately. My dad has had heart problems, so the test is to make sure I’m not showing some of the same symptoms that he has dealt with. Hardening of the arteries is one of those things to look out for. Knowing my tendency to savor fried foods- fried shrimp, fried chicken, fried mushrooms, fried Twinkies- it’s one thing that my doctor, a devout Episcopalian (which has nothing to do with it, except we talk about our faith every time he’s poking me), has his parental eye on.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that spiritual condition we talk about, the  hardening of the heart. How does it happen? I can easily explain the physical hardening of the heart as being the result of my addiction to “all-you-can-eat fish fries”, but how does a spiritual hardening happen?

Paul warned the Ephesians about Gentiles that had this condition. He wrote that “they are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:18)

      As a pastor I have a fear of my heart being hardened. It isn’t out of an absence of prayer, or people praying for me, or even a drop in dedication. My fear of a hardened heart comes as the result of life experiences. The picture that I have that best describes it is of a rock in the rapids of a river that has been become smooth over the course of time as the water continues to pummel it. At one time it had a different shape, but as the years passed the water had broken down its resistance.

The difference between a tender heart and a hardened heart is not as vast as it seems. Jesus had a tender heart, especially for those who were perceived as having minimal importance. His disciples fluctuated between mercy and insensitivity.

We are prone to reword hard heartedness into more acceptable terms like “being a strong leader” and “determined.” But really…it is what it is! Too many church squabbles, too many personality conflicts, too much war and too little peace. The rock gets smoother, and the smoother it gets the less able to help people change happens.

And before one knows it…there is no more desire, no more flame burning, no aching for God.

It could be the place where Solomon found himself at times as he penned Ecclesiastes. Hardened hearts begin to see things as meaningless. Making a difference gets replaced with making it to the next pay check. Purposeful living steps to the side so that apathy can slowly move in.

How does one fight this? By first recognizing that “the dark night of the soul” is always a possibility. Keep trusted friends close to you as you walk through it.

By being silent, seeking quite places and times. I treasure evening walks with my wife in the cooling off hours of a Colorado evening.

A friend of mine recently told me that he has a tendency to go into a shell when dark times come. For him the fighting against a hardened heart necessitates more intimate fellowship with a group of his brothers n the journey.

A third way is reading the struggles of those who have gone before us, in the Bible and saints through the ages, reading the life journeys that tell of valleys and mountaintops. We must be cautious of those who always seem to jump from one mountaintop to the next.

I know that God desires a tender heart, and I also know there is another kingdom that tempts me to be like that stone in the river.

The Far Side of Church

June 8, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     June 8, 2013

 

The Far Side of Church”

 

I love laughter, and I love “The Far Side” comic strip. It was a sad day when Gary Larson stopped doing “The Far Side.” Thankfully, my brother had given me “The Far Side Calendar” every year for Christmas for five or six years. When I get depressed or frustrated I take a look at a few of the calendar pages.

I wish I could blame my warped sense of humor on “The Far Side”, but that would be a lie. It was in my genes long before I started looking at funny-faced kids and adults wearing spectacles. And, as a result of that, I think of situations that might occur in church that I think would be funny. Others might not think they are even worth a giggle, but I’m ready to explode.

Like the Sunday several years ago when I asked a dear elderly lady named Pauline Jones to light the advent candle and I gave her a book of matches that had no matches in it. To further the humor I then gave her a second book of matches…that was also matchless!

I think of church pranks, like when I spoke at Ascension Lutheran Church down the street from us on pulpit exchange Sunday and they gave me a bulletin that had the pages mixed up. Page three ended with us singing “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, and then page four…in my bulletin had the second verse of “Spirit of the Living God.”

I can imagine a Far Side entitled “Deacon Pranks” with a picture of a deacon putting Super Glue on the bottom lip of a communion plate, or substituting prune juice for grape juice.

I can picture a wolf dressed up in a suit, wearing a wig and glasses, sitting in church,with the caption underneath “Being a life-long independent Baptist wolf, Peter felt justified in stealing sheep from other flocks.”

I can imagine a baptistry with sharks swimming around a circle within it, and the pastor saying to the fearful-looking teenager “As Paul tells us in Romans …all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.”

In other words, church needs to encourage finding the lighter side of things.

Ricky, the sound booth humorist, was known to turn off the pastor’s mic in the middle of the sermon and start playing a Richard Pryor tape.”

There’s a time to be serious. There’s a time to share hope and peace. And there’s a time to laugh.

Ted didn’t see the humor in it. The one Sunday he fell alseep in church, the congregation had exited quietly and placed empty clothing on the pews with a sign, ‘Raptured! Sorry you couldn’t come.’”

Solomon wrote that there was “…a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4a).

Look for the humor in church. I believe that it is one step along the journey to experiencing joy.

Uncertain Tuesday

March 26, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   March 26, 2013

Tuesday of Holy Week is a day of uncertainty. It doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb. Rather, it’s kind of like the finger beside the pinkie- it has purpose to hold my wedding band on, but I’m not sure what else it’s good for. But it’s there!

As a pilgrim on a journey, Palm Sunday is like the opening scenes of a movie, establishing the beginnings of the story, introducing the characters. Thursday and Friday are the days of tension, where the wringing of hands is taking place in the audience. Sunday is the climax, the victory. The forces of good triumph.

But Tuesday…is just there. It’s when the customer leaves the theater to get his popcorn bucket refilled. It’s in the middle, but not quite.

Tuesday is where most of us live. Our lives are full of triumph, tragedy, and resurrection, but most of our life is lived between the highs and lows. Most of our days are lived in the “not yets.”

Moses experienced triumphs and tragedies, but for many years before his burning bush experience we lived in the Tuesdays of life.

The Israelites had a Tuesday that lasted forty years.

David lived most of his childhood and adolescence in “Tuesdays.”

Tuesday is when we are most prone to wander. It is the time when we are most susceptible to losing our focus, or even doubting our focus.

Tuesday isn’t even “hump day.” It’s a day of discouragement. For some it’s the day of just going through the motions.

Holy Week Tuesday is like the child in the family that gets none of the attention, but is expected to be there.

In my walk with God I can pinpoint certain moments that stand out: my baptism on a Sunday night in August at the First Baptist Church of Zanesville, Ohio; youth retreats growing up at Camp Francis Asbury outside of Rio Grande, Ohio; being ordained to the ministry; hearing Tony Camplo speak during Spiritual Enrichment Week at Judson College. I could go on and on…but I won’t! Those events, those moments rise to the surface.

But most of my spiritual journey is not on the peak. In fact, it’s not in the deep valleys as well. It is the space between. Using the Bible as an analogy, it isn’t in the Gospels, but rather in Ecclesiastes, a period that is seemingly void of meaning. Honestly, getting through Ecclesiastes is like trying to read War and Peace in one sitting.

Spiritual journeys require perseverance, stamina, even flexibility. They require a willingness to get through the Tuesdays.