Posted tagged ‘fellowship’

Two Double A’s!

January 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                January 1, 2018

                                             

I arrived at Simla First Baptist Church yesterday as usual…about 10:00 for the 10:15 worship service. Simla First Baptist is one of those older small town church structures, white on the outside and dated on the inside. Pleasant looking enough, but it’s far from contemporary. People don’t go to Simla for contemporary and fashionable, let alone church in Simla.

I walked into the sanctuary and was immediately greeted by Laura, who was shivering in front of the communion table. The temperature in the worship space felt forty five-ish!

“Ray went to get new batteries!”

“New batteries?”

“Yes, the batteries in the thermostat died.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Wish I was! Two AA batteries, that’s all it is!”

The death of two Double A’s had rippled into a lack of life in the furnace on a Sunday morning when the temperature outside was hovering around twenty degrees. The sun shining through the east side sanctuary windows was not going to lesser the lack of heat. We proceeded to light every candle at the front of the sanctuary, but fifteen wax candles are not the same as a campfire to warm your hands beside.

The blankets were dispersed amongst the pews. We usually prayed for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be upon us. This morning we grabbed comforters and wrapped ourselves within them.

Two Double A’s!

There’s a lesson to learn in that. Here’s the cold hard facts! (Sorry! I couldn’t resist using a pun here.) It’s the small things that bring warmth to a church!

When perfection is more important than the person a coldness descends.

When grace and forgiveness get smothered by program and performance the temperature of the church plummets.

When ministries that care for the poor, displaced, and discouraged are seen as being of less significance than ministries for the well-to-do, established, and encouraged the warmth of community flickers away.

It’s the small things, often unseen, that cause a congregation to experience authentic fire and relational depth.

Two Double A’s!

Thank you, Lord, for the lessons you teach us in the little things of life!

Between Brews and Baptists

August 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          August 22, 2017

                                

Carol and I joined a group of American Baptist pastors and spouses at a Colorado Rockies baseball game last Friday night. They were playing the Milwaukee Brewers, and brew was a prominent part of the evening.

Not for the Baptists, but rather for the group of young guys who were sitting in front of Carol and me. Since we didn’t get there until the second inning we were on the fringe of our group, so we were between the Brews and the Baptists.

It was interesting, and somewhat amusing, to see the different ways the two groups enjoyed watching the game. The Baptists would exit and come back with nachos, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and hot dogs. The Brews would exit and come back with…brew! No food, just brew! Or they would summon the beer guy walking up and down the steps and buy it from him. “Give me three!”

The Baptists were polite in their cheering, like religious high society folk. The Brews were raucous and amusing. One of their group wore his Brewers shirt, which meant any Rockies success (They won 8-4!) resulted in the rest of his group mocking him, while they gave high fives to one another. A Milwaukee home run resulted in the Brewers fan finding another Brewers fan ten seats and four rows away and giving him a high five. Success was followed by celebrated fandom, while failure was accompanied by “F” bombs.

The Baptist pastors talked about church work, the approaching Sunday sermon, how summer church camp and VBS had gone. The Brews talked about where the baseball was going to end up at the end of the inning…because they made bets about its placement. Someone would take the location of the pitcher’s mound, someone else that a player would carry it into the dugout, someone else that it would be tossed by a player to a fan in the crowd, and someone else that it would be given to one of the umpires. Dollar bets were made each time, followed by discovery and disappointment. There were also bets on whether a home run would be hit by the Rockies in an inning, and any other unusual way that bets could be made. Would a pitcher take off his cap and wipe his head? Would a batter spit on the ground? Would there be a double play? Would someone with a last name that starts with a letter between A and M hit a single? Would there be more batters with beards than batters who had shaved, or more batters with beards than batters who had shaved heads? Anything that prompted a bet, but also bleacher victory dances was fair game!

I enjoyed both groups! It was Friday night fun, or, for the Baptists, fellowship! Both groups were accepting. Carol asked one of the Brews to explain their betting games, and he went into great detail with her even though she was drinking Sprite. I talked to Mary Beth about their new pastor and the exciting things happening in her church. We enjoyed our conversation, although the cheering around us made it difficult to hear from time to time.

In essence, Carol and I were part of the Baptists touching the Brew Crew. There’s something in there for followers of Jesus to learn! We follow Jesus and we converse with the world. Some church folk believe in Jesus and turn their back on the world, but the more I think about it I believe if Jesus happened to show up for the baseball game that night he would have been sitting in, or close to, our seats. If he changed water into wine he may have even turned lemonade into beer!

Throw Back Thursday: The Baptist Youth Fellowship (BYF)

June 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                       June 29, 2017

             

I’ve been asked many times over the years how I came to become a pastor? What caused me to take that life direction, that occupational leaning? The first answer, and basic answer, is that I was called by God to head towards ministry. “Calling” is essential for someone to make it through some of the ministry mess, denominational drama, and church chaos that happens in the journey.

But underneath calling are other influences that have helped steer my vessel and charted my course. One of those was the youth group that I was fortunate enough to be a part of in my high school years at the First Baptist Church of Ironton, Ohio. Back in those days we called it BYF, which stood for Baptist Youth Fellowship. We met on Sunday nights at 5:30 in advance of the 7:00 Sunday Evening service.

BYF had great leaders. Ralph and Phyllis Carrico were two that “kept the horses in the corral”. They had help, which was greatly appreciated, but I remember them guiding us steadily each Sunday evening as we discussed, laughed, prayed, and played together.

We had a steady group of 15-20 high schoolers, a mixture of the four grade levels, and we enjoyed one another. My three best friends from high school were in that group, David “Hugo” Hughes, Mike “the boy” Fairchild, and Tommy “TD” Douglas. We were all seniors, and other guys in the group- Lee Bryant, Mark Fairchild, Danny Lewis, Stark Hughes, Tim Geswein, Dick Brown, Bobby McCollister, Jeff Grubb, John Kennedy, Glenn Layne, and Danny Gool- felt comfortable with us. It was a youth group that was united, regardless of a person’s grade level. The girls were a mixture of interesting personalities and charm. Teresa Ball, Cindy Kennedy, Mary Frances Bryant, Clara McMahon, Shannon Grubb, Terri Hughes, Lynnanne Dale, Lizi Gann, Stephanie Alfrey, Karen Wallace, and Teresa Carrico.

Sometimes we’d go for pizza after church, or pile a few of us in a car and drive to a cemetery across the river in Kentucky that had a disappearing statue. One time Hugo, Fairboy, and I ran through the cemetery to touch the disappearing statue as Jeff Grubb quivered in fear in the backseat! I can still hear him saying, “You guys are crazy! You’re crazy!”

BYF was the highlight of our week. The core of our group didn’t miss. Someone only missed if he was deathly ill, otherwise we were all there.

When I think back to my foundational years I think of that youth group. We supported one another, we kidded each other, we dated one another, we pranked each other. The first youth group I led at First Baptist Church in Marseilles, Illinois, was modeled after that BYF group I grew up in. It’s interesting that some of the same dynamics that were a part of my Ironton youth group growing up ended up getting incorporated into the Marseilles youth group. We hung out together, did Friday night outings that were riddled with laughter, learned together, and supported one another. The Simpson girls, Connie and Debbie, were the high school equivalent of Laverne and Shirley. Jana Moats and Jed Johnson still stand out in my mind. They laughed at my jokes, and snickered at my blunders. There were others whose names have long since escaped my memory although I can still see their faces, but it was a good group, a group that probably taught me more than I taught them.

Youth groups have changed in recent years. Many churches have given up on them, because they just don’t have the young people to make it happen. Perhaps BYF is one of those good memories that we think about and smile at, a thing of the past that had its day and purpose. What I know is that who I am at the age of 63 still has the hazy fingerprint of that BYF youth group on me from 45 years ago…and I thank God for that!

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?

The Key To the Church…Literally!

May 9, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 8, 2017

                           

I arrived with my friends Ed and Diana at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado this past  Sunday for morning worship. We parked in one of the “parking suggestions”…that means there are no lined spots to steer the vehicle into. You just park it in the general vicinity!

Thelma, one of the church saints, was standing on the front steps. And then it hit me! I didn’t have a key, and Thelma, who had arrived early to prepare communion, didn’t have a key.

“Do you have a key, Pastor Bill?”

“No, Thelma, I don’t! And I’m assuming that since you’re standing here on the steps that you don’t either.”

“No, I came early to get communion ready.”

“Oops!” I walked around to the area on the other side of the steps that disguises itself as a landscaped garden of shrubs and plastic flowers. In the past it also had served another purpose. A key to the church was hidden underneath one of the rocks that decorated the area. I commenced to turning each rock over and seeing if a treasured key was to be discovered.

Polly came walking around the corner with a cane, but no key.

“Good morning, Polly!”

“No key!”

“Not yet! We may have to worship on the front steps this morning.”

“That would be okay!” she replied. One of the wonderful things about this small congregation is that no one gets bent out of shape when a crisis…like no key…happens. In a town of diminishing population and limited opportunities…life happens! Polly had been gone from the church for years and has recently returned. When she attended years ago she didn’t have to have a came along wth her, but now mobility issues abound. Her church family offers her encouragement for the slowed-down journey.

I came up empty on my hidden key search amongst the rocks. John and Sherry pulled up and we all looked towards them with limited hope.

“Good morning, John! Good morning, Sherry!”

“No key?” they question.

“Not yet!” The probability of worship on the steps was increasing! John and Sherry were okay with that. They’ve headed up a summer experience called “Cowboy Camp” for years. It meets in the midst of someone’s pasture for five days in late June. People from miles away bring their campers and lawn chairs for the preaching, teaching, and music. It’s all outside, so John and Sherry might feel more at home on the steps than in the pews. John’s cowboy hat is an indication of this.

“I wonder if Henry and Mildred have a key?” Thelma asks. “I know they did years ago.”  Henry and Mildred are the ninety-somethings of the fellowship. They are about the dearest people you could ever meet, now in the last years of their journeys. Henry has limited vision and Mildred has limited hearing. Mildred went through a tough time recently when their family dictated that she could no longer drive. It was a hit to Mildred’s independence and purpose. Struggling through each day with limited energy, driving the Town Car around town whispered to her that she could still do things. Taking the car keys away, even though it was a decision made in love and a needed development, edged Mildred towards the pit of depression.

“I think Angie is picking them up today, so we’ll see soon,” Sherry said.

Our growing cluster stood around the steps and chatted about communion grape juice, rain showers, and the Methodists. I was formulating a revised worship order in my mind that could be accomplished on the steps. We could pick out a couple of songs that we all were familiar with and go to town A cappella with them. John’s cowboy hat could be the makeshift offering plate. It was doable!

But about that time Angie arrived with her two kids…and Henry and Mildred.

“Good morning!” everyone greeted one another.

“Any of you have a key?” Thelma asked.

“I do!” replied Angie.

“Praise the Lord!” echoed a couple.

“I’m not sure if it fits the front door or the back door.”

“As long as it fits a door that’s all right,” I chirped.

It fit the back door! Angie’s daughter, Lena, made her way from the back of the church to the front and we all laughed and gleefully chit-chatted our way into the sanctuary.

I thought to myself that whether a key was found that day or not, we still were going to have church…and we were the church!

 

The Entitled Church Attender

March 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             March 19, 2017

                              

There is a lot of talk and conversation these days about entitlement…from government programs to children of helicopter parents to job wages and benefits to kids sports. Entitlement could be a defining term for our culture. We hate it and yet we expect it!

Entitlement has entered through the front doors of the church as well! This past week I was listening to the morning host of a Christian music station as he launched into a discussion about finding a new church. One of his co-hosts had invited him to visit her church. The discussion flowed around what he might tell her afterwards if he didn’t enjoy the experience?

There was much laughter and humorous remarks related to the subject. How the host approached the subject left me a bit chilled. His opening was something like this: “Recently my family and I have been looking for a new church and been trying out some different places…”

His tone gave me the impression that changing churches was kind of like deciding on what restaurant we’re going to have lunch at today? How will the service be? Will we feel comfortable? Will we have our needs met? Does the time suit us? Will we like the music? How will we be made to feel special? Will it be easy to get into and out of?

He seemed to indicate that changing churches is no big deal, as difficult as deciding whether or not to get cheese on that burger I’m ordering!

But, of course, it goes with our culture. All those questions place “me” as the focus! After all these years we’re firmly traveling through a period of time where people don’t understand the purpose and mission of the church. The church simply reflects our culture, as opposed to being counter-cultural.

Perhaps the radio host had a good reason for leaving his old church. Maybe there was some doctrinal issue. Perhaps his church had lost its understanding of being the hands and feet of Jesus. Maybe the way it treated women and minorities was out of line with the gospel. Maybe the worship service had become an hour of entertainment.

The way he began the topic, however, made his previous place of fellowship sound like an old sock with a hole in the heel…tossed to the side!

Counter-cultural would have the host say something like this: “My family and I recently began a search for a new church to journey with. It wasn’t that the congregation we had been journeying with was bad or anything, but they didn’t expect anything of us. They didn’t expect us to be willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the gospel, and didn’t expect us to understand and incorporate the idea of servanthood into our lives. So we’re in search of a fellowship that will challenge us to live out of faith in word and deed.”

Wouldn’t that be a twist in our thinking? It would go completely against our culture’s question of “what can I get out of it without putting anything into it?” Of course, we read that idea into some of our hymns and praise songs. “Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed me white as snow.”

We sing the song, say “Thanks Jesus!”, and then stroll out to the church parking lot saying “Where shall we go for lunch?”

Preaching Again…Again!

February 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 February 29, 2016

                                      

Yesterday I brought “the Word” to a gathering of fifteen saints gathered on one side of a sanctuary that seats about a hundred and fifty. All of them entered the building with smiles on their faces. Their church, small as it is, is counted upon to be their support, their fellowship…their life encouragers.

There were two children and one infant. I did a children’s story. The kids were ecstatic. One of them, a Girl Scout, felt comfortable enough with me to hit it up after the service for two boxes of the cookies she is selling. Her brother bonded with me when we both agreed that spiders scare us.

The worshipers sang…not very well, but with conviction and sincerity. They shared prayer concerns and greeted one another. There wasn’t a designated greeting time during the worship service, because they had already hugged on one another and caught up on life happenings before the first hymn. After the service no one left, but instead moved over to the side room and sipped on coffee while enjoying cake made by a saintly woman who had taken a fall that week, was homebound, but made sure she got the cake baked.

I remember all of their names…Kathleen, Phil, Lena, Elizabeth… Great people! Godly people!

The husband and wife who greeted me arrived a good hour and a half before worship to get things set up, brew the coffee, and run off the bulletin. Carol and I felt like we were royalty as they welcomed us and made sure all of our needs were met.

I preached about David facing a nine foot giant, and talked about some of the fears we face in life that we make into giants. There were nods of agreement, as opposed to people nodding off in slumber and indifference.

In Matthew 18:20 Jesus said “Where two or three are gather in my name, there am I with them.” In the midst of these fifteen people he had a residence!

At the end of the service the host couple came to me and thanked me and then asked me what I was doing next Sunday? It looks like I’ll be preaching again…again. After all, I’ve got to pick up my Girl Scout cookies…and pay for them!

And be blessed by the saints and the smiles, the warmth in the midst of people who journeyed long weeks, and gathered once again to be encouraged.

What these dear folk don’t understand is that, although I’m the preacher, they are teaching me about what the church is and what it can be.