Posted tagged ‘repentance’

Praying From the Past To the Future

May 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 1, 2018

                        

“Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge!” (Matthew 6:13, The Message)

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One!” (Matthew 6:13, NIV)

When I pray I have a habit of praying about the “not yet” right away!

“Lord, give me strength to get through a day of teaching sixth grade language arts!”

“Lord, help me to deal with that person when I have to see him next week!”

My prayer life has been dominated by situations and events that are in my future path. I noticed, however, when Jesus taught his followers how to pray and gave them a modeling prayer to help them understand he talked about the past and the present before he got to the future.

He suggests that we pray about our present needs and our past failures. The present is about the simple and uncomplicated…”bread!”…the essential for now!

The past is about the moments that haunt us, the ill spoken words, and the inaction in those situations where a response was needed. As a Baptist I don’t enter a confessional booth and reveal my transgressions to a priest, and yet that may be a missing element of my faith journey. It becomes too easy to race blindly into the future! When we don’t deal with our past it clouds the clarity of the future.

There are wounds in our memories that haven’t received the treatment of grace and forgiveness. The peripheral vision of our faith walk is lacking because of the blurring of our past. I think Jesus is leading us to get a grip on our past in preparation for our future. Many of us “avoid” the past as if it never happened. My understanding of how God will lead me from here, however, is influenced by the trail of my steps behind me.

This is true for churches, also! If a congregation hasn’t dealt with its past- how it mistreated a staff member, how judgmental it was towards a family dealing with a relational failure, or demeaning it he’d been towards women- it will most assuredly mis-step into its future.

And so Jesus advises us to deal with our history as we pave the path in front of us.

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?”

“Amen.”

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.

Getting Hungry Again

May 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 20, 2016

                                      

Excuse me for being blunt, but stomach viruses suck! They are a nauseating form of “unloading.” I’ve been the “Baptist priest” a few times over the years for people going through 12-step programs, and the fifth step is a time of confession. It’s the unloading of all the “stuff” that they’ve done.

Stomach viruses are the unloading of all the stuff that has accumulated. Unfortunately for me I had a large dinner just a few hours before the virus raised its ugly head. It will be a while before I can look at stuffed baked potatoes again!

I won’t go into details about my kneeling positions for a day, but let’s just say the refrigerator was safe from me invading it for a whole day. I got a lot lighter in a short amount of time. It was not pretty! I was not pretty!

Yesterday afternoon I started getting hungry again. Last night was my first meal in two days: wood plank salmon cooked on the grill, with asparagus and white rice.

Today I’m reflecting on the experience…not the porcelain throne kneeling moments, but rather the similarities between unloading all the stuff in our life and coming back to a point of being spiritually hungry.

We have that tendency, that habit, of filling our lives with “the stuff” of the world…the craving for more money, the lust for more power and prestige, for things that aren’t beneficial, for moments of escape from reality that distort our view of that reality. And then we have, what I call a “Come To Jesus Moment”, where sometimes by our own choice, but, more often than not, because of someone else’s pressure, we come clean. It’s an excruciating experience that we feel ashamed about as we throw up all the deception and garbage that we’ve been hiding.

And yet it is a freeing experience as well! Confession is good for the soul, and yet we rarely come to it of our own volition. It’s like a colonoscopy that we dread like crazy, but after having it experience a peace of mind that everything is okay. (My wife has one next week, so I thought I would just thrown that example in there.)

And then…there is the point where we reach “hunger” again. The grace of God and forgiveness of God wrapped in the love of the saints brings us to that point in the journey where we seek to stay on the path…to go deeper…to experience a drawing close to the Holy. It’s a special time, unobstructed by what I’ve allowed to block the way. Words from the Word take on special meaning. Prayer becomes a time of listening and less of talking. Worship becomes more intimate, less noisy, and not defined by a church bulletin.

It’s a place we want to stay at, and yet we know we won’t. In the midst of the hunger we know that there will be some of those other urges that gradually creep in. Hopefully we will learn from what we have just been through and be wiser because of it. Hopefully the hunger for spiritual nourishment will guide our coming days, that the kneeling we will be doing will be more about surrendered worship and less about remorse.

And so we journey freer…for now…comforted by the fact that the grace of God goes with us, and his peace is upon us.

Stomach viruses still suck, but at least it made me think!

Stripping Away The Build Up

March 24, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               March 24, 2015

                                     

     The high school where I coach basketball had the wood floor in the gym stripped down and refinished last summer. About twelve years of wax was taken off in the process, and then it was refinished. The result was amazing! It was as if a totally new floor was awaiting us. The brightness and shine of the new floor was so intense that I thought we might even be able to practice without turning the overhead lights on.

I think about that as our congregation is heading towards a Renewal Weekend of special events and worship gatherings in a few days. As a person of faith I recognize that- forgive the expression- there can sometimes be a build up of wax that takes us to a place of spiritual dullness and apathy. The relationship loss it’s specialness, the sacredness of the divine and human walking together. We lose sight of our blessed state, the incredible love story of grace and redemption.

At that point there needs to be a stripping away of what ails us. The Spirit needs to be allowed to do a work that may involve pain and hard discovery. Repentance enters through the front and back doors of our soul. Confession tears away the denial. There is a cringing of what we know is difficult to hear.

But then after the stripping away of appearances there comes the process of restoring and being renewed. We become amazed at the cleanness that we assumed was always there. We are amazed by the fact that we hadn’t come to this point sooner. Why had we been so reluctant? Why the delay? What blessings did we already miss?

Different people come to the point of restoration and renewal in different ways. There isn’t a guidebook to follow…seven easy steps to getting your glow back! It is slower for some, quicker for others, but at the end of it there is a sense of clarity and assuredness. Perhaps it is the peace of the Spirit, the closeness of the Father, the journey with the Son.

And we walk with new hope and purpose, like a child whose heart has been broken but then healed whole again.

A Room With A View

June 3, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 3, 2014

 

                                       

 

I sometimes enter it early in the morning to be saturated by its quiet. I take a seat in the third pew on the right and settle in. In my world of changing agendas the sanctuary offers me one constant agenda.

To be still.

It is a hard thing to learn, to incorporate. The rest of my day is not based on my stillness, but rather on my movement. I move from meeting preparation to hospital bedsides to answering emails. Movement can sometimes take over our lives and push the stillness out.

Towards the end of the forty-sixth Psalm God whispers his desire to David. “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10a, NIV)

Perhaps people have a hard time finding God these days because we have “ants in the pants” of our lives. We have un-learned stillness.

I sit in my pew and take in the room. The cross hanging on the front wall…empty…steady…reminding me of the One who conquered death itself; the cross that blesses me with a hope deep within my soul of what my life is about.

The stained glass windows echo stories of people’s lives…the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before. As I take each one of them in I glimpse the glory of days gone by and lives that impacted future generations.

The pews are solid in their weighted wood. To move one is a recipe for back problems. Their weighted anchoring reminds me of a faith community that has a foundation that can not be shaken. Through tempests and turmoils our anchor has held.

And then my eyes settle on The Lord’s Table, the place where two days earlier each of the sinners had taken a piece of freshly-baked bread and a little cup of grape juice and been told that these two elements were to remind us of the price of our spiritual freedom. Some folks cried tears and others stared with stoic expressions on their faces, but each had been freed.

Sitting in my pew I recall the moments of blessing and forgiveness, repentance and testimony.

My room gives me a view for the rest of the day. It allows me to breathe in and breathe out…

…And be still!

Dirty Windshields

January 18, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      JANUARY 18, 2013

I was following an oversized SUV down the road the other day. A red light brought a halt to our drive for a few moments, and I noticed the back windshield was displaying the accumulated results of our recent period of cold, snow, and ice. It was caked over…like a double-layer kind of cake! In fact, it was so plastered with mud, slush, and ice that there was no way the driver could see anything behind him if he looked straight back.

Been there. Done that. I’m more conscientious of the outward appearance of my car than I am of the clothes I’m wearing. I don’t pretend to understand it. It must go back to my Kentucky roots with the old Ford truck my grandfather drove. Perhaps there was less dirt back in the 50’s, but it never seemed to be soiled at all. The only evidence of use was some bits of hay in the bed let over from taking a bale to the cattle.

But the back windshield of this SUV also had two words written into the grime.

“Clean me!”

When someone can see the words in the dirt you know the car wash is needed. Call it “automotive confession!” There needs to be a cleansing.

The amazing thing is that the build-up of debris usually takes a good amount of time, but a run through the car wash returns the shine in just a few moments.

Yesterday the first part of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey aired. He admitted to doping during his cycling career, which included seven consecutive Tour de France victories between 1999 and 2005. Back in those days we all cheered for Lance to win. He had come through testicular cancer. He had battled back. It was a story made for the movies, a “feel good” moment! We didn’t want to believe it when there were accusations about him. Most of us shook it off as poor European losers jealous of the American.

There was a film forming on the back windshield of the story, but we mistook it for cloudy conditions or the glare of the sun in our eyes.

I obviously don’t know Lance Armstrong, but I wonder about carrying the sin around for so many years. How did he cope? How was he able to continually deny any wrongdoing? Did it become easier to live the lie? Did layer get caked upon layer to where it just became easier not to notice?

My hope is that the confession, the cleansing, will allow him to begin a new life. I’m sure he will be the butt of many jokes, ridicule, and cruel remarks. Denial of wrongdoing for so long has that as a one of it’s repercussions, but perhaps he will no longer be afraid to look out of his back windshield.

We live in a culture that, if you will, is eager to see the dirt on someone in front of us while, at the same time, pretending to be blind to what it sticking to our backs.

The amazing thing about the Gospel is grace. Grace asks “can I help you clean up the mess?” Grace knows that none of us are dirt-resistant. Grace is not okay with sin, and yet knows that each one of us has to deal with sin.

I grieve for Lance Armstrong, but I grieve even more for those who can’t see their own back windshields.