Posted tagged ‘journey’

Helping Each Other Up The Hill

July 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                July 20, 2017

                               

At Quaker Ridge Camp there is a peak high above the camp called Soldier’s Peak. Each year the kids at camp make the climb to the top where they encounter an incredible view of the wooded forest areas around it, and the other mountain peaks in the distance. Down below they can see the grounds of the camp and pick out the building they sleep in at night, the dining hall, the swimming pool, and other spots of activity.

But getting to the top is a struggle for many of them. They aren’t used to the hike, the elevation, and the physical exertion. Some begin the adventure with eager anticipation, but then realize it requires more than a video game controller and gradually lose their desire to reach the summit. Others begin to display the characteristic that usually rises to the surface when they meet a challenge that requires effort. They whine!

And then there are the Daniel Boone’s who blaze the trail, enjoying these moments in life to the fullest, ready to head across the valley to that next peak over that they can see after they reach the top.

And then there are the encouragers who want the whiners and the weak to accomplish what they know they will accomplish. They want all of their camp friends to make it up the hill, no matter how long it takes.

I was listening to our elementary camp pastor, Rev. John Mark Brown (Yes, he’s got half of the gospels in his name!) talk to his camp kids about the journey…kind of a debriefing session! He had been talking to them about what it means to serve in Jesus’ name…what might that look like? It was encouraging to me to hear a number of these young campers talk about helping each other up the mountain. That sometimes it’s not how fast YOU get up the hill that’s most important, but rather what each person does to make sure everyone gets to the top!

There’s a valuable lesson in there for all of us, not just eight, nine, and ten year olds. The church, when it is being the church, is a community of believers helping each other up the hill! And you know something! There are a lot of whiners who journey with us, and there are a few who are weak and aren’t sure they can go much further, and there are the trailblazers who look to run ahead and get to a location that will take the majority of the flock a long time to get to, and there are the encouragers who understand the celebration of having everyone standing on the peak…no matter how long it takes to get there!

It seems to me that the church needs to catch some of that understanding of the journey. It is a snapshot of what being in community with one another is all about!

The Two Davis’s

August 12, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 12, 2016

                                      

I made two visits this week. Both of them were to men whose last name is Davis. One of them celebrated his 41st birthday on Wednesday. The other is 95! Neither of them has a lick of hair on top of their head- one because his dad paved the way for that hairstyle, which has been followed by all three sons, and the other because…he’s 95, and the top of his head looks like a telescope view of the moon’s surface!

One of the Davis’s is the Sultan of Sarcasm, the other is content to get settled in to telling the listener a story.

The younger Davis has taught middle school social studies for fifteen years…perhaps being the reason why sarcasm rises to the surface for him so often. The older Davis was a postman, familiar with the lives of those that he delivered important letters from loved ones to.

I was the pastor to both of them and their families. Since I retired from being a pastor a few months ago now I am a friend to both of them.

I refer to the older Davis as my “Colorado Dad.” He possesses many of the same great qualities as my father has. The younger Davis could be my son, but I prefer to see him as one of  my peers. We have shared many a lunch together in his school classroom, talking about this and that.

Both of them are dear to my heart.

Both of them have cancer.

The older Davis is in his final days. I sat by his bed yesterday, probably for the last time. He drifted in and out of sleep. I held his hand, he told me how much he loved me. My heart ached to see his frail figure. The two of us had golfed together a number of times over the years. I would drive long and to the right, and he would drive short but right down the middle of the fairway. He would be putting it in for a bogie, and I’d hope for a bogie putt. At the end of our nine holes he would be about a 46 and I would be a 48. BUT he was 90 and I was 57! We enjoyed each other’s company so much. Every time he greeted me we would embrace and he would whisper to me “Love ya!”

About five years ago I officiated the funeral service of his only son, who had died in a motorcycle accident. I grieved with my Colorado dad as the sorrow overwhelmed him. A parent should never have to bury one of their children. It was a confusing time for him, and I mostly listened to his questions about why things happen. It was also at that time that he started asking me more questions about heaven, what it would be like and whether he would be reunited with his son there?

I held his hand for one last prayer by his bedside, and then he dropped into a medicated slumber again.

The younger Davis was discovered to have a tumor in his brain six years ago. He had just done a state high school championship game in basketball and a month later had a seizure. When a second seizure happened shortly after that he was checked out at the hospital. The test revealed the tumor. Three months later surgery was performed to get as much of it as possible. Ninety-five percent was removed and the follow-up treatments took care of the rest.

But cancer is like the neighbor’s dog who keeps coming into your yard and pooping. You clean up one mess and the lawn looks pristine again for a while, and then you look out the window to see the canine leaving his mark again. Cancer is kind of like that. It is a time in a person’s life that is filled with crap! The crap of dealing with insurance companies…the crap of scheduling appointments…and the crap of never-ending anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

My friend’s cancer came back. We continue to pray for healing, but hope too often is getting shoved into the back seat. On Wednesday his family had a birthday celebration for him at the rehabilitation facility he is a patient at. Hopefully he will be able to return home next week with some skills that will enable him to better function in his home. The future is uncertain, and he knows it.

My visits with him are often punctuated with quiet moments as each of us deals with where we are in the journey. I brought him a totally inappropriate birthday card that I knew would bring a deep chuckle to him. One of the comforts of our friendship is that we can be a little off-color with one another and not be embarrassed. In fact, we expect a little political incorrectness in our conversations.

Our journey has gone into the deep valleys of new tumor growth, but also ascended some high mountains of clear MRI results.

Bottom line! I have been extremely blessed to be a part of the journeys of the two Davis’s! The depth of a friendship is discovered by the bruisings of life.

The BMW’s

June 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             June 26, 2016

                                               

We all need others. I recognize that there are those who approach life with a mindset that says no one can do anything as well as they can, but even those people, swimming in arrogance and perfectionism, need others.

There are those who join us in our journey who are pivotal in keeping us on the path. Being a pastor is a highly stressful calling, because pastors lead churches that almost always have some people that no one else would put up with. Pastors have people who would complain about Jesus’ beard if they were given a chance. Pastors also have people who are on the other end of the spectrum- people who are the salt of the earth, wonderful and encouraging.

In my years of ministry in Michigan I had two other pastors who came alongside me, and I alongside them. We called ourselves “The BMW Group!” Since we were pastoring churches in the Lansing, Michigan area where Oldsmobile was located, the BMW letters did not indicate the cars we drove. Instead it stood for Bayes, Moore, and Wolfe. Tom Bayes was pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Lansing; Chuck Moore was pastor of Charlotte First Baptist, just a few miles outside of the city; and I was pastor of Mason First Baptist, also located just a few miles outside of town.

Bayes, Moore, Wolfe…BMW!

For about seven years we would meet every other Wednesday for lunch at Finley’s restaurant on the south side of the city. We’d laugh, share, moan, talk about people who made our lives miserable, seek advice from one another, and chew on lunch. In those years we became best friends amongst all the pastors we knew. Almost twenty years later I still see Tom and Chuck as my best pastor buds!

And the interesting thing is that each of us was so different theologically. Tom was fairly liberal in his views, Chuck leaned to the right, and I was the moderate. That’s pretty much where each of us still is, but our friendship provides a solid base for dialogue. When you are committed to the journey, and you know that the other two are also committed to the journey, you can disagree on what are the important things to pack in the suitcase, and how to pack them.

Today Chuck pastors a church in the Dayton, Ohio area, I’m in Colorado Springs, and Tom is finishing up an intentional interim pastorate in Gastonia, North Carolina. We’re figuring out when and where the three of us can meet up for a couple of days of fellowship, laughter, and just being together.

Our closest friends are not always the ones who live closest to us. Our closest friends are the ones we can place a call to at a moment’s notice and know that they will be there to converse with, or just to listen.

We all need others. Even Jesus needed others. He had the twelve, and even in the midst of the twelve he had the three…his closest confidants!

I miss my buds. There are plenty of people on the bus headed to “Good Riddance!”, but there are just a few who bless us with their presence, with their conversations, and lift us up and keep us going.

I’ll climb in my Honda Accord in a few minutes to drive to the little church east of the city to speak, but I’ll be thinking about my BMW!

Who is a part of your BMW?

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!

Last Sunday…Kinda’

December 28, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  December 27, 2015

                                       

Today was kind of my last Sunday at Highland Park Baptist Church, the congregation I have pastored for the past sixteen and a half years. I say kinda’ my last Sunday because I return on January 17 to speak and then Carol and I will be the main targets at a reception that afternoon.

Today ended with the congregation gathered around us for a time of prayer. It was “reserved emotional!” I say reserved emotional because the dear saints know that there is another Sunday three weeks later that will probably include the opening of the floodgates.

I took notice of several today. Marla Booth was finishing elementary school when I arrived. Now she is married to an awesome man named Austin who I love deeply, and is the mother of two beautiful little girls. Marla has a heart for people and has become more and more passionate about children in underprivileged countries around the world.

Greg and Jordan Davis came to our church several years ago after a brain tumor had been discovered. Greg and I already knew each other from basketball officiating and Timberview Middle School. When he had a couple of seizures and then the tumor was discovered I showed up at the hospital just to check in with him and to ask permission to say a prayer. A few weeks later I entered the sanctuary on a Sunday morning to see their family present for worship. We’ve walked together ever since…through the anxiety of MRI’s…and unexpected seizures…and having to share the news with their daughter that the cancer had returned. Our journeys have been tear-filled and laughter-laced.

Rex and Ann Davis were present today. Rex is 95 and Ann 93. Their days of good health have recently gone by the wayside, but they come to church when they are able. Today Rex took up the offering with the sole purpose of squeezing my finger as I stood in the front row. He is a man of God whose journey has also had a trail of tragedy as part of it. About four years ago I had the funeral of their son, Ed, who was killed in a motorcycle accident trying to avoid a deer on a two-lane mountain road. I’ve considered Rex to be my “Colorado Dad!” Her models what a servant of Christ should be. Recently, he also has had some battles with cancer that have left him a shell of who he was…and I love him deeply!

Chris Oldham was there today! A few years ago she married my area minister after being a part of our church for years and years. She and Mike often are worshiping in other congregations around the state on Sunday, and she followed Mike to be more involved in First Baptist of Colorado Springs, but she has always been an encourager for me. She got me involved in the summer camping program, not to give me something else to do, but to give me some quite moments in the midst of a camp week. Sounds crazy, right? But it has actually been exactly that!

Courtney Gage Ramsey was there. I did the wedding ceremony for her and Steve a few years ago. Now they live a couple of hours away with their three year old son. Her parents, Jack and Ellen, mean so much to me, and I was delighted she came this morning.

And then there was my son, David, who surprised us and came this morning! That was awesome…and I’m getting a little teary-eyed as I sip my decaf and type this. David’s life does not mesh easily with church life. He works as a restaurant chef, and moves in different circles. One of the things I look forward to as I enter retirement is more time with Dave…like this Tuesday night when we go to the Air Force basketball game together. Today was the first time in…years that all three of my children were in a Sunday worship service together. The Christmas Eve when Lizi “Skype’d” in and watched on a front row laptop…doesn’t count.

It was a day of gladness and sadness! A day of moving forward while treasuring what has been.

Trusting in Siri

October 18, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      October 18, 2015

                                        

This past week I was traveling from Chicago to my dad’s place located in the southern tip of Ohio. It’s a trip that I did many times when I was in seminary…36 years ago! In 36 years, however, roads change, new configurations of asphalt are created that seek to baffle the wisest.

But I have my iPhone friend, Siri, to lead me and guide me! She shares mileage numbers, how many miles until I come to the next road I’m suppose to turn on to. I even asked her to tell me where the next Cracker Barrel restaurant is.

I put a lot of trust in Siri!

When I arrived on the outskirts of Cincinnati, which must have every road under construction, she navigated me through the maze of I-74 to 275 to 71 to somewhere else. She took me over the river and through the woods to the business district of Cold Spring, Kentucky. I began to doubt as I passed the First Baptist Church of Cold Spring; doubted even more as the speed limit decreased to 35 as the road wound itself past a Waffle House. She took me to Highway AA, which I’ve never heard of. Roads have always been numerically marked in my experience, and now I’m following two capital letters into the dark.

She gave me an arrival time in Proctorville, Ohio, and, by golly, she was right! I followed here directions through hill and dale, past surging coal trucks and lounging late-night drivers.

Siri could have led me into the Ohio River, not over it, if she wanted to. She could have not been current in her understanding and sent me to Virginia instead of briefly passing through West Virginia. She could have been quiet or garbled in her directions, or given an instruction and a few minutes later added a “My mistake!”

I trusted her, even though I’ve only heard her voice.

It occurs to me that my trust in the Lord often doesn’t run as deep as my trust in Siri. I pray for his guidance, I ask for his direction, and yet I’m prone to not follow it. I sing the song “Where He Leads I Will Follow”, but am content to take personal detours that lead me into periods of wilderness wanderings.

Scripture gives me story after story of people who followed the Lord, or heard his voice and didn’t heed his warnings. Scripture tells me of the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It tells me of the hope of the gospel, the perseverance of the saints, the journey of the people of God. I’m reminded again and again that God is faithful, that he will never fail me.

But I exhibit limited trust in the absolutes of the Almighty! If I could figure out why that is I could bottle it and make billions, or travel the country giving over-priced seminars to a multitude of others who have issues following the leadings of the Lord.

But I have a hard time figuring out myself. I’ve got a streak of idiocy within me mixed together with a hint of common sense.

And so…I am continually amazed by grace. Grace is essential for the faith traveler whose strength is getting lost! Grace excuses where there is no excuse.

Grace stays with me even when my trust has exited the highway.

The Hardest Part of Ministry

May 11, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     May 11, 2015

                                     

Two weeks ago three of us from our church- my wife Carol, a woman named Kathy, and myself- went to check on a lady who hadn’t been at worship that morning…which was out of character. After finding the hidden key that Kathy knew about, we discovered her body in the house. Even though it was a difficult thing to discover, we were glad that we were the ones to discover her passing instead of her daughters.

The next Sunday afternoon we had a gathering in our sanctuary to celebrate her life. Eulogies and letters were read that honored her. The service was a mixture of laughter and tears. Death is a peculiar subject for Christians. Our faith is rooted in a death experience- the death of Jesus on the cross, and then the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The words “death”, “dead”, and “dying” are used over eight hundred times in the Bible. Death is unavoidable for each one of us, but it’s also unavoidable as you read the story of God’s people and Jesus’ followers.

And yet the hardest part of ministry is dealing with death. It’s as certain as birth, but difficult to rub elbows with. As a pastor I talk quite often about life after death, the promise of eternal life…that comes after death! We firmly believe in that promise, and yet struggle with the death part.

People say I do an exceptional job officiating at funerals, and yet I dread them with a passion. I prepare people for Glory, and yet I struggle with the releasing of the loved one. Almost all of the funerals I conduct I know the departed one deeply. I remember where they would sit each week in worship, their uniqueness, and stories that stay with me. The lady who just passed on to Glory made her own birthday cards for people, and they were always special and unique. I asked for a show of hands at her funeral of all those who had ever received a card from her. the show of hands were more numerous than the dandelions on the church’s front lawn. Those are the moments that are special.

The pastor, however, must lead the people in the journey of grief afterwards. Last week the Senior Bible Study I lead had it’s first gathering since the funeral. The dear departed woman was a part of the group. We studied the Word that morning, as we always do, but we also found comfort in being together in the midst of loss. Even as we sat in our tabled circle that day we journeyed together in our grief.

The pastor leads, but the pastor also struggles…with emotions, emptiness, adjusting to the change. The promise of Glory is a soothing embrace in the numbness of loss.

Dealing with death is the hardest part of ministry, and yet we convey the message of hope that is linked to it. Goodbyes are painful, but the certainty of their arrivals are comforting. My ministry had been blessed by preaching about eternity, and yet my ministry is burdened by the heaviness of death.

What a odd combination!