Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Worth Keeping

I'm getting quite a collection. Whenever I go somewhere, I'll try to buy something that reminds me of that trip; then I place it on my credenza. Others will bring me things from trips they have made and I'll place them there, too. Here is a short inventory:
1. A wooden hippo from Africa
2. A crystal eagle--a gift from a Hispanic friend
3. A bust of Abraham Lincoln
4. A piece of the Berlin Wall
5. A rock from the beaches of Normandy
6. A bronze rose given to me from the corner of my mother's casket
7. A wooden piece my grandfather carved
8. A model of the Eiffel Tower
9. A model of the Chicago Water Tower
10. A rock from Green Valley Bible Camp
11. An urn from the Dominican Republic
12. A bracelet given to me by a man I baptized in Russia
13. An rock elephant from Africa
14. A paperweight from a college club reunion

This isn't all. There are a number of other things from various trips and circumstances over the years. Bibles from relatives, pen sets, a variety of old items from my Mom and Dad's house, watches, etc. It doesn't take much for me to reminisce over these items. My mind goes quickly back to the places and circumstances these were given. But they're all objects. One day they will be gone. I imagine that most of these items mean nothing to anyone else but me. But, oh, do they mean a lot to me. But not as much as my friends. You see, you can never destroy my memories with them. You'll never be able to take any of that from me. That's what made Paul's life worthwhile. Read about his friends at the end of Colossians. See who was with him when he wrote the letter to the Romans. Read Romans 16. But his best friend was Jesus. "For me to live is Christ..." he would say. Keep those memories. Make friends who will help you get to heaven. Better yet, take them with you. Have a great day. JW

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Lord is My Shepherd

I call the Holy Spirit the Holy Prompter. For the last several days, I have gotten into my car in the mornings and the song that came to my mind has been "The Lord's My Shepherd." Now why has that song come to mind? I don't know, but I don't think it's an accident. I do believe the Spirit has placed that song in my heart. Especially since I've heard so many songs the last several days. Why would that song come to mind in the mornings unless it had been placed there? Perhaps God is trying to get me to realize His control of all matters. He's in charge, He's sovereign. However:

The Lord's my Shepherd I'll not want,
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green He leadeth me.
In pastures green He lead me
The quiet waters by.

I haven't always been a fan of the Psalms. It's just been in the last several years that I have grown to love them. I don't like Peterson's "translation" from the Message of the Psalms. There are some things that retain their beauty without paraphrasing them. I really can't describe what I mean without an example. Can you imagine translating Robert Frost's Walking By Woods on a Snowy Evening like this?...I think the guy who owns this acreage lives in town. He won't care if I sit here and watch it snow. Rather, "Whose woods these are I think I know, his house is in the village though. He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow."
But back to my original point. Why is that psalm on my heart? I don't know. Any of you have a holy prompting? I prayed that God show me the heart of Jesus today. So far, nothing. But God is faithful. Have a great day. And maybe He'll show me why He's laid that song, that psalm on my heart. JW

Monday, June 26, 2006

Commercialized Jesus

My wife and I were able to spend a quick day and a half in Springfield, IL, home and final resting place of Abraham Lincoln. I would recommend the trip if any of you are interested in Honest Abe. There are truly some remarkable things to see. I, of course, encourage you to see the Lincoln home, the Lincoln Library and museum, and the Lincoln Tomb.
But what was interesting to me was the commercializing of Lincoln. You could buy a Pez type thing with the likeness of Lincoln with a gaping mouth. There were a number of students putting on Lincoln masks and Lincoln top hats and getting their pictures made. There were Lincoln chocolate bars, Lincoln pens and pencils, and you could even get a Lincoln penny pressed with the image of Lincoln on it. (Why in the world would you do that when the penny already has Lincoln's image on it????)
After hearing all of the talks about the Lincolns' foibles, their little idiosyncrasies, and habits, kind of as a side bar the tour guides would say something like this, "But as you leave today, make sure you think about the changes Mr. Lincoln made to the society he lived in." It was more like, "Spend all the money you can--and by the way, he lived an incredible life."
I wonder if we do this to Jesus? We commercialize His life, we try to cash in on the Jesus market, and we do what we can to show the "human" side of Jesus, but we forget what an impact...what an impact He had not only on our lives, but the world. Our very date, June 26, 2006 A.D. Anno Domini--in the year of our Lord. Our lives have been transformed. Yet, so many times we want to commercialize Jesus. The word I have been reading lately has been "transcendence." Christ coming to us. Being involved in our lives. Being a part of who we are, where we are. Not just a passing fancy or movie star, but Immanuel...God with us. May Jesus be personal, real in your life today. Have a great day. JW

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Mother's Grief

It was one of the most moving and remarkable things I have been able to witness...the tranformation of a life. You have heard me talk of a young 16-year-old girl from our congregation who was murdered. That happened one year ago yesterday. That, in and of itself, is amazing to me. The murderer still has not been apprehended, yet life goes on.
Our small group met last night at the grave of this young girl. The polished marble tombstone is like none I've ever seen. There are so many symbols of her life on it. There's a chess piece, her picture, a Scripture from the gospels, an inscription about one of her nicknames. She loved to play softball and so when I arrived three of her teammates were there. Decorating the grave site were three signed softballs, two animal figurines--a turtle and a raccoon, and several flower arrangements. As you look south from the grave there is a beautiful view of the Nebraska rolling hills.
After several contemplative moments, we prayed together, hand in hand, asking for peace and healing. We then proceeded over to her mother's house where we were treated to her testimony. If your child had been murdered and the murderer still loose, what would your reaction be? Frustration? Anger? Joy? What? Did I just say joy? That's what we heard last night. Her mother told us of mistakes in her life. She told us of her selfish ways giving in to God's will. She told us of change in her life, and I have to tell you, I believe it. Because I have seen it. Next month I have been in Omaha for three years. The person I saw giving her testimony in her apartment last night was not the same person whom I met three years ago. I watched on television as the reporter asked about any bitterness. She said, there's just no reason to go there. Wow!
God has taken a tremendous personal tragedy and made something good come out of it. Was the murder of Sarah God's will? Absolutely not! Any notion of this thought is beyond unreasonable. But God has acted and accomplished His will in this horrible circumstance. And so I read these words to the group gathered last night.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, to that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also throug Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, wo also you share in our comfort. II Corinthians 1:2-7

Have a great day...and count your blessings. JW

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

My Friend

I'm getting a little scared, a good friend of mine is really starting to show it's age. Frayed around the edges, I'm not sure how long the binding will last. I'm not talking about a human, I'm talking about my Bible. I've departed with one before, but there's something special about this one. I was looking at the worn edges of the pages and I could see where I had spent a lot of time studying. There are little notes written all over it and I don't want it to retire. I've even bought another one in anticipation, but I just can't make myself change over.
I've been told I can rebind them. But I just can't bring myself to even be parted with it long enough to have that done, and then, will they do a good job? Will it be better than before? Friends come and go, but a good Bible is for life. At least I hope this one is. Have a good day. JW

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

God Speaks, Even When I'm Not Listening

God moves in mysterious ways. Yesterday as I was dealing with a particular situation, during a time when I usually try to keep silent and listen to God, I placed my earpieces in and listened to my iPod. The randomly selected song was by Twila Paris--"He Will Never Give Up on You." The song continues, "and neither will I." Maybe I was trying to block God out, but He spoke clearly anyway.
Today, after dealing with a heart-wrenching marriage counseling session last night, I tried the same technique. Perhaps I could block everything out, even God, and just drive to work. With ear pieces firmly in place, the randomly selected song came on..."Healing Rain" by Michael W. Smith. That's what this couple needs right now, some healing.
After arriving at my office, I read this passage from Isaiah, "Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you. I've called your name. You're mine. When you're in over your head. I'll be there with you. When you're in rough waters, yhou will not go down. When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end--Because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior...I'd sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you." (Isaiah 43)
Thank you, God, for noticing I needed to hear your voice. Thank you for speaking in spite of me running from you and plugging my ears. Forgive me when I try to hide from you. You are Holy. You are Mighty. And I know You love me. Have a great day. JW

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I'm A Little Emotional, Jim

Kendyl was a young lady who worked with me one day on the prayer walk in the 9th Ward in New Orleans. We struck up an immediate conversation because she was from Little Rock, AR, not too far from my home in Searcy. She was a student at LSU in Baton Rouge and had come over with the group from the Christian student center there. My problem was I couldn't remember Kendyl's name at first. "Emily?" I said at first. "Kendyl." Well, then it became a joke. I called her everything from Alice to Betty to Celeste...anything but Kendyl. And she returned the favor.
She was good at the prayer walking. She just had a knack for getting to the heart of the matter so quickly. At the final place, she got onto the van and I looked at her and said, "Well, how's it going, Marge?" She looked at me with a tear in her eye and said, "I'm a little emotional right now, Jim." No jokes. No smile. Just reality. I knew I had crossed the line and it was time to be serious.
As we talked, she told me she absolutely hated the prayer walking. I had already revealed to her that I had wanted to muck houses, but had been assigned this task. She identified. And although she was very good at it, it pulled at her heart deeply. It was Kendyl who visited with the lady I talked about yesterday. Remember? The one who had lost $40,000. Kendyl had the kind of rapport with her that she would tell a perfect stranger her story of how she lost so much money.
I wish I had that kind of heart. I was able to keep emotionally detached. Maybe it's because I'm a guy and I've been taught not to let the feelings show. I think the word is "compassion." When Jesus saw the crowds, that they had no one to follow and they were sick, He had compassion on them. Compassion isn't just a feeling, it's the feeling that motivates to action. That's what I want. I want to have feel as Jesus felt.
That's the feeling we're all striving for. Not just a sad heart, but one that moves to action. Kendyl, you just keep caring. I learned a great lesson that day. It's not enough to be touched, we most be motivated to really do something. Have a great day. JW

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

$40,000 and Ice Cream

I drove up to see a squad of kids holding a little African-American boy. He had to be two or three years old. They were all laughing because they had just bought some ice cream for everybody and in the 90+ degree heat and 100% humidity, the ice cream was dripping like a leaky water faucet. The little boy was taking his hand that was covered with sticky, gooey, ice cream stuff, and rubbing it on the young man who was holding him. They came up to the van and asked if I had a paper towel. I only had Klennex's, but that sufficed.
A few feet in front of them was where the serious conversation was going on. Our worker was kneeling down talking to the mother of the little boy. I didn't know what the conversation was, but the squad had told me that they wanted to talk outside of earshot of the little boy, so I knew it had to be something they didn't want him to hear.
As it turned out, the young, single mother had paid out over $40,000 to a "contractor" who was going to repair her home. The only problem, the money was gone and so were the contractors. No repairs, nothing to go home to. The young mother and her little boy were sleeping on the floor of her beauty parlor. That's the only place they had, which was more than many had in New Orleans. We took her to the Outreach Center where she met Nate Johnson, the man who ran the center. I'm sure he gave her some food, some care, and some hope.
You know what the young mom kept saying to our workers? You think she wanted to retrieve her $40,000? Sure she did. But that wasn't what was at the top of her list. She just kept saying over and over, "I just want to go home." Amen, dear sister! Amen! So do I! Have a great day! JW

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The First One

I'm convinced that he was God-placed. You see, I wanted to muck houses, not prayer walk. I wanted to get dirty and get my hands covered with dust. But I received a call from those in charge and they asked me to help with the prayer walking for the week. Knowing that I needed to be where I was needed most, I agreed. So I entered my task with not only some fear, but also with some regret. But the very first man I talked to in Ward 9 was sitting on some steps. He was a Hispanic looking man who was looking as if he were taking a short break from some work.
I walked up to him and told him who I was. I asked him where if he was here during the Storm. Most people didn't call it a hurricane or even Hurricane Katrina, they just referred to it as the Storm. "Yes, I stayed here. I lived down in Chalumette." He went on to tell me about having to go up into the attic of his house because of the rising water. Eventually, he said, he had to cut a hole in his roof where he waited for several days with his two dogs. Finally, someone came with a boat and took him to higher ground. He had lost his job, but he and his brother had started a new business. We prayed together on that spot. There was hope. It wasn't so in most people with whom I visited. I found him, as most people in the area, ready to share his story. As I left, he said to me, "You all be careful out there. This isn't a very good neighborhood." Good advice. I think I'll give the same advice to you. Be careful out there. This world is not a very good neighborhood sometimes. Have a great day. JW

Monday, June 12, 2006

It's Good to be Home!

I sat in my office this morning sipping my chai and enjoying the 58 degree weather of Omaha, Nebraska. I couldn't help but think what a contrast it was from last Monday morning. I was given a map of the 9th ward of New Orleans with a large yellow square. In the middle of the yellow square was an orange square. "This is your area of prayer-walking," I was told. What I've seen and heard and smelled in the last week has been phenomenal. I was asked by my wife, "Do you feel as if you have made a difference or do you feel that you've just chipped off a small piece of a large rock of granite?" The answer is "yes."
I'm back to being comfortable again. My air conditioning works. My bed is soft. I have no threat of my house being bulldozed. I have no threat of robbery. And though I am comfortable here at my desk, there is a nagging, persistent feeling that I can do more. I can do more to show Jesus' love. I can do more to be His eyes, His feet, His Spirit. My thought today is if we can do Jesus In New Orleans (JINO) and drive over 1400 miles to serve, why can't we be Jesus in Omaha? It's right in our backyard. There are needs to be met here.
Over the next several days, I'll relate some of my stories. You will never hear some of the best stories. There were 21 other people who went with me. Half of them teenagers. Their lives were forever changed. We got them out of their comfort zone and into a realm that few of them have entered--that of doing something for someone other than themselves. And their lives have been permanently changed. I love to see their faces light up when they tell their stories. My son hasn't even told me all of his. But I know it has made a difference. Praise God. Because when we serve, we become more like Jesus and we indeed change. It's good to be home. Have a great day! JW

Friday, June 02, 2006

Trip Tomorrow

Today has been a day of buying, packing, washing, preparation. Tomorrow twenty-two of us will begin our journey to New Orleans to work with the Tammany Oaks Church and help with Jesus in New Orleans (JINO). What a story of faithfulness you'll find in this congregation. They have done so much and God continues to bless them. As about 500 of us, young and old alike, converge on this work, please remember us in your prayers. Pray for safety, opportunties, and growth. Pray that New Orleans will truly see Jesus in us.
My experience with this kind of work is we go down to be a blessing. We return by being bless far more than we blessed. I pray that will happen again.
So I'll not be blogging for a little over a week. Check back in on June 12 and I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about. God bless you in what you are doing today and this week. JW

P.S. May I also ask a personal pray for my family while I'm gone? My son is going with me, but please pray for my wife, my daughter and her husband. Thank you more than you'll ever know.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


We had small group at our house last night and we needed something to eat. My wife was finishing up the last bit of cleaning so she asked me to go to the grocery store to buy something for snacks. I was certainly up for the task because if there is anything I know something about, it's snacks. She did call out that we needed a gallon of milk, but other than that...snacks.
I bought one of those pre-decorated cakes that are at the stores now with icing about an inch thick. We needed some "real" drinks because all we had at home was diet. So, a liter of Coke and a liter of Dr. Pepper. (In the south both of those would have been called "cokes." But up here, it's "pop.") We needed some ice cream to go along with the drinks and cake. So I got a half gallon of low-fat and a half gallon of high fat. It didn't say "high fat," but since it said "low fat," you have to make the assumption. I didn't forget the milk.
So there it was, everything we needed for a feast. I went to check out and the total was $25.83. What's the significance of that? When my wife and I married almost 30 years ago, we had no money. We lived on a shoe string budget. We had $25 a week to get the essentials. It was so tight that we would take a calculator with us to the grocery store and add everything up. If there was a little left over, we could get a "treat." My how times have changed. I spent more on junk last night than we could spend on essentials in one week. I couldn't help but think how good God has been. I know I've written about God's goodness before, but it really came home in a real way last night. Times have changed, I know, but the reality of it is I can afford to do things like that now when I couldn't have 30 years ago. So the question I ask of myself and a question I would like to ask you is, "Am I using what God has given me to His glory?" Praise be to God. Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power, and love Our God is an awesome God. Amen! Have a great day.