Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

My Three Year Old World

September 15, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        September 15, 2014

                                     

I’ve noticed something a little strange! A growing percentage of my life is being spent with three year olds. As I’ve mentioned in recent writings, I’m coaching a soccer team of three year olds. And now…this past Sunday I began co-teaching a Sunday School class mostly of three year olds.

About twenty-five years ago Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. I’m thinking of a revision, without Fulghum’s permission, entitled “Most Of What I Know Now Was Learned From Three Year Olds.” I may have to shorten the title, but the thought resonates with me.

Here’s a couple of things I’ve discovered from three year olds.

What you say…they take literally! My granddaughter was playing goalie in our soccer game on Saturday for one of the quarters. Coach Tony who helps us told her that when the ball came towards her she was to jump on it.

She did exactly what he said! When the ball came towards her she jumped on it…with her feet. Jumping to her means jumping up in the air and landing back on your feet again. So…she tried to land on top of the ball with her feet, but her timing was off…so, in essence, she jumped up just in time for the ball to pass under her and into the goal.

Three year olds take things literally. It’s also why you can talk about polka-dotted ponies and whispering caterpillars with them and they believe. Perhaps that’s why Jesus talked to his followers about having a child-like faith. Faith requires that you take God at his word! Thirty-three year olds aren’t as good at that. Neither are sixty-three year olds. Too much skepticism has been spoken into our lives at those points.

Here’s something else I’ve learned from three year olds! What is important isn’t really what’s important! I had a schedule for Sunday School class this past Sunday. I had a lesson plan. I had times attached to each part of the lesson. Half of the plan got accomplished. None of the students got upset at missing out on “Activity #4”. What was important to them was Goldfish crackers, singing “Jesus Loves Me” accompanied by a classroom full of percussionists, and coloring a picture of a school bus to take home with them. Likewise, three year old soccer players don’t keep score. They giggle, look at airplanes flying overhead, and play with the assurance that their will be a snack time after the final whistle. What is important to them is having a coach that will give them a high five, pick them up when they fall down, and help them tie their shoes. Simple things. Uncomplicated things like Jesus loves them this they know…for the Bible tells them so!

One more thing they’ve taught me…so far! Play is just as important as work! The soccer field we run around on is right next to a playground with swings, a slide, and monkey bars. Several times so far I’ve had players take a soccer break and meander over to the slide. Their soccer “responsibilities” can wait, even though their coach is sensing “they aren’t taking this seriously!” Their lives will be filled with work soon enough, and at that point they will wonder why their playtime had to decrease and, for some, disappear.

Teaching a three year old Sunday School class requires being able to still play some. It requires getting down on the carpet even though you’re not sure how quickly you’ll be able to get back up again.

As I tell the high school basketball players I coach, the game is played closer to the floor than in the air. Three year olds prove that…especially the playing part!

 

Baptist Bucket Challenge

August 22, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 21, 2014

                                       

I’m trying to be creative!

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can raise 15.6 million dollars (to date) in the seeking for a cure to Lou Gehrig’s disease by challenging people to dump a bucket of ice and water over their heads, there’s got to be something that I can challenge the people of our American Baptist church to do to take care of a budget deficit.

People don’t misunderstand me. I’m not minimizing the ALS cause. I did the ice bucket challenge on Tuesday, and challenged a couple of other people to then do it. I also remember leading a funeral service several years ago for a man who had gradually deteriorated from ALS. IN the last couple of years of his life he and his wife had attended the church I pastored. I saw how the disease slowly decimated his body and his hope.

So, I understand the effects of the disease, and I am delighted that people have dumped enough ice water over their heads to fill Lake Erie.

Now, if I could think of something to loosen the purse strings of a bunch of Baptists!

What would be creative, but also not destructive, life-threatening, or end up on one of those TV shows that airs video clips that display people’s stupidity?

What could loosen people’s grips on their cash that wouldn‘t necessitate me having to wear a diaper, kiss a pig, or wallow in manure?

What could people of my church challenge one another to do?

Since we’re a Baptist church maybe it should be something that involves baptism! Not necessarily baptism by immersion. People get baptized in other ways, you know…like baptized by fire!

Not sure we’d get many volunteers for fire baptism, however!

Baptized in the Spirit might be a possibility. There are always a few people that I’d love to be smacked up the side of the head by the Holy Spirit. I’d even pay for it!

Back pedal! It seems that Simon the Sorcerer tried to do something like that in Acts 8, and it didn’t go over very well!

I’d be willing to be baptized by already-cooked shrimp, but I’m not sure anyone would give a donation for that. I’d enjoy it, though!

I’d be willing to be baptized in ice cream, but I’m a little hesitant to have people standing around me with spoons and chocolate sauce.

Perhaps a Coffee Cup Challenge. I’d be willing to drink Folger’s Coffee for donations. There’s a hefty price for pain and suffering…even involving your taste buds.

Or how about a Prune Juice Gulp Challenge. Fifty bucks for each ounce of prune juice I down. The downside of that is that I’m sure there is a limit…personally speaking.

I dressed up as Queen Elsa this summer for $200 collected by kids. There’s got to be someone that adults would want tome to dress up as and throw money at.

Friends of mine have done the duct tape challenge where they got duct taped to a wall. That wouldn’t be too bad unless people stuck me up there and left!

Sleep deprivation could be an option. There’s a group of young guys at church who would pay to see me stay awake after 10:00.

There’s got to be some creative ways for a group of mostly teatotalers to way funds that are legal and won’t get us on the evening news in the crime section. Maybe the
Ice Bucket Baptism! Total immersion (A Big Bucket), not sprinkling!

Boom…got it!

The Courage To Stay In The Middle

August 19, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 18, 2014

                                  

The worst person and place to be in a two-teamed shaving cream fight is the judge in the middle. After a few moments of each team “creaming” each other the judge, invariably, gets pounced on by both teams. The judge comes out wearing more shaving cream than anybody else.

The middle of something is becoming an awkward place to be. People on both sides of you want to pull you in their direction. When you’re committed to staying middle you become the easiest target.

In shaving cream battles it’s fun and humorous, but in the growing chasm of opinion that our culture is experiencing staying in the middle takes courage.

I’m sure some- dare I say most- will disagree with me. I have Facebook friends who are conservatives and Facebook friends who are liberals…Republican and Democrat…Tea Partiers and Starbuckers. I have FB friends who are pro-life and others who are pro-choice…those who attend church every Sunday and those who consider going about once a decade. In other words, I relate to people on both sides of the tug-of-war, looking for common ground with all.

Some of my richest times in ministry- spiritually speaking, not financially (GIve me a break!)- were the years I pastored in the Lansing, Michigan area and lunched every other Wednesday with two other pastors, Chuck and Tom. Even though we’ve gone our different ways because of ministry changes I still consider them to be my two best friends in ministry. One was fairly conservative ( not “Bob Jones conservative, but still leaning a little to the right) and one was fairly liberal. We toss out those labels quite often in Christian circles, but Chuck, Tom, and I never worried about our differences nearly as much as we valued our similarities. I was “the middle man” of the three, the moderate.

That experience, lunching with two guys at Finley’s Restaurant every other Wednesday for seven years, tells me that the middle doesn’t have to be a conflicted place…if there is an unquestionable commitment to respect and value one another, and be willing to clearly listen more than the compelled to speak.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying! I’m not minimizing the importance of people having strong opinions, just the tendency to think that their belief, stance, or opinion is the only valid one.

Jesus had strong beliefs, but he refused to be in anyone’s camp except his father’s. That put him at odds with someone in just about every teaching he gave. If there was one group that Jesus was the most consistently identified with it was the poor, widowed, and diminished. He reacted against excluding people because of their afflictions, mistakes, gender, and ethnic group.

I’m a “middler”, and I find it increasingly uncomfortable and inconvenient to be there, but I would be uncomfortable being labeled a conservative or a liberal. If you are in the middle you may be seen by one group as being a liberal, and another group as a conservative. People’s view of who you are must not change who you REALLY are.

I can watch Fox News or CNN equally without feeling guilty. I can sit in conversational fellowship with my neighborhood pastor friends from different denominations and be enriched by the diversity. I can partner with the Mormon principal of the elementary school down the street to help make our community better with a sense of confidence that we are on the same page.

As our culture becomes more polarized I believe the gospel has opportunities to draw people together. It may take time and effort, but it is….still is…our source of hope.

Coffee With Jesus…Sixth Cup”

August 4, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 4, 2014

                             

“It’s been a few days. Have you abstained from the caffeine?”

“Just been busy,” I replied to the Messiah. “Things have been…you know…crazy!” The two of us hadn’t gotten together for coffee for almost two weeks. “I’m sorry! I’ll try to get back into a regular coffee time with you.”

“You don’t need to apologize.”

“Well…I know you’re always available, and here I am taking two weeks to get together with you. I feel a little embarrassed about that.”

“Get over it!”

“Okay…so you’re saying my sin is taken care of.”ht

“Do you think it was a sin?”

“I’m assuming so. It seems that if I’m feeling a little guilty about something that there has to be sin lurking somewhere underneath it.”

“Could it be that it’s more about how you’ve been conditioned…how you were raised…what the church taught you growing up? Things like that.”

“So you’re saying that I’ve been conditioned to feel guilty?”

“In some ways. Were you told growing up that you should be at church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night?”

“A few thousand times. You know the saying, Jesus…if you go to church on Sunday morning, you love the pastor…if you go on Sunday night, you love the church…but if you go on Wednesday night, you love the Lord.”

“So when you miss spending time with me you start wondering if you really love me?”

“Yes…it comes back around to that again.”

“Why do lovers of God think performance is so important? Why can’t they rest with an assurance that they are in love with the Lord, and the Lord is in love with them?”

“And when you say “they”…you’re saying “me?”

“Good catch.”

“Because we’ve…been conditioned that way. I’m operating out of a mindset that says this is what it means to be a good Christian boy. It’s hard to break out of that understanding. It’s almost like I feel I’m betraying my roots, all the people who invested in my life.”

“So, to put it bluntly, you’re more conditioned by your culture than transformed by God.”

“Wow…that was pretty blunt. And it’s dead on. To use a rough example…it’s kind of like when I eat oatmeal now. Growing up we always put graham crackers in our oatmeal. The other day I was at Starbucks around breakfast time and I decided to get a bowl of oatmeal. Do you realize that Starbucks doesn’t serve graham crackers with their oatmeal. They give you raisins and nuts to put in it. I protested…to myself…that this wasn’t oatmeal, but since I paid $2.60 for it I went ahead and ate it. Do you know something? It was pretty good! But I had to break out of that “conditioned understanding” of what oatmeal is.”

“You put graham crackers in your oatmeal?”

“Yes.”

“That is weird! And you call yourself a Christian!”

He gave me a slight grin.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Coffee With Jesus…Fifth Cup

July 19, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    July 19, 2014

 

                                   

 

I brought a clean coffee cup with me today to drink some java with Jesus. I have a heavy population of coffee cups in my life. Today’s mug-of-the-day features a Far Side cartoon on the outside that reminds me of the funnier side of life.

“I like your coffee mug,” Jesus says as we sit down.

‘It’s a Far Side cartoon!”

“Yes…I can see that!”

“And you like it?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because Far Sides can sometimes be a little…what’s the word…borderline irreverent.”

“That’s two words, and I usually laugh out loud at Far Sides, or, what’s the term? LOL!”

“OMG! Jesus using social media terms!”

“Excuse me, Billy Dean! But people take themselves too seriously too often. Perhaps there needs to be more LOL moments in people’s lives. The last time we chatted we talked about what makes your soul sing. My guess is that laughter is music for your soul.”

“Yes, usually! Not laughter at the expense of someone else, but laughter that comes out of life moments.”

“Far Side moments, so to speak.”

“Exactly! Moments that give me a glimpse that I’m still child-like.”

“Being reminded that you are a child of God.”

“I don’t want to say I’m totally sure on this one, but I’d like to think God has a sense of humor.”

“Why would you think he doesn’t?”

“Because he’s God!”

“He created aardvarks, didn’t he?”

“Good point.”

“…and prune juice!”

“Another good point. But prune juice is good for you.”

“But prune juice is disgusting…even to me.”

“But it shows that God has a sense of humor?”

“Hey, there’s a lot of jokes related to prune juice.”

“As long as you’re not the one drinking it!” I look down at my coffee mixture. I would never have thought that I’d be talking to Jesus about Far Side cartoons and prune juice.

“Remember when I asked that question back a few cups of coffee ago…how is it with your soul?” I give a nod of recognition. “A soul that echoes that it is well is a soul that allows itself to laugh.”

“Let me understand this a little bit, because you’re not necessarily talking about an audible chuckle or uncontrollable laughter.”

“Sometimes they emerge in those ways, but I’m talking about when you allow the presence of the Holy to delight you. Does that ever happen?”

“To use an analogy, kind of like when a Far Side cartoon grabs you for a moment. It’s a brief experience in…surprise.”

“Ahhh…surprise! That’s an interesting word to use to describe it. There was a book written a number of years ago entitled Surprised By Joy.”

“C.S. Lewis.”

“Yes. It seems that our conversation has brought us back a ways to some of the experiences of his life.”

“It’s quicker to summarize a far Side cartoon than a book, Jesus.”

“Perhaps the laughter of the soul is not so much about quickness as it is about contemplation.”

“Kind of like a cup of coffee, not to be gulped, but rather sipped.”

“Or a fine glass of water that’s been turned into wine!”

“As opposed to a glass of prune juice that you want to get down as quickly as possible.”

“A disturbing image for the mind, Bill!”

 

          TO BE CONTINUED

Coffee With Jesus…Fourth Cup

July 16, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        July 15, 2014

 

                             

 

I look at Jesus for a second before returning my focus to the refilled cup in front of me. “It feels funny to be drinking coffee in front of the Son of Man while you remain caffeine free.”

“I don’t mind. I’m not a big coffee drinker. Probably goes back to the brief time I spent drinking Egyptian coffee. That brew could put hair on the Holy Ghost!”

“Does the Holy Spirit have hair?”

“It was simply an expression of exaggeration, Bill. I have been known to think big.”

“I guess so.”

“Think of the feeding of the 5,000. Why twelve baskets of leftovers…ever ask yourself that question?”

“Because of the twelves tribes of Israel?”

“Some think that, but I simply wanted to over-do it because the people, to begin with, couldn’t imagine God supplying their needs…let alone having stuff leftover.”

“So…back to this joy thing we were talking about…you asked me why I desired a joyous soul?”

“Yes, I believe I did say something like that.”

“I guess I struggling to find an answer. Is it because that’s what we were always taught in Sunday School…you know the song, “The joy of the Lord is my strength…”

“Yes, I’m familiar with it. Although when your congregation sings it my teeth chatter.”

“Why so?”

“They are a little rhythm impaired on the clapping.

“Jesus, we’re Baptists. Anything resembling dancing or music with a beat, we’re a little off…like a toddler trying to walk.”

“Let me ask you this. Do you think having a joyous soul is like eating fruits and vegetables- something that you’re told to to because it’s healthy?”

“No…I don’t think so.”

“So…going back to the question…why do you desire a joyous soul?”

“I was just asking you to help me figure that out. You’re the know-it-all at this table.”

“You’re the one who can begin to discover the answer.”

“I think…I think it was part of God’s design in our creation. I think he wants me to live out of a soul that is joyous. Even though I often wonder why he allows certain things to occur and other things to not be I don’t believe he desires for us to live out of a bitter or sorrowful soul.”

“Is it something you have to convince yourself of each day? In other words, it isn’t natural for you to know that your soul is joyous?”

“That’s a tough question, but “yes”, I think I have to convince myself each day. Perhaps it’s because the cynicism of the world has invaded my soul and weakened it to my desire for the things of God.”

“Fallenness leaves bruises, cuts, and wounds.”

“That’s for sure.”

“There’s another song that comes to mind…and your congregation actually sings it well. Some of the words include “Then sings my soul…how great thou art!”

“Yes, that’s a great hymn that seems to draw in the whole of me.”

“Perhaps, like music, desiring a joyous soul is comparable to finding that new song that your “whole” self can sing.”

“Does this mean learning to play the guitar?”

“No…no! I’m using music only as an analogy. It’s about what causes your soul to sing.”

“A topic for another cup?”

“Yes. You sip, I’ll observe.”

TO BE CONTINUED

Coffee With Jesus…Third Cup

July 11, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   July 11, 2014

 

                                       “Coffee With Jesus…Third Cup”

 

“Refill?”

“Why not? Helps the pain get swallowed.”

“Let’s talk about joy.”

The shift startles me for a moment. The look I give Jesus reveals my surprise.

“It’s okay to experience joy, you know.”

“I know…I know, it’s just that it doesn’t rise to the surface of conversation very often. There always seems to be a problem to focus on, a difficulty to voice concern about, someone’s disgruntlement.”

“Well…let’s talk about joy!”

“I don’t know where to start.”

“How do you experience joy? Let’s start with that.”

“All you can eat jumbo shrimp.”

“Come on! You can do better than that.”

“How so?”

“That’s a craving you have produced by your taste buds. Let’s get to joy.”

“Jesus, you make it so difficult.”

“…when you prefer it to be easy?”

I pause. “Yes, probably so.”

“Most of life is spent “taking it easy”, so to speak.”

“What brings me joy…my kids, my grandkids, my wife, and even a 93 year old man named Rex.”

“What about them brings you joy?”

“The things they say, the things they do.”

“Don’t other people their ages say and do the same things?”

“I’m sure they do.”

“So perhaps the things they say and do are a ripple effect of what brings you joy. The joy comes from the relationships you have with them.”

“I suppose so.”

“Could it be that the relational joy you experience with them might simply be a delightful shadow of the joy your soul experiences when it is conversing with our heavenly father?”

“I’ll have to take a sip of coffee and think about that one.”

“Understand what I’m saying. My father created you and everyone else to be relational. The delight you experience when your grandkids make you chuckle is a small expression…and experience…of the joy that echoes out of your intimacy with God.”

“Then why don’t people talk about that more? Why do most of my conversations, especially in church, deal with solving problems, budget demands, and people’s warped view on life?”

“You live in a world of pessimists who, given the choice…to use a Biblical phrase, would choose to return to Egypt rather than go forward into a promised future.”

“Because they were familiar with Egypt.”

“ For some people history looks more glorious the further away you travel from it.”

“So how do I help others focus more on joy than sorrow?”

“This isn’t another “how to” problem to add to the agenda.”

“Okay, how should I phrase the question then?”

“Ahhh…another “how to” question rephrased slightly!”

“Sorry…it comes from living in a age of manuals, and “Dummy Guides.”

“Let me encourage you to begin with you!”

“How so…I mean, explain!”

“Instead of worrying about others, which as a pastor you’re ingrained to do, what about yourself? Why would you desire a joyous soul?”

 

TO BE CONTINUED


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