Posted tagged ‘hope’

Where Do Children See Hope?

July 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 17, 2017


      One eight year old boy sees it at school!

The shoes that he wore to school each day were so worn out that they were held together by duct tape that was wrapped around them. His mom didn’t seem to be that concerned about it. The school social worker called me and told me about the situation, told me his shoe size, and I went to a shoe store and bought him a new pair of shoes. He didn’t know that the shoes had been purchased by our congregation…and that was okay! To this day he believes that the shoes came from the school…and that gave him hope! He saw that his school hoped for his best!

My six year old granddaughter sees hope in her mom!

Each night her mom kneels beside her bed and prays with her. Her mom reads her stories and tells her stories. Her mom tells her that she is very talented and very intelligent and whatever she does when she grows up she knows that she will do it well. Hope echoes from her mom’s words and actions. When our granddaughter hits a wall of uncertainness and apprehension her mom helps her climb over it and step up to a new level of accomplishment that hope has been a foundation for.

Where do our children see hope? Seeing is a bit different than finding. Seeing hope is the introduction for believing hope. They say that seeing is believing, but what are our children seeing?

One friend of mine made the point that our kids see or don’t see hope in us…the grown-up generations. They watch our reactions, they monitor our language, they investigate our consistency. How does my life convey hope to them?

Let’s be honest, our news stories and our Facebook posts quite often communicate cynicism, sarcasm, and negativity. When I watch the national news on TV in the early evening I usually am blasted with 27 minutes of what’s bad in the world, followed by a 3 minute feel good story. I’m thankful for the 3 minutes, but I wish that there were a few more stories of hope that inform my spirit.

How do children see hope in churches? Jesus gets talked about as being the hope of the world, but how do kids see that in the flesh and in action? Last Sunday at the small town small church I speak at most weeks a married couple gave five dollar bills to each of the four kids who were leaving for church camp that afternoon. The kids were told to use it however they wanted, and for whatever they wanted at camp. It was a gesture of their generosity that hoped for a great week for each of the campers. Their church is becoming a place of hope and blessing for them, not a place that mandates and controls.

I have to ask myself that question also: how do children see hope in me? Does my life paint a pitiful picture of what it means to be a follower of Jesus? Have the brush strokes of my days left a canvas of grace, peace, and hope or a rough portrait of bitterness, hatred, and spite?

Eight Guys Out

June 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           June 15, 2017


At 5:00 A.M. on June 1 eight men climbed into two vehicles and headed north! We weren’t going to a Rockies’ baseball game or the rodeo in Cheyenne, but rather to a camp in British Columbia just shy of 2,000 miles away. Two and a half days after departing Colorado Springs, with stops in Missoula, Montana and Jasper, Alberta, we arrived at Rock Nest Ranch for four and a half days of hard work to complete two needed projects: a deck at the front of the camp’s lodge and working on the shower and restrooms in the basement of the lodge.

Why would eight men- most of us now considered “old”- take 11 days out of our schedules to be part of such an experience?

Well…to give a simple answer to begin with, we went because we’re friends! I’ve known all of the men for a number of years. One guy, Ron, has coached basketball with me for 15 years. Another guy, Dave, has been one of my best friends for years, even though he now lives in San Antonio. One of my son-in-laws was another team member, as well as being the needed team plumber. Our senior citizen, Tom (age 69), had wanted to go up to the camp to help out…and to fish. Doug and Carl were both a part of the last church I pastored, and Jeff had been a part of the mission work team I was a part of that had gone to the Dominican Republic a few years ago…as well as being an experienced deck builder. Me…I was the trip coordinator, nightly devotional presenter, communicator, and, according to Tom, the “Hod Carrier!”

Eight men on a mission!

As the miles clicked off the stories developed…most of them of the chuckling kind. In Missoula, a great couple named Rex and Etta Miller met us at the church we stayed at with two freshly baked pies and a Cracker Barrel gift card! Outside of Jasper, Alberta we pulled over for a few minutes to watch a grizzly bear roaming a few yards off the highway. I got ribbed about my Starbucks attachment! Fishing stories started being created before anyone actually fished.

Rock Nest Ranch is a camp that has become a safe haven for children and youth of the First Nations tribes in that area. The percentage of girls that are sexually abused by the time they are 16 is extremely high. The number of First Nations young people who commit suicide is elevated, and the amount of alcohol and drug abuse is jaw-dropping. The camp, in many ways, has become a safe haven as it lives out the gospel. It is a place of hope in an area where many young people feel hopeless.

Therefore, as the week at Rock Nest went on the reason eight men were part of the experience shifted from the friendships we had to the ministry and mission of the camp. We went from enjoying being together to being a part of a cause…while we enjoyed being together.

When we returned to Colorado Springs we were tired. Four of us were “the tired retired!” But it was also a kind of satisfied exhaustion…eleven days well spent…eleven days of memories in the midst of the nail pounding and sawing.

Eleven days that we will always remember, and eleven days during which we made a difference!

Redefining What Resurrection Means

April 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 16, 2017


It’s Easter Sunday! As followers of Jesus we point to this day as the changing agent in our faith journeys. It gets referred to as Resurrection Sunday, sometimes with conviction and commitment…and sometimes because we’re paranoid people about the Easter Bunny! In about two hours I will be standing in front of a small town congregation of about 25 people proclaiming the hope of life after death, and life out of death. It has caused me to reconsider what resurrection means for this group of faith journeyers, and for myself.

When my friend Steve Wamberg and I started traveling out to Simla, forty-five minutes east of Colorado Springs, a little over a year ago, we encountered a church that had experienced its heyday two or three…or four decades ago. Some of the people still recall the Sundays when the sanctuary pews were filled in a place that seats about one hundred and twenty-five.

But things changed! The main industry in town shut down. Kids grew up, went off to college, and didn’t come back. Other people grew old and passed away and there were no others to take their places. Baptists did battle with Baptists and left for the Southern Baptist church on the edge of town. Other Baptists just turned on the TV and watched Charles Stanley.

When Steve and I started driving out and speaking on Sunday mornings we encountered a church that had a fear of closing. They can’t afford a pastor, even though there is a parsonage right next door to the church. I’m not sure if and when they will be able to afford a pastor.

As the weeks and months passed, however, there was a growing sense of hope in the midst of that small group. We’ve found what I like to call “the rhythm of community.” There’s been a couple of conflicts along the way, but you know what they say about Baptists…where there’s two Baptists there’s at least three opinions!

It has caused me to redefine resurrection. Whereas in many churches the success of Resurrection Sunday is tied into how many showed up, in Simla resurrection is tied to the growing hope of new life in the midst of an aging building. It is intimately tied to the hope of new life in the midst of impending congregational death hanging over the people.

Personally, it has brought new life into the spirit of a tired and fried pastor. You see, resurrection isn’t just about the people in the pews. It’s also about the people who lead the people in the pews.

Last summer we were able to get a few kids to go to church camp, the first time that has happened in recent memory. This year there is a congregational effort to get each of the children who are age-eligible to camp. Resurrection can sometimes grow from a seed of hope into a tree of determination.

This morning I look forward to hearing a ninety year old man named Henry lead one of the prayers. In his speaking to the Lord he anoints my soul. I look forward to seeing the five or six kids we have enjoy an Easter egg hunt after church. I look forward to hearing of this week’s farm stories from two sisters who run the family farm. I’ll chat with a former county commissioner named John about how blessed he and his wife are and how thankful he is for the grace of God. Victor, a fifth grader who comes by himself, will show up in his Sunday suit. Three year old Eric will arrive with his Minion hat on and be cared for during the children’s story by the older kids as we sit together at the front of the sanctuary. We’ll endure the music from a music machine that is about as Mayberry as you can get! The church moderator- a man named Ray who talks kind of like Andy Griffith- will lead the worship.Two of the kids will take the offering up.

Resurrection gets experienced in the shared life of the saints, and this group of saints has come to understand the hope of an empty tomb in an entirely new way.

Worship Visitor

December 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 5, 2016


Deacon John raised his voice. “Lord, we know you love us, and now we ask that you would guide us in these coming days. Lord, if it be your will, please give us a sign of encouragement! We’re few in number, but massive in hope. We praise you and thank you! In Jesus name! Amen!”

The scattered few echoed his closing word as they sat back down in the pews ready to hear the Word of God for that day. Friendship Bible Church had existed on the street corner in the small rural village for close to a hundred and fifty years, but it had been dying a slow death for the last fifty. The town had decreased, as had the church’s effective ministry in the community. Young people had been raised in the church, grown up, gone off the college or to serve in the military, and never returned.

But there was hope in the midst of the gathered twenty!

The guest speaker introduced herself. She had served as a medical missionary at a hospital in India, and was back in the area for a few months telling her stories of mission work.

“There was a little boy who arrived at the hospital one afternoon…alone…bloodied…and frightened. My nurses asked him questions trying to find out his name, where he had come from, and what had happened to him? All he would tell them was that his name was Bontha and that he had been beaten by someone. He was bleeding profusely from a deep cut on his arm. We suspected that the “someone” was related to him and he did not want to say who it was. We treated him, stitched up the cut, cleaned him up, prayed with him, and asked him how we could contact his family. He kept telling us no, he did not want his family to know. One of the nurses left him for a few moments to go get him something to eat. When she came back he was gone. We searched and searched but could not find him, and Bontha never came back.”

“Years later I was doing my rounds through the pediatric ward one afternoon and a young man came up to me. He said, “Dr. Jan!” I looked at him, not recognizing who he was. “My name is Bontha!” Suddenly I could see the little boy appearing through the young man’s face. He showed me his arm. “You stitched up my arm when I came here bleeding.”

“My Lord! Bontha, I will always remember that day.” The questions started flowing out of me. “How are you? What happened to you that day? Where did you go? What are you doing now?”

He smiled at me and said that when he left the hospital he did not know what to do and where to go. His father had been in a drunken rage and had beaten him fiercely. When his father stumbled for a moment he escaped from the house and ran away, but as he was jumping over a fence he caught his arm on a piece of metal sticking out of the top of it and tore the skin open. He knew that our hospital was close and people had talked about “the Jesus Doctor” who worked there, so he ran as quick as he could, blood flowing from his body, and made it to the hospital. When he left our hospital he knew of a little church a couple miles away where a man named Pastor John was, and so he went there and told him what had happened. Pastor John went to Botha’s home and confronted Bontha’s father, brought him to a point of complete remorse and repentance, and told him that despite the abuse he had inflicted on his son that God  still loved him. Pastor John took Bontha in for the next month until he believed Botha’s father was ready to have him back. In that time he shared the story of the gospel with both Bontha and his father, and how the son of God was beaten even though he had done no wrong. Both father and son accepted Jesus.”

There were “Amens” wrong most of the people. They were caught up in the story.

“But the story doesn’t end there,” continued Doctor Jan. “For you see when Bontha reappeared that day he told me he was a student in medical school. He was in training to become a doctor. He told me that his experience that dark day when he was so young left a lasting impression upon him. Every time he looked at his arm and saw the scar from that day he remembered the loving care of my nurses and my words of concern for him. It changed his life, and Pastor John, the pastor of a church about the size of this one, took him in and told him of the love of God.”

“I wept as I heard his words! It was a story of misery turned to hope, a life rescued from abuse and changed to promise. Just a couple of years ago Dr. Bontha joined my staff at the hospital. He is now the primary doctor in the pediatric ward. When the Lord tells me that my work is done there he will take my place as the head of staff.”

“And it all began when a frightened little boy showed up one afternoon.” The missionary lady looked around the sanctuary. She saw tears running down the cheeks of some of the saints. There were moments of awed silence. “You never know what is going to happen when you ask the Lord to use you.”

The worship service closed with a time of heartfelt prayer of several people. They sang the hymn “I Love To Tell The Story” with loud committed voices in praise of their calling. Deacon John gave the closing prayer and people began conversing.

And then the front wooden door of the sanctuary creaked as it opened and a young boy that no one recognized wearing tattered clothing came through the door. It was at that moment that everyone knew that God had answered Deacon John’s prayer for a sign!

The Hope In Suffering

October 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        October 24, 2016


    People say that I’m more of an optimist! I can see the silver lining in just about any situation. If a flight I’m on gets delayed I think about the fact that the flight attendants will probably give us an extra mini-bag of pretzels during the flight. When my 7th Grade football team got beat 42-2 in a game this year I replayed in my mind several times the play where we scored the two point safety.

So it fits that I’m able to still stay the optimistic course when it comes to suffering. A week ago my friend, Greg Davis, passed away. I led his funeral service on Saturday. During the course of the week I had some heart-wrenching conversations with his family. It had been a six year journey with cancer. Even in the midst of the grief Greg’s wife was able to say that they had come to experience the hope of God.

During the service I read Romans 15:13, a verse that Greg had underlined in is Bible. It reads, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In the journey with the uninvited passenger of cancer the Davis family discovered that God is hope. Granted that discovery was paved with a multitude of tears, countless moments of confusion, and a list of questions all beginning with why, but they slowly arrived at the village of Hope.

Greg’s journey paved the way for other conversations I had last week with other people about being a follower of Jesus and the uncomfortableness of suffering. Some tainted theology emerged from people’s minds. Simply put it said what is the use of following Christ if he doesn’t protect you from things like cancer. If Jesus isn’t a lucky charm warding off evil, accidents, and illnesses why follow him? Great revealing questions that evolve out of a person’s real motives, that being “What will Jesus do for me?” People are always more comfortable with Jesus as a savior, but Jesus as Lord is not nearly as agreeable.

What Greg and his wife Jordan discovered is that God walks closely beside us. Following Jesus is not like having a rabbit’s foot in my pocket, but rather knowing that he is with me in the valleys, not waiting for me on the far side of the valley. It’s knowing in the depths of my soul the truth of that verse in Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

     Times of suffering are a part of life as much as times of delight. The hope comes in knowing that the love of God is constant and pure, a mighty shoulder to cry on and a hand to lead me on. The only person who enjoys pain and suffering is a masochist, but when the agony of life makes a stop on the front steps of where I live it gives me a peaceful assurance knowing that the Good Shepherd is standing beside me as I open that door. And that isn’t optimism, but rather heart-felt belief!

Church Life

August 3, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 3, 2016


“He touched me….oh, he touched me! And oh, the joy that floods my soul! Something happened, and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.”

The congregation closed the song with several heart-felt “amens” from the twelve gathered souls for Sunday worship. Most of them smiled in the warmth of the words, the truth of their meaning.

I told them the Mark 5 story of the woman who had a feminine hygiene problem for twelve years and had been “ritually unclean.” She came to where Jesus was and risked a touch of the edge of his garment. She just wanted to be clean. She was emotionally distraught, felt spiritually unworthy, and had been afflicted for so long that she had become almost invisible to people. The story was retold to ears that were listening and heads that were nodding in agreement.

“People may not be ostracized for the same reasons today, but you know, we have a way in the church of making people feel like outcasts and minimizing certain ones because of this, that, or the other. My guess is that most of us have been made to feel like we don’t matter at one time or another.”

“And the thing is…when we’re gathered as the Body of Christ, that’s where we should always feel loved, accepted, and valued.”

They were with me as we journeyed this story. Their church had been larger at one time, but things happened. People moved away because of jobs, kids grew up and went off to college and didn’t come back, and some of the saints had passed on to the next life. Those were all journeys that were a part of life, the things that just happened. It was the other losses that kept wounding the few faithful. Words that had been said in the heat of the moment, unforgiving spirits and non-repentant hearts, power plays and personality conflicts. All those things that people expected in other places, but cut more deeply when they were a part of the community of the King.

But sometimes a church needs to go deep in the valley to see the sacredness of the fellowship. Pain sometimes makes the good days more cherished.

“How might we touch one another today as the Body of Christ? Who in our community is like the woman who just longs for a touch of hope, a touch of healing? Who might we invite to join us in this sanctuary of brokenness as we seek to be a place of hope?”

The words were being felt in the midst of the congregation’s soul.

“How might the words to that song that we sang be experienced in our lives, and the lives of those around us?”


It wasn’t the end of a sermon, but rather the transition to reflection and action. Prayer concerns were shared. One person shared a deep concern that was weighing upon her. We stopped to pray, but before we prayed we gathered around her, laid hands upon her weary shoulders and touched her with care. Tears streamed from her eyes and ran down her cheeks on a path towards healing.

There was a wholeness that was coming back to her, and in that wholeness was also a sense of wholeness in the midst of “the gathered.”

Church life can often be the death of us, but sometimes a church near-death experience is their resuscitation to a new life and a deeper hope.

Looking Outward From A Tomb

March 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   March 26, 2016


Today is Saturday, the day before Easter. It is a day of waiting for many of us. Being a Christ-follower, I know what tomorrow means. It’s a day where I’m between death and life…Jesus is laying dead in the tomb, not back alive…not risen…the rock hasn’t moved an inch.

Sunday is different. I’ll put my sweat pants and t-shirt to the side and put my suit on that will make me look fashionably alive. I’ll speak to a group of believers gathered at First Baptist Church in Simla about the hope that the day tells us about.

As a pastor I’m living in the Sunday event even today as I prepare tomorrow’s words. It’s a unique perspective. In essence, I’m speaking from inside the tomb, but also looking outward from it. What words might Jesus have to say to the mourners of his death? What are the words that the church needs to hear?

Looking outward changes your view. It’s impossible to forget the primary purpose of the place you are standing in, but it also intensifies the excitement of the outward opening. Like the welcoming of a new breath of air for someone emerging from a deep dive into a lake, an opening in the tomb signals a path from death back to life.

So often I live for Jesus inside the grave. I turn my back from the hope and become the walking dead in Christ. I go through times of doubt, just like his disciples, and wallow in the self-pity of the demands of my faith. There is a tendency to close the story on Saturday and communicate the faith of a cranky, embittered Christian.

On the other hand, I see Christ-followers who detour past the tomb and live out a faith that seems to jump from the sweet, cuddly baby Jesus to the glorious glowing resurrected Jesus. Pain and suffering don’t make the cut in the abridged story of the messiah.

I’m becoming more convinced as I grow older that Jesus desires that I view life as a tomb person looking outward. That death is not the conqueror…that hope emerges out of hopelessness…that life follows death…these are the words to remember and the message to proclaim.

From inside the tomb I can speak about what is no longer true. I am able to tell my own story, that once I was the walking dead, but now I am spiritually alive. I understand who I was and, by the grace of God, who I now am.