Posted tagged ‘Saints’

The Simla Saints

December 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 24, 2018

                                        

Yesterday I gave the morning sermon at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. It was good! Not the sermon, but rather the fellowship of the saints, the Simla Saints. 

The parking lot was not crowded. There is no parking lot!

There was not a greeter at the door. Everyone greets each other just like a family would.

No one had a Starbucks coffee cup in their hand. The nearest Starbucks is 45 minutes away, and the pot of (weak) coffee brews during the service for consumption afterwards.

There is not a screen or a projector..or an organist or pianist. But there is something like a music machine that plays background organ music that the congregation is rarely in rhythm with. The machine plays 3 verses of a hymn that the hymnal has four verses of…or vice-versa.

Simla First Baptist is one block off of the main road through town, but by the time a car leaves the main road it hits dirt. Dirt is cheaper than those highfalutin big city streets that are blacktopped! Simla is a town that does not desire a lot of attention!

Each pew of the sanctuary has a blanket at the end of it. If you’re cold, wrap up! The thermostat is not going to be adjusted when you’ve got a readily accessible blanket right there. One Sunday the batteries had gone dead sometime during the week in the sanctuary thermostat. No one had replacements, so the saints moved closer together, covered themselves with blankets, and we worshipped together in a 40 degree chill. Singing “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” had a visual addition to it that Sunday in front of each singer’s lips.

When I retired from pastoral ministry at the end of 2015 I got a call from the church moderator at Simla, asking if I was available to speak the first Sunday in February? I was so I did! At the end of that February service he came up to me and asked if I was available the next Sunday. I did three Sundays in a row before my friend, Steve Wamberg, spoke a couple of Sundays. Steve and I then started filling in every week, usually in two week rotations. 

Now, almost three years later, Ed Stucky and I handle the bulk of the Sundays, riding out together from “the big city” each Sunday morning.

Simla First Baptist was my second salvation. Jesus was the first! When I retired from ministry, however, I needed a second salvation. I needed for a church, so to speak, to save me from the church. 36 years of ministry had whipped me. I needed a rescue of sorts! Pastors can become disillusioned after a while, a long while. A pastor, who is the messenger of hope for people on a faith journey can come to a point where he/she feels hopeless.

The Simla Saints picked me up. Grace became more important than grandeur, simplicity the norm instead of splendor! 

And so yesterday Carol and I drove out to see the Saints once again. Almost all of them were there…all 16 of us!…ranging in age from nine months to 74. A dear widow lady who runs the family farm lit the advent candles. Two 7th Grade boys took up the offering. The nine month old had been carried down the block from the Methodist Church to her second service of the morning, after being the Christ-child in the Methodist children’s church program. Her brother, now four, had been Jesus the year before. His baby sister was a sorta’ “second coming”!

One mom brought homemade cookies. Two army veterans munched and talked about their service during the Vietnam years. Everyone had a purpose and a place. Everyone had their struggles to share and blessings to trumpet. 

When we got back in the CRV and headed back on the dirt street to the main road I had a sense that I had been used to minister to others…and had been ministered to by the Saints!

I had not only been to church, I had been a part of the church! 

Playing Through The Wrong Keys To Find A Note Of Harmony

December 18, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 December 18, 2017

                  

Yesterday I drove out to the hamlet of Simla, Colorado for the children’s Christmas program at the Methodist Church, followed by speaking at First Baptist of Simla. I had been invited to attend the children’s program and told the invitee that I would try to make it. It was delightful as only a small town small church can be.

For the offertory two young girls, both around ten years of age, played a piano duet. Both were dressed in beautiful shiny attire, beaming with excitement and a bit of nervousness. They positioned the sheet music in front of them and then carefully took their seats on the bench. They each took a calming breath, placed their fingers on the keys, and one of the girls whispered “One, two, three, play.”

The first notes were uncertain and wavering. Five notes in to the song they glanced quickly at one another, offering mutual encouragement for the adventure.

And then there were the uneven notes, one earlier and one later in its sound…another wrong note beginning to be played but as quickly as it started the playing finger slipping to the right note next to it. The small congregation of twenty of so “hoped” them on, longing for the next played sounds to be the right notes.  It was two girls risking failure but hoping for discovery.

And then in the midst of the effort and searches suddenly a few notes of perfect harmony sounded! One of the girls looked at the other with an expression of surprised delight, as if she was saying “Did we just do that?”

A few moments later they synchronized the playing of their last keys and breathed a sigh of relief. The gathered faithful clapped in appreciation of the experience. Even though their offering of talents was a bit short of perfect it was sweet music to the souls of the saints. The young ladies looked out at the church and displayed smiles of satisfaction and finished business.

It reminded me of the church, sometimes struggling to find the harmony as the struggles of ministry surface. Wrong decisions made with the right intentions, right choices made with the wrong intentions…like two young girls seeking to work together to play beautiful music and often missing the notes.

And then, all of a sudden, moments of harmony surface in a ministry that is mostly uncoordinated. The moments bring smiles to the faces of the weary, peace to the spirit of the Body. Just when it seemed that a bond with Christ would never be discovered again it suddenly appeared.

Ministry is more often like a pair of ten year olds playing a piano duet than the rhythm  of a symphony. If it was always such sweet music it may not be appreciated nearly as much. Paul made note of it when he wrote in Romans 12 these words: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those to mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with those of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:15-16)

There was no conceit sitting on the piano bench yesterday, just two young girls freed by the church to risk imperfect talents in the ministering to the saints. It was my closest connection with the Holy the whole day!

Bill Ball, Mr. Encouragement

August 1, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              August 1, 2017

                                

God graces our lives with various saintly people who may simply say a kind word, give us a nudge in the right direction, or travel with us for a while in our journey of life. Those of us fortunate enough have some of these saints watch us grow up and become like “angels with skin on” who ponder our maturing and pray that our life has continued purpose and depth.

I’ve been blessed numerous times by the cloud of witnesses who have followed my wanderings. One of them passed on to Glory yesterday. He was one of my dad’s best friends…kind of like the last men standing, as Dad is now 89 and his friend, Bill Ball, was in his early nineties!

To me, Mr. Bill Ball was Mr. Encouragement! Our families attended the same church, even sat on the same side of the aisle, although Bill and Sue Ball sat a few rows closer to the back door and my parents were a few rows closer to the choir. As I progressed through high school my parent’s leash got longer and I was allowed to sit with my friends in another pew, but just about every Sunday Bill Ball would head towards me after the morning worship service and ask me how I was doing?

He became interested in my high school running progress. I can still remember him giving me a couple of pieces of coaching advice. Specifically, he told me to work on lengthening my stride just a bit. It was when I was heading into my senior year, and his encouragement to work on that one aspect of my race helped me break the school mile record that had stood for over a decade. But it wasn’t just advice he gave me! It was “encouraging advice!” Bill Ball showed me the difference. Encouraging advice gives the listener the confident belief that what is being told to him can become the soon to be reality! I can remember several times, when after a Sunday morning conversation with Mr. Ball, I wanted to go out for a run that afternoon. There are people who make you feel like the world is against you so why even get out of bed, and then there are people like Bill Ball who make you believe no mountain is too high for you to climb!

“Mr. Optimistic” had bought himself a new car about six months before his passing at the age of 92! He lived a life of possibilities. Each day was a new opportunity, a new adventure. Each time I’d come from Colorado for a visit Dad and I would try to get together with Mr. Ball for lunch at Rax Roast Beef or Frisch’s Big Boy. For some reason I still remember that he ordered a Brawny Lad the last time we had lunch together. Each shared lunch was another occasion of laughter, sharing old stories, and…encouragement!

I’m feel very fortunate to be back in Ohio visiting Dad this week. It means I’ll be able to be the encourager to his three awesome daughters, perhaps being able to share with them just a hint of how their dad motivated me to run faster and encouraged me to be who I wasn’t sure I could be!

The Saints That Go Before Us

June 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             June 16, 2017

                                     

I’ve been blessed with many of them! Saints, that is! Saintly people who didn’t know they were saints, just men and women who were walking steadily with God, stepping humbly forward in daily obedience.

They didn’t know they were making an impact, impressing young lives, and marking out a trail for those of us behind them. They just lived a day at a time, but another pebble would be placed in the vase of wonder each of those days. Over time the pebbles crowded out the uncertainty and marked the life with weighted consistency.

Yesterday I took my dad, one of those saints, to see another saint who has impacted my life. Bill Ball, with a nine in front of his age, has been an encourager of me and many others for years and years. I remember his words of encouragement when I was a high schooler trying to break my school’s record in the mile run…and that was 45 years ago. My record has long since been broken, but Mr. Ball’s words of encouragement have stayed with me. Now in the final lap of his journey he would be awed by the number of people who have been impacted by him.

Saints are like that…hesitant to believe they are making a difference and convinced that they are no one that is anything special. When I asked my dad what he would like to do and where he would like to go while Carol and I are visiting from Colorado his response was quick. “Go visit Bill Ball!” The number of times his friend has visited him during my dad’s hospital stays have been numerous. Yesterday was my dad’s chance to visit Bill in the care center he has recently become a resident of.

We’re all familiar with the official saints. St. James, St. Paul’s, St. Mary’s, and St. John’s…the names mark the places we worship at and the school’s we attend. My dad has resided many times these past few years at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia. “Saints” is a term we relate to locations and a professional football team.

For me, however, saints have graced my life all along the journey. They appear in my memories and stories…Ken Bystrom, Russ Vincent, Rev. Gale Baldridge, Rev. Floyd Norton, Rev. Chuck Landon, Rev. Tom Bayes, Irene Voss, Marie Lyons, Glenn Fairchild, Ben Dickerson, Rex Davis, Virginia Welsby, Charles Slusser, and Pauline Jones. Names that don’t mean anything to most folk, but conjure up adventures and appearances in my life.

A tragedy is a life that never realizes or recognizes the appearance of the saints, never understands the gifts that they are. In a culture that is very much self-absorbed there are a lot of people who are blind to the saints around them.

The thing is…a life that is blind to seeing the saints that have graced it is a life that lacks guideposts and clarifiers. It is a life without teachers, a vessel without a rudder.

I’m increasingly thankful for the footprints of the many who have helped me stay on course, encouraged me to keep on going and redirected me when I wandered. As I said at the beginning, I’ve been blessed with many of the saints.

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!

 

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.

Explaining Jerk-hood

May 28, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                May 28, 2015

                                          

Jerk. A four letter word that I find myself saying more frequently these days. The way I use it almost never is connected to some kind of meat, like chicken or beef, but is, however, almost always related to a meathead!

Jerk-hood for many people is not a sickness. It’s a persistent condition, like bad breath or B.O. It travels around with them like a dust storm announcing Pig Pen’s presence.

The “Big Boy” truck that weaves in and out of traffic like he’s a Duke of Hazzard…the forty-something man who charges out of the grocery door without regard for the pregnant lady coming in with two pre-schoolers in tow…any of the Real Housewives of Anywhere, USA…jerk-hood is gaining new members more rapidly than gray hairs on my head!

It’s puzzling to me! Why do more and more people act like “Biff Tannen” from Back to the Future. Do they realize it? Oblivious?

It’s interesting that jerk-hood stands out like a sore thumb compared to sainthood! Saints don’t go around wearing their good deeds and compassionate hearts on their sleeves. Jerks stand out like a leisure suit at a GQ Fashion Show!

So what’s going on? Is this a phase, a momentary trend? For one we’re more and more self-focused. We’ve even given it a name…”selfies!” We’re very much about ourselves. We’ve bought into it, and now believe it. It’s blurred the lines of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. We’re not as sure these days.

Jerk-hood has even entered our churches. Most of the time we wrap it in Christ-like language, but it’s still there. Some weeks a person has to look real, real deep to find any fruit of the Spirit in the congregation. Part of Joel’s Osteen’s popularity has been the blurring of theology. It’s mixed up even more than a DQ Blizzard, spinning together some God talk with mostly self-talk. The message sounds appealing…and it makes me happy…which is what it’s all about! Jerks for Jesus…has a certain ring to it!

What Jesus said is a little disturbing to the jerk clan. He said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24) Those words might not sell well to the sixty-something woman who just displayed her middle finger for me to see as she turned in front of me.

Lives are based on the mountain of momentary decisions that display our true selves. What is right, what is Christ-like, what is encouraging and positively impactful…often get buried in the last chapter of a person’s unwritten life of destructive behavior and disturbing words.

Some might miss this point, but it really is the evidence of the evil one’s intense interest in each of our lives. If I can have a few “f bombs” thrown my way it can take me off my commitment to doing random acts of kindness. If the hamburger I order at Wendy’s looks like it was put together by my four year old granddaughter it will take me into those darker moments of bitterness and disgust that will cause me to treat someone or several people with disdain and no value.

It’s a hard thing, and a spreading fog of fallen humanity, and I recognize that my membership card for jerk-hood gets displayed quite often.

Thank God that he even loves jerks as much as the saints!