Posted tagged ‘Transformation’

Remembering 9/11 and Other Days

September 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 11, 2018

                           

I was part of a foursome playing in a golf benefit tournament for an organization that provides housing and services for homeless families. In fact, we were on a goofy hole where we had to replace our golf ball on the green with a tennis ball and putt it until you hit the flag. And then we received the news!

The plane hitting the World Trade Center wasn’t an accident. It was the first of two planes hitting the twin towers in a terrorist attack. I remember that we made the turn after the ninth hole and went into the clubhouse and watched the news on TV. I can’t remember any of the other golfing events of that day, just that I was there when the events of 9/11 unfolded.

Each one of us has just a few events or moments in life where we can recall what we were doing, who we were talking to, or where we were when an earth-shattering event took place; that is, an occurrence that changed life for us, or changed how we viewed our world. 

And when I say events, I mean in our own lifetime, not in the past centuries before we were alive. For example, as a follower of Jesus the events of his Passion Week…death and resurrection…define who I am now, but it occurred before I was born.

For me, the first event that changed my perspective of life happened when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was a fourth grader at Williamstown Elementary in Williamstown, West Virginia. I walked home and threw myself on my bed and bawled. In my simplified view of politics I was grief-stricken by the fact that someone had WANTED to kill my president. The world wasn’t suppose to be like this. It was my “Come to Jesus” moment with the realization that I lived in the world that lacked harmony and goodwill.

Other assassinations were a part of our nation’s path in the years following that, but my view of the world had already been changed by Lee Harvey Oswald.

In July of 1969 another event happened that was pivotal for me. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I was sitting in the living room of our neighbors’ house in Zanesville, Ohio. He was a Nazarene pastor, and we sat there and watched the fuzzy images on the TV screen. It changed my view of the possible. A moonwalk was something that had been a part of science fiction movies. It put our world closer to the plot of original Lost In Space TV series that seemed unfathomable. To actually have someone walk on the surface of the moon broadened my idea of the possibilities of what people can achieve. 

From the destructiveness of one person to the inventiveness of a team of achievers to the depravity of an organization committed on causing destruction, these are three events in my lifetime so far that stand out as defining moments.

It’s different for each one of us. I’m not sure what someone who has been born since 9/11 would say is a defining moment for him/her. Just think! There a very few students in high school and younger who were alive when 9/11 happened. It is pre-history for them. They live in a  world transformed by 9/11, and yet don’t quite understand how it changed things for them.

There are numerous moments that slightly change us, but only a few that transform us. There are only a few where we can look back and remember what we were doing, where we were, and who we were talking to when “the moment” happened. 

9/11 is one of those for me. I remember and I never will forget.

Going Back To Familiar Places

August 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 26, 2018

                            

In recent weeks I’ve revisited places that had been part of my life from the near or distant past. Some of the spots brought back memories of when I ran around in child-sized jeans, white tee shirts, and Converses…like my old elementary school, Victory Heights, in Winchester, Kentucky, where I attended first and second grade…and Central Baptist Church in that same town where our family frequented three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. 

Other places I revisited brought tears. I drove past the farm where my Papaw and Mamaw Helton lived until about 25 years ago. It now like an ongoing rummage sale, cluttered and in disrepair. grimaced at the loss of what was.

I I traveled up the road to the cemetery where my dad now has been laid to rest beside my mom, and I weeped and smiled and weeped again, thinking of the good times and now the loss.

This past week I substitute taught in the classroom where my friend, Greg Davis, taught. If he was still teaching it would have been his 8th Grade social studies class I would have been instructing that day. Greg passed away not quite two years ago having fought the brain cancer courageously for 6 years. There were a multitude of Fridays when I would have lunch with him in that classroom, talking about the triumphs and the struggles. As I led four classes of eighth graders this past week I was acutely aware of previous conversations I had had in that classroom. 

This morning I return to the church I pastored for 16 years to give the morning message for the congregation’s 60 year anniversary service.  A quarter of my life has been spent in that building leading the congregation. I retired at the end of 2015. Even though I delivered almost 700 sermons in that sanctuary, today will seem strange. It will be the first time, besides the Sunday when I was candidating to be their pastor in June of 1999, that I will deliver a message NOT as their pastor. I’m now “a former!” 

I’ll look forward to seeing folks I haven’t seen in two and a half years. I’ll remember and smile, and maybe even cry.

There are places we’ve been that bring chuckles back to our soul, and places that cause us to remember the pain…and often the most meaningful places of our lives are the ones that have been a mixture of the two extremes.

At my old church I remember the incredible people, the special stories that got written and lives healed, and I also remember the difficult meetings and the individuals who had the spiritual gifts of agitation and annoyance. 

Of course, I can also remember the same chapter titles from my 15 years as pastor of the First Baptist Church back in Mason, Michigan…the saints and the sinners, the blessed and the beasts.

When you live most of your life from a place of grace, love, and hope you see the warts and the warmth. 

Today I’ll look to remember the changed lives and disregard the challenges to the Body’s life. And God will be glorified!

No Grow and No Go

May 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 7, 2017

                                     

Recently a pastor friend of mine was sharing his church’s “simplified plan.” Our ministry support group of five people was sitting in a restaurant having lunch together. The noise and my aged hearing caused me to misinterpret what he was saying. His congregation’s simplified plan is “Know. Grow. Go.”

I, however, heard him say “No grow and go!” I thought to myself, “That’s an unusual plan…no grow and no go!’ I asked for clarification and my friend corrected my understanding when I told him what I had heard. All five of us got a good chuckle out of it, but then I thought about it a bit more. “No Grow and No Go!” might better define many churches of various flavors around the country.

There are many reasons why a number of churches don’t desire to grow as disciples and go and make disciples of others. First of all, growing requires commitment to something and surrender of part of my agenda. “Growing” is a marathon race and the church is crowded with sprinters and jumpers. In sports there are “fair weather fans”, and in churches there are “fair weather attenders.”

Growing requires change and, whereas we are fluid in many areas of our lives when it comes to change, we are also entrenched in other ways. For example, I need a new pair of jeans but I love the pair I’ve been wearing for about a decade. The pocket that I’ve carried my wallet in has a hole in it that resembles a woodpecker’s carving. I’ve tried changing pockets, but then I feel like I walk funny. I’m considering the option of not carrying my wallet with me rather than buy a new pair of jeans that I have to get used to. That’s how we are in various areas of our lives. I drink my morning juice out of a certain plastic cup, but I drink my dinner milk from a glass. I write my blog from a certain stool at a certain Starbucks. To vary that always gives me the feeling that the quality of the writing has diminished…unless I’m visiting my dad in southern Ohio, and then it’s okay to write from the Starbucks across the river in Huntington, West Virginia.

On the other side of the equation are churches that have a hard time figuring out what that “growing” element looks like. Our recent history shows the jumping around of churches trying to nail the discipleship block. But growing followers of Christ is not easily contained in a program or a curriculum, and that’s a hard truth for many of us professional church leaders to admit. It’s not that programs and curriculums are bad or unnecessary, but rather that we often put all of our eggs in one basket and there’s, so to speak, a growing number of spiritual egg-haters!

Moving on to the “go” part we’re often unmovable! Jesus’ Great Commission too often is the great omission in congregations. To sum it up, most of a typical church’s budget goes for what happens inside the walls, and what is designated as the mission budget is what gets sent outside the walls to support people not from the church in mission work. When the budget gets evaluated each year the mission budget lies there like a clay pigeon ready to be shot at. Want proof? Just notice how many people in your church come to a potluck dinner, and compare that to how many people participate in a community service or ministry project!

“No grow and no go!” symbolizes the “standing firm congregation.” We’ve mis-translated that great hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” a bit! Jesus didn’t intend for us to be stationary and anchored to what has always been, protective of our resources and unsympathetic towards a broken world around us.

Out of Shape Churches (Part 1)

April 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 21, 2017

                                

My eyes were wide awake this morning at 5:45, so I pulled my AARP body out of bed and went to the YMCA to get some exercise on the basketball court. It was the second eye-opening moment I had experienced within the past twenty-four hours. The first one was when I stepped onto a scale and weighed myself. I thought I heard a cow mooing behind me!

So I laced up my Adidas’ and played some roundball…ooo, that term “roundball” has a different definition for me today!

It’s been a while since I’ve played with the early morning geezers. My substitute teaching gig has affected my physical well-being. Two times up and back and I was gasping…and that was playing cross-court! Understand that I used to run marathons! I captained my college cross-country team. Now I shoot baskets in my driveway. It slopes downhill so the ball usually even rolls back down to me!

I’m out of shape! It happened…one candy bar and Dr. Pepper at a time. So today was my first day of trying to recover some of what I lost…or should I say “lose some of what I gained!”

It hit me as I was searching for oxygen this morning that my physical condition mirrors where a lot of churches are. They are wheezing and thinking more about what once was than about what might still be. Now…I can’t take the comparison between my physical condition and a church’s state too far. I’m not suggesting that a daily regiment of activity is the cure for out of shape churches. Filling up the church calendar with church activities may lead to death faster than anything else.

Let me suggest a couple of parallels, however! I slowly came to this point where I am. It didn’t happen overnight, or even in a month. When I ran cross-country in college I weighed 120 pounds my senior year. I wouldn’t say I was chiseled, but I also didn’t have to wear any clothes that had an “X” in front of their size. My energy level was high. I remember one Saturday morning in the Spring three other teammates joined me on a 25 mile run for charity. I think we went out for dinner afterwards. In like manner, most out of shape churches don’t get to that point overnight. It occurs over a period of time. I fondly remember my 120 pound physique, but I also realize that it was who I was FORTY YEARS AGO! It is not the reality of who I am now. I’ve been in a number of congregations that talk about how it was “back in the day!” But some of them don’t realize those days are long gone. It isn’t who they are anymore, but perhaps they can begin a new journey that will lead to a new kind of health and wellness.

This morning the first step for me was to get out of bed. I’ve played a lot of basketball recently…in my dreams! For me to recover some of my physical conditioning required my willingness to take that first step, that first roll out from under the warmth of my blanket. Out of shape churches need to take that first step before they take a second step. What that first step is differs, but it must emerge out of a willingness to change. We advance a gospel that transforms, but we so often think of transformation in regards to those people who aren’t walking with Jesus yet. Transformation, however, relates to congregations just as much…and maybe even more…than individuals! Transformation comes out of a congregation that has a willingness to recognize what kind of shape they are in, admit to it, and roll out of bed!

Two hours after my early morning exercising my body is saying to me, “What did you do to me? Never do that again!” Getting back in shape, especially for a guy who turns 63 in two weeks, will not be without discomfort. The Advil bottle got opened this morning! My willingness to change will be tested tomorrow when I do some kind of exercising…or not! Getting in shape will involved some pain and suffering.

Out of shape churches face the same dilemma. Are they willing to endure some discomfort to recover their ministry and realize their purpose? Most are not that willing! Many would rather die in peace than lose the fat that has accumulated around their calling.

Some hard words for today that might tweak our warped understanding of reality, just like my knees will remind me all day long that I don’t run like I used to!

Stay with me, and I’ll try to get to some more encouraging words tomorrow…if I’m able to roll out of bed!

Living For Sameness

June 28, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        June 28, 2016

                                   

I have my routines. I take a shower when I get up in the morning…every morning. A shower-less morning throws me for a loop. I function like a zombie in blue jeans. I can hardly even remember to put underwear on. (TMI!)

My life is sectioned into routines. Some of them are good and could even be classified as disciplines. Some are compulsive behaviors that make me think I’m just another Adrian Monk (from the TV series on USA Network Monk). Still other routines are simply things and actions that help me feel comfortable and in control.

In effect, I do a lot of living in sameness. My hamburger has to have tomato and onion on it. I drink a glass of soda whenever I have popcorn. I sleep with my personal blanket…otherwise known as my “blankie.” I sit in the same place whenever I watch television in our family room. I live in sameness. It reduces my stress level.

Sameness is okay…to a point!

A pastor friend of mine made a statement recently in describing a church. He said that the church was committed to living for sameness. I loved that statement because it describes a lot of congregations. On the other end of the spectrum are churches who are committed to constant change. They are hyperactive organizations that jump around like balloons that are released full of air but not tied shut. Both types of churches are committed to living for sameness- one to no change and the other to constant change.

Sameness, in some cases, becomes what we worship. I grew up believing that the Doxology was always sung after the offering was received. It was the cue for the ushers to bring the offering plates back to the front of the sanctuary. When I heard it sung one Sunday in a different point in the worship service I was caught off-guard. Did I sleep through the offering?

In my seminary days I worked for a year in a Presbyterian Church. The senior pastor, Dr. James P. Martin, was a great pastor and mentor. He taught me a multitude of things about ministry. But I had been raised Baptist all my life! I could see things only through a Baptist lens. When I questioned why the Presbyterians didn’t have a Sunday night service…”like we Baptists did!”…he gave me a great response that I’ll always remember. He said, “Well, Bill, what it takes Baptists two worship services to do we can do in one!”

Classic!

It helped me understand that things do not always have to be the same. Change can be a good thing. After all, the Christian faith is about transformation. A person, and a congregation, can’t be transformed and remain the same.

I’m not proficient in being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. I’ve missed a ton of stop signs and Spirit whispers, but I also sense that if given a choice many congregations would choose to stay rooted to sameness instead of being led by the Spirit. Like my “blankie”, there is comfort and safeness in sameness.

What amazes me about the first church is that although they were rooted in Judaism they were transformed by the Gospel and led by the Spirit. They were changed, but anchored to the Change Agent.

Camp Day, Day 5

July 10, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              July 10, 2015

                                            

Dear Parental Units,

Just kidding, Mom and Step-dad! I want you to know that I love you…I really do! My week at camp is almost over, and I’ve made some great new friends. My counselor has been incredible as she has allowed me to ask her hard questions, but she’s also been there to listen to my confusion.

I’ve learned a lot about faith and trusting this week. This morning we  got up WAY TOO EARLY and climbed to the top of the peak behind our camp. I didn’t like the getting up early part, and there were a few times during our climb that I wasn’t sure I’d be able “to get up!”…but I made it And a big reason I was able to make it was because of the support and encouragement of everyone else who was climbing with me. When my thigh muscles were about to explode I got a pat on the back from my counselor and a hand from another counselor helping me make the next really big step.

It made me realize how important it is to have “solid friends.” I say solid because some of my friends back home stand on shaky ground, and they are more like the wind that blows in and out of my life.

When I come back home on Saturday could I ask something of you? I’ve decided to become a follower of Jesus this week. That’s probably something you were hoping for, but I hope you understand that it doesn’t mean I’m going to be all perfect and always doing the right thing. I’m going to mess up royally, and I’m not going to suddenly understand high school calculus just because I’m following Jesus!

But this thing I need to ask you…would you help me in this faith walk? Maybe that sounds weird, but it’s kind of like that climb this morning. I need your support and encouragement to keep going…a helping hand when I’m having those moments when I’m about to tip backwards. I know you go to church and help out in different ways, and I appreciate that more now than I did before this week at camp.

But…I’m sorry to start so many sentences with but…but I need to know that your faith in Jesus is real! I’m not saying it isn’t…but I need you to tell me every once in a while that it is…that it isn’t just something we do because we’ve done it that way for so long.

Even though I like my space from time to time from you, I need you to lead me, to help me deal with my questions about why God does certain things…what happens when I pray and when I don’t pray…help me figure out what God wants me to do in life, what my purpose is?

I hope I’m making sense. My counselor isn’t even making me write this. I’m doing this on my own! If Jesus was thinking of me when he went to the cross I want to try to think a good bit more about them in these coming days.

Thanks for being my mom and step-dad! I know you don’t have perfect lives, but I know you love me deeply…and you paid for me to come to camp!

 

Can’t wait to see you!

Your daughter!

Momentum Church

October 20, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           October 20, 2014

                                        

Momentum is not a scriptural word…unless you go to The Message paraphrase, and then it appears once in Matthew 4:25. Other than that there is no momentum in the Bible.

And yet we talk about momentum quite a bit in the ministry of the church. Perhaps it’s an offshoot of our over-zealous sports world mindset. There’s hardly a game that can be viewed on TV without “The Big Mo” word used during it. Teams have the momentum, grab the momentum, make a play that changes the momentum, can sense the momentum shifting…and on and on.

And so we hold it up in the church as a key part of our success…or failure. There’s a couple of problems with momentum. One is we try to make it a spiritual concept. Or on the other hand, we translate a spiritual revival or awakening as a sign of building momentum. Increased attendance at worship is seen as meaning there is momentum. An increase in baptisms, or those wanting to become members of the church, or financial giving, or a building project…all of those are viewed as spiritual indications of momentum building. We crave it. We even idolize it.

But where as the Spirit is steady, momentum is fickle. It can come and go at a “moment’s” notice. The hardest Sunday of the year for a pastor is the Sunday after Easter. Easter is a spark of momentum. The Sunday after Easter things go back to the way they were. It’s almost like Jesus goes back into the tomb. So much for momentum!

There’s been a few years where the excited momentum of Easter was quickly followed by the depressed loss of life.

Which brings me to a final question that I don’t necessarily have an answer to, but I want to ask it! What is the difference between the moving of the Spirit and momentum? The early church experienced both. I love the Acts 2 and 4 passages where the believers met daily in the temple courts, praised and prayed, took care of one another. The difference between the moving of the Spirit and momentum is that transformed lives are the result of the Spirit’s moving. People who are changed are left in the trail of the Spirit’s wind. Ananias and Sapphira’s “special gift” mentioned in Acts 5 was an indication of being caught up in the momentum of the times. They weren’t moved by the Spirit, but rather by their greed and need for recognition.

So…any time there is a sense of momentum there will always be the anger of false acts of spiritual devotion. It’s the Christian version of “fifteen minutes of fame!”

How do we know what is of God and what is of our own creation? I don’t entirely know, but I am taken back by the story in the gospels where Jesus notices the gift of a poor widow that everyone else has discounted as meaningless.

Something to think about!