Posted tagged ‘Worship’

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! 

Church Going To The Dogs

December 12, 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?Church

Feeling My Worship Age

September 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              September 27, 2017

                                   

It was a bad sign! In the Sunday announcement sheet under informational items there was that blurb that was probably intended to be a forewarning of what was about to come!

“Ear plugs are available at the Information Booth for anyone who needs them.”

It’s a bad sign when they care about your hearing! When I was pastoring we cared also, but it was for those who had diminished hearing so they borrowed a hearing device that helped amplify the sound of the speaker or music. This was the other direction. This was: “We’re going to turn up the volume so much that you’re going to be thinking you’re standing by a jet engine on steroids! So you might want to put these in your ears!”

I’m 63 and I realize I’m sneaking up on crotchety! I’m becoming like a dear saintly lady from the church I pastored in Mason, Michigan. Grace Ankney was  a great lady who couldn’t hear squat! And she would let the speaker know that by yelling from her third row seat, “I can’t hear you!” I don’t remember what Grace’s spiritual gifts were, but she scored low on hospitality!

And here I was about to shout “I can’t hear myself!” But, of course, I couldn’t hear myself so I didn’t say it.

I realize the church I was attending last Sunday is designed for a younger crowd…soon to be younger deaf crowd…and there are all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. I’m a person of grace who is fairly tolerant about circumstances and situations. I remember the “worship wars” of the 1980’s when that period’s older generation fought hard against the new worship music that was settling upon the hearts of congregations. Our leadership council had several hours of discussion about it. We did planning retreats where we sought to figure out the direction we were going in worship, while being sensitive to those who liked it the way it had been…for fifty years!

I remember one young man from my church asking me if the lady who played the organ could take the parking brake off! On the other side, an older couple left for greener, hymnier, pastures because we had sung a couple of praise songs that had produced clapping, albeit Baptist clapping, which sounds kind of like the light patter of rain on the driveway.

And now I was that couple…longing for a calmer sanctuary of praise music. Just to be fair, the songs we sang last Sunday were all familiar to me. I knew the words to three of them, but since I couldn’t hear my own voice I never sang any of them. It wasn’t that I was being vain. Although people say I have a good voice I’m not infatuated by the sound of it. I just like to know that I can hear the words that I’m speaking or singing!

And now I’m starting to type kind of crotchety!

I’m a “has been” who is still being. This Sunday I’ll travel back out to the little congregation of twenty in a town forty-five minutes from where we live and give the Sunday message. We’ll sing some songs together in a sanctuary with great acoustics, and I’ll get a bag of fresh produce from a couple of farmers who bring in their excess each week. It will be totally different from my experience from last week where we had to park a few hundred yards away. This Sunday at Simla everyone can park right next to the building.

Perhaps that’s who I am now…a participant of a small congregation journeying together in a slow walk. At Simla this Sunday we won’t need ear plugs. Two sixth grade boys will take up the offering. There will be a Sunday bulletin, which we really won’t need because the order of worship is almost always the same. And after church people will grab a cup of weak coffee, a cookie, and stand around talking for a good 20 to 30 minutes.

That’s now where I feel at home, it’s where I sense the closeness of God and the struggles of his saints, and I’m okay with that!

Worship Visitor

December 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 5, 2016

                                         

Deacon John raised his voice. “Lord, we know you love us, and now we ask that you would guide us in these coming days. Lord, if it be your will, please give us a sign of encouragement! We’re few in number, but massive in hope. We praise you and thank you! In Jesus name! Amen!”

The scattered few echoed his closing word as they sat back down in the pews ready to hear the Word of God for that day. Friendship Bible Church had existed on the street corner in the small rural village for close to a hundred and fifty years, but it had been dying a slow death for the last fifty. The town had decreased, as had the church’s effective ministry in the community. Young people had been raised in the church, grown up, gone off the college or to serve in the military, and never returned.

But there was hope in the midst of the gathered twenty!

The guest speaker introduced herself. She had served as a medical missionary at a hospital in India, and was back in the area for a few months telling her stories of mission work.

“There was a little boy who arrived at the hospital one afternoon…alone…bloodied…and frightened. My nurses asked him questions trying to find out his name, where he had come from, and what had happened to him? All he would tell them was that his name was Bontha and that he had been beaten by someone. He was bleeding profusely from a deep cut on his arm. We suspected that the “someone” was related to him and he did not want to say who it was. We treated him, stitched up the cut, cleaned him up, prayed with him, and asked him how we could contact his family. He kept telling us no, he did not want his family to know. One of the nurses left him for a few moments to go get him something to eat. When she came back he was gone. We searched and searched but could not find him, and Bontha never came back.”

“Years later I was doing my rounds through the pediatric ward one afternoon and a young man came up to me. He said, “Dr. Jan!” I looked at him, not recognizing who he was. “My name is Bontha!” Suddenly I could see the little boy appearing through the young man’s face. He showed me his arm. “You stitched up my arm when I came here bleeding.”

“My Lord! Bontha, I will always remember that day.” The questions started flowing out of me. “How are you? What happened to you that day? Where did you go? What are you doing now?”

He smiled at me and said that when he left the hospital he did not know what to do and where to go. His father had been in a drunken rage and had beaten him fiercely. When his father stumbled for a moment he escaped from the house and ran away, but as he was jumping over a fence he caught his arm on a piece of metal sticking out of the top of it and tore the skin open. He knew that our hospital was close and people had talked about “the Jesus Doctor” who worked there, so he ran as quick as he could, blood flowing from his body, and made it to the hospital. When he left our hospital he knew of a little church a couple miles away where a man named Pastor John was, and so he went there and told him what had happened. Pastor John went to Botha’s home and confronted Bontha’s father, brought him to a point of complete remorse and repentance, and told him that despite the abuse he had inflicted on his son that God  still loved him. Pastor John took Bontha in for the next month until he believed Botha’s father was ready to have him back. In that time he shared the story of the gospel with both Bontha and his father, and how the son of God was beaten even though he had done no wrong. Both father and son accepted Jesus.”

There were “Amens” wrong most of the people. They were caught up in the story.

“But the story doesn’t end there,” continued Doctor Jan. “For you see when Bontha reappeared that day he told me he was a student in medical school. He was in training to become a doctor. He told me that his experience that dark day when he was so young left a lasting impression upon him. Every time he looked at his arm and saw the scar from that day he remembered the loving care of my nurses and my words of concern for him. It changed his life, and Pastor John, the pastor of a church about the size of this one, took him in and told him of the love of God.”

“I wept as I heard his words! It was a story of misery turned to hope, a life rescued from abuse and changed to promise. Just a couple of years ago Dr. Bontha joined my staff at the hospital. He is now the primary doctor in the pediatric ward. When the Lord tells me that my work is done there he will take my place as the head of staff.”

“And it all began when a frightened little boy showed up one afternoon.” The missionary lady looked around the sanctuary. She saw tears running down the cheeks of some of the saints. There were moments of awed silence. “You never know what is going to happen when you ask the Lord to use you.”

The worship service closed with a time of heartfelt prayer of several people. They sang the hymn “I Love To Tell The Story” with loud committed voices in praise of their calling. Deacon John gave the closing prayer and people began conversing.

And then the front wooden door of the sanctuary creaked as it opened and a young boy that no one recognized wearing tattered clothing came through the door. It was at that moment that everyone knew that God had answered Deacon John’s prayer for a sign!

My Road To Simla

September 25, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      September 25, 2016

                                     

Sunday mornings have become a favorite time of mine, not because I’m able to sleep in or make flapjacks in the iron skillet, but because I get to travel down the road to Simla.

Traveling to Simla is synonymous with finding rest and being at peace. I go to Jackie Landers for a body massage. I travel to Simla for a massaging of my spirit.

Quite frankly, when I retired from the pastoral ministry last December after 36 plus years I was fried crispy. I did not do self-care well. Not many pastors do! I came to dread Tuesdays because it signaled the beginning of another six day week filled with meetings, crises, obligations, and church drama. Doing pastoral ministry is like taking a daily vitamin, but at some point the bottle becomes depleted and you can sense the gradual loss of vitality and purpose.

After stepping away at the end of 2015, Carol saw the difference in me within the first couple of weeks. She saw what I could not see…the slumped shoulders perking up again, the laughter and joy, the lessening of the hurrying.

And then in February I took my first drive to Simla, a forty-five minute ride into the eastern plains of Colorado on a two-lane road…passing by Peyton, slowing down for the 35 mile an hour speed limit through Calhan, and skirting the edge of the spot by the side of the road called Ramah, and then arriving at the village of Simla.

On the drive I ponder, pray, listen to Garth Brooks, think about the Sunday message, hum to myself, and sip on my third cup of Starbucks coffee. As I get closer to Simla and First Baptist Church my “happy meter” keeps moving to the right. The twenty people or so that will be there each Sunday morning are like pastors to me. They minister to my wounds, soothe my doubts. Thelma and Kathleen brought me a dozen ears of corn from their farm a couple of weeks ago. Ray and Laura open the building and talk me up upon my arrival. John and Angie and their two kids, Lou and Lena, bring me chuckles. Henry and Mildred, 89 and 90, are the senior components of wisdom and church history. Elizabeth, and her young son Eric, offer kindness and care. John and Sherri always remind us to pray for our country. Each person brings something to offer and is offered the ministry and community of the Body in return.

And as I pass by Ramah I anticipate the blessing of what is about to happen.

At this point the Simla church can’t afford a pastor. My friend Steve Wamberg and I fill the pulpit each week. It has become a dance that we thoroughly enjoy. The coffee after worship is exceptionally weak, but the fellowship amongst the saints is strong. No one seems in a hurry to beat the Methodists to the restaurants, since there are very few Methodists in Simla and the only restaurant in town, the Hen House, never seems to have much of a crowd.

When I drive home from Simla I always feel emotionally uplifted, spiritually nurtured, and ready for the week ahead. In some ways I’ve rediscovered the value of church for my life. It may have taken my being at a different life point for that to happen, but I’m thankful for where I am.

Sometimes it simply takes a 45 minute step away from what has been to rediscover what still is.

What We Burn Incense To

July 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               July 26, 2016

                                  

In my years as a pastor I can identify a number of things that became sacred in the congregations I pastored. In one great church…Wait for it!…forks became revered! The morning after any church potluck or meal the “fork-keeper” would stop  by to count the forks. Kind of like a bank teller’s money drawer, if there was a discrepancy…if one or more were missing…there was hell to pay!

In another congregation filled with wonderful loving people, one of the most serious issues we dealt with in my fifteen years concerned the removal of the organ pipes. Let me clarify! These were fake organ pipes! Think painted long cardboard tubes! There were speakers in some of them for the electric organ we had at that time. When the sanctuary was renovated the fake pipes were repositioned behind the chancel area wall by our baptistry. It wasn’t so much that people couldn’t see the pipes anymore, but rather that they had been given to the church thirty years before by a family. They were seen as being a sacred memorial.

Sometimes people of God unknowingly, or perhaps on purpose, ease God out of the spotlight in order to worship something or someone else.

Someone? Yes, there are Christian personalities and celebrities that become the spiritual version of LeBron. Anything they say is written in stone as the Ten Suggestions. And let me point out that it isn’t necessarily the celebrated person’s fault. Mega-church pastors are put on pedestals because they lead mega-churches. And then when one of them has a problem that surfaces the “worshipers” are beside themselves.

There ARE those Christian personalities that are fine with people bowing to them. I was always amazed at how many people worshiped Reverend Ive with his flaunting wealth and opulent lifestyle. I could never quite connect the suffering servant image of Jesus with Reverend Ike’s matching diamond rings on a finger of each hand. In like manner I could never quite understand the flocking to see Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Was it really the will of God for their dog to have an air-conditioned dog house? I just didn’t get it!!!

But back to where we live! The people of God exalt unbelievable things. In some places there would be a greater uproar over missing Sunday morning donuts than there would be if the pastor decided not to give the sermon. One lady in a church I pastored told me that I shouldn’t let people know when we were having a guest speaker because attendance was always down. How did that make me feel? Not good! It was a sign to me that the lens on our congregational glasses needed to be wiped off a bit. I would say that almost every pastor does NOT want to be the only voice that his/her congregation is listening to.

I’ve seen mission organizations worshiped, youth group leaders bowed down to, church budgets deified, and technology praised.

It’s so easy!

I was reading in 2 Kings 18 this week about Hezekiah, King of Judah, getting rid of some of the pagan shrines, but he went even further than that. In verse 4 of that chapter it says, “He broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. It was called Nebushtan.”

The snake that Moses had made, you know…way back when! Can you hear the comments? “But we’ve always had the snake!” “It just won’t be the same!” “Some of my most spiritual moments have been when I’ve burned some incense, prayed to Nebushtan, and had a deep sense of peace about things!”

The snake even had a name! I’ve just returned from a week of church camp. A number of kids, youth, and leaders are now thinking of Quaker Ridge as a sacred place of worship. They are thinking of those moments on Soldier’s Peak where they received communion.

I think of going to Green Lake, Wisconsin or Lake Louise Baptist Camp in Michigan. They are places that I burn incense to in my mind.

Hezekiah made the bold decision to get rid of Nebushtan. The snake had fulfilled its purpose generations before. It had long since become a distraction, a relic.

It makes me think about what happens in our places of worship today. What has become a distraction? What needs to be broken into pieces and moved to storage, or even to the curb? What have we given names to because they still grip our souls?

The Warts, Pimples, and Beauty Marks of a Church

April 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           April 10, 2016

                            

There is free photo editor available for computers called “Picmonkey.” It allows a person to touch up a photograph and make blemishes disappear. In effect, it brings the picture of a person’s face to perfection. It hides the imperfect.

If there was a “Picmonkey” that churches could use to cover up its imperfections it would be used as much as, or more than,  the communion wine! A primitive form of it appears in the newspaper one day each week on the religious services advertisement page. Church slogans and pictures of smiling faces and praying people appear there to convince the reader that spiritual awesomeness is ready to be had at that location.

But the truth of the matter is that every church has at least three things: warts, pimples, and beauty marks. Forms of “Picmonkey” are often used to hide the warts and pimples and accentuate the beauty marks, but, believe me, the blemishes are still there under the make-up.

“Warts” are those things that just are! I’m speaking two Sundays a month at a very small congregation in a small community about forty-five minutes away from the city. Their pastor resigned in a bit of a church dust storm last fall. The congregation is a great group of people in a dated building trying to move forward. One of their warts is the placement of the women’s rest room. It is halfway down the stairway to the basement. Halfway! It is a wart that just is. There aren’t many women’s rest rooms that are halfway down a stairway, but, in this building, it would not easily be relocated, so…it just is!

A lot of church warts are related to the structure the congregation meets in. The church I pastored for many years had a leaky baptistry! Not a good thing for a Baptist church! Whenever we had a baptism we would have to bring in the fans for a few days afterwards to dry out the carpet. For $125 we bought a livestock watering trough that was smaller than the baptistry so it could fit right in the midst of that space. The leaky baptistry is still leaking, but the trough takes care of the problem. It was one of our warts that was humorous in some ways, and frustrating in others.

Every church has its warts. Some are more visible than others. Some warts are the result of gifts given to the congregation years before that have now become part of the congregational facial imprint. Some warts are even people- the person who talks non-stop in a small group, the man who falls asleep every Sunday during the sermon and starts snoring. The warts of a church aren’t necessarily good or bad. They just are! They are like Cindy Crawford’s facial mole. It just is, and now we wouldn’t recognize her without it.

“Pimples” are those tensions in a church that are often under the skin and not readily visible. They aren’t pleasant, and have a tendency to rise to the surface after a while and, forgive me, spew on others. A number of years ago there was a situation where a young unmarried woman in the congregation I was pastoring became pregnant. There was an evident tension between those who did not want to help put on a baby shower for her, and those who wanted to express their love and caring to her as she went through this. Those on one side thought that putting on a baby shower would be condoning pre-marital sex, while those on the other side felt that the young woman needed extra support and encouragement during this time and, after all, the baby was coming! Those who visited our congregation probably weren’t aware of the tensions, but the stakeholders were! Every church has its pimples!

Pimples exist in areas of a church where there are territorial battles, like the organ doesn’t get used any more, but those “cotton-pickin” drums do! Or a pastoral search committee is divided in its support of a potential candidate. Some of the committee see the candidate as a visionary for the future, while others are afraid he/she will change “their” church too much.

Pastors and congregations often become a festering pimple that is in danger of becoming a cluster of blemishes. Like adolescent faces it takes time and effort to slowly let the zits run their course and be healed.

And pimples can arise in the most unexpected places, like what is served at the coffee fellowship time each Sunday? Folger’s (which was good enough for my parents and also for me) or Starbucks (Quality matters!)?

And then there are the beauty marks…the equivalent of cute dimples and stunning eyes! A church’s beauty marks are present regardless of what the board and committee structure is. In fact, the beauty marks usually are present outside of a committee’s decisions. For example, every church has certain people that are the embodiment of Christ. The church is enriched by their presence, not because of the things they do and the ministry positions they fill, but simply because of who they are. They are the unofficial spiritual mentors.

Sometimes a beauty marks is something distinctive about the building. One church I was Associate Pastor of had an incredible stained glass window in the sanctuary that was wondrous to gaze at. The way the light hit it seemed to make it come alive. For me it still is the most awesome stained glass window I’ve ever seen, and people from the city knew about that church’s “beauty mark.”

Every church has its beauty marks!

Warts just are, pimples need attention, and beauty marks cause gratitude.

A church with too many pimples needs to invite in a spiritual dermatologist. A church with a lot of beauty marks should bring attention to them and not take them for granted.

And the warts? Live with them and avoid the temptation to cover them up with “Picmonkey” touch ups!