Posted tagged ‘new life’

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.

Hurrying From the Tomb To Uncertainty

April 8, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 7, 2015


On Easter Sunday I preached on the first eight verses of Mark 16 about the three women who  encountered the young man dressed in white inside the empty tomb of Jesus. They fled the tomb afraid, and yet they had to be asking the question, “What now?”

They believed Jesus had lived and then been crucified. They expected the tomb to still be occupied by him, not by a guy in white telling them to not be afraid.

What now?

The rest of Mark 16, which was not a part of the earliest manuscripts, tries to bring some clarity to that question, but I think Mark 16:8 is a very relevant question for many people today who follow Jesus, or are trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Too often we try to explain away all the mystery of the Christian faith, as if that will draw more people to our crucified Lord. You can’t explain “death to life”. It just is, because he said that’s how it was to be.

I’m sure there were a number of people who left our church after the worship celebration on Sunday wondering…what now? If I believe that Christ conquered death, what now? What does that mean to me and for me?

What does that mean for the church? What happens after Easter Sunday?

The neglect news is…not much! Some might answer the Final Four championship game. Others start counting down the days until summer vacation, or…the really, really negative…April 15th income tax return deadline day.

But let me take the high road. What happens after Easter Sunday? People start talking about things being different, about hope in the midst of uncertainty, and about perhaps…just perhaps…life suddenly having a purpose that is not tied tightly to a paycheck or the Sports section of the newspaper.

The women ran away uncertain of what had just happened, but knowing that the heartaches of the darkest day of their lives, uncomfortably close in their memories, would be soothed and replaced by the mysterious hope of something different, something incredibly unexpected.

They had “what now” questions, but ones with growing optimism instead of bitter pessimism.

It disturbs me, and yet challenges me, that too many people are asking “what now” about the place of their faith and are greeted by pat answers from pastors and churches that lead them to surrender their hunger for the Mystery.

Perhaps pilgrims in the midst of the journey once in a while should consider answering “I don’t know, but let’s walk together and see if we can find out.”

Petty Peeves In The Audience of God

March 26, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 March 25, 2015


Yesterday was a pretty amazing day for this guy! Our third grandchild was born in the mid-afternoon. Carol and I were both able to hold her in our arms about an hour later. Our oldest daughter did well through the whole labor and delivery experience, and the other two grandkids spent the night with us. We’re blessed, we’re blessed, we’re blessed!

I’ve noticed, however, that people react different ways in different situations…especially when it comes to “church stuff.”

I speak as a pastor of 36 years, so I’ve seen a lot of things although I haven’t seen it all. A recent question that has made me ponder as my head lays on the pillow is what are those things that Christ-followers are concerned with that God couldn’t care any less about?

Put in a less eloquent way, what the things that we spend so much of our time backing about and bickering about that aren’t even on God’s radar?

The birth scene of our newest grandchild makes for a good, although let me stress…a fictitious example! What if the four grandparents present at that grand occasion starting bickering about who got to hold the baby more; or what if one of the grandmothers starting getting all upset because the new grandchild didn’t have on an outfit that she had bought for her? What if one of the grandfathers started complaining that the birthing room was on the east side of the hospital instead of the west; or the creamer for the free coffee was a generic brand?

Do you read what I’m getting at? The birth…this new life…is what is important, but the focus would have been shifted to some side show issue that would make good fodder for “The Real Housewives.”

The story of the Hebrew people being freed from Egyptian bondage has always intrigued me. God rescues his people. They are headed towards their promised land. What did God care about at that point? To save his people and fulfill his promise that they would reach the land across the Jordan. On the other hand, what were the issues that occupied the top of the people’s agenda? We need food…we’re tired of manna…we want meat…we’ve got too much meat…we need water…we long for the golden days of slavery.

The fact that God has saved them from bondage and from the Egyptians is no longer high on the list of discussion topics.

I wonder…have we really changed much since then? What are the issues that church people are willing to go to fisticuffs over that yawns about?

I’m biased, I know, but I think a couple of things that he is intimately concerned about include the word “Great” in their label…”The Great Commandment”…”The Great Commission.”

One involves how we treat one another and the other involves the words of hope that we carry in our hearts about salvation now and forever.

I think God is concerned about how we treat one another, or mistreat one another…or how we allow others to mistreat others. He’s concerned over our tendency sometimes to avoid being the hands and feet of Jesus.

I think he’s concerned about the loss of being storytellers of faith…telling others about our love stories with Christ, the difference he has made in how we live and love. I think he’s concerned with how infrequently we “go into”, and how much we stay put.

What is important to God seldom seems to involve a meeting where minutes are recorded, or a vote is taken that leads to winners and losers.

But now I run the risk of including my personal petty peeves and trampling over the purpose of the past few hundred words. We must always keep asking the question of our ministries and our lives. What is really important, and what keeps me from seeing what is important.

As I held my new granddaughter in my arms yesterday I wasn’t thinking about how high the price of the latte was that I had just purchased in the hospital espresso cafe’! All I was thinking about was how blessed I am! Holding a baby who is just entering into her second hour of life tends to make you react like that!

Recognizing The Change

December 18, 2013



I get pretty comfortable with how things work, and how things are suppose to be. For example, I have the same routine each morning after I wake up…unless I go to the YMCA and work out first. Any other day I get up and shower, brush my teeth and then shave. I never shave before the teeth are clean. Go figure! It’s just how it has been and is.

But I’m also a “stuck-in-the-mud” with how things work. I’m used to things being plugged in. Toaster, TV, room air conditioner, coffee maker.

And so it took me a long time to understand and adjust to the new term wireless. Wireless technology seemed to weird to me for a long, long time. I didn’t trust it. If plugged-in gadgets were good enough for my grandfather then they were good enought for me.

I, however, have made the change. I finally recognized that the change was a good thing, even if it was a new thing.

When Jesus came as a new born a “new thing” was beginning. The old thing was familiar, but the new happening required a shift.

On Christmas Eve we sing about the new thing that is about to happen- Jesus is about to be born. But here’s THE thing! God becoming man was meant to tell us about a change- a change that God wanted to see happen within each of our lives. He wanted to see peace on earth…and in each one of us. He wanted to see hope realized in my life and your life.

The story of the birth of Jesus is about a new creation…our new creation…from death to life…from despair to delight…from judgment to joy.

Sometimes things have to be surrendered to.

I pray that this Christmas changes you in God-glorifying ways!

The Cost of Newness

September 16, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                             September 16, 2013



       This summer we had new carpet installed at the house. Put it as a line item under “Wedding Expense”, because new carpet is vital to the success of a wedding! (That was an attempt at sarcasm.)

Actually, and this is the truth, we got new carpet because the cat died. Princess Maiboo (“Boo) went to meet her Maker in December. Our old carpet was stained with different “Boo offerings”, so I had promised Carol that we would get new carpet when Boo died. It also happened to be the original carpet from when the house was built a little over twenty years ago.

I’ve discovered one thing about new carpet versus the old. The new has more “rise” to it. That is, our old carpet had been beaten down over the course of time from foot travel and wear. The new…is new!

That became apparent to me the other night when I was in my study doing some work and I had the door closed. After a while I decided to take a break, so I went to open the door like usual and walk down the hallway. Except the clearance between the bottom of the door and the new carpet was like squeezing Shamu in through the front door of the house. Newness has caused resistance. I’m used to the old still, so I started to proceed through the doorway before there actually was a doorway to go through. I banged my knee on the door! It hurt! I proceeded to belittle the new carpet, as if it had a choice in the matter.

I enjoy the cushy feeling of the new carpet, but newness brings changes.

Newness costs us something even as we’re excited by it. I always try to approach “newness” in the church with tempered enthusiasm. Even though we talk in our churches about “new life”, “new birth”, “new hope”, when we replace something that has been with something that “hasn’t been yet”, there will be a period of uncomfortableness.

We see it in so many ways. Replace the Folgers with Starbucks and it will thrill some and disappoint others. Replace an existing ministry with a new one and there will be heartburn, as well as jubilation. Change pastors and some will go into deep mourning while others will be on the verge of singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Newness causes stubbed toes and bruised knees, while raising the spirits of many of the saints.

If given a choice the Israelites would always have voted to return to Egypt! What has been quite often becomes more attractive than what will be.

But sometimes newness needs to happen regardless of the heartburn and naysayers. It just does! Kind of like going to the orthodontist for braces…no one looks forward to the discomfort of braces, but can’t wait to have straight teeth.

One last thing! What is new now will someday be old. Simplistic, I know, but what I mean is that those who are excited about new directions today will someday resist the next new direction that would replace the current new one. Their current “new” will gradually become what they are comfortable with.

In essence, the church will always have battles between the old and the new. And to think, this whole blog post started because I banged my knee on the door as a result of new carpet.


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!

Willie the Baptismal Whale (part 1)

December 24, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          December 23, 2012

The water dripped out of the bottom of the baptistery. It was not a good sign! The renovation of the pool had been completed, but a testing of it a few weeks earlier had shown that it was leaking. The experienced, but aging pool man had come and reworked it. He was sure it was as sound as a steel horse trough!

Little Bethany and solidly-built Zach were ready to be the first two tip-and-dipped below the water’s surface.

Bethany, just a bit under reaching her tenth year of life and missing her front two teeth, was excited to proclaim that she knew Jesus. Her older brother, Josh, had been baptized in the frigid waters of the leaking baptistery, even though the depth was kept at just under a foot. Cold is cold, however, and when Josh’s father dipped him under all the congregation heard was a chilled whimper rising up from the walls above the water. Bethany was sure that her experience would be… warmer! Her shyness showed as she would lean against her mom as the pastor talked to her about what baptism meant; but, inwardly, her excitement could have enabled her to jump across a flowing river.

Zach was a football player turned husband and dad. He had gone through some dessert experiences, but had come to know Jesus in a personal way. It’s not that he understood everything, but he knew a few months ago that his life had come to a “fork in the road”. It was a decision point, and he chose to be a follower of the way of Jesus. His wife and kids were excited to see his life slowly but gradually change.

But on Saturday night the water was continuing to drip out of the tank. It seemed like God was giving this Baptist church an object lesson of some kind. Was there some unresolved sin that was keeping this Baptist church from performing baptisms? Or was it simply the error of a pool guy who hadn’t had much experience doing baptisteries? There was Ezekiel’s dry bones, the ram caught in the thicket for Abraham, Jeremiah buying a field as a sign. Could the dry baptistery be a sign of the absence of the Lord’s blessing on this church? People didn’t want to think about it in that way, but the thought tumbled around in many people’s minds.

The pastor sent out a plea on Saturday night to see if anyone had an inflatable pool that might be used.

When the conventional doesn’t work go with the unconventional. Just get it done! Don’t be deterred!

Within a few minutes of his email plea he had a call from one of attenders about a wading pool he had at his house. He would load it in the back of his truck and be right over. The pastor breathed a sign of relief. A short time later, however, his relieved spirit was trumped again as he discovered that his friend’s wading pool was made of sturdy, inflexible plastic and it was too wide for the baptistery.

Lord, why?”

Being December inflatable wading pools were not an item that stores stocked. The pastor had already thought of that route, and had received a few strange looks from hurried store employees trying to find Tonka Trucks and Barbie Doll accessories. One store employee when asked about wading pools looked around trying to find out where the hidden camera was filming the conversation.

The pastor’s email clicked with another message. Another family from the congregation had an inflatable pool that could be used. Baptism was going to happen!

An hour later Keith carried it into the sanctuary in a Sears shopping bag, not because it was brand new and recently purchased, but rather to keep it bundled together so it didn’t sprout into eighty different directions.

It should fit fine!” Keith said. “The only thing is this…it’s Willie the Whale!”

Willie the Whale?”

Yes, when it’s inflated it becomes Willie the Whale…complete with tail…or fin…of whatever a whale has at his back end!”

Baptism in a whale?”

Actually, it is almost like the belly of a whale since the pool part is the inside of Willie.”

A few minutes later after his cheeks had grown weary from blowing into the inflatable, the pastor gazed upon Willie the Baptismal Whale…complete with tail. He carried it to the baptistery and dropped it in.

Perfect! Thank you, Jesus! A modern version of the story of Jonah would happen Sunday morning!