Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Doing Dumb, Meeting Grace

July 27, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                             July 27, 2015

                                          

When I was in fourth grade I had a friend named Terry who was a bit rougher around the edges then me. Terry even would let a cuss word flow from his lips from time to time. He would walk the line between what was acceptable behavior and what was reform school acts.

And I hung around with him!

In some odd way I thought it made me took tougher. “Don’t mess with me! Do you see who I’m hanging around with?”

And so it was on a nice spring day at the close of school. Terry and I were leaving Williamstown Elementary to head home and we noticed thee was a kickball game going on at the school playground. We loved kickball, so we stopped and joined in the game. There is nothing better for a fourth grader than kickball after school…unsupervised!

We’d been playing a while when Terry kicked the ball to the outfield, but a player on the other team made a nice catch for an out. Terry let loose with an expletive!

Unfortunately, one of the fifth grade teachers, a beautiful lady named Mrs. Davidson, was walking by when the four letter word entered our world and she stopped and in a very nice way told him not to use language like that again.

“Yes, ma’am!”

End of story!

No!

My fourth grade bravado raised its ugly head, and with pumped-out chest I did dumb! I yelled down the sidewalk at Mrs. Davidson as she strolled away from school. “What are you going to to about it, you old bag?”

Don’t ask me why I chose that moment to be a tough guy, but I can still see Mrs. Davidson doing a sharp U-turn and heading back towards a fourth grader who was now completely void of bravado. I was trying to hit the rewind button on my mouth to no avail. The condemned prisoner was about to be executed.

Her words were direct and clearly communicated. “Let’s go see Mr. Morton!”

Not Mr. Morton! Mr. Morton was our school principal. His first name was Shirley, which, I believed, caused him to approach students in a gruffer way. He is the only male I have ever known who was named Shirley, and it is a name that still strikes fear in me. Mr. Morton had snow white hair, was short and thick and carried a big paddle.

Mrs. Davidson escorted the two of us, Terry and me…the condemned about to die, to the principal’s office. Mr. Morton warmed our behinds quickly. It was “bun warming” redefined!

Terry and I walked funny all the way home. It took a good bit of acting on my part, but I never let on with my mom and dad that my backside was a bit sensitive to sit on at dinner time.

“How was school today?”

      “Great…awesome! I got a 100% on my spelling test!”

     I had done dumb and dumbness has a way of rippling through you for a while afterwards. I got a glass of water with ice a bit later, went in the bathroom and tried to cool my behind with the ice cubes. It didn’t work! I slept on my stomach that night. Never again did I call one of my teachers an old bag.

Two weeks later on a Sunday morning I had my junior usher suit on at First Baptist Church of Williamstown. I was on duty, ready to hand out bulletins and help collect the offering. I was looking like a nice Christian fourth grade boy who was serving Jesus.

And then Mrs. Davidson walked in with her husband, who was the high school wrestling coach. My Cheerios started to rise from my stomach. I turned as red as a beet! And Mrs. Davidson looked at me and with a smile on her face said “Good morning!”

With a squeaky high voice I responded “Good morning!”, handed a bulletin to her.

“Thank you!” She smiled at me in a forgiving way. My eyes spoke repentance, and I met was introduced to grace.

The Davidson’s became a part of our church, but never once did she mention my transgression. Grace moved us past it…and I will always be thankful!

Preaching With Them

July 26, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          July 26, 2015

                                              

This morning in worship I told the story of Legion from the Gospel of Mark. I was led to do two things this morning that I hoped the congregation caught. So often we tell the story from the view of outside eyes and distant ears. We minimize its relevance to our lives by speaking about it as if we are in the balcony.

So this morning I told the story and brought the congregation into it by referring to them as the people of Gerasena where the demon-possessed man was from. I came at it from the perspective of the congregation being the ones who drove off the man to the tombs. We went through the life stages. I admit that I envisioned the man’s childhood…the beginning signs of a troubled mind and spirit, the increasing tension in the city whenever he was around people, the heartbreak of his parents in knowing they couldn’t make him better. I led us through the story carefully, drawing in the emotions that we felt as Legion became more apparent.

The second thing I did was use the pronoun “we” instead of “you.” In fact, I only used “you” once and that was towards the end of the story in asking the worshipers “You remember, don’t you?”

I did not preach at, but rather included myself as one of the Gerasenes. I was simply the one who was re-telling the story about us.

I’m sure if I looked back through my old sermon manuscripts I would be embarrassed by the number of times I preached to “them”, heaping accusations and a John the Baptist call to repent! In my elderly state I’m acutely aware of my need for the grace of God in the midst of my blunders and shortcomings.

And so I preach more and more about us.

I don’t know if those who journeyed with me this morning noticed the different perspective of things. I was not driven from the sanctuary like the man was driven from the town. I noticed, however, that some of the usual slumbering saints had their eyes open throughout.

That in itself is somewhat of a miracle!

Missing Moose

July 24, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        July 24, 2015

                                                

My wife, Carol, and I returned this week from an Alaskan cruise. We marveled at the glaciers that were “calving”- the breaking off of chunks of ice that fall into the waters below. The sound is like thunder…ice thunder! We were awed by the train ride up White Pass. One picture that I took could be on a postcard, or, for me, a jigsaw puzzle!

But we didn’t see any moose! Several times on our excursion trips the guide or bus driver would tell us to keep our eyes peeled for moose and bear because these were the spots that they liked to frequent.

No moose on the loose…no bear for us to stare!

It wasn’t that they weren’t out there, just not in visual range. Frankly, the last moose I saw was in Colorado Springs within an echo of the downtown area!

Sometimes my spiritual eyes are on the same focus point as my moose sightings. I think that I need to travel a far distance from home to experience something of God, when the truth is God-sightings are within an echo of where I am.

Yesterday a dear lady from our church shared a wonderful story with me about a God-moment she unexpectedly had that was confusing in the midst of it, but an amazing God-story at the end of it. I believe the effect of it is that she will be on the lookout with spiritual binoculars for where God will show up next.

A close friend of mine who is dealing with a life-threatening illness had experienced the orchestration of God in numerous ways all through this past month.

It is almost always our lack of looking that blinds us from what we could possibly see. And our tendency is simply not to be looking right where we are…believing that the workings of God must be more glorious and obvious in another location…on a cruise ship…on the other side where the grass is greener.

I missed moose in Alaska. It wasn’t meant to be, but I did see whales and salmons swimming upstream.

If we simply look for God to be seen in one specific way we will rob ourselves of the opportunities he chooses to show himself!

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!

Camp Letter

July 9, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        July 9, 2015

                                                    

Dear Mom and Dad,

 

Camp is a lot of fun! I wish it wouldn’t be ending on Saturday, but I know you miss me and want me to come home…and I’m okay with that! I’ll probably sleep about twenty-four hours straight because I’m really tired. Our counselor, Mr. Bob, snores at night so it’s hard to get much sleep. He’s nice, though! Yesterday I forgot to bring my money to Canteen…that’s the camp name for “7-11!” It’s got all those things that you don’t want me to eat or drink right before dinner…except Slurpies! Anyway, he bought me a Creamsicle and we talked about my favorite subject in school…gym class…and what the best part of camp has been. Last night when Mr. Bob snored like there’s no tomorrow I was more okay with it.

The food here isn’t as good as the food you fix at home, Mom! But the good thing is that I think your food will taste even better after I get home…even your meatloaf!

I’ve made a new best friend. His name is Jimmy. He is from the big city and had darker skin then me. I was talking to him about our farm, and can you believe this…he’s never even been on a farm, and has only seen pictures of pigs! He didn’t even know that bacon comes from pigs in a round-about way. He lives in a really tall apartment building that has twenty floors, and he’s on the seventeenth floor! I can’t imagine that! I asked him what happens if someone falls out of the window, and he said that they have windows that don’t open! That is some kind of craziness right there! He’s a really nice boy the same age as me. Sometime I hope he can come visit us on the farm and see a real pig.

You would like this! Everyday after lunch we have to take a nap. They call it “FOYB!” that means “flat on your back!” I’m okay with it since Mr. Bob’s snoring cuts out some of our sleep time during the night. For some reason he never seems to snore during FOYB!

A couple of days ago I got to go down a zip line! That was so much fun! They make you wear this helmet and this thing that kind of looks like a women’s girdle I think, but then you go down this cable really fast! I think we should put one up in the barn after I get home. Dad, you wouldn’t have to go down the ladder from the hay loft anymore. You could get down a lot faster and that way get your work done faster! I’ll help!

The pastor here this week is really cool. He’s not even old, like all the pastors I’ve ever met in my life. He was talking to us about trusting in Jesus. I had never heard it put exactly the way he said it. Let me try to explain it to you: Jesus loves me even though I don’t always do the right thing or make the right choice. That was pretty cool! So Mom, even though I don’t always clean my room, or remember to clean it, Jesus still loves me! Can you believe that?

Last night we were sitting around the campfire singing songs that I’m still learning the words for, and the camp pastor said that if anyone would live Jesus to live within their heart all that needed to happen was reciting this prayer that he prayed. I don’t exactly remember how the prayer went, but I said it. I don’t exactly understand how Jesus came into my heart, but I started crying into my sweater sleeve. I told Mr. Bob about it right before lights out and he said that I needed to talk to you and our pastor after I get back home.

I’d better stop writing so I can get this letter in the mail. There was one girl who was interested in me, but I told her I was too young to date. She was disappointed, so I tried to be nice. So I said, “Maybe next year at camp!” I will need you to help me figure out what to say to her at camp next year.

 

Your Son,

Joey Smith

What Would Jesus Do…Still?

June 30, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     June 30, 2015

                                 

Back a few years ago (the 1990’s!) multitudes of people wore bracelets with the four initials branded into them that said “WWJD.” It stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” It was a question that reminded many followers of Jesus that what the Christ would do in various life situations might very well be different from what the majority was doing?

It’s interesting in reading the Wikipedia definition of “What Would Jesus Do?” In their view the definition was “a personal motto of Evangelical Christianity” to help adherents make decisions about moral beliefs.

It seems that when the label “Evangelical Christianity” is used these days you can almost hear a sneer or chuckle. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive, but I’d prefer to hear the words “followers of Jesus.”

And so the question now for Christ’s followers is “What Would Jesus Do…Still?” The one who is quick to answer “The same things he would have done in 1990” might need to stop and consider.

Was our concern for the environment as heightened in 1990 as it is today? Would Jesus recycle radically? Would he ride a bike to speaking engagements?

Would Jesus be more health conscious in his decision making now than twenty years ago? Would he eat organic and abstain from red meat?

Was our concern for human trafficking even on the radar in the mid-nineties? What would Jesus response be to the recent revelation of fish showing up in our supermarkets that had been caught by enslaved fisherman in Indonesia?

Would Jesus have any opinion about the increasing number of millionaires in our country while the poop get poorer?

The thing is “WWJD” is more relevant now, and urgent, than it was twenty years ago. Perhaps we need new bracelets that say “WWJDS?”

As time goes on, the understanding of how to answer that question gets more foggy. People who are self-absorbed and perfectly content to develop their own personal theologies will answer that question in increasingly bizarre ways. But, on the other hand, those who walk closely with Jesus will also sometimes error.

What would Jesus do…still? I believe the answers to that question draw upon the question and answers from one of those prophets from long ago, Micah, who asked the question”What does the Lord require of you?” Perhaps he paused for a few moments before writing an answer: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

     Perhaps that is a beginning to the pondered question. Sometimes we’re prone to write the ending before we have the beginning.

Baptism Day

June 28, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   June 28, 2015

                                                 

Baptism in the Baptist church is a celebration that drenches the soul! It isn’t an invitation to a funeral, but rather an expression of the deep flowing grace of God, the life-giving story of the gospel visualized in a person standing in the midst of the waters.

This morning was an awesome experience in the sharing of people’s faith journeys. Four adults…some new to the faith, and others who have journeyed with Jesus for a while, entered our “church tub” and testified of their faith.

The event was punctuated by the fact that other people were involved in the baptisms. In our congregation when someone gets baptized I encourage them to ask someone who has been instrumental in their faith journey to be the one who dips them into the waters.

The first woman to be baptized was helped into the water tank by her husband. She had been serving faithfully for the past several years in our congregation. We just assumed that she had been baptized…but sometimes assumptions get the best of us! As her spouse asked her if she knew Jesus in a personal way I could hear a slight emotional crack in his voice. He looked into her eyes with love and compassion, and she back at him with the same loving gratitude. As he lowered her into the waters I was there to give physical assistance…since both of them are into their sixth decade. Wait a minute! So am I! After she came back up to her feet, husband and wife embraced…and more than a few tears were being shed by those watching!

The second woman was baptized by her in-laws…mother in-law and sister-in-law. They had walked with her through moments of loss and births of children. They didn’t turn their backs on her when she expressed doubts about faith. In the background, although not in the baptistry, was her grandmother-in-law who had been praying for this day to happen for the past several years. What a story of walking with someone in doubts and discoveries!

Finally a husband and wife came to be baptized. They asked me to be the one who took them back into that expression of the death and resurrection of Christ. The husband and I play basketball together. We trash talk each other on the court…in Christian love! But in this moment I fought back the tears of joy of seeing two lives wanting to serve the Lord. Parents of three young children they have been through some difficult times, times of searching and asking tough questions, and times of trying to figure out this thing called “walking in faith.”

Four faith journeys coming together for a few moments of mass celebration. I don’t know if anyone will remember a word I said that morning in the sermon, but there were four messages of transformation visualized that no one will forget!


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