Posted tagged ‘Simla’

Sermon Feedback…Unplanned!

August 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   August 14, 2019

                              

I spoke to the Simla Saints last Sunday. Simla, Colorado is a sleepy-eyed town of a few hundred folk about 45 minutes east of Colorado Springs. First Baptist Church of Simla is composed of about 20 good natured souls of various ages between 1 and 92 (although the married 92 year olds moved to be with their daughter in a different town too far away). 

They are a congregation that enjoys laughter, potlucks, and after-service cookies.

And most of the time I enjoy being with them. Last Sunday was enjoyable…and then they started asking questions about the sermon!

I spoke about Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus. Both sisters made the same statement to Jesus, but I suggested that their different personalities might have  caused their statements to have different meanings to Jesus. I talked about Martha’s attention to detail and getting the work done, and Mary’s interest in sitting and listening to Jesus.

They were with me! We traveled the sermon journey together, punctuated with laughter and an occasional nodding of the head (with eyes still open).

And then we went to talking about prayer concerns…kinda’!

After a couple of prayer concerns were mentioned one of the women said, “I’ve got a question.” She was looking at me. “It says that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters a couple of times. So why did he wait to go to Bethany?”

“Well, I think he…ahhh…well….ahhh…”

A “Martha” speaks up. “And Pastor Bill, if Martha didn’t do the work how was it going to get done? Fixing a dinner for a group was a lot of work. They didn’t have microwaves back in those days.” I nodded my head in agreement, hoping that she had put a period on the end of her point.

“Good point!”

From the right side of the sanctuary…”And Mary didn’t seem to be that concerned about how the food was going to get on the table. Seems a little irresponsible to me!”

I begin to come to Mary’s defense. “But Mary was focused on Jesus. It seems that she was often sitting at the feet of Jesus.”

Back at me! “And expecting her sister to do all the work!”

“Well…ahhh…I….ahhh….”

“And Lazarus is just sitting there, also. He’s not helping.”

“Well, he did just rise from the dead,” I suggest.

“…and isn’t doing anything! He’s had a four day nap, for crying out loud!”

“Well…ahhh…”

“I’ve got another question,” said the woman who had initiated this unplanned sermon feedback session. “Does Martha believe Jesus can change things, even though her brother has already died?”

“That’s a great question!” 

When a pastor is at a loss as to how to answer a question, affirming the greatness of an asked question is a good go-to.

Back to the “Martha”. “I think Martha gets a bad rap here and Mary seems to be exalted.”

“Great point!”

The unplanned sermon feedback session goes for another five minutes. It’s filled with me saying profound things like, “Well” and “Ahhh” and “Hmmm”.

And then, thankfully, we get back to the clarity of prayer concerns, where there is no debate. The congregation has enjoyed the unplanned. I have a hunch they enjoyed how they made me stammer and look clueless most of all. Maybe next time I’ll ask for the prayer concerns to be mentioned BEFORE the sermon.

“I Don’t Like Faith!”

July 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  July 16, 2019

            “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’…” (Matthew 17:20-21, NIV)

Last Sunday I was speaking at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado…or, as I refer to the folks of the small congregation, the Saints of Simla. As is my custom, I also do a children’s story that goes along with the sermon theme of the day.

I asked one of the older kids to define the word faith. He gave a great answer, saying that faith is “believing in someone to the point that you trust him with your life.”

Awesome answer.

I asked a five year old boy if he would help me illustrate what faith looks like. He stood beside me and I explained that I was going to ask him to close his eyes and fall backwards. I assured him that I would catch him as he was falling. All he had to do was have faith that I would be true to my promise.

Instead of closing his eyes he brought his hands up and covered his eyes with them. Once again, I assured him that I would catch him. He seemed to be a little unsure of this.

Maybe someone had told him about my experience in the seminary class called Ministerial Duties where we practiced and performed baptisms on our fellow students. (Yes, we did!) Bonnie Bell was my baptizing partner and when we practiced without the water she had been reluctant to trust that I could catch her as she leaned backwards. I said, “Bonnie, trust me.” And she did…and I dropped her like a lead balloon on to the floor. 

This boy, however, only weighs about 40 pounds, so I said to him, “Trust me.” I counted to three.

“One, two, three.”

On three instead of falling backwards he just sat down on the floor. No fall, no faith, a lack of belief that Pastor Bill could do what he said he would do. 

It was too scary for him, and when I asked him why he didn’t fall backwards he looked me in the eye with concern on his face and replied, “I don’t like faith.”

Classic!

I worked those words into my sermon that morning with the adults, because the words of the five year old echo in our hearts. There are enormous areas and situations in our lives where we don’t like faith. Faith is risky. It demands a plunge into the unseen that, once begun, can’t be halted…so we don’t like to even begin to lean. 

Churches are like that, also. They adopt a budget that gets referred to as their “financial faith vision”, and then a  number begin grousing about how unreasonable it is. 

I recently connected with an old college friend, who had also been one of the groomsmen in my wedding. Randy was diagnosed with a serious illness a number of years ago that weakens the heart muscle. He had to step out of his middle school teaching position because of it. He has doctor visits and checkups, but he credits the progress in his health to the power of prayer and the healing of Jesus. It’s his picture of “falling backwards and leaning into faith.”

“I don’t like faith.”

I said to the little boy, who looked at me with fear in his eyes, “It’s okay. Most of us have a hard time with it, too.”

Two Double A’s!

January 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                January 1, 2018

                                             

I arrived at Simla First Baptist Church yesterday as usual…about 10:00 for the 10:15 worship service. Simla First Baptist is one of those older small town church structures, white on the outside and dated on the inside. Pleasant looking enough, but it’s far from contemporary. People don’t go to Simla for contemporary and fashionable, let alone church in Simla.

I walked into the sanctuary and was immediately greeted by Laura, who was shivering in front of the communion table. The temperature in the worship space felt forty five-ish!

“Ray went to get new batteries!”

“New batteries?”

“Yes, the batteries in the thermostat died.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Wish I was! Two AA batteries, that’s all it is!”

The death of two Double A’s had rippled into a lack of life in the furnace on a Sunday morning when the temperature outside was hovering around twenty degrees. The sun shining through the east side sanctuary windows was not going to lesser the lack of heat. We proceeded to light every candle at the front of the sanctuary, but fifteen wax candles are not the same as a campfire to warm your hands beside.

The blankets were dispersed amongst the pews. We usually prayed for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be upon us. This morning we grabbed comforters and wrapped ourselves within them.

Two Double A’s!

There’s a lesson to learn in that. Here’s the cold hard facts! (Sorry! I couldn’t resist using a pun here.) It’s the small things that bring warmth to a church!

When perfection is more important than the person a coldness descends.

When grace and forgiveness get smothered by program and performance the temperature of the church plummets.

When ministries that care for the poor, displaced, and discouraged are seen as being of less significance than ministries for the well-to-do, established, and encouraged the warmth of community flickers away.

It’s the small things, often unseen, that cause a congregation to experience authentic fire and relational depth.

Two Double A’s!

Thank you, Lord, for the lessons you teach us in the little things of life!

The Wisdom of Ray Lutz

December 3, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 3, 2017

                                    

As I drive through Calhan, heading to Simla, this morning out of habit I’ll look to my right as I pass a certain street two blocks this side of the county fairgrounds. Down this street on the right Ray Lutz has lived. It’s a nondescript home that has seen its share of pie consumed by numerous visitors. The number address, in fact, should be 3.14!

Ray passed away on Friday, December 1. He had been a sports official for so long people were prone to call him Methuselah.

Ray would greet me with “Reverend” or “Reverend Wolfe”. Always a kind word or gentle jab. He told me he was Methodist. I told him I’d pray for him. The more I got to know him the more he didn’t resemble a Methodist. Method was secondary to common sense for Ray. The rulebook might say one thing, but sometimes basketball game situations required that common sense trump the rules of the game. Don’t get me wrong! He knew the rules, but if everybody on the interstate is driving 85 when the speed limit is 65 you sometimes have to inch that speedometer up a bit more to not get rear-ended. Common sense driving!

The first time I met Ray was at a class he taught for brand new basketball officials. Twenty or so of us were seated at desks in the classroom and listened to Mr. Lutz explain how a person officiates a basketball game. He was interesting to listen to then, and I wasn’t even sure what he was talking about. At the end of our six weeks of sessions we took a test to see if we would be able to actually blow whistles at basketball games that season. As I sat there mulling over possible answers he came by and told me that I should probably think about what I had answered for a certain question. It was his way of getting me past the cut-off. For sixteen years, until the end of last season, I proceeded to blow my whistle and wear the stripes. He was my officiating shepherd, and I was one of his striped lambs.

One year he encouraged me to run for one of the elected positions of our basketball officials organization. I did, and I lost! My first reaction was disbelief, not because I had been beaten, but rather because Ray had been the one to get me to do it in the first place. I thought it meant victory.

For several summers I went to a basketball camp for officials that Dave Hall conducted. Dave Hall has done NCAA championship and tournament games for a number of years. Ray was always one of the clinicians for Mr. Hall. It was where I was able to talk to him the most, sitting beside him by a court and taking in some of the wisdom that would naturally ooze from his personality. It was also at those courtside chats that he encouraged me with flattering remarks on how good I was doing, that he expected big things from me that coming season, and other remarks that made me think I was all that. Of course, I think Ray, the encourager, made those remarks to most officials at the camps he was a part of, but either way it caused me to want to be the best I could be.

A few years ago he was in the hospital for a serious medical condition, so I went and paid him a visit. I walked in the room and he looked at me.

“Reverend!” he greeted me, and we talked about life, basketball, health, and blessings.

Some of us are privileged enough to make a mark in the world in some way. The most effective people are those who influence others in their craft or passion. They are the folks who people can look behind and, like the waves behind a motorboat, see the number of people who are following faithfully in the wake of the same pursuit.

Ray Lutz will always be that. A wise mentor, a professor of common sense basketball officiating philosophy, and perhaps…even a Methodist!

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!

Contemporary Simla

August 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         August 17, 2017

                                

Bill Hale, my co-conspirator….err, partner in ministry, bought me lunch yesterday and then told me about his previous Sunday’s experience at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. Bill, another great guy named Ed Stucky, and I have been filling the pulpit at the Simla church for the past year and a half.

Now, a couple of things about Bill! He is a retired school teacher who happens to be nine days younger than me, loves country music, and has a keen wit. He and his wife Sylvia have directed our regional denomination’s camp week at Quaker Ridge (Even though we’re American Baptists!) Camp for the past several years. The past two summers I’ve come alongside them, kind of like Larry came alongside Moe and Curly! On the last night of camp this past July Bill dressed up as the Tooth Fairy. I have pictures!

Simla First Baptist is a small congregation of 25…maybe! That’s if everyone, plus their pets, come to church! They have done the best they can, not having the financial resources to pay a pastor or make many improvements. One of the things they haven’t had is an organist, pianist, or even guitar player. So they make do with what we simply call “a music machine.” The music machine plays the background organ music for whatever hymn the congregation is struggling to sing. More times than not it plays the wrong music, or plays the music too slow or softly. Every hymn we sing is a potential Saturday Night Live skit. When you don’t have what you’ve never had you don’t know any difference!

Rev. Hale (as of his ordination service this past May 7) is a bit bolder than me. (We have coffee at Starbucks, but he brings his McDonald’s Diet Coke cup! Radical!) Last Sunday he brought a projector, a laptop, and a screen to Simla. The last projector Simla First Baptist had was the type that you connect a reel of film to and thread it through to connect to the back reel. He set up the screen and the projector and his laptop and, using DVD’s, had the congregation sing praise songs with music and words. For the Sunday message he used a power point to illustrate his sermon, plus a video clip! It was like a tsunami washed over the congregation…and they loved it!

This Sunday I’ll be joining Bill and Sylvia in Simla. They’ve got me doing the children’s story! He’s bringing the projector and screen again and we’ll see if they can bear two Sundays in a row of “the new stuff.”

The Simla church is like many small town churches (SImla’s population has shrunk down to around 500). The possibility of closure is greater than the hope of continuing. They remember in days and decades gone by when the sanctuary was close to capacity. Those days have long since disappeared, and yet in recent months this small congregation has done some amazing things. They paid for and sent four kids to the Quaker Ridge camp week, and  gave a gift of almost $2,000 to help a young couple raise the needed financial support they needed to begin their new venture as missionaries in Chiapas, Mexico. the church also committed to supporting the young family of four with a monthly financial gift. Those have all been great things, but…the music machine needed to have a “come to Jesus moment!” In other words, go on to the sweet by and by!

Bill Hale said something at lunch yesterday that resonated with me. He said, “They deserve better!” Churches like Simla have often been content to settle for less. They’ve settled for less for so long they may not even realize they deserve better.

Don’t get me wrong! Bringing a projector, a laptop, and a screen are not going to transform this little church. I think they’re already in the midst of transformation, ever so slowly, but still they are changing.

I’ve told them several times that they have allowed me to fall in love with the church again…even though on most Sundays we wouldn’t need a whole pot of chili to feed the entire congregation. But you don’t need a huge number of people to love the church. You simply need a group of people who are committed to one another for the journey. The Saints of Simla, as I call them, are great people…who deserve more!

Now it’s getting them to believe it! All things are possible with God! He can even use a 63 year old man who likes to dress up as the Tooth Fairy!

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!