Posted tagged ‘sermon’

Going Back To Familiar Places

August 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 26, 2018

                            

In recent weeks I’ve revisited places that had been part of my life from the near or distant past. Some of the spots brought back memories of when I ran around in child-sized jeans, white tee shirts, and Converses…like my old elementary school, Victory Heights, in Winchester, Kentucky, where I attended first and second grade…and Central Baptist Church in that same town where our family frequented three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. 

Other places I revisited brought tears. I drove past the farm where my Papaw and Mamaw Helton lived until about 25 years ago. It now like an ongoing rummage sale, cluttered and in disrepair. grimaced at the loss of what was.

I I traveled up the road to the cemetery where my dad now has been laid to rest beside my mom, and I weeped and smiled and weeped again, thinking of the good times and now the loss.

This past week I substitute taught in the classroom where my friend, Greg Davis, taught. If he was still teaching it would have been his 8th Grade social studies class I would have been instructing that day. Greg passed away not quite two years ago having fought the brain cancer courageously for 6 years. There were a multitude of Fridays when I would have lunch with him in that classroom, talking about the triumphs and the struggles. As I led four classes of eighth graders this past week I was acutely aware of previous conversations I had had in that classroom. 

This morning I return to the church I pastored for 16 years to give the morning message for the congregation’s 60 year anniversary service.  A quarter of my life has been spent in that building leading the congregation. I retired at the end of 2015. Even though I delivered almost 700 sermons in that sanctuary, today will seem strange. It will be the first time, besides the Sunday when I was candidating to be their pastor in June of 1999, that I will deliver a message NOT as their pastor. I’m now “a former!” 

I’ll look forward to seeing folks I haven’t seen in two and a half years. I’ll remember and smile, and maybe even cry.

There are places we’ve been that bring chuckles back to our soul, and places that cause us to remember the pain…and often the most meaningful places of our lives are the ones that have been a mixture of the two extremes.

At my old church I remember the incredible people, the special stories that got written and lives healed, and I also remember the difficult meetings and the individuals who had the spiritual gifts of agitation and annoyance. 

Of course, I can also remember the same chapter titles from my 15 years as pastor of the First Baptist Church back in Mason, Michigan…the saints and the sinners, the blessed and the beasts.

When you live most of your life from a place of grace, love, and hope you see the warts and the warmth. 

Today I’ll look to remember the changed lives and disregard the challenges to the Body’s life. And God will be glorified!

Preaching Again!

February 28, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        February 28, 2016

                                            

When you have been a pastor for over thirty-six years and then take that step to being a former pastor of thirty-six years…it feels strange…kind of like sleeping without my blanket. Let me emphasize THE blanket!

This morning I’m filling the pulpit at a little church in a small community about forty-five minutes from where we live. It will be the first time I’ve preached since January 17, and it will feel strange!

When you’ve preached for so long making that transition to “no longer preaching” is freeing in some ways, and bewildering in others. A few months ago I would deliver my Sunday morning message and then, after a Sunday afternoon nap, begin thinking of the message for the next Sunday. I planned Sunday worship themes well in advance, but putting the substance and flesh around the frame happened in the few days before. It became a routine, a routine that was challenging, but also helpful.

This morning I speak in a church that doesn’t use Power Point…so no slides to help make a point. That will be a change for me, kind of like going back to my seminary class on preaching.

I must admit that I have thoughts of insecurity running through my brain. It’s been six weeks! Do I still know how to deliver a sermon? Will this small gathering of farmers and good folk understand my humor? Will they be a tough crowd? Will they ask me to come back again?

And yet the thought of preaching in front of a new group of people is exciting! I’m anxious to hear some of their faith stories, to see how what I say this morning resonates with many of them.

I’m preaching on my favorite story from the Old Testament…David and Goliath. I asked the man from the church if there were any children? If so, I would do a children’s story. He told me “Well…there’s a couple! I’ll contact them to make sure they will be there.” A few days later he called me back to tell me that the family with the two kids would be there, and he added, “There may even be a third and fourth! They were pretty excited!”

So I’ll launch into the story of a shepherd boy with a sling, and talk about how God use what other people see as foolish to do something that can only be explained as being of God.

After the service I’m sure people will tell me how happy they were to have me come…I hope…and would I come back again?

I hope so! Two Sundays in a row would almost be a routine!

Crushing the Sermon

July 2, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   July 2, 2014

 

                                   

 

I’m a pastor.

I’m suppose to be humble.

Last week a young guy from my church who makes me laugh in a good way asked me the question, “Do you ever come home on Sunday afternoon after church and pump your fists as you shout ‘I crushed that sermon today?’ Do you ever say ‘I was awesome?’”

    Yes, that happens all the time! And then my wife says, “And honey! That second point was off the charts!”

And then I dance around our kitchen like an NFL wide receiver who has just scored a touchdown…taking a Sharpie out of my suit coat pocket and signing the bulletin with it!

And then my wife falls down in front of me in recognition of my pastoral celebrity status, and tells me how blessed she is to be married to such an awesome sermonizer!

I relive the message highlights the rest of that day, and several times during the day I remind the rest of the family that “I was money” that morning!

I call my dad and tell him how Jesus was giving me high-fives that afternoon in the nap dream I had.

I put my “Orange Crush” jersey on with the number “1” on the back with a finger pointing heavenward, and my “playing name above it “Rev. Crush!”

“I crushed it, God!”

Oh, going back to the question my young friend asked me at the beginning: Do I ever come home from church and exclaim “I crushed the sermon today?”

 

The answer is “no”…and thus none of the other things I wrote above occurred as well!

I just come home and start getting ready for the next Sunday. After all, I’m a pastor. I’m suppose to be humble.

And I’ll admit there’s been a few Sundays where I’m come home and said “I crashed the sermon today!”

What To Preach When No One Is Looking

August 27, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       August 27, 2013

I’ve been preaching through Leviticus the past three years…I mean, three months. Three more weeks and I’ll be transitioning to Jesus. That is, I’ll be focusing on themes that come out of the gospels.

Leviticus has been a challenge, and yet, it has been rewarding to see the threads connecting the Old Covenant with the New Covenant.

Preaching is a privilege, and yet it is also a challenge. To be able to speak the truth in an age when truth is defined by a multitude of sources in a multitude of ways is a privilege…and a challenge.

Knowing that some of the listeners want it said in the shortest amount of time possible, while others want a whole loaf of spiritual bread to fill their souls for the week…is a challenge!

A greater question…that I wrestle with is… what does my life preach when no one is looking, and no one is listening? What echoes from my heart to God?

A couple of weeks ago I was attending the Global Leadership Summit local simulcast of the event that was happening at Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois. After one of the breaks the next session started with a man playing an incredible instrument called an “earth harp.” The strings of the harp connected from the standing bridge on the stage to the balcony about 250 feet away. You could see the strings around the stage area because of the lighting, but then they just sort of disappeared into the air.

What song does my life preach when I have an audience of One, when the music of my soul rises up to the Unseen?

It is far easier to preach from a text than to live the text. Preachers can fool congregations. It happens every week.

But only the foolhardy think they can preach to the Lord in ways that are put-on and pontificating fluff.

It’s why I’ve always been impressed with the Book of Psalms. David was totally authentic in his writing and composing. His heart seeks revenge, justice, peace, comfort, cleansing, answers to torment. He shouts praises and thanksgiving. He cries out for rescue, deliverance, healing, restoration. David preached what he was living.

What does my life preach? My resume would have to include some things like bitterness, hate, envy, whining, apathy, and a few other of their close relatives. It also preaches joy, laughter, love, hope, and grace, but I wonder how much pepper mixes in with the salt?

Sometimes I’m afraid my life preaches nothing to the Magnificent One, and volumes to the congregation. My focus can easily drift to developing the written manuscript and bypass the Creator.

Perhaps this Sunday I’ll have my life preach volumes to, and focus on, the God of heavens and earth; and then on Sunday morning I’ll preach in silence to the congregation.

Sunday Thumb Twiddling

August 4, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   August 4, 2013

                             

     What does a pastor do on a Sunday morning when he isn’t speaking? That’s my morning today! I’m like one of those wind-up toys that you set down on the floor and it goes every which way, because it doesn’t know what else to do.

This morning I’ve walked around the building several times for no apparent reason, made coffee, straightened pews that were already straightened, wrote some birthday card greetings, looked at the bulletin, checked the lights, swept the sidewalk, pulled ten weeds, and stood looking at my bookcase.

Not speaking on a Sunday morning when I’m at the church I pastor is a strange feeling. Pastors have certain routines. Each week has a rhythm that develops in the midst of it. No two weeks are the same, and yet there are a number of likenesses, a number of things that you can count on.

And so I’ve been alternating between spasmossity (A word I made up!) and thumb twiddling. As I type this out I’m looking at things on my desk such as a bell from the Dominican Republic that I’m giving to Kim, a form for the state that needs to be filled out in regards to our tax exempt status, and a tube of Chapstick reminding me that my lips hurt really bad! (Movie line! Napoleon Dynamite!)

It isn’t that I think I’m the only one who can deliver the Word. Rich Blanchette, who is speaking this morning, will do a great job. It’s just who I am, and what I’ve been about for a few decades now.

Today, however, I sit, ponder, get hyper, and then repeat the process. Lord, help me to be a listener today!

Rhythm Preaching

June 24, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     June 23, 2013

Our first full day in Santo Domingo was full of new experiences and meeting new friends. We worshiped with The Church of the Liberator, which meets on the top floor of Grace School in the area known as Herrera. The top floor, depending on who you talk to, is the fourth or fifth floor of the building. It is actually the rooftop with a metal roof above it. That may not make sense..unless you’ve been there!

I had the privilege of giving the sermon. It happened to be the 34th anniversary of my ordination service…but it was the first time I had ever preached with a translator. Reuben, a twenty-one year old Dominican student, who was a high school exchange student for a year in Minnesota, stood by my side and we started. The text I read was from John 9:1-9 about the blind man who Jesus made spit mud for and placed on his eyes. He follows Jesus’ instruction to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash it off, and when he does he can see.

I began cautiously. One of our young people said, “Wow, Pastor Bill! Just like back at our church…they didn’t laugh at your jokes either!” She was kidding…I think.

I talked about being blind to what Jesus is doing, and Reuben followed closely behind. I gave a phrase, and Reuben repeated. We got to a point where it seemed almost natural, like inhaling and exhaling.

Whenever I mentioned that Jesus frees the enslaved, or gives sight to the blind, or takes the burdened and gives them release…and then Reuben translated…there was a chorus of “amens” from the Dominican congregation.

The Church of the Liberator is attended by people who have experienced liberation. It is not a white collar suburban congregation, or a contemporary emergent generational church with high-quality graphics and sound. It is not a high-church congregation that prints off a 12 page bulletin each Sunday. Rather, it is a congregation of people who understand in new and transformational ways the rhythm of God in their lives.

Reuben and I preached. We danced the story of release of the captives. Pastor Osvaldo prayed a prayer of blessing over me, and he closed the service with a closing prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings of God, the grace of God, the gospel of God that The Church of the Liberator is proclaiming.

And to that, both Reuben and I say “Amen!”

Drinking Coffee With A Bad Tongue

June 14, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 June 14, 2013

This morning has its challenges! I’m trying to drink my first cup of coffee. That’s not usually a challenge, but today each sip does not have that soothing effect.

I got drilled yesterday in the mouth! No, it wasn’t a bar fight, or…bringing back some bad memories…I didn’t take a softball in the jaw.

I went to the dentist, and before she drilled me she gave me about eighty shots to numb the back of my mouth and close to my tongue. Even though that was yesterday mid-afternoon, this morning my tongue is still feeling the effects. It feels like it laid out in the beach in the sun all afternoon, and now anything that touches it gets a reaction.

Let me take another sip! (pause)

Ouch! Still sensitive.

I feel like Napoleon Dynamite whining about Chapstick.

A friend called me after I got home from the dentist yesterday. I sounded like Sylvester the Cat trying to properly pronunciate. “T’s” are hard to pronoun when you have a bad “t’hongue!” Sufferin succotash!

Some might ask why I’m drinking coffee if it is painful? Because it is a part of my daily routine. It’s what I do! It is a little weird tilting my head to the right and trying to swallow with the caffeine avoiding the left side of my tongue, but I’m halfway through my mug and I’ve only screamed like a baby once.

My fear is that I’ll still be talking this way on Sunday. My message will have so many “thou, thine, and thy’s” in it that I may start talking that way out of habit. It’s “thertainty” a possibility.

What happens when it’s hard for a preacher to preach? What happens when it’s painful? You preach carefully.

This coming Sunday will be an experience of that, not because of my “thongue”, but because of the week we have had here. Hundreds of homes destroyed in the Black Forest fire…memories of the Waldo Canyon fire from one year ago almost to the day…lives altered. When it is hard for a preacher to preach you preach slowly and carefully. Sometimes the preacher doesn’t even need to speak and his words are heard.

The lesson that I’m experiencing this morning of a sensitive tongue may be a personal teaching moment. I long for a little comfort in my mouth. There will be people gathered in worship on Sunday who will long for a little comfort from my mouth. Words that are felt as they are preached become a cool drink of water on parched souls.

I need a “thrink.”