Posted tagged ‘Sunday worship’

The Following of Influencers

April 7, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  April 7, 2019

                              

More than 24 million people follow Huda Kattan on Instagram, and she has 2.2 million subscribers on YouTube. Ever since Kim Kardashian wore a series of false eyelashes that Kattan has created, her cosmetics products have attracted a crowd. 

She is one of the new breed of social media marketing people called “influencers.” An influencer does just that! Influences the opinions and decisions of other people who follow them.

Some influencers are compensated by companies whose products they promote. For example, if an influencer takes a selfie of himself eating an Egg McMuffin he may be compensated in some way by McDonald’s.

Why? Because his followers model their behavior after him. Egg McMuffins may go up a hundred thousand in sales the day after he posts a picture of him biting into one.

It is why athletic footwear companies pay top-level athletes boatloads of money to wear their brand. What did Air Jordan mean before it became the name of a Nike shoe? Suddenly millions of athletes began lacing up Air Jordans because of Michael Jordan and the subtle idea that they would be skying through the air like him. 

Influence is not new term. Kids have been told to stay away from so-and-so because he’s a bad influence. In other words, when a young boy hung around with him he was prone to making stupid decisions. Parents, of course, would also talk about who might be a good influence on their child! 

Coming from a long career as a church pastor, I always felt the tension in people’s lives over who and what influences them the most. There were those who were passionate about Jesus, sought the leading…the influencing, if you will…of the Holy Spirit, and the whisper of God. And then there were those who fluctuated- on fire for the Lord one week and as ho-hum as generic peanut butter the next. Finally, there were those who it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out were not being influenced by Jesus much at all. 

These days it seems that Sunday church attendance fluctuates according to what time the Denver Bronco’s game kicks off, or how nice the weather is outside, or other Sunday commitments like youth soccer, baseball, volleyball, basketball, or lacrosse.

In other words, “church” has decreasing influence on people’s lives. Each year in the United States between 6,000 and 10,000 churches now close. They’ve become irrelevant in the eyes of much of the populace. Like Amazon has made the locally-owned book store a memory of the past, change has caused many of our places of worship to close up shop.

And yet there’s hope!

Just as people are influenced by the images of Huda Kattan fake eyelashes, the symbols and images of the Christian faith are still strong influencers. The Cross of Christ will always be powerful and meaningful. The image of an empty tomb conveys the possibilities of life in the midst of darkness and death. A broken piece of bread continues to influence me to ponder and think about my identity in Christ.

Granted the influencers of the Christian faith are not fluff and cosmetic, which seem to attract a certain part of our population, but they are deeply significant and rooted in truth.

“Church World” has been rocked in recent times by scandals, pastors who have been worshipped more than Jesus himself, and identifying with the voice of politics as opposed to the politics of Jesus. There are a growing number of people who now identity the church as one of those “bad influences.”

Perhaps there will be a renewal on the horizon of some influences that will lead hurting people back to the source of hope and darkened minds back to the Light! If fake eyelashes can influence millions of people, could a new vision from God influence the multitudes of people whose eyes are weary from the search for something meaningful and enduring?

What I Like About Church

March 18, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 18, 2019

                                 

I admit that it’s ingrained in me. Sunday mornings have always meant one word: Church! And since our family attended Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky, it meant Sunday morning and Sunday evening. 

I was always a bit jealous of the kids at the Methodist church across the street from Central Baptist. They didn’t have Sunday evening services and, therefore, got to stay home and watch “Walt Disney” on TV. For my two siblings and me, our exposure to Walt Disney had to happen at Leed’s Theatre in downtown Winchester. That’s where we discovered “Old Yeller” and “Big Red”, not on TV!

But I liked church! It was like a warm blanket on a blizzard night. It felt good and right. 

And now 55 years since Central Baptist, and a career as an American Baptist pastor, I still feel right when I sit in a pew, or a sanctuary chair. It makes me wonder though…why? It’s got to be more than just the mark made by a family tradition. Why do I think about being a part of a worship service when Sunday morning rolls around?

I could get all spiritual on you and say right away that it’s because of the grace of God for such a sinner as me, and the forgiveness of Christ exacted by the shedding of his blood…and that’s true! The foundation for being a life-long church participant IS rooted in the gospel of Christ, but that’s not what gets me out of bed on Sunday morning.

It’s not the lure of donuts and Danish’s either, or weak coffee brewed by someone who’s taste was destroyed by drinking watered-down Maxwell House.

I like church because of the intimacy and the memories of intimacy. Not the youth group hay rides we used to go on…not that kind of intimacy, although the memories of them still bring a smile to my face!

The intimacy I’m thinking of was being able to lean up against my mom or dad’s arm and know that neither or them was going anywhere for the next hour or so. There was a closeness to family in those moments. 

A few weeks ago a picture popped up on my Facebook page from seven years ago. It was from Christmas Day, 2011. I stood in the aisle of the sanctuary with a dear man named Rex Davis. I had my arm around his shoulders and he had his arm around my waist. Rex was around 90 at the time. I like church because of moments like that, when the bond of Christ draws us together in an embrace of deep love and connected humanity. 

I like church because of the moments of revelation. Once again, I need to clarify about that term, because it’s been associated with suspect snake oil salesmen. For me, the moments of revelation come as I sit in silence and ponder, or as a scripture verse is read for the umpteenth time, or as I gaze at a stained glass window. Things get revealed to me about myself, or about the One I’m encountering. I live in a world that is so noisy I’m blasted with false revelations every day. I’m told my life needs certain things- products and services and such. Snake oil now comes in a variety of cultural flavors. In church, true revelation is hinted at if I desire to follow its path.

I like the hope of church and the hope experienced in church. Weary souls stumble through the doors and then a short while later leave rested and reassured. The hurting share their wounds and are carried back to healing. The lonely and broken-hearted are able to be embraced and held in place. A world of trouble is put into perspective by the message of the God who draws near.

I don’t go to church to be impressed by the perfection of the pastor, or the performance of the participants. There’s something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth- like sweet cream gone bad- when church tries to outdo the other places of worship in the same zip code, something fake and foreign to my senses.

And so I go each Sunday, ready to receive and willing to give. I’ve long since stopped using my mom and dad’s arms as a pillow for my head, but I still have others who I know I can lean on, if and when I need them!

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! 

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!