Posted tagged ‘Faith’

Losing All Our Toys In Order To Find Our Way

March 19, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               March 19, 2020

                             

I first met Bill Dohner at a SonLife conference in Chicago in the early days of 1999. I was talking to a pastoral search committee from Colorado Springs, trying to discern God’s leading. He sat down beside me before our first workshop and we did introductions. 

“I’m Bill from Mason, Michigan.”

“Good to meet you, Bill! I’m Bill from Colorado Springs.”

It didn’t seem like a coincidence. As we became more acquainted, he told me his story. At that time he was working at Cook Communications, but it had been a long journey getting there.

He and his wife, Jeanie, had lived in Tennessee, where Bill’s employment situation had been very lucrative. In his own words, he told me, “We had all the toys! A boat, Ski-do’s, motorcycles, nice cars…all the toys we didn’t need.”

And then his employment situation changed drastically and he was looking for a new job. He thought it would be easy to find one, maybe have to take a reduction in pay, but he wasn’t worried about it. However, no new position was offered. He’d interview and not be the choice. They went month after month, burning through their savings and wondering why God was doing this?

They began selling off their “toys” and realizing that their lives had become a bit out of balance. When their last “toy” was sold, Bill received a call from Promisekeepers, based in Colorado, and was offered a position with the ministry. 

He said to me, “Bill, I’m not saying that this needs to be everybody’s experience, but, for us, we needed to lose our toys before we could see our true Hope.” 

Sometimes there needs to be some kind of loss before we can gain. Sometimes our “toys”, whatever they may be, need to disappear in order for us to become grounded again. Sometimes we trust more in our “toys” than we do in our Shepherd.

Bill’s journey became more and more rooted in faith. Promisekeepers had a cut in staff and that’s when he went to Cook. After being at Cook for a few years his whole department was eliminated and he took a position with Family Ministries in Little Rock. Before the position was even offered to him in Little Rock, he and Jeanie had signed a lease for a house.

Someone from Family Ministries said to him, “Wait a minute! You signed a lease before we even offered you the job?”

“Sure! We knew this was where God wanted us to be and we figured he’d catch you up to it.”

The “F” Word

June 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       June 26, 2017

My granddaughter recently used the “F” word. Her mom’s eyebrows hit the ceiling! She had used it in reference to Satan. Instead of “Defeat Satan”, or “Stand up to the devil!” she had used the “F” word as a verb in front of Satan. When my daughter’s eyebrows came back down from the rafters she asked her where she had heard that word. It had floated out of one of her kindergarten classmate’s lips, and she had heard it a few other times in other places.

My daughter controlled herself and taught her that there are certain words that are not appropriate to use. In a few years her daughter might ask her mom a follow-up question. “Mom, if it’s not appropriate why do I hear it being said so much?”

The question might cause her mom to have to think about the answer a good bit.

The “F” word is now the over-used expletive that seems to be accepted by many. Robin said, “Holy Cow, Batman!” My grandfather said “Lord, have mercy!” Beaver Cleaver said, “Gosh, Wally!” Now the “F” word is the word of emphasis, the word of anger, and the word that seems to flow fluidly from the lips of many people.

I remember using it one time my sophomore year of high school for no apparent reason in talking to my friend Dave Hughes. I called him the “F” word with the maternal pronoun in front of it. I was having an exaggerated moment of machoism and I thought it would make me seem taller than my 5’2’ stature. I remember his look of dismay because he knew it was out of character for me. My moment of a verbally raised testosterone level quickly passed and I felt stupid. Dave Hughes was forgiving and ended up being my best man about nine years later.

I figured out that the “F” word didn’t define me, or make me seem tougher and meaner. I was who I was, and my vocabulary was prone to stay on the more positive end of the spectrum.

I could put a list of reasons why people seem to use the “F” word more these days, but I’m not sure that would be helpful. I prefer to focus on the “F” words of scripture that mean more to me and are more about hope, promise, and building up.

Words that come to mind are “faith” and “faithfulness.” My faith in Jesus has set me “free” to be one of his “followers.” I hear the other “F” word often used in frustrated reaction to failure. My “faith” however assures me that Christ’s victory on the cross “finished” it! And now I cherish the “fellowship” that I enjoy with the other “followers.”

Don’t think too highly of me, however! I still use the word “Crap!” from time to time, usually after a miss a jump shot playing basketball, but never in reference to someone else’ s character.

Just some “food” for thought! What kind of “fruit” is coming from my tongue?

Leaning Not On Your Own Understanding

July 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             July 20, 2016

                                

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.”   (Proverbs 3:5 from The Message)

Today I helped a group of middle school church campers rappel down a cliffside. For almost all of them this was a first time experience. Actually, it was my first experience also. For about four hours I held a rope and said things like “Awesome! Great job! You can do it! Keep going!”

I asked the question to some of them: What does Proverb 3:5 say?

Trust God…and don’t lean on your own understanding. I learned today that you must not lean forward in fear, but lean back and trust. In essence, we were telling the students to not do what seemed the understandable solution…leaning into the mountain, but rather to lean back and give up control.

A few of the students had a hard time getting past their fears and letting go. For some it took just a little bit of encouragement from the top to get them going…just a small dose of guidance from the top, and belief that they could do it. After the first fifty feet their camp friends down below took up the encouragement.

Another young man came to a point of hesitation, a place between the top and the bottom where he froze and became unmoving. Kent, our lead person, finally rappelled down to him and “unfroze” him. The young man had to be almost pulled along all the way to the bottom. His ego was a bit bruised, but he got to the bottom. Sometimes people need to be pulled along in their spiritual lives, and lives in general. They need a guide who pulls them…an AA sponsor who says the hard things, a coach who won’t let them settle for mediocre effort, a tutor who says “If I have to, I’m going to sit here all day until you get this!”, a pastor who pulls them away from the errors in judgment.

Some people need to be pushed, or in rappelling…pulled! Discomfort is not accepted easily, but sometimes taking people to an uncomfortable place is the needed ingredient for spiritual growth.

A couple of the campers rappelled alongside a friend who was struggling. One young guy, Jacob, knew his friend’s fears were real and inhibiting. Even though he had the ability to rappel down at a much quicker pace, Jacob slowed down to encourage his friend each step of the descent.

Sometimes we need a brother or sister to lean on as we take that next step. What each one of us needs is someone who slows their pace to stay with us. Sometimes we ARE the ones who slow down in order to be with. Last week I officiated at a funeral for a twenty-four year old. I didn’t know the deceased, but I know his dad. Next week I’m going to try to get together with him for a cup of coffee and continued conversation as he rappelled down the mountain of personal loss. He may have some moments in the coming weeks where he “freezes.” I know that I’m probably one of the people that God has placed in his life who needs to help him unfreeze…to continue in the heart wrenching journey of grief.

And it always seems to come back to “trusting and leaning.” Trusting in the Lord with our whole heart…leaning back and experiencing the loving arms of God.

Jesus Coffee

July 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               July 10, 2016

                                          

We hadn’t connected for a while. I started with the excuses. “I’m sorry, Jesus, that we haven’t gotten together for a while. It’s just been so hectic and busy.” Busyness is always a good “go to” when you haven’t done something or neglected a certain person.

He smiled at me and invited me to sit down in the booth across from him. “How’ve you been?” I asked.

“Oh, you know…the usual…feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, raising the dead…same-o same-o.” We both chuckled a bit. “What’s been taking up so much of your time?”

I stammered through a list of poor excuses for busyness and then I confessed, “I really have no excuses for why I haven’t talked to you for a while. Perhaps what is really going on is that there’s some things in my life, and in the lives of some friends of mine, that are unsettling. A lot of it is my own poor choices, and some of it is…I don’t know…I guess I could call it a kind of cynicism towards life and some people.”

“So you thought if you talked to me you’d have to face up to what’s going on?”

“Pretty much! I’ve very proficient in the gift of avoidance.”

“So tell me why you suggested we get together again?”

“I’m not sure if it was my old Baptist guilt rising up, or realizing that I just needed this…to sit and talk with you. Maybe it’s a combination of a lot of different things…anyway I’m here and I’m glad we can talk over a cup of coffee.”

“I hope you know that I’m always free to chat.”

“I know, I know. I’ve never doubted that, even though lately it seems that I’ve had a tendency to turn away from it.”

“Cynicism tends to make us unsure of just about everything.”

“And I admit I’ve doubted just about anyone and everyone. I’ve doubted the truth of everything…especially, everything they’ve been talking about in church. I’m not sure what to believe anymore.”

“Do you believe in me?”

“You know I do, Jesus.”

“That’s a pretty good start, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but!” I didn’t know what to say after the but. I left it hanging in the air like a bad smell. Jesus looked at me with his penetrating eyes that could see what was in my heart and troubling my mind.

“Excuse me for making an analogy, but you’ve lost sight of the sun because of all the smoke. In other words, you’ve lost sight of me because there is so much of life’s chaos and fallenness that is clouding your vision.”

“Yes! All those things you teach and talk about…love, grace, forgiveness, surrender, faith, being salt and light…we talk about them a lot, a whole lot…but It seems like what I see emerging so often out of my life and the lives of others are things like hate, indifference, bitterness, a lack of forgiveness, trying to be in control, and selfish ambition.”

“You’re right!”

“Jesus, I don’t want to be right! I want to be changed and to see change.”

“And what are you willing to give up for that to happen?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you not see that the out-of-control condition that you’re describing is because there are certain things that you’re allowing to be?”

“I would be lying if I said I can see it, and yet, in my spirit I know the truth of it.”

“Your cynicism is a symptom of the battle that is going on inside you. You want to believe, but believing is risking, and then what if you’re wrong? What if you love unconditionally and then you feel things are as screwed up as they always are? What if loving one another ends up just being a bad joke? What if you surrender and then you discover it’s all just a crock of crap?”

“I hope not!”

“But you see, Bill, your cynicism in many ways is a safe place to be.”

(TO BE CONTINUED)

Pothole Faith

June 4, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   June 4, 2016

                                          

I remember the potholes of Lansing, Michigan, enormous craters that swallowed Chevettes in mid-day! Potholes were reminders of winter’s brutalizing. Just as you thought the scars had healed from the cold winter experiences…here comes a personalized version of the Grand Canyon for your front tires.

Potholes created more business for chiropractors…and Firestone and Goodyear!

Colorado Springs, where I live, is now pitted with potholes (Say that five times fast!). I have noticed that I now do multi-task driving. I watch the vehicles around me, but also watch for the potholes to steer around. On my streets it feels like I’m skiing the Giant Slalom course.

A street repair bond issue passed a few months ago, but we may all be operating hovercraft by the time all the street issues get fixed.

My wife notices that I give expressions of pain when we suddenly hit a spot that jars the vehicle. I give a cry of “Ouch!” because the thumping sound is so disturbing that it requires a response of anguish.

Faith is a journey through a potholed life. We’d like it to be a smooth new highway that has no disturbances, no construction zones, no confusing merge lanes, and no potholes, but a journey of faith is not about smoothness, but rather assurance. Assurance that the God of mountaintops and valleys is also the God of potholes and inconveniences.

A faith that is untested is a faith that is shallow and suspect.

Potholes, like our problems and challenges, come in all shapes and sizes. Some can be seen from a distance and planned for, and then there are others that seem to sneak up on you like a new hospital bill that arrives in the mailbox. Pothole faith is belief in a God who is with me even when I sense I’m sinking into a new depth that has an uncertain bottom to it.

Driving our streets right now heightens the level of frustration. My son-in-law blew a tire a couple of months ago when he hit a pothole that was on a mission. A pothole faith is coming to grips with the God of peace in the midst of a hole of unrest.

Perhaps, just perhaps, some of us are learning to take the journey a little slower as we navigate the breaks in the asphalt. Even potholes can be used for good!

A Jess Bless!

June 18, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                              June 18, 2015

                                                    

Last night I had the last session of a children’s discipleship class plus two adults. The two adults were there because we talk about baptism in our last session. One of the attenders of the class has been my grandson, Jesse! In earlier sessions we’ve talked about Romans 3:23 and 6:23 and the scriptural principle that all of us fall short. We’ve talked about the impact of the cross of Christ in bridging the gap between us and God that sin created. We talked about forgiveness and grace and other things.

Jesse did a recap for us last night. In these classes I look for whether or not the kids understand and whether they can explain it.

He did!

When I explained baptism he was right with me! Often he would complete my sentences.

“Jesus died-“

“And rose again!”

“All of us have sinned-“

“And fallen short of the glory of God!”

“That’s right, Jesse!”

I asked him why he wanted to be baptized. Sometimes this becomes the stumbling point, as some children can’t verbalize why, but Jesse…”Because I believe in Jesus and I’ve asked him to live in my heart because I love him, and I want people to know that I love him.”

“That’s right, Jesse!”

“And you can’t be a pastor unless you are baptized!”

“Well…not quite! Anyone can be baptized-“

“But you are “called” to be a pastor!”

I sat there with my mouth open. He has a pretty good grasp on things!

It was a Jess Bless time!

Children can bless us more than we can imagine if we let them verbalize it. In the midst of their “ants in the pants” they have the potential to communicate a gem, a truth, a heartfelt belief.

My grandson lost his “chair privileges” one day at school this year because he kept falling out of it with antsyness! Hyper in motion!

But he believes in Jesus, and isn’t afraid to tell you about him!

Caught Between What Is and What I Hope

June 21, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        June 21, 2013

As I stand in line at Wendy’s Hamburgers I’m having a “caught in the middle” moment. I’m caught between wanting to be healthier and wanting a Double Stack with Cheese. What I hope for is in a battle with “what is”, and “what is” is hungry for what my tummy says I urgently need.

Which one will win? More often than not it’s the “what is.” What I hope for seldom gets a grip on reality.

How often are our lives in similar tug-of-wars?

I want to become more knowledgeable about scripture, but I can’t seem to fit the reading of the Word into my life as a spiritual discipline.

I want to walk three miles a day, but the couch always seems to become more comfortable about the time I’m suppose to put the pedometer on.

I want to surrender myself to worship, but I’m always afraid of what people might think.

I want to get my taxes done early this year, but April 15 always seems to be the day that I finally file.

I want to start saving money to have when it is time to buy a new car, but Kohl’s is having a once-in-a-lifetime sale this week…and Target is giving $10 off for every $100 spent next week.

But here’s the “caught” that I’m seeing more and more in churches, and that my denomination, the American Baptist Churches, seems to be struggling with. It’s the “caught” that leaves us conflicted.

It’s the hope of new life without leaving the old life.

It’s “the Abraham moment”, where he took the step of faith. Hebrews 11:8 describes it this way: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to as place that he would later received as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (NIV)

God promised him that he would inherit a place that he had never seen. For many of us we would not be able to go any further until the realtor’s review of the place had been secured, complete with pictures. We know how the “what is” looks already. The “what is hoped for” has to look as good.

If it had been brought up for a vote, the Hebrew people would always have voted for Egypt and slavery over the unknown and freedom.

I’ve pondered what it was that drove Abraham to get up and leave what he knew to go to a place he did not know? What took him from being a settler to being a pioneer?

Briefly put, Abraham received a call and he had a vision.

The call was from God to go, and he showed Abraham where it was he was to head to after he actually started moving. Carol knows that is a picture of my dream vacation. Get in the car and then decide which direction to head in. (Hasn’t happened yet! I guess you can say that I haven’t received the call from Carol to do that!)

What is God calling me to? What is he calling you to? Truth be told, few of us are aware or even looking to receive a call.

The vision that Abraham had was of a city with foundations, whose architect and builder was God. He had a picture of what could be. That must have been very difficult to stay on course with that vision when night after night he was sleeping in a tent with no buildings in sight.

Call and vision for people who are caught. What determines our decision?

Health vs. Double Stack with Cheese.

What determines whether our denomination, that this weekend is meeting in Overland Park, Kansas, and will talk about new hope, new possibilities, and new directions…and then face the reality of congregations content with the “what is”…what determines if the ABC actually moves?

Call and vision to something that isn’t yet, but more and more people can see.

That is the “caught moment!” Double stacks with cheese are always the easy way out!

Getting Too Cozy With God

June 4, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      June 4, 2013

Working on the staff of Young Life when I was in seminary, and then also being the Youth Minister at a couple of churches, I was trained to “earn the right to be heard’ by the students I worked with. Youth ministry was, and still is, very relational. A young guy struggling with questions about faith needs to know that there is someone he can meet at Starbucks for a chai latte and conversational counseling.

I confess! In those days there was a need to look cool and be cool. It was a part of earning the right to converse about God. Now in my final year of the fifties “cool” is a term I only use to indicate the last of heat in the house. We have more blankets folded and ready on our couch than Bed, bath, and Beyond has in the entire store. “Overheated” for our household now refers to laying on top of the electric blanket.

It seems that the emphasis with most evangelicals, myself included, is on having a personal relationship with our heavenly father who has his son be crucified on the cross out of love for us.

There is nothing incorrect about that. It’s scripturally right on. John 3:16 makes that intimately clear. The struggle is that we so often make the mystery of the holy absent from our faith. We like to snuggle up with God, like a comforter blanket. God-cozy is more to our liking than divine mystery.

One of my friends recently said that the only place we see veils anymore is on Arab women to hide their faces, and on surgeons to protect them from our germs. Veils hide, and we are people who are used to the Freedom of Information Act. We are accustomed to full disclosure.

Scripture includes a number of verses that tell us about the mystery being revealed…and the mystery that is. Paul talked about “the mystery made known to me by revelation” (Ephesians 3:3) and “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” (Colossians 1:26)

But he also talked about the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:4, Colossians 4:3)!

The contrast of the gospel is that we can now approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16), but the will not ever in this lifetime understand the ways of God. Revelation is partnered with mystery. The veil was torn away from the Holy of Holies, and yet are eyes do not fully see the moving of God.

And we shouldn’t! Mystery is what keeps drama in the story. If life was void of mystery our little ones would no longer ask the question “why?” Why questions lead them along the path of discovery.

Why do we have two ears and one nose?

I don’t know. Perhaps it has something to do with Mr. Potato Head. He would look weird with two noses and only one ear.

Why are some people scared of spiders?

Because they are…including me.

Why do women put make-up on, but men just put on deodorant?

Because men are in a hurry in the morning, and women…never mind, don’t tell Mommy I said anything about that!

Why does bacon taste so good?

Ahhhh….

The longer I walk with God the more comfortable I am with the Mystery. I also have a sense of peace knowing that I am always able to cry out to him, and he will embrace me. Perhaps that’s “cozy’, but I see it as evidence of the God who comes near.

Freckles, Zits, Warts, and Age Spots

May 22, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               May 22, 2013

Hitting 59 has made me more conscious of my slowness, morning aches, evening exhaustion, and the multiplying of pill bottles. When I look in the mirror I notice a couple of warts that weren’t always there, but have grown in prominence as I’ve clicked off the years.

The last year of your fifties makes you think of what has been and where you have been. When I was growing up in Winchester, Kentucky I was graced with some freckles on my face. I was actually cute, especially when I was missing a few teeth in the midst of freckled cheeks. Freckles were signs an imaginative childhood. I played with imaginary friends, or even played football against an invisible defense, scoring touchdowns on two yard dives in my backyard. Freckles were child-like, not childish.

A few years later, about the time when it was no longer cool to be cute, pimples started sprouting up on my face like mysterious dandelions in spring lawns. I discovered Clearasil and other products that were suppose to ease the uncomfortableness of adolescence.

Zits were a sign of not knowing whether I was still a child or had emerged into the beginnings of adulthood. It was that time when I wasn’t sure what was going on in my life. I wanted parental closeness, while at the same time keeping some distance. My dad lost some of his intelligence. I insulted my mom’s fried chicken. I wanted to be somebody, and yet I often felt like a nobody. I had a humorous streak about me, but I also was painfully short. Dreams of who I might grow up to be were being shattered. I missed the days of being a child, but knew that I was speeding towards a time of more responsibility.

And now, years later, I look in the mirror and only see trace of the freckles and a couple of little scars from the effects of teenage zits. The warts now stand out. I’m suppose to now have it all together. Experience echoes through my facial imperfections. Although people tell me that I don’t look my age, no one is approaching me to go to a rock concert at Red Rocks, or inviting me to watch Monday Night Football at Buffalo Wild Wings.

I am now a picture of maturity, and I’m about as comfortable with it as I was with youthful blemishes. Oh, it isn’t that I don’t want to be responsible. It is more that I often feel burdened…weighed down by the expectations of others. I want to be able to make mistakes, but I’m often viewed as someone who isn’t allowed to make mistakes.

And yet my warts also tell me that I’m in that phase of life when people want to know what I think, where they will often take their lead from me. There is some sense of gratification that goes with that sprinkled over the mass of responsibility.

I’m just around the corner from the next phase called “age spots.” Sometimes they appear like someone took a red marker to the face. Other times they emerge as little pre-cancerous spots. In fact, I’ve already had a few frozen off by my physician. My dad has undergone two sets of radiation treatments for cancerous spots on his ear and nose.

Age spots are a sign that I’ve gone from being a learner to a leader to a mentor. More of my time will be spent in coffee conversations and quiet reflection. I’ll start collecting letters, photos, and other indications of a lived life. I feel valued as a result of people asking me what I think, as opposed to pressing my opinions. There is soundness in “elders” being respected in the church.

Freckles, zits, warts, and age spots. It seems that there are many parallels between those facial stages and a person’s spiritual development. Dare I also say there are many parallels also with a church’s life stage.

We go from childlike energy and optimism to youthful uncertainty; living out our faith responsibly to passing on the soundness of our beliefs to the next generation.

Chaos appears when we confuse life phases; when a pimpled church tries to pretend it is certain and unyielding in it’s statement of belief, or a warted congregation is childish in it’s actions and attitudes.

A church that is healthy is one that is allowing each of it’s participants to live in the period of faith that they are in.

Praying Long

September 5, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                September 5, 2012

 

Old friends of ours from our early days in Michigan are in the midst of a very difficult journey. Dan Paternoster was hit by a car as he was cycling to his veterinarian clinic about a week ago. Dan was one of the men who help Carol and me move from Davison to Lansing, Michigan back in September of 1980, where I started my position as associate pastor of Lansing First Baptist Church. I remember him and Chuck Walls lugging our couch and furniture on to the U-Haul truck. It was the beginning of four great years as a “green pastor” learning what ministry really is, as opposed to what they had said in seminary.

Dan and his wife Nancy went on the mission field with Sudan Interior Mission in the country of Niger, following in the footsteps of his parents who served with SIM. After returning to the states he and his family settled in a small community east of Lansing where they serve the people in numerous ways. He has been a steady and strong follower of Jesus.

The recovery process for Dan will be long…and long. No one is saying how long, but the end is not in sight yet. I notice on Facebook that there are a multitude of postings to let Nancy know that people are praying.

Recent times have given us several examples of situations and people that will require long-term recovery. There is a group here in Colorado Springs that I’ve become associated with called the Waldo Canyon Long Term Recovery Group. It is going to take a long time to recover from the devastating fire that we actually watched from where we live, even though it was about ten miles away.

Dan’s recovery will be trying and painful, without a doubt punctuated by quitting points. It will take much prayer.

It will take praying long.

I think of the Biblical character of Simeon, In Luke 2 it says, “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:25b-26)

Simeon was into praying long. As long as it took!

In our culture of instant access of knowledge, answers, and solutions, praying long seems like a bad cough that we can’t shake. It’s not seen as a good thing, but rather an interrupter. Our thinking too often is “if it doesn’t happen fast it must not be of God.”

Our Creator not only created instant, but he also created the desert. Deserts are long, and dry, and demand perseverance. An “instant” demands only a momentary commitment.

There will be numerous people praying with Dan, and for Dan, supporting Nancy. Praying long sometimes separates the superficial from the faithful, the weeds from the wheat.

Lord, may Dan and Nancy know that this day has been one more step. May the step be firm and faith-filled, and may the encouraging whisper of your voice be within their hearing!”