Posted tagged ‘serving’

When Christians, and Their Churches, Disagree

March 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 2, 2019

 

In my 36 years of shepherding flocks (“Pastor” comes from the Latin for Shepherd), I guided congregations through a few briar patches of heated discussions and thorny issues. Sometimes my style fit and sometimes it didn’t. When I was president of the Mason School Board back in Michigan, since again, my style fit and, although we had a few disagreements too work through, we always managed to come through the discussions with a high respect for one another.

As a pastor I remember differences that we had about renovating the sanctuary. Two different churches I pastored over the years had the wood paneling on the sanctuary walls…you know, the paneling that showed up in the basements of homes back in the 50’s and 60’s! Each was gradually brought along to seeing that a change would not offend Jesus…but it took time. We considered switching out pews for chairs in one of the congregations, but one person protested vehemently. Her concern was for one of the senior saints of the congregation, that he might fall over in his chair and hurt himself. We disagreed with her, but did not force the issue. The saint, who lived to the age of 91 was loved by all and anything that might harm him (though we doubted that a chair would increase the chances of injury) became a point that we longer wanted to debate. 

Churches are hot beds for conflict and disagreement. When people are passionate about an issue or situation…and there is passion on both sides…the depth, or lack thereof, in Christian community becomes evident. In that respect the church mirrors the world instead of becoming different from the world. 

Let’s be honest! Too often the church is simply a commercial for the world instead of a repository of the love and grace of God. What I said to a 7th grader student a couple of weeks ago, who was trying to minimize the amount of classwork she had been asked to do, I could also say to a  number of church folk. “So what you’re saying is this is you.” I made an imaginary dot in front of me, and then drew an imaginary large circle around it. “And this is the world, and the world revolves around you. Is that what you’re saying?”

Our churches are dotted every service with people who have that mindset!

True confession: I’ve been that “dot” a few times myself!

Words like “surrender”, “sacrifice”, “servant” echo through the Bible. “Sacrifice” appears 54 times in the New Testament and “servant” gets mentioned 157 times. They are words we say in our liturgies and write in the church covenant, but often get pushed to the side when things are going against our opinion. Sides then get chosen and sometimes all holy hell breaks loose! 

In recent times a few churches have resembled more hell than holiness. Prominent church pastors have gone to war with some of the leaders of their churches. When the pastor of a mega-church gets relieved of his duties it rarely ends well for anyone. When denominations have doctrinal disagreements or differences over contemporary issues, unfortunately, it rarely ends in a good way. The battles make for good news in our drama-addicted culture, but after the heated fog lifts there always seems to be a lot of wounded people laying around. 

Of course, even Jesus couldn’t bring his disciples to 100% agreement! But after he rose from the grave, and the Holy Spirit was poured out, his remaining eleven were able to unite to the point that they changed the world!

All things are possible!

Happy To Do It!

October 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 19, 2018

                                         

I’m mostly a happy person. I smile a lot, and frown mostly at middle school students who are being doofuses!

A few weeks ago my next door neighbor’s father passed away and they traveled from Colorado to California for the funeral. Their lawn needed to be mowed, so I did it! No biggie! When they returned from their trip they expressed their gratitude for taking care of their yard.

I replied. “Happy to do it!” (He edges my sidewalk and driveway a couple of times each summer!)

I didn’t feel like I HAD to do it. I didn’t cringe about spending an extra 30 minutes cutting his grass after I mowed my own yard. I was happy to be a good neighbor in their time of sorrow.

It made me think about Jesus and his acts of service for others. The gospels include a lot of them…healing the blind man, touching the leper, restoring the paralytic, feeding the five thousand, calming the waves, raising the dead, turning water into wine…I could keep going!

In all of Jesus’ miracles, all of his acts of service, I don’t sense that he felt obligated to do any of them. 

Okay! There is the exchange between him and his mom at the wedding in Cana where she seems to be saying to him, “Jesus, do something! They are running out of wine!” Jesus says that his time has not yet come, like “I do this and the cat’s out of the bag, Mom!”

I don’t think that Jesus walked around smiling all the time, but I believe he was happy to serve those in need, those who were afflicted, and those who were seen as being the unimportant and disposable. 

There’s a distinct difference between feeling obligated and feeling blessed to serve. It’s noticeable in most stores and businesses where face-to-face encounters with customers are at the core of the purpose. We notice when an employee goes above and beyond for us, and we also notice when someone who is on the time clock seems like he doesn’t really want to be there and we’re more of a nuisance than a customer in need. Recently Carol and I ate at a restaurant where the hostess/greeter escorted us to a table and then said, “Your server will be…” By the end of the meal it became apparent that the “server” hadn’t read his job description!

I’ve visited churches where the attitude of the members has been “I’m here for 60 minutes and then I’m out of here!” and I’ve visited churches where the attitude has been “Can I help you find where the coffee is, the nursery is located, or be of service in some other way?” 

Jesus was happy to serve, to restore broken lives, and care for those who needed a shepherd. 

Today perhaps I’ll be allowed to serve someone who is in a tough spot and I’ll be happy to do it!

Believing A Small Church Is Worth the Effort

October 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            October 15, 2017

 

Yesterday twenty five people descended on an aging church building in a town of five hundred people to be a help. Bill Hale, nine days my junior but years ahead of me in wisdom and craftsmanship, developed the idea along with our area denominational staff person, Mike Oldham.

The idea was to invite a few churches and individuals to come to Simla, a small town on Highway 24 that you would have no reason to go to if you weren’t heading someplace past it, and provide some labor for a few hours that would allow the church to get a few needed projects completed.

The First Baptist Church of Simla is a congregation of about twenty dear people. Bill Hale, Ed Stucky, and myself have been sharing pulpit responsibilities there for the last year and a half or so. They do not have a pastor, although they do have a parsonage right next door to the church.

The group of servers came from Pueblo, Greeley, Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Texas, and, of course, Simla! They ranged in age from four to seventy-four. One man, who owns a company in Colorado Springs, brought his “bucket truck” that allowed limbs and branches from the trees in front of the church that are about as old as sarcasm to be cut back. The carpet in the sanctuary was shampooed, the church sign was touched up with paint. There was painting done to the outside of the building after a power washing was done, and the wood frames of the stained glass windows got a needed fixing up. Sidewalks got edged, weeds got pulled, and the lawn got mowed and trimmed. Massive efforts that meant so much to the people of the church.

What I’ve learned from Simla is that small churches are worth the effort. For me Simla has become my home church. Most Sundays when I’m not speaking there I still travel the forty-five minutes east of Colorado Springs to worship with the “salt of Simla.” Small churches have a purpose. It may not revolve around budgets, staff, and packing the sanctuary, but they have a purpose. The Simla Saints have started doing community ministry efforts with the United Methodist Church a block down the street. They’ve even had discussions about how the three churches in town might have occasional worship services together, interchanging the pastors as the speakers. This past summer they made a good-sized contribution for the beginning expenses of a missionary family who had already been commissioned  by the American Baptist Churches to go to Chiapas, Mexico, but were trying to raise the last few thousand dollars that were needed as seed money. The Simla Saints gave the contribution and also started supporting the missionary family on a monthly basis.

They will never be a mega-church. They wouldn’t know how to handle that. The town of Simla has shrunk by two-thirds in the last twenty years. Mega-churches rarely happen in villages of diminishing size located between here and nowhere. Every week, however, fifteen to twenty people gather in the sanctuary of this church. They don’t whine about their size. Size does not effect the purpose or change the mission. Their purpose is to be Light in a community that struggles to keep on going.

Too many churches are trying to be great! Churches already have the greatest story to share. Sometimes it seems a congregation is trying to be greater than the story!

Simla is a love story of hope that tells of God’s love story. Call me simple, but when I retired from the ministry that’s what I was looking for…and it causes me to keep on keeping on!

Eight Guys Out

June 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           June 15, 2017

                               

At 5:00 A.M. on June 1 eight men climbed into two vehicles and headed north! We weren’t going to a Rockies’ baseball game or the rodeo in Cheyenne, but rather to a camp in British Columbia just shy of 2,000 miles away. Two and a half days after departing Colorado Springs, with stops in Missoula, Montana and Jasper, Alberta, we arrived at Rock Nest Ranch for four and a half days of hard work to complete two needed projects: a deck at the front of the camp’s lodge and working on the shower and restrooms in the basement of the lodge.

Why would eight men- most of us now considered “old”- take 11 days out of our schedules to be part of such an experience?

Well…to give a simple answer to begin with, we went because we’re friends! I’ve known all of the men for a number of years. One guy, Ron, has coached basketball with me for 15 years. Another guy, Dave, has been one of my best friends for years, even though he now lives in San Antonio. One of my son-in-laws was another team member, as well as being the needed team plumber. Our senior citizen, Tom (age 69), had wanted to go up to the camp to help out…and to fish. Doug and Carl were both a part of the last church I pastored, and Jeff had been a part of the mission work team I was a part of that had gone to the Dominican Republic a few years ago…as well as being an experienced deck builder. Me…I was the trip coordinator, nightly devotional presenter, communicator, and, according to Tom, the “Hod Carrier!”

Eight men on a mission!

As the miles clicked off the stories developed…most of them of the chuckling kind. In Missoula, a great couple named Rex and Etta Miller met us at the church we stayed at with two freshly baked pies and a Cracker Barrel gift card! Outside of Jasper, Alberta we pulled over for a few minutes to watch a grizzly bear roaming a few yards off the highway. I got ribbed about my Starbucks attachment! Fishing stories started being created before anyone actually fished.

Rock Nest Ranch is a camp that has become a safe haven for children and youth of the First Nations tribes in that area. The percentage of girls that are sexually abused by the time they are 16 is extremely high. The number of First Nations young people who commit suicide is elevated, and the amount of alcohol and drug abuse is jaw-dropping. The camp, in many ways, has become a safe haven as it lives out the gospel. It is a place of hope in an area where many young people feel hopeless.

Therefore, as the week at Rock Nest went on the reason eight men were part of the experience shifted from the friendships we had to the ministry and mission of the camp. We went from enjoying being together to being a part of a cause…while we enjoyed being together.

When we returned to Colorado Springs we were tired. Four of us were “the tired retired!” But it was also a kind of satisfied exhaustion…eleven days well spent…eleven days of memories in the midst of the nail pounding and sawing.

Eleven days that we will always remember, and eleven days during which we made a difference!

The Need To Be Served

June 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        June 24, 2016

                                  

As I was driving along yesterday and listening to the radio an interesting statistic was shared by the radio host. He said that a recent study revealed that the typical American family now spends more money in restaurants than it does at the grocery store. In other words, we eat out a lot and spend more of our food budget on a bacon cheeseburger at Applebee’s than packages of ground beef and buns at Safeway.

It also indicates that we are accustomed to being served by others. My driving destination was the car wash to have the layers of Midwest bugs cleaned off my car. It occurred to me that I was served by the man who welcomed me and took the order of what I wanted done; I was then served by the hospitable lady at the register who took my payment and chatted me up for a moment, and then I was served by the man who did the finishing wipe down. In the simple task of getting my car washed three people had directly served me.

After that I went to Sam’s Club to buy some items that I didn’t really need. I almost always use the “self-checkout” lane at Sam’s Club, but even in that lane an employee came up to me and asked if I had found everything I was looking for.

Earlier that morning I had been at Starbucks. No surprise to those who know me! The employees there served and engaged me in conversation. Once in a while I get an email from Starbucks asking me how my recent visit was. There is a short survey that pointedly focuses its questions on how the service was in my visit.

In other words, my morning was punctuated with various people in different locations whose mission was to serve me.

Yes, they were being compensated for their service, but the point is that “being served” is now a major part of the fabric of our lives. When we receive poor service we usually react in negative ways. During our recent cross-country road trip from Colorado to Ohio and back, Carol and I were on the receiving end of great service and really, really…I mean, really bad service. We stopped at several McDonald’s along the way. Most of them had adequate or good service, but one of them stood out with the lack of service. I don’t usually do customer reviews, except when Starbucks offers me a reward for feedback, but I felt compelled to evaluate the experience at this McDonald’s. It was an on-line evaluation, and at the end of it there was a question asking if it was okay if a McDonald’s management person called me on the phone. Surprisingly, a few days later a lady named Nancy called me and asked me about the poor service I had received. She was extremely apologetic and promised me that she would be addressing the issue.

When bad service is given people are concerned. Bad service is an indication that the customer isn’t that important, and customers expect to be served.

I think there’s a lesson for the church in all of that. Our roots are firmly planted in servanthood. Jesus is known as “the servant king.” The early church was about serving. The first restructuring of the first church was because certain people weren’t being served (Acts 6). Deacons came about because of the need for people to be served. The Christians in Rome around AD 250 took charge of people who were infected with smallpox. Families would turn their backs on the sick, but the Christ-followers cared for them in their last days, even to the point of laying down their own lives. Serving was part of their DNA.

We live in a time when many people come to church to be served, which is okay…but they’ve missed part of the message. As followers of Christ we serve and are served. The church is not a gathering of consumers. We’ve been consumed by the love of Christ. That realization changes us!

Carol and I are fixing dinner tonight for two of our children and one son-in-law. It would be easier to go out to a restaurant and be waited upon, but that “food budget stat” has stuck in my gut. I’ll grill, Carol will make a squash casserole and another side dish, and, I guess, we will serve!

I think it will be a good evening!

Enjoying Senior Moments

November 30, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   November 30, 2015

                                          

I’m having more senior moments…like when I was looking for my keys and two minutes later I discovered I was holding them in my left hand…senior moments like that.

But I also enjoy senior moments. Or, put another way, moments shared with seniors. My congregation has some incredible senior folk who are a part of it. They are the most caring, unconditional love-based, surprising group that I’ve had the privilege to pastor. They genuinely support one another, offer to help with rides, call on the phone to someone who doesn’t show up at their group gatherings.

Four of them are now in their nineties, and, although the effects of age are slowing them down, they are people of incredible faith and depth. Yesterday, a cold and snowy Sunday, none of them were able to be at worship and there was something missing. Worship isn’t a choice for them. It’s a commitment, and when they can’t come it is almost always because they are sick, are afraid of falling on ice or the snow, in the hospital, or out of town.

Another of the senior couples delight me with their humor and giving spirit. I am always blessed to be in the same room with them. The wife’s laugh is contagious and joy-filled. the husband’s stories are filled with wit that result in chuckles.

A retired military man and his wife grace me with their friendship. Even though we are not necessarily on the same page politically they are two people who give to others in sacrificial ways. The wife has a heart of gold that causes her to become emotional as she talks about the ordeals that others are going through. The husband serves every Sunday in some way, whether it be transporting one of the seniors or ushering and greeting people.

There’s an African-American lady who is like my “Black Mom!” in fact, I call her “Mom” from time to time. She gives me “instruction”, just like my mom did, prays for me, gives me “the look” just like my mom did. Wisdom and exhortation from her guide me in my journey.

There’s a lady who was a baker. She kneaded the doe for bread and cinnamon rolls. Her love went into each of her baked goods. Now she “kneads” the pains and heartaches of others each day in her prayers. Like working the doe, she works the words of her prayer for the sorrows of others. Her foundations are prayer and scripture.

There’s another lady who is the group guardian. She sometimes senses the indecision of the group and says “Here’s what we’re going to do!” She senses when someone doesn’t want to impose on anyone else, and tells the the person that things will be taken care of. She’s the Joshua in a group of Jack and Jills.

Another lady, who is on the younger end of the seniors, has a gentle spirit, an attitude of grace, and the heart of a servant. A widow, she has encountered her share of sorrow, and knows the journey that many of our senior folk are on.

There’s another woman who moved here a few years ago from another state. She volunteers whenever there is a need…at the local school, for Wednesday night dinners, giving out food to those in need, making quilts and clothing. The last few months have been hard for her as her health has taken some hits. She does not have a high opinion of doctors, but has a very high opinion and love for the woman just mentioned before her.

A widower who has started coming to our group recently is my razor…and also someone I razz. We feel very comfortable giving soft jabs to one another. I had his wife’s funeral a few years ago. She was killed by a drunk driver. Pain and sorrow have punctuated his world, and this group of seniors keeps him anchored and cared for.

Another woman who is fairly new to the group makes the best cookies I’ve ever eaten. In her mid-eighties she has a smile that would like up a cereal box and a warmth that is accepting of others.

Another couple are like Aquila and Priscilla, serving in ways that do not make headlines, but needed. The man has become the best friend of another guy who has endured a life of disappointment and heartache. These two are people who are gifts from God, people who “come alongside” someone in need.

And then there is a transplanted Buckeye who is in the midst of jubilation this week for his college team’s victory over Michigan. He imparts his wisdom to me, and encouragement for decisions made and sermons preached. His emails are always in capital letters. In fact, if they were capitalized I would instantly know someone had pretended to be him.

So many blessings! So much enjoyment that has come into my life from folk who have traveled the journey of life.

As I enter my last month as their pastor I know…i know…I know that I have been greatly blessed!

Opening A Door

January 23, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  January 23, 2015

                                                  

I watched a video online this week that my wife had forwarded to me that brought me to the edge of tears. It told a story about a young man who had lost his dad, and then he and his mom used from a small town to a city. His mom thought a change in setting would ease some of her son’s pain as he dealt with his father’s death. His new high school was substantially larger than the one in his small town.

It’s hard being the new kid in a setting where people have their friends already, their peer groups, and their places of standing. That is, high schoolers know the pecking order…who to give space to, who to chum up with, and, hard as it is to say, who doesn’t matter that much.

This young man, Josh, started to be picked on and bullied. He had pictures in his locker of his father that got torn down. Sometimes insecure students will do unbelievably cruel things to others…just because!

In the midst of new surroundings and a journey of grief Josh started opening doors for people. He would arrive at school early and hold the door open for other students coming in. In between classes he would hold the hallway door open as students rushed from class to class. After a while some of the students started noticing. He started being referred to as “the door guy.” More and more students started saying “thank you” or they would give Josh a high five! More students became familiar with his story and were taken back by his wounded heart that was still looking at doing simple acts of kindness.

Such a simple thing! Opening a door!

Josh began speaking to groups of elementary and middle school students about bullying and overcoming. He developed his new gift of public speaking…and continued to open doors!

I so often hear people say they have nothing to offer, that they don’t know what their gifts are and how they can serve. There’s a tendency to make it a grandiose thing that is out of their reach. They wallow in their defeat and sense of worthlessness.

Josh’s story hit me, because almost all of us can open a door for someone. Seeking to help is a personal decision, not a talent. Every person can be a benefit to others. Telling a cashier that you hope he has a good day, shoveling your neighbor’s sidewalk, donating a book to the library, mentoring a fatherless child, praying with a parent in a hospital waiting room, or…simply opening a door!

Opening doors doesn’t require training, or to be certified. It’s simply a choice that we avoid or welcome.