Posted tagged ‘sermons’

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!

Sermon Sorting

September 7, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   September 7, 2016

                                        

I’m in the midst of chaos in my home study. As my mom used to say, “It looks like a tornado went through your room!” She often exaggerated when it suited the point she was making! If, however, she saw my study she would run for shelter.

The reason for the chaos is that I’m going through all my old sermons…all thirty-six and a half years of them! I’m sorting them according to the main scripture text in various piles that cover the floor. I’ve been going about it a few minutes at a time, because my knees can’t take that much floor time! Old knees kneeling over old sermons…quite a combination!

As I’ve gone about the sorting process I’ve started to discover certain things. Although I’m not done yet, Matthew seems to have been my favorite book of the Bible to preach from. Mark is not far behind! In fact, the gospels are getting a majority of the manuscripts. If it was my fantasy football league draft they would be my first four picks in building a solid point-producing line-up.

There are certain books that are missing in my sermons. Song of Solomon and Lamentations did not make the sermon cut. I was always a bit shy about preaching about gazelles and pomegranates in THAT kind of way. And although it is the Word of God, Lamentations didn’t really inspire much hope for me. It was understandably hard to “get up” for preaching doom-and-gloom!

I’m already seeing certain themes appear. In my earlier years of ministry my sermons tended to dish out the guilt more. My task seemed to be to make people realize how screwed up they were. In my later years of ministry the theme of grace filters through my messages more and more. I can’t analyze that too much yet. It could be that I was seeing how ridicule and accusation were becoming more dominant in our culture, or it could be that I was sensing more sorrow in people’s lives because of who they had become. It is always easier to condemn rather than help people reconcile. Whatever winds blew me in that direction, grace has been a guiding theme for me the last few years.

I was never really into “end times prophecy”. There’s a void in my preaching in regards to that. I was much more into present-day living and life application. My emphasis was not on what’s going to happen in the future, but rather what does this means for us now?

When I breathe my last breath I’m not sure whether my bulk of messages will survive “the clean-out.” They may end up in some dumpster, along with my old underwear and twenty year old bottles of cologne. Perhaps one of my kids will feel some kind of “dad obligation” and keep them in a few boxes in their basement…maybe!

They are what they are, simply written two thousand word manuscripts from a time gone by. The bigger question will be what sermons will my life have communicated that will stay with people. The most important sermons are not those written on typing paper. The most important messages are those that a person’s life writes with the kind of ink that never fades away.

Going back to Lamentations, I realize that all those three page sermon manuscripts I have are as nothing. They represent thousands of hours of preparation, revision, and pondering and yet they will one day be gone.

But what my life preaches will be remembered! It’s a humbling thought for a preacher, and yet it is one that keeps things in perspective for me. When it comes to a Sunday morning message I’ve assisted a multitude of people in getting a few moments of slumber, but when it comes to what my life preaches there is always an attentive audience.

My life will preach a sermon today. What will be the dominant theme that comes from it?

Renewing the Dead

March 23, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      March 23, 2015

                                      

There is a TV series that a lot of people are wild about entitled The Walking Dead. (Full Disclosure: I’ve never watched it) My understanding of the show is that people get turned into zombies or several dead-like humans. I’m sure there is a lot of tension, at least one bad dude who hasn’t turned into a zombie yet, love twists, and complicated situations.

Some weeks in ministry I feel like the walking dead. Spirit is on life support, prayers are a whisper, situations at church take my breath away, and when I wake up in the morning I can’t wait to go back to bed that night.

Our church is having a “Renewal Weekend” in a few days. It’s an event that came out of a Sunday school class! Some are amazed by that because the pastor didn’t initiate it or get the idea for it from attending a seminar. But…yes, several people in that class felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to bring it to me to see what I thought and I said “Go for it!”

It’s interesting that the closer the renewal weekend is the more predicaments I seem to be dealing with in church.

So here’s the bottom line! I’m so…so…so ready to be renewed! The team that has planned it has emphasized that this is an event that I will be able to “take in”, not lead or be involved in the preparation for. I’ve had about three meetings over lunch with some of the planners, but next weekend I will be soaking up, not dishing out.

Here’s a hard thing for people to hear! Sometimes pastors have nothing in the tank. They are in danger of being one of the walking dead, trying to find life and “a new word from the Lord.” People don’t like to hear that, but it’s the reality. Jesus went off by himself quite often. Sometimes we don’t know exactly why. We know that he would go off to pray, but not necessarily the reasons for the timing of it. Perhaps he was getting ticked off by his disciples and needed a break from them, or wanted to get away from the noise, or the endless cry for miracles to be performed and healing in people’s lives accomplished. All we know what he would suddenly cast out the daily itinerary as quickly as a demon and head to the high country.

This will be the first Sunday since mid-October that I will not have the responsibility of delivering a word from the Lord…almost six months.

That tells of another pastoral dilemma! Pastors have a high degree of thinking “It has to be me” in the pulpit on Sundays. Although they mean well, I have people tell me that when I’m not speaking on Sunday morning attendance falls. Pastors take on that burden of being present…all the time…24/7…morning, noon, and night.

We think it’s what we should do, but even tires need to be rotated once in a while!

Trust me! This is not meant to be a whine-and-cheese blog entry. I take responsibility for not taking care of my spiritual health. I love my congregation, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that they love me. It would in some ways be easier if I was despised. The love keeps you going, but sometimes love needs to say “Take a break!”

That break will be this weekend! Amen!

The Dread and The Draw

October 26, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                         October 26, 2012

 

To be a pastor is to blessed and cursed at the same time. Before you start a petition to have me thrown off a cliff…kind of like the crowd’s reaction to Jesus first sermon (Luke 4:14-30)…let me expound! I’m good at taking a few words from Scripture and talking about them for 30 minutes!

The blessing is to walk alongside people in their celebrations and struggles. It’s to know that you can be used by God to share a word of encouragement with them; or just sit quietly with them as they grieve and be present; or be the storyteller to a group of children; or lead people in worship and discovery. Extraordinary blessings!

It’s a curse in that your time is not your own. There is always the anxiety of a date night with my wife being detoured towards the hospital. Saturday nights are not spent relaxing in front of the TV, or reading a mystery novel. Sometimes people get upset with you because you were suppose to automatically know about their mother’s surgery even though nothing had been said.

Most weeks, however, the blessings tip the scales heavily away from the curses.

It points to another tension that is evident in most pastors on Sunday afternoon or evening. It’s the dread of another week beginning, but also the draw of a new beginning. Monday brings hope, but also tired realism. The sharing of “a word from the Lord” is a blessing, an opportunity; and yet, Monday is the face smack moment of knowing that there needs to be a new word for the next Sunday. A pastor feels blessed that people want “a word” from him. A pastor feels cursed in that people expect “a word” from him.

I know that I need to vacate for a few days when the dread on Monday creates a tsunami of despair on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Every pastor, no matter the gender, race, denomination, or size of congregation he/she serves, goes through periods where there is a vacancy sign in receiving words from the Lord. Our rest is interrupted by the scene of standing before the congregation on a Sunday and saying “There is no word from the Lord this week!”

Someone approaches a pastor after worship and says, “Great sermon, pastor!” Although the affirmation is appreciated, there is also the renegade thought running through the pastor’s mind about whether next week’s message can be as meaningful. Pastors have nightmares about sermons that are complete disconnects with the hearers.

As I said, however, Sunday night brings that tension point of dread and draw. The draw is that Monday is a new beginning. The Christian walk is about new beginnings, new life, new things, new hope. Monday is a reaffirmation that God is about something new. It’s about seeing his truth, and presence in another new way.

Monday is like the beginning of a new book. The danger is that books can become never-ending and overwhelming, like a seminary student who looks at the stack beside his study desk and realizes that there are twelve other new books that will need to be started in addition to the one he has just opened.

That’s the dread! An ongoing avalanche of newness that results in a desire for some oldness. Sometimes our soul sings “Tell me the old, old story!”

Pastors can identity whether they are in a period of dread or a period of draw. We’re pretty sharp in many ways, even as we’re clueless in others.

All of us have heard the wisecracks about pastors working only one day a week. The truth of the matter is that, even with a day off, we pastor seven days a week. It’s a constant calling that we can not separate ourselves from, almost like being a father or a son is an “always.”

Kids and Jesus

October 17, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    October 17, 2012

 

Most Sundays I have a children’s story as a part of our morning worship service. We try to find a nice balance between children being a part of the worship service and having time together as a “children’s church.” It might be my imagination, but it seems that the kid’s story has more attentive adults than the main message does.

I’ve tried not to analyze it too much. Perhaps it goes back to the days of Art Linkletter and “Kids Say the Darnedest Things.” You were never quite sure what was going to pop out of someone’s mouth. It’s the same with the Sunday children’s story. You never quite know! The congregation has been flashed a few times. I’ve had one cute little girl climb up in my lap as I’m trying to make a serious point about Jesus. I’ve had one preschooler steer my story about prayer in the direction of color of paint in her bedroom. I’ve learned the hard way that any questions have to be carefully worded, and if a hand goes up with an answer it might have something to do with the question, or about what Santa is bringing the kids for Christmas.

In other words, kids are unpredictable.,,which makes them “dialogue dangerous”, but delightful to the core.

I wonder when Jesus’ disciples tried to keep the children from coming to Jesus if they were concerned about the detours that children can take you on. Instead of Son of God rhetoric they like to talk about fruit roll-ups and the sick little boy in their class at school. Instead of repentance and confession they like to giggle and pick their noses.

In fact, the disciples were a little uptight about anyone under five feet tall. Luke 18:15 says “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.”

Are you serious? Not exactly a “User-Friendly Church! More like “Seeker-Over-Sensitive.”

I guess you could say that the disciples may have over-reacted. Although it doesn’t say it, I can envision Peter being Jesus “muscle” here, guarding the Savior from those dangerous parents of newborns.

Church today still runs the danger of being “a place for grown-ups.” Kids are sometimes seen as a distraction, to be tolerated as long as they are cute.

Jesus rained on the disciples’ power parade by saying that “…anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)

Perhaps some grown-ups need to commence sucking thumbs. Less scowls and more smiles; smaller words, and bigger dreams.

The kingdom of God more resembles a playground than an office building, a super twisty slide more than rushing through traffic.

Have you ever noticed how caring and giving kids are? Oh, there are the selfish moments, but there are other times where they model mercy and compassion. Have a baby bird fall out of it’s nest, and just see who takes the role of caregiver and savior. Adults are sometimes too tall to see the basic misery around them.

Ask a child to help someone who has suffered through an earthquake in a distant country and watch the lemonade stands pop up.

I don’t think Scripture says a bad thing about kids, except maybe in Proverbs, and there it is not explained what age the verse is referring to. (“A fool spurns his father’s discipline…” Proverbs 15:5a)

Maybe that’s why Jesus liked to hang out with youngsters. He knew he would not have to get into a battle about righteousness, fasting, or spiritual authority.

One last thought! Maybe the reason that the grown-ups are so attentive to the kid’s story is that there is a longing within them to be kids again!