Posted tagged ‘Sunday message’

The Simla Saints

December 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 24, 2018

                                        

Yesterday I gave the morning sermon at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. It was good! Not the sermon, but rather the fellowship of the saints, the Simla Saints. 

The parking lot was not crowded. There is no parking lot!

There was not a greeter at the door. Everyone greets each other just like a family would.

No one had a Starbucks coffee cup in their hand. The nearest Starbucks is 45 minutes away, and the pot of (weak) coffee brews during the service for consumption afterwards.

There is not a screen or a projector..or an organist or pianist. But there is something like a music machine that plays background organ music that the congregation is rarely in rhythm with. The machine plays 3 verses of a hymn that the hymnal has four verses of…or vice-versa.

Simla First Baptist is one block off of the main road through town, but by the time a car leaves the main road it hits dirt. Dirt is cheaper than those highfalutin big city streets that are blacktopped! Simla is a town that does not desire a lot of attention!

Each pew of the sanctuary has a blanket at the end of it. If you’re cold, wrap up! The thermostat is not going to be adjusted when you’ve got a readily accessible blanket right there. One Sunday the batteries had gone dead sometime during the week in the sanctuary thermostat. No one had replacements, so the saints moved closer together, covered themselves with blankets, and we worshipped together in a 40 degree chill. Singing “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” had a visual addition to it that Sunday in front of each singer’s lips.

When I retired from pastoral ministry at the end of 2015 I got a call from the church moderator at Simla, asking if I was available to speak the first Sunday in February? I was so I did! At the end of that February service he came up to me and asked if I was available the next Sunday. I did three Sundays in a row before my friend, Steve Wamberg, spoke a couple of Sundays. Steve and I then started filling in every week, usually in two week rotations. 

Now, almost three years later, Ed Stucky and I handle the bulk of the Sundays, riding out together from “the big city” each Sunday morning.

Simla First Baptist was my second salvation. Jesus was the first! When I retired from ministry, however, I needed a second salvation. I needed for a church, so to speak, to save me from the church. 36 years of ministry had whipped me. I needed a rescue of sorts! Pastors can become disillusioned after a while, a long while. A pastor, who is the messenger of hope for people on a faith journey can come to a point where he/she feels hopeless.

The Simla Saints picked me up. Grace became more important than grandeur, simplicity the norm instead of splendor! 

And so yesterday Carol and I drove out to see the Saints once again. Almost all of them were there…all 16 of us!…ranging in age from nine months to 74. A dear widow lady who runs the family farm lit the advent candles. Two 7th Grade boys took up the offering. The nine month old had been carried down the block from the Methodist Church to her second service of the morning, after being the Christ-child in the Methodist children’s church program. Her brother, now four, had been Jesus the year before. His baby sister was a sorta’ “second coming”!

One mom brought homemade cookies. Two army veterans munched and talked about their service during the Vietnam years. Everyone had a purpose and a place. Everyone had their struggles to share and blessings to trumpet. 

When we got back in the CRV and headed back on the dirt street to the main road I had a sense that I had been used to minister to others…and had been ministered to by the Saints!

I had not only been to church, I had been a part of the church! 

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!

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.

It’s Friday, And Sunday Is Coming…Again Already!

June 7, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          June 7, 2013

 

It’s Friday, And Sunday Is Coming…Again Already!”

 

Some people think I’m suspect because I don’t cuss…but I do say “Crap!”

Some people think I’m half a bubble off center because I have a personal “blankie” that I sleep with, and its name is not Carol. Its name is…Blankie! Carol has her personal electric blanket. Its name is not Bill!

And some people think my salvation is suspect because, for one, I preach from a manuscript, and, two, there are some Sundays that are a real struggle to give a word from the Lord. Ask any pastor who is trustworthy and they will tell you that. There are times where the message is about as easy as a root canal. The preparing of it is like being in rush hour traffic where there is no rhythm…stop and go…accelerate and brake.

Years ago Tony Campolo gave a message that he borrowed from an African-American Baptist pastor, entitled “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming!”

Classic! Awesome!

For most pastors there are times, however, when the scream is “It’s Friday, and Sunday is coming again already!”

So soon? Last Sunday might have lifted the roof, but then it’s on to the next Sunday. Pastors are like catchers in baseball. The starting pitchers only appear every fifth game. The third baseman fields four or five grounders or line drives the whole game. But the catcher is in every play. He makes a great stop on a wild pitch, but then it’s on to the next pitch. Catchers don’t take pitches off.

Pastors don’t take Sundays off!

Yes, I know we really do. It’s called vacation, and yet how many times have I heard the joke, “Vacation? You only work one hour one day a week.”

Although said in a teasing way, a lot of people wonder what pastors do between Sunday noon and the next Sunday at 10 A.M. That sense of Baptist guilt stays with me, and so I find myself preaching eight to twelve straight Sundays before I take a Sunday off.

In the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23) there is a condemning statement made by the Lord towards the false prophets of Jeremiah’s time. A number of them were making claims, or speaking oracles and claiming that they were from God…and God said “No way! That’s not of me!” In Jeremiah 23:34 the Lord says, “I will punish that man and his household!”

Can you envision my Adam’s apple (“laryngeal prominence” for the smarter folk) rising and falling

six inches as I gulp deeply?

So, it’s Friday and Sunday is coming again and the folk who show up at 10:00 for worship are expecting a word from the Lord…and I’m saying to the Lord “Can I get a word? It can be short. It can even be Greek! It can even be in the old King James! Lord, just give me something!”

A fresh word, a new word.

Perhaps you think that this is just some affliction that pastors deal with.

No, it is something any follower of Jesus deals with. Some people want a word, but they’re too busy to hear it. A cell phone in one ear and Coldplay rocking it through the ear bud in their other ear. Or some people want a word in a take-out container, quick and easy. Those are two extreme situations connected to our hyper lifestyles.

But many of us who seek to touch the fringe of Jesus’ robe find ourselves from time to time grasping and missing. We deal with moments of indecision as to what direction God went in.

We want a fresh word, but we’re having a hard time forgiving the jerk who cut us off driving to church. We want a word from the Lord, and yet we’re not ready for the next step that word will take us to.

It’s Friday, and for many of us we long for Sunday, a new beginning…a fresh start. And for others, “Sunday” is an approaching time of uncertainty that we hope…we hope…is fresh wind and new wine!

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.”