Posted tagged ‘spiritual journey’

Spiritually-Addicted Christians

December 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                         December 14, 2018

                  

“It’s spiritually dead here!” explains the middle-aged woman to me.

“How so?”

“Nothing ever happens here!” she says, using her hands to exaggerate the point.

“Nothing of God ever happens here. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes, Pastor! It’s dead!”

“I’d beg to differ with you.”

“You’re the pastor. I would expect you to disagree!”

“Like last Saturday morning when the men’s bible study group prayed for a problem that Bobby was dealing with, and then we gathered around him and hugged him, and gave him encouragement! Or last week when I was out changing the letters on the church sign, and I got into a conversation with an 84 year old lady who lives a block away from our church. A few of us are going to walk up to her house and trim her bushes and fix her screen door next Saturday! Or last Sunday when Patty brought out something from the scripture story we were studying that caused a light bulb to go on in the minds of a few of us. I’m not sure what criteria you’re using to determine whether God’s involved or not, but those were all signs to me.”

She looked at me and bit her lip.

“Say it!” I urged her.

“Those things just aren’t very exciting, pastor! I’m looking for miracles and people who love the Lord, and I’m just not seeing much of that here.”

“So…have you been to see Widow Samuels? Because, even though she is in a care center now, whenever I go to visit her I experience a spiritual blessing and marvel at her love for the Lord.”

“I don’t really like those kind of places.”

“And last week I was sitting beside Joe Skinner’s bed and talking about the end of his life, his looking forward to experiencing the glory of the Lord in heaven, and how God has walked with him through a multitude of life valleys.”

“Those aren’t the things I’m talking about, Pastor. I’m talking about spiritual highs!”

“So you’re an addict?”

“Excuse me!”

“You’re a spiritual addict, whose addiction can only be satisfied by an experience that is high energy and high emotion.”

“I knew you’d blame me!”

“I’m not blaming you for anything. I’m just stating what the situation is. You don’t seem to see God working in our midst unless something awesome happens. What is awesome, however, has to be defined by your standards. Am I right?”

“No, you aren’t right!”

“Then we will just agree to disagree. The spiritual life I’m seeing is different than what you’re looking for. I mean no disrespect in saying this but there are some people who go to an amusement park and define its impact by how many roller coasters it has and how thrilling they are. When I go to an amusement park I evaluate it on being able to ride the merry-go-round with my grandkids. Different perspectives, neither which is wrong.”

“I’m not addicted, though!”

“And I’m not spiritually bored! So, I guess we’re both where we need to be!”

She smirks, starts to say something, but then turns and walks away. She has moved on to the next church down the road. 

Five years after the conversation she has moved on three other times. Sometimes, it seems, we minimize the power of God by not allowing him to be involved in our rhythms of life. There is a hunger- an addiction, if you will- to wanting to see smoke on the mountaintop while missing the nearness of His presence.

Missing God

September 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 30, 2017

                                             

Carol and I were driving home from a wedding recently and she said to me, “I think that’s the first wedding I’ve been to where God was never mentioned.”

“You’re right! No prayers, no blessings, nothing with any spiritual meaning to it!”

Of course, why invite the presence of God if he isn’t a part of your life? Seems a bit contradictory to do that! At least this couple was being authentic in their ceremony. How many other marriage ceremonies have been spiritual in appearance, but the One who created love goes missing afterwards?

I don’t want to create a whole divine conspiracy on the basis of God not being invited to one marriage ceremony I attend, but I think we’d be idiots to think that the importance of the Almighty has not taken a dip! In many lives he’s segregated from the daily routines and opportunities. He’s like Uncle Fred who never gets invited to family gatherings any more because no one feels comfortable around him.

Instead of God being at the center of our lives many of us now look for how he might fit into our lives. He’s like that weird puzzle piece that needs to go somewhere, but I’ll put it to the side until most of the rest of my puzzled life gets put together.

The secular wedding ceremony was like a wake up call for me. In what areas of my life do I relegate God to the luggage rack, attached to the top of the vehicle of my life but strapped to a place where I can’t hear him?

In what ways am I “faking it” with my Jesus journey?

In what ways is the church faking it? In what ways is the church hindering the relevance of the spiritual faith of its people?

Those are all tough questions which are being asked by less and less people the more God goes missing.

Years ago one of the young ladies on my basketball team responded to a directive I gave to the team before the season started. I had told them that if any of them had boyfriends that they were to put them on the back burner for the next three months. This delightful young lady (who is now in law school) looked at me and said, “Coach, boyfriends are like a pocketbook. They’re just an accessory!” We still laugh at that storyline years later!

But, you know something! God has become an accessory for many of us, and has been easily shoved to the back burner!

When You Feel Spiritually Indifferent

September 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  September 24, 2017

                                

But I’m a pastor!

That’s usually my reaction to having an honest admittance of being at a point of spiritual stagnation. Pastors are suppose to have the glow of Moses, the wisdom of Solomon, and the spiritual chanting of the monastic desert fathers. Instead of profanity every other word we’re suppose to punctuate our language with spiritual language like “Yes, Glory!” and “Praise his name!”

So what should I do when I’m in a place of indifference? Deny it? Hope it’s like a bunion that’s on my foot that no one will see and will just go away…someday…maybe…I hope so?

I’m indifferent about a lot of things…stewed tomatoes…professional basketball, even though I’m a basketball coach and still lace the sneakers up at age 63!…Walmart…Nebraska…generic cereal…there’s a lot of places, events, and items that I am totally indifferent about. Translated: I could care less! But my relationship with the Majestic is different. I care, I love, I serve, and yet there are those times when I just want to be left alone and be spiritually irresponsible!

I’m about to slap myself into some sense!

Most of David’s songs and laments to the Lord in the book of Psalms deal with his plea for God to not turn his back on him.

“How long, Lord? Will you forgive me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

“My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.” (Psalm 27:8-9)

It’s sobering to realize that God might be saying words with similar ideas towards me. How long will I disregard his presence? How long will I ignore his importance?

As I ponder the wandering a number of solutions come to mind. Reading scripture more, or memorizing the Word; a spiritual retreat; sitting down with Oswald Chambers; getting into a weekly bible study; finding a mentor or spiritual counselor…there’s a whole book of possibilities, but getting past the apathy is the highest hurdle to jump over. The other possibilities will help me in the staying on course.

I know I’m not the only one who deals with this, and yet I think I am the only one. I’m not alone and yet I feel like I’m all alone. People who have never been passionate about God don’t understand what I’m saying, and those who have been passionate and then lukewarm like a glass of day old Coke left on the kitchen counter have a sense of where I am.

I’m heading to church in a few minutes to listen and to hear, to investigate and ponder. Indifference is not like dry erase markings on a white board. It can’t be suddenly erased in a moment, but must be gradually smoothed away to uncover the spring of spiritual water.

Dog Lovers And People Who Walk By

September 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 7, 2017

                      

At Starbucks this morning a woman walked her dog up to the restaurant, leashed him to a chair right outside the entrance, and went in to get a cup of coffee. The canine lay down and waited. I watched with interest as a number of people entered and exited the business. Several of them noticed the dog and, with smiles on their faces, bent down to give him a few strokes and pats…a few moments of dog lover’s affection!

Others walked in and out and either didn’t notice or didn’t care. They had places to go, mobile orders to pick up on the counter, kids to get to school…life to live in other places!

Dog lovers are passionate about their “best friends”. You’ve got to be passionate if you’re going to walk him with a plastic bag in one hand and the leash in the other, while allowing him to lift his leg at every tree or bush he comes upon. If you’re willing to pick up your pet’s poop you are passionate!                      

My neighbor up the street has three Yorkshire Terriers. Three! He is often out in front of his house with his “three ladies plus his wife”. They have a bond, and I’m sure that when one of them passes on Ralph will experience deep grief. If the loss of someone grieves you…you are passionate about that person…or pet!

So what about being passionate about following Jesus? There are many of us who are, and many others who, like the dog at Starbucks, just walk by and don’t notice. Jesus followers smile at their Savior and get caught up in the journey that makes a difference in their life and life pursuits. Those who don’t know Jesus walk by with minimal interest. Many of them see the passion of Jesus followers as being comparable to dog lovers who have to pick up their pet’s poop. In other words, if you’re not in love with Jesus why would you want to mess with it?

Let’s be honest! Many of us have enough drama in our lives as it is. Why would someone want to add the drama of church to it? Some of the deepest wounds come in the midst of people who are deeply involved in churches.

And yet…with passion comes drama! If Fido doesn’t get his walk, or he rips up a pillow in the living room when unattended, or it seems that there’s something wrong with him health wise then the drama gets elevated in the house. Amongst people who are passionate about Jesus drama and intensity go up when things like injustice, the death of one of the saints, or a crisis of disagreement surfaces.

Passion holds hands with drama.

A dog gives a dog lover someone to walk with. Jesus gives me someone to follow. Now, if I could just convince my wife to let me have a dog that I could walk as I follow Jesus!

Year End Review

December 29, 2016

                                                                                   December 29, 2016

                                           

Most of us have gone through that white knuckle, anxiety-raising experience called “our evaluation.” For some it’s termed “job performance” and for others it’s the “year end review.” Whatever it was called most of us dreaded it with a passion, even though it usually ended up being a positive experience. I still remember the first evaluation I received when I was the very, very part-time youth director at First Baptist Church in Marseilles, Illinois. The pastor gave it to me and I thought it was totally unfair. My seminary professor who read the evaluation commented to me, “Sounds like he doesn’t care for you too much!” Perhaps that experience put the dread of evaluations in me. Funny thing is that the young people in that first youth group taught me a lot, and allowed me to figure out things. Forty years later I’m Facebook friends with a couple of them as we continue our journey, but from different parts of the country.

I’ve received evaluations that have helped me focus on areas of weakness and allowed me to become more grounded; and I’ve received evaluations that left me feeling defeated and deflated.

BUT now I’m retired! So who does my evaluation? There’s a few people who I’m sure would willingly volunteer, but…NO!

I guess it’s…ME! I guess I’m the one my evaluation falls to. Oh, I suppose Carol will continue to evaluate me in some ways, but that’s on a daily basis! Looking back at my first year of retirement after 36 and 1/2 years of full-time pastoral ministry means that I get to be my own judge. I have the honor of determining the good, the bad, and the ugly.

So here goes!

Needs Improvement- 

Time in The Word- Interesting that I thought I would have more time reading the Bible this past year, but it didn’t happen! I gleaned many things from it, but not nearly as many as I thought I would. No excuses or soppy-sounding reasons! It was just one of those things that didn’t happen enough. Hoping the coming year brings improvement here.

Time in Theological Reading- Pretty much like I just said above. My hope as I entered 2016 was to read some of those books of theology that have been in my personal library for…ever! Moltmann, Barth, Kung, Pannenberg…they’re all still there…staring at me with dusty covers!

Visits to the YMCA- Our monthly membership fee keeps going up and my number of visits keep going down. Playing basketball with “old farts” at 6 A.M. isn’t as likely to get me out of bed as much as it used to!

Average-

Since I’m evaluating myself I have the option of not putting anything as average. Seriously, the only thing I can think of as being average are the sack lunches I take to school when I substitute teach- peanut butter and honey on wheat bread, with a baggie of carrots and grapes, and a bottle of water…every day! TYPICAL would be a better word to describe most of my life. I go to bed about the same time each night, read at bedtime, sit on the same Starbucks stool, drink the same blend of coffee, play the same people over and over again in “Words With Friends”, type with the same three fingers (Notice I said “3!” One on my right hand and two on my left!), and watch the same TV shows week after week (mostly DVR’ed)…Elementary, Criminal Minds, and Modern Family.

Doing Well- 

Writing and Creativity- Today is the 167th posting on my “Words from WW” blog this year. Viewership this year increased by almost 30%. Feedback has been good, and I never seem to have a shortage of subject matter. I’m thinking about a book sometime entitled From My Stool At Starbucks. That’s where I write almost all of my blog posts…the end stool, mind you, at the right end of the counter that looks out at Pike’s Peak. Yesterday I came by Starbucks and my stool was taken, and like an old geezer set in his ways…I went back home! On the other side of things, I’m about 35,000 words into a novel, but I almost always do my novel writing at the public library! Weird, but productive! Carol thinks I have a girlfriend who works at the library.

Pastoring- I’ve transitioned, along with my friend Steve Wamberg, into being the unofficial pastors of First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. I say “unofficial”, but they even call be Pastor Bill now. I even received a mailing from our denomination’s region office last week inviting me to a conference in February that deals with pastoring the small church. Understand that all I’ve done so far is preach 2-3 Sundays a month, and lead the church in a couple of planning sessions as Steve and I help them figure out the future. I will probably never officially be pastor, but they see the two of us that way. And, quite frankly, I thoroughly enjoy the people there. They are great people who love the Lord and each other. It has allowed me to fall in love with the church again!

Coaching and Substitute teaching- I am extremely blessed to coach three different middle school teams…and to get paid to do it, and to mostly substitute teach middle school students. I love it, love it, love it! An added plus is all the writing material I receive from entering this world of adolescents. It’s like watching a new episode of The Wonder Years every day!

Spiritual Growth- This is a hard one for me to self-evaluate. Two of my best friends, Roger Mollenkamp and Steve Wamberg, continue to be my peer supports. We meet every other Friday at Starbucks for coffee, conversation, and each one of us has begun reading the book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. I seem to be more grounded, and on a daily discovery of what God has me in the midst of. My writing is often a prime way for me to ponder and pound out on the keyboard what it is that God is saying to me. I also continue to be in a group of pastors called our “TIM group”…Together In Ministry…that meets monthly for study, sharing, lunch, and prayer. Great group! These two groups that I am a part of continue to challenge me and support me in my spiritual journey.

Frame of Mind and Attitude- Carol gets to evaluate me on this one. She has said, and told others, that I am much more relaxed and less stressed. My annoyances are now more with achy joints and cranky knees. Carol would tell anyone who wanted to hear that this past year has been a good year for me. Four vacations together: road trips to Arizona and Ohio, another trip by plane to Arizona, and an awesome trip to Hawaii. Frequent trips together to places like Target and King Soopers- something we didn’t do as much when we were both still working. In other words, we are mostly enjoying our journey into the world of the elderly!

Year End Evaluation- Keep on doing what I’ve been doing…just better! Value family and friends, for they are the ones who add richness and depth to the journey. Seek the Lord and be amazed at what is found! And have fun!

Beginning The Most Important Story

January 3, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 2, 2016

                                      

It’s interesting to me how each of the gospels begins the story of Jesus. Matthew goes right to the genealogy of Jesus, and from there goes to the birth narrative. Luke starts his gospel with a paragraph of why he is writing this account down in the first place. John goes to the “beginning of the beginning” and refers to Jesus as the “Word.” Mark launches into his story with the identifier, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet…” (Mark 1:1)

From each gospel’s beginning the story goes in different directions. Matthew and Luke give us parts of the nativity story, plus Luke draws in the incredible birth story of John. John focuses on the divinity of Christ, and Mark presents the unique character of John the Baptist, and shows how he is the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy.

It is amazing to me to see the variety in the stories. They create like a cross-weaving pattern to help us see the story of Jesus more clearly. It’s like four witnesses viewing an event from four different angles. What is seen clearly by one is punctuated by a different viewpoint of another from the other side of the arena or auditorium.

The common element is Jesus, telling the story of Jesus, recording the impact of Jesus, putting into the words the purpose of Jesus.

I love it!

Some of the richest experiences I have had in my spiritual journey revolves around a small group of Christ-followers sharing their stories of faith. One tells of the impact of a grandparent in reflecting the love of Christ. Another talks about a traumatic event that put his life in a spin and when he settled somehow someway the gospel was taken to heart. Still another shares about someone bringing a scripture to suddenly have understanding.

The variety enriches and communicates the awesomeness of a God who loves deeply. Being a follower of Jesus brings us to a place where we can never say we’ve seen it all, because the next faith story that is shared with us brings a new understanding.

Beginnings launch us towards incredible journeys where we have opportunities to show others the footprints of our faith.

Running…to God

November 25, 2015

WORD FROM W.W.                                                                         November 24, 2015

                                                

A long-time friend of mine who recently lost her sister to cancer wrote a post on her Facebook page that resonated with me. She said, “Because of all your sincere prayers on my behalf my anger (that is a bit extreme) at God is gone. I was disappointed the Lord did not heal my sister on this earth. I am choosing to run to Him, not from him.”

     What is the direction of our run when we are in pain? It is easy to run from the God who didn’t answer our heartfelt prayer in the way we desired. Distance from God is a natural reaction to disappointment with God.

My own running has been punctuated by sprints away from God and slow crawls back to him. My running away in disappointment has sometimes been the result of God not going along with my desire for my enemy to suffer, or the absence of an angelic choir to sing about how my answer to a hotly debated problem is right.

Sometimes my running away comes from the unfairness of life, sometimes it happens because I don’t want to be fair with God.

My friend’s reference to running to him is using the lane with few footprints in it. David chose to run in this lane quite often, but, as we know, he also had his races of retreat.

What is the direction of our run? When the content of our prayers is dominated by the wants of our life we can expect that there will be a running from the Giver of grace. When our prayer is focused on our relationship with the Father running to him will often be our response.

If I am secure in my belief that what God wants for me is wholeness, not hurt, I will be slowly running to him.

We have a way of putting “what if’s” in our theological outcomes. Another friend of mine from years ago lost his daughter in an accident recently. I can not understand his grief, and, therefore, how he is journeying through the loss of life. Knowing the depth of his spiritual journey I’ve got a feeling it resembles someone swimming laps in a pool…the swimming away is followed closely by a swim to…and then a swim away!

My choice to run to God seems much less complicated than his.

This is Thanksgiving Week. A time to run to God and recognize that he is caring, concerned, loving, and kind. In a world with daily terrorist threats and warnings I’m choosing to be in the shadow of his wing…the cleft of the rock…rather than the isolation of my disappointment.