Posted tagged ‘Sunday worship’

A Creature of Habit

November 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 27, 2017

                                  

Perhaps you can identify with what I’m about to write. I am a creature of habit!

My habit-dominated life begins with my wake-up routine. I rise from bed fifteen minutes either side of 6:30. If I’m still in bed at 7:00 Carol knows that I’m either sick or dead. The second hasn’t happened yet so it’s usually the first!

I shower, brush my teeth, shave…the usual morning routines, head downstairs to feast on…yogurt! If I’m not substitute teaching I’m usually out the door by 7:15 headed to my local Starbucks, where I am now sitting on the last stool on the right looking out at Pike’s Peak. If someone is already sitting on that stool I make an adjustment…and sit on the last stool on the left! It is on one of these stools that I peck out my blog each time, sipping Pike Place coffee that has been flavored with cream and two raw sugar packets. The baristas at Starbucks know that I’m there for my coffee with my reusable Starbucks cup, and that I will stay there until I’ve gotten my second free refill with my Starbucks Gold Card.

Coincidentally, the book I finished writing, and am now writing the sequel to, gets created at Library 21C in Colorado Springs from the last chair on the right  at a counter that is looking out towards Pike’s Peak. Go figure!

I drink juice from a plastic cup that looks like it belongs to a first-grader. I wear low-cut white socks to bed that get taken off sometime before I fall asleep. I sleep with my “blankie” that is hovering around forty years old. I like to read for an hour or two at bedtime…underneath my blankie…that covers up my displaced white socks.

When I go to our fitness club I run/walk on the treadmill, do weight training, swim, and then shower in that order. Always…in that order!

By now you’re thinking I’m a bit anal, but if I had the habit of betting I would wager that you’ve got some ingrained habits as well.

Habits bring order and structure. They’re like the side wall of a pool that you know you can grab on to when things seem to be getting a little too hairy!

When I retired from pastoral ministry I suddenly realized that I had the freedom and the choice to go to a worship service on Sunday morning. The first Sunday after retirement, guess what I did? I got up and went to worship at First Baptist Church in Colorado Springs. The next Sunday I got up and went to a Church of Christ that friends of ours belonged to. The habit of worship continued to resonate with me. It was foundational, and continues to be.

Habits, however, need to emerge out of a purpose, a reason. Why is it that I attend Sunday worship? Because of my love for and relationship with Jesus. Why is it that Carol and I hold hands and pray before we share a meal together? Because we are grateful! Why do we contribute to ministries, churches, and other charitable organizations? Because what we have is all God’s to begin with, and we believe that giving a portion of what he has blessed us with is a privilege and an obligation.

Sometimes people adopt habits because their family had the same habits. They, however, never bought into the purpose of the habit. When a crisis happens, or a change occurs that causes them to evaluate what is going on in their lives the habits often get tossed to the side because of their rootlessness.

It seems that I serve a God who is also into the habit of doing certain things that have meaning and purpose. I’m extremely grateful of the fact that he is forgiving, gracious, and loving. That those habits are rooted in his desire for relationships with people. God has good habits!

Perhaps deep within my soul is that yearning to be relationship with him as well, and that yearning has caused some of my spiritual practices to become holy habits.

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!

 

Church Going To the Dogs

February 13, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 13, 2017

                     

A few decades ago I remember being on the front steps of our church, First Baptist Church of Ironton, Ohio. An elderly man was coming up the steps just as a dog bounded up the steps past him. The man stopped for a moment and I heard him mutt-er “Dogs going to church!” He climbed a couple more steps and paused once again, and with a grin on his face he said, “Church going to the dogs!”

Recently we discovered a church where people can bring their dogs. The worship service is transmitted on an AM radio station to the cars parked in the parking lot. Some of the cars are occupied with people who have difficulties with crowds or allergic reactions to perfume scents. But many of them are occupied with canines brought to church by their owners. Attenders never have to get out of their car, unless Fido has to relieve himself!

Unique, yes! It’s not my cup of tea, but for some people it obviously works. After all, there was a film a few years ago entitled “All Dogs Go to Heaven!” So, perhaps, going to church is the prequel!

Staying in the car with the pooch has a downside and an upside. The downside is that the attender never enters into “community.” Church is about much more than an order of worship to go through, message to hear, and the offering plate to pass. Being the community of believers is the oft-forgotten part of it. It’s the meshing of lives in the progression of the journey.

The upside is that the dog-loving attender can escape the drama of church that often focuses on the petty and ridiculous. Stay in the car and get spared from the stupid! Let’s face it! Some church folk are more concerned about keeping the carpet clean than they are about people being cleansed!

So…I’m not sold on the dogs-going-to-church idea, but, of course, I don’t have a dog! I might feel differently if Lassie came home to live with me.

What do you think?

Why Am I Going to Church Today?

September 4, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           September 4, 2016

                                

The Pew Research Center recently released findings that gave insights into what the most important factors are for people who are looking for a new church to worship at. The research says that about half of all American adults have looked for a new place to worship some time in their life, most often because of a move to a new living location.

The two most important factors in determining a new place of worship were the quality of the sermon (83%) and feeling welcomed by the leaders of the church (79%). 

    Style of the worship service (74) and location (70%) were the next two most important factors.

Since I’m speaking at a small American Baptist Church in a small town forty-five minutes east of Colorado Springs this question has relevance for the twenty people who attend. In fact, last Sunday one of the church leaders asked me why I thought people who visited the church a couple of times didn’t keep coming? They are wonderful people with limited resources, and I enjoy being with them each Sunday. In fact, I’ve traveled out to worship with them a couple of Sundays when I wasn’t speaking.

So it got me thinking! Why am I going to church today? Why do I go there even on Sundays when I have no worship leadership responsibilities? Being now a retired pastor, going to church on Sunday is not something that I HAVE to do, but rather choose to do.

But why?

I could easily list the reasons that don’t apply. For instance, it isn’t because of the donuts. There are no donuts, although it seems that a pan of brownies or a freshly-baked cake seem to show up just about every Sunday for the post-worship fellowship time. It isn’t because of the music, because the music is not very good…okay, it’s bad! A machine that plays background organ music, but half the time we are not singing the right notes. We’re like an elementary school choir with no practice! Screech!!!!

It isn’t because of the accommodations. The building is one hundred plus years old and does not inspire worship. It isn’t because of the other programs of the church. There are none! (That might actually be a positive for a retired pastor whose churches always had numerous programs!)

So why do I enjoy…in fact, feel drawn to go there each Sunday?

First of all, it’s the people! They aren’t sophisticated. They are just salt of the earth kind of folk. Everyone is loved and everyone is appreciated. They range in age from 3 to 90, from a former county commissioner to farmers with large herds of cattle. Last Sunday I was given a bag of just-picked corn to take home. The communion table has a plate of wheat grain on it that is from one of the farming families. Simple folk who love the Lord and love one another.

Second, I’m drawn there each Sunday because of the peace I experience. Peace is underrated! I can’t think of a day in the past few months of the presidential election campaign when there hasn’t been some kind of accusation or disparaging remark made. We come to a point where we think being insulting, demeaning, and obnoxious is normal behavior. I think we long for peace but have a hard time recognizing that we are peace-deficient in our lives. When I go to this small church I experience peace. For me, it is the Protestant equivalent of spending retreat time with the Sisters of the Benedictine Order convent, a time of drawing to the side and experiencing the warmth of God.

Finally, I’m drawn there because of the preparation. That is, it is a time of being prepared for a new week. In my life right now every week has a bit of uncertainty to it. Last week included three days of substitute teaching. This coming week presently only includes one day of that. Come Monday night or early Tuesday morning that could change instantly. There’s afternoon football practices and writing ideas to pursue. Sunday prepares me- calms me, if you will- for the uncertainty of what is to come.

People, peace, and preparation…I didn’t mean to make it three “P’s”…okay, yes I did! Pew Research has its research and I have my reasons.

The sad thing is that the church I travel to has had some conversations about whether they should close or not. What hits me is that I urgently need to share with them the reasons they shouldn’t, that they are making an incredible difference that they may not realize!

The Need For Magical (Spiritual) Experiences

May 15, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 May 15, 2016

                            

I recently wrote a blog post on “The New Sanctuaries: Fields, Courts, and Rinks”, in which I referred to the sites of athletic events as being now the primary focus of people’s worship on Sunday mornings- worshiping the games their kids are playing, that is!

As I thought about the craziness of kid’s sports now it made me go to the next question: Is there something that people are looking for at Sunday soccer fields and volleyball courts that they don’t think a church worship experience can give them?

What is missing in our worship sanctuaries that adults think they are finding at a soccer game between eight year old boys?

Let me begin to answer that by saying that there are a lot of questions inside the questions. It’s like the water hose in my backyard, which, although only one hose, seems to have the ability to inherit multiple tangles and knots.

The chaos of the situation is knotted into our sin nature. What is meant for good, for our enjoyment and delight, is quite often distorted by our natural ability to get our priorities screwed up. I say that to allow us to get our red flags out of storage and ready to be raised into the air. When anything or anyone becomes the dominant element of our lives besides God the likelihood of getting things messed up becomes assured.

There is something else going on here! There is the need for magical experiences, the reliving in more personal ways the NCAA Basketball tournament’s song “One Shining Moment.” Magical is the cultural term that masks the spiritual. What people are looking for is a spiritual experience, but we think we can some how receive it by watching our son win a race, or our daughter stroking a double down the line. It allows us to receive a short-lived sense of delight, a sigh of satisfaction. For many of us, our lives are simply a series of satisfied sighs jumbled together with tangled turmoil.

I’m a substitute teacher, but I’m not the real thing. I fill in, but the amount of learning that students receive on days I’m subbing does not come close to when the real teacher is there. The real teacher sees the whole school year, knows the direction, the needs and journey. In the same way the “God-need” that each one of us has gets substituted with other things. Short spurts of happiness become worshiped and craved instead of seeking the joy of the Lord. And we come to a point where we begin to believe that is what life is about!

Here’s the last thing to ponder! Wherever the elements of “privilege” and “pressure” are evident approach with caution. Wherever the elements of “grace” and “forgiveness” are present travel towards.

In another year or two my grandson will be old enough to tryout for a “traveling soccer team.” It will be communicated as a privilege…and there will be more demands attached to it. More expense, more time, and his family will be told that it needs to be a higher priority for their whole family. The flattery of being asked to be on the team will be anchored to more expectations. There will be the pressure to conform. Statements will begin with words like “If you expect…” and “If you want…”, and will end with the phrase “…your son must do these things.” Many parents will fall for the trap, not to emerge again for several years.

The elements of grace and forgiveness never pressure and never trumpet their privilege. They accept and are grounded in the love of God. As a result, they are often minimized in their importance. No goals get scored with grace, and forgiveness is lousy on defense. And yet, the path to the deeper “God-need” that each of us has travels directly through them.

This morning I’ll be in worship, connecting with my Lord who forgives and shows me grace. This afternoon I’ll referee two youth basketball games where forgiveness and grace will get stuffed into a ball bag and hidden behind a bench.

The New Sanctuaries: Gyms, Fields, and Rinks

May 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 May 10, 2016

                      

The Colorado spring weather has been as predictable as a confused moose wandering in a downtown business district. Sunny…cold…snow…hot…sleet…sunny, and that’s just one day!

The weather has played havoc on spring sports schedules. Between them, my two soccer-playing grandkids had five games this past weekend. Snow-outs got rescheduled for Sunday. Whereas, my daughter and son-in-law keep a pretty good perspective on the priority of Sunday church worship over other things, it’s getting harder…especially when it comes to a team sport. It is a challenge that will only get more difficult as their children get older. Sports organizations have minimal, if any, concern about disrupting Sunday worship services. That’s because the families and participants in their sports contests have made the venues of soccer, baseball, softball, and basketball games the new sanctuaries.

The Methodists and Lutherans are no longer the competition to the Baptists. They are in the same boat together…and losing the race! The Christians are in a rowboat. Youth sports organizations are in a speedboat!

Parents are more excited about little Johnny’s base hit than they are with the moving of the Spirit. Try to find a parking spot at the soccer complex at 11:00 this Sunday morning! Chances are, if there is a church nearby there will be plenty of open spaces to use. Families will find a church with a Saturday evening service, rather than disrupt a all-day Sunday baseball tournament for ten year olds.

One of the reasons sports venues are the new sanctuaries are because of the lure of future rewards. Whereas followers of Jesus are promised the future rewards of walking the heavenly streets of gold, parents are willing to give up a lot of gold for the possibility of future college scholarships. It is amazing the size of the “offerings” that parents will hand over in anticipation of future awards. Jenny could get a full ride to Big U for volleyball in a few years, but she will need to play about 55 weekends a year for that to happen. In other words, Jenny will need to be really dedicated. Parents are willing to take that chance. The thing is…there is a greater chance that Jenny will never want to touch another volleyball by the time she’s sixteen then there is that she will be playing after high school. Kids burn out…even when their parents want the flame to keep flickering.

“The new sanctuaries” are places where Mom and Dad get to replay their childhood dreams through their kids. In essence, their sons and daughters become the new focal points of their worship. The contest is packaged in a neat one hour time slot where the young participants can be applauded, be praised, and watched in admiration. Relationships with other worshiping parents offer the fellowship factor. Starbucks’ cups tell of the pre-game family visit on the way to the worship center.

God should get such attention!

Watch parental reactions at youth contests. When Johnny gets whistled for a foul because he clobbers another player there is often righteous indignation. When was the last time that people rose up in righteous indignation because children in various places can’t get a piece of bread today?

What to do? Here’s the hard decision. Families need to decide what their boundaries will be. I draw back from making it a hard and firm line in the sand, but perhaps a realistic perspective on what is important and what they will talk through before making a decision. At the beginning of a sports season a conversation with the coach, letting her know of your family’s priorities, would be helpful. Is the spiritual health of your family, and your children, more important than Tim’s batting average? In a few years will these parents you’re standing on the sidelines with be walking with you as you deal with a serious illness, or will it be those you are in community with as a part of a church fellowship?

And what will be your son or daughter’s perspective about your spiritual relationship when they get some distance from their childhood? Will they see depth and clear priorities, or will they be confused about how they should parent the next generation?

The Finger Grasp

January 16, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            January 16, 2016

                                        

He reached down with the offering plate in one hand. I placed my tithe envelope with it, and he grasped one of my fingers with two of his own and gave me a squeeze.

I looked at his wrinkled smiling face, dotted with the blemishes and signs of aging, and smiled back. I stood up and we hugged, and he whispered in my ear, “Praying for you!”

“Thank you, Rex!”

The two of us had been through some journeys together. His only son had died in a motorcycle accident a few years go. The pain of losing a child had worn on him. Sometimes we have no compass to help us navigate the storms of life. Losing his son was a time of wandering for him as he wrestled with the question of “why?” A person of faith is not immune to periods of doubt and confusion. Each day was an unsteady step in an uncertain direction.

His questions about heaven began. What was it like? Does a person go directly to heaven after he dies? How can a person be assured that he will receive everlasting life? Will his son recognize him, and will he recognize his son?

He had known Jesus for a long, long time. The questions weren’t those of a new follower, or someone who was thinking of following Jesus. The questions were searchings to bring hope to the wounds of his soul.

He was more concerned about his children, grandchildren, and their spouses. Would he see them someday in glory?

And then the cancer surfaced!

When you’re ninety-five you expect to have ailments. They could with the addition of each decade. A splotch here on his forehead from a clumsy tumble; a darkened area on his arm resulting from multiple attempts to draw blood…old age reminders that youth has long since disappeared from view. The weight loss, however, had been the most concerning thing. The cancer treatments and drugs have taken so much of his energy, his will to live.

And so he grasps my finger to tell me of his support, of his love, and of his appreciation for our journey together.

I want to call time-out and tell him to sit for a while, but some of the congregants have meals cooking in crockpots at home, while others simply want to beat the Methodists to the restaurants.

He holds my finger for just a moment more before releasing and giving me a wink with his left eye, and then he strolls back down the cenetr aisle of the sanctuary.

I’m hoping that he is still awake when I recognize, and talk about him in the midst of my last Sunday sermon as his pastor. The weariness that he shows each day makes that unlikely…but I love him enough to awake him, walk back to where he is sitting, and give his finger a final grasp!