Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Thanks-Living

November 26, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   November 26, 2014

                                                      

It is the day before Thanksgiving. Hump Day in out-of-sorts week.

What do we make out of this week? A grand jury verdict that split the nation, protest marches in numerous cities across the land, looting and accusations. It’s been a week!!! And it’s only Wednesday!

Tomorrow we gather around dinner tables to…give thanks! It will seem weird, like a mystery movie suddenly becoming a chick flick, or Rambo turning into Bambi. Many of us will look at what has transpired the past few days and ponder what it was we were to give thanks for.

I do not have any Solomonic sayings to impress you with about justice and injustice, right and wrong. There is nothing I can write that will suddenly bring the world back into balance, but I do believe that the way we live needs to be a reflection of hearts that have been changed.

Thanks-living takes thanksgiving to a deeper incision. Thanks-living is not grasped by nearly as many people as those who demonstrate thankless living.

Thanks-living is pastoring a church that is echoed with baby cries and laughter. Thankless living is counting down the minutes of the worship service so you can get to lunch.

Thanks-living is knowing that this day, and then the next day, are beautiful creations of our God who loves his art. Thankless living is a sense of entitlement to have every day be warm and sunny.

Thanks-living is firmly believing that I have been blessed in so many ways. Thankless living is always asking the question “why isn’t me life better?”

Thanks-living is a grateful heart that we live in a country that believes in freedom. Thankless living complains that everything isn’t free.

Thanks-living is appreciative of the platter of mashed potatoes. Thankless living complains about the price of potatoes.

In essence thanks-living is about having an attitude of gratitude. A lot of people these days need attitude adjustments.

In a week where things have seemed out of control, and each of us is trying to figure out answers while still confused about what all the questions are, perhaps a step towards solution, towards a better place and a better world…is to live each day with a commitment to being thankful.

Thanks-living!

The Chaos of Life’s Delays

November 17, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                       November 17, 2014

                                

     I love snow days…and I hate snow days!

I love the unexpected freedom, the sudden opening up of my day’s schedule, and the surprise of a snow day.

But I hate the loss of rhythm that a snow day brings.

I have discovered that I am a person of routines and consistent behavior. I’m at Starbucks right now as I write this. It’s Monday morning about 9:00 and my day off. If you were to come to Starbucks next Monday at 9:00 you’d stand a very good chance of finding me sitting on one of the stools facing the windows drinking coffee and pecking on my laptop. I feel comfortable integrating certain routines in my life.

If it’s 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon I’ll be napping.

If it’s Wednesday night I’m at church.

If it’s Friday morning at 8:00 there’s a fifty percent chance I’m at a different Starbucks having coffee with Roger and Steve. The chances are only half as good because we meet every other Friday morning.

If it’s 10 P.M. I’m thinking about bed if I’m not already in bed.

I think you get the picture. Life has its patterns and order…and then the thermometer plunges to 0 and chaos blows into the day. Events get canceled, meetings get postponed, there’s a breath of fresh air in the uncluttered day…and I feel lost!

I find myself trying to figure out what day it is, what’s on the schedule, and what I’m about. We are creatures of habit whether we want to admit it or not. If given a choice the Hebrew nation would have chosen to return to Egypt. Egypt offered steady work…yes, also enslaved work, but a person knew when he woke up in the morning what he was going to do that day!

It also makes me wonder about those who become followers of Christ during their adult years, and slip away within months of their conversion. Spiritual transformation for many people is a tremendous change, leaving the old and accepting the new. We use terms like lost and found, “the old has passed away and the new person has been born.”

And yet such terminology, freeing on one hand, is difficult on the other hand. It’s like the ratty blanket that I sleep with each night, and have slept with for about 35 years. It doesn’t really offer that much warmth, but it feels like home.

Conversion, though it offers freedom and forgiveness, a new start, a fresh beginning…is out of rhythm for us.

On the other side, I’ve been a Christ-follower since I was 12. I’ve always gone to church on Sunday. In fact, growing up I was in church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. I thought Sunday night services were mandated by the Bible. I remember asking Dr. James Payson Martin, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois why the church didn’t have Sunday night services. I was serving there as a youth director while i was in seminary. I’ll always remember what he said to me. “Well Bill, what it takes you Baptists two services to do we can do in one service!” A few years later when I was pastoring at First Baptist Church of Mason, Michigan, I brought Sunday night services to a close.

I’ve always gone to church, been involved in ministries, participated in leadership as a member and pastor. My Sunday morning seems to have gone haywire if I’m not in worship. I don’t quite understand Saturday night services. If I went to one I’d be lost on Sunday morning!

The longer I pastor the more obvious it is that there aren’t many people left who see things like I do. The church is populated with an increasing number of people whose life rhythm is not centered on Sunday morning worship as a consistent part of their lives.

Understand that I’m not whining about that. I’m just coming to grips with what is the reality. My understanding of having a conversion experience is a different picture than most people now have. Being aware of that has given me more of an open mind and listening ear to those who are still trying to find that spiritually healthy rhythm of life.

 

Christian Discouragement

November 4, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   November 2, 2014

                                   

Philip Yancey’s new book Vanishing Grace begins with the bad news about the good news. The cultural view of Christians is not good. He uses a recent survey of 18,000 people from all over the world to share what is hard to hear. The question was asked “Is religion a force for good?” In total, 52% of those surveyed judged that religion does more harm than good.

Wow!

How did we get to a point where more people would be glad for religious beliefs to take a break…a long break?

It took a while…but we managed to get there!

Yancey recalls an article that Tim Stafford wrote for Christianity Today magazine a few years ago where Stafford, using biblical times parallels, said that Christians in America often think they are like the Jewish people taken in captivity to Babylon, living in a culture that trumpets values that are against their faith. Stafford makes the point that Christians in our country  are more like Samaritans living right beside the Jews and not getting along. In other words, sometimes Christians are polarized from non-Christians because we can’t get along. We are prone to use spiritual language to describe it, like “spiritual”, “holy”, “holy people of God”, “morally upright”, and other terms that show that we are godly, but we also seem to enjoy being in one corner and our culture in the other corner…and never the two shall meet unless we’re ready to jab and punch.

The separation, whether we like to admit it or not, often makes us look snooty and Pharisaic.

Many will disagree with me, and I’m okay with that, but could it be that instead of Christians isolating themselves in a desperate attempt to obediently follow Christ that disciples should instead take a few steps towards our culture. That does not mean that we become accepting of beliefs and lifestyles that we don’t agree with. It simply means that we are open to listening and slow to our race to judgment. I refer back to Yancey again. He makes this statement that I’ve underlined with a yellow highlighter on my iPad:

“It takes no grace to relate to someone who looks, thinks, and acts like me.”

     Of course, I entitled this post “Christian Discouragement.” That’s because I see a lot of discouraged Christians and a lot of depressed churches. Joy seems to have fled to the mountains for the weekend. I’m optimistic that it will return and find new lodging in our sanctuaries, communities of faith, and pilgrim journeys.

The good news can be seen again as good news for all…that God loves each and every one of us no matter whether we have requested it, denied it, avoided it, or…yes, it can happen…accepted it with tears of thanksgiving.

It’s funny! The older I get the more I seem to write about grace. I think there’s a key there, perhaps a revelation, that it marks the road between discouraged and encouraged.

Being Mistaken For God

October 31, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            October 30, 2014

                                    

This year I’m teaching the three and four year old’s Sunday School class. It’s not often that the pastor teaches a class like that, but I’m enjoying it. Some would say that I’ve finally found some people that I can relate to! Each Sunday a mixture of excited and apprehensive kids enter the classroom. One of them, a little boy, who just turned three, named Ben, usually has his cowboy boots on as he arrives at “Sonshne Club.”

Ben has not reached that age where his speech is clear, as is also the case for a couple of the other kids in the class…but he’s not afraid to speak!

Last night he came bopping into the church gym with his mom and little sister and said a few words to me that I couldn’t make out. It was at that point that his mom told me that he was saying hello, but he refers to me as “God!”

He thinks I’m God! I’ve been called a few other names in my lifetime, but I think this is the first time I’ve been mistakenly named God. It’s a big responsibility to carry! I’ve known some people who act like they are God, but not too many who get named God. I’ve always been “Billy” or “Billy Dean.” Back in high school I was nicknamed “Beowulf”, which got shortened to “Beo.” Bill Wolfe sounds remarkably like Beowulf, especially if your sophomore English class is reading the story at the time.

But back to God…in one three year old cowboy-booted boy’s eyes I’m God. I’m sure that won’t last for long, and someday soon I’ll be renamed Pastor Bill, but for now I’m the Man with a Plan, the Head Honcho, the Almighty and Up-righty!

On the positive side, when someone thinks your God it makes you step back a bit and think about what you’re doing and what you’re saying. If Ben continues to seek God he will remember whether or not I was a godly reflection.

After all, each follower of Jesus is a reflection of Christ. Sometimes the reflection is tainted and confusing, and sometimes it’s a Christ-honoring picture.

This Sunday when Ben comes strolling into class looking like a Pony Express rider and calling me God I’ll tell him he’s blessed and that God loves him. He will probably respond with a few words that I may not be able to decipher, so I’ll smile, give him a high-five,  and tell him it’s good to have him in God’s class!

Amen!

 

Shooting The Wounded

October 22, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  October 21, 2014

                                     

 

We are all fallen!

The problem is that Christians, ironic as it is, have a nasty habit of trampling on fallen people…even though scripturally we believe “…that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!” (Romans 3:23)

Recently, Mark Driscoll, founding pastor and lead pastor of Mars Hill Church, whose main campus is in Seattle, resigned amidst allegations of bullying, plagiarism, and an oversized ego. Mars Hill Church, founded by Driscoll in 1996, is attended by more than 15,000 people.

I’m sure that Mark Driscoll made mistakes, perhaps even abusing his leadership powers to excess. All of us have sinned!

But some of the ways he has been tormented in recent weeks is harsh evidence that Christians are prone to shoot their wounded. Driscoll and his wife and five children have moved three times, people have been arrested at their home and he has also received death threats. One morning baseball-sized rocks were hurled through windows of their home.

Of course, Jesus didn’t prohibit the throwing of rocks. He just said to let the person who has not sinned, and not fallen short at some time…let him or her throw the first rock.

Why do followers of Jesus seem to be sometimes be cruel and hateful? What pleasure does that bring to the heart of God to see those that his son was crucified for be crucified over and over again?

It’s what saddens me the most about the church. We have a tendency to think the worst about people, instead of thinking with a grace-filled mindset.

Where there’s a wounded hurting spirit you’ve got to watch out for the smoking gun.

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!

That Illusive Feeling of Peace

October 10, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       October 13, 2014

                                    

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?…Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:25 and 27)

 

Let’s be honest! Peace is something we long for, but find it hard to grasp. Currently there are many areas of unrest in our lives. In case your list is short, here’s a few to add to it:  ISIS, ebola, mall shootings, school shootings, burn scars, cholesterol levels, cancer, gas prices, stocks falling, collapsed pension plans, processed food, college tuition, aching knees, overdrawn bank accounts, hacking Target and Home Depot, pit bulls, gun right advocates and opponents, Republicans and Democrats, Obamacare and lack of health care, meth addicts robbing homes…

As you know, I could go on and on and on, but I’m sure there were a few things on that list that resonated with you.

Worry is like water! After yesterday’s three inches of rain there’s plenty of it for everyone!

But what about peace! Is it on sabbatical? Have we ticked off God so much that he’s taken back his peace and gone home?

Aren’t followers of Jesus suppose to be peace-filled? Isn’t there suppose to be a sense of tranquility in our spiritual lives?

Let me answer that with a “That would be nice!” and “Sometimes yes!”

There’s an inner peace and and outer sense of peace. The inner peace is a promise of God. Philippians 4:6-7 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That inner peace develops as we take a breath of prayer…as we trust that He will never leave us nor forsake us. It’s believing more in the presence of God and the power of God than the destruction and depression of Life.

The outer sense of peace comes and goes like the winning streaks of the Colorado Rockies…most of the time, too few and far between! Life can be good and then the news comes on. We talk about peaceful moments, but they are suddenly plummeted by torrential rains.

The fickleness of our outer peace raises our worries like the yeast in baking bread. Sometimes our worries cause us to forget that we DO have the promise of inner peace.

Jesus asks, “Why worry?” And we respond, “Because it’s one thing we’re really good at!”

We will even worry if there suddenly isn’t anything to worry about!

We are followers of the one who was known as “The Prince of Peace.” If we could just follow him as closely as my shadow seems to follow me!


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