Religious Suspicionists

Posted February 26, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Community, Death, Faith, Grace, Jesus, love, Parenting, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 26, 2017

                                     

A tragic event happened this past week that traumatized a local high school. A student took his life. Teen suicide has happened way to often in recent times. For the high school effected it was their sixth student suicide in the past year or so.

Half of the suicide victims at this high school had been involved in some way with the Young Life club of their campus. The local newspaper had a headline article featuring that point. A couple of the people that were interviewed more than hinted that there might be a connection between students killing themselves and what they were experiencing at Young Life.

When suicides happen, especially amongst adolescents, people search for answers…they long for understanding. Like common threads in a TV police detective episode, they look for connections between the victims. Young Life was a common thread half of the time. That led to comments by those being interviewed that perhaps the theology…the belief system of Young Life had been a contributing factor in the deaths.

A tragic situation followed by tragic assumptions. Religions, not just Christianity, are viewed with more and more suspicion these days. There are radical Muslims, radical Jews, and radical Christians…and a growing number of people can not differentiate between the radicals and those of us who see our spiritual faith as a motivator for positive results. And, quite frankly, there are a number of religious folk who look with suspicion on anything that they are uncomfortable with! That’s been true for centuries. Remember? Rock music was of the devil, tattoos are of the devil, movies are of the devil, Harry Potter was of the devil…the list was, and still is, long!

A number of conspiracy theorists have taken up residence in the Church!

There’s a growing number of suspicionists who WERE a part of the church. They were burned in some way, mistreated by the people of grace, and exited congregations never to return. A burned Baptist is like a parent whose daughter just got stood up by her prom date. Hell knows no greater fury. Anger has been planted deep inside.

So perhaps the suspicions about Young Life are understandable, although untrue. Perhaps we should expect doubts about our faith to become more prominent, and more reservations about our calling and purpose to rise to the surface.

If I remember right the first followers of Jesus had the same challenge. Their language was misinterpreted, as they took the bread and cup and referred to them as the body and blood of Christ! Their citizenship was questioned, as they talked about following Christ the King. Their theology was concerning, as they experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and expressed belief in someone who had been crucified and then was said to be raised form the dead.

Suspicion is not new to followers of Christ. We sometimes forget that we were gifted with “good news”, and that good news contains hope, love, peace, and grace that needs to trumpeted in a refresher course for Christ-followers.

One last hopeful point that the newspaper article made was that in the midst of the school tragedy the leaders of Young Life were coming alongside students and helping them cope with the loss, praying with the grieving, and listening to the confused. I guess you would call that the ministry of presence.

Church Covenants

Posted February 23, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Faith, Grace, Humor, Jesus, love, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 23, 2017

                                        

Churches are weird places! I know, I know…that’s a hard thing for a person who pastored for 37 years to say, but I’m owning up to it. Weird…strange…loving, but disapproving…like the free offer you get in the mail, but then find out there’s strings attached.

And the thing is, churches don’t intend to be that way, they just kind of warp into that!

One of those weird things about churches is a document that is called “the church covenant.” Depending on the congregation, the church covenant can be very affirming and loving, or it can be more like Ivy League entrance requirements.

I remember the covenant of a church I was on staff for that included restrictions on partaking of alcohol and participating in gambling. Everyone knew that there were a number of church members who included those two activities in their lives, but didn’t talk about it at church.

No church covenant has “abstaining from gluttony” as a part of their membership requirements!

Church covenants get glued on to the last page in the hymnal, like they were an afterthought, but they get trumpeted at hastily called church business meetings to support someone who has an axe to grind!

They are documents that create a “who’s in and who’s out” atmosphere.

The interesting aspect of church covenants to me is that they come out of communities of believers who are saved by grace, and yet operate out of rules and restrictions. Very rarely does a church covenant include procedures on how to restore someone who has screwed up, and yet grace is often referred to like it’s the holy grail of beliefs.

Churches rarely read their covenants. They are like the fine print that Apple puts on their products that read on for infinity. Click the “I agree” button and head to lunch! That’s why the covenants are in the back of the hymnal instead of the front, like the shed in the backyard that you rarely enter because you hate spider webs.

There is the covenantal language of the Bible…and there is church covenantal language. Church covenants say things like “It shall be the duty of members to familiarize themselves with the church covenant…to endeavor with all earnestness to practice the same (Huh?)…to attend habitually the services of this church.”

My suspicion is that most church covenants were “sacredly stolen” from some other congregation. Why reinvent the wheel? So most covenants are like on-line wills that someone has done all the work for already.

Should we have church covenants? Yes, but make them simple! Create them out of mindsets of grace to help people in their walk, not afflict them in their struggles.

I wonder…yes, I wonder how the covenants of new church plants shape up compared with the documents of long established congregations? What is the language like? Or, better yet, do newer congregations even have church covenants? Do they come to a point…like ten years into their journey…when they decide in their warping…they need one?

Or do they simply covenant to journey together, normal people and weird ones, in their pursuit of being the people of God?

Poking Along At 79 MPH

Posted February 20, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Community, Death, Freedom, Humor, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               February 20, 2017

                                  

Carol and I were driving on I-25 Saturday morning heading to Greeley, Colorado, a small city about an hour north of the Mile High City. I was speeding at 79, but it felt like I was a covered wagon at Daytona. Cars zipped past us like we were sitting still.

I realized, that at 79 miles per hour, I was now my dad! He would have been doing 70 in a 75 speed zone, but the speed of pokey people has now been raised to anything under 80! Call it the evolution of driving! Some of the cars that lead me in the dust should have NASCAR numbers on the side panels!

A motorcyclist shoots by us on the right like a fireworks rocket launch. A pick-up truck with tires as tall as I am thunders by…obviously on his way to the monster truck show. In my rearview mirror I see a BMW bearing down on me quickly…and then threading the needle between the car in the lane on my left and my left front bumper.

Is it the white Honda Accord that gives me away? Do people now see that car and think AARP? Should interstates have one lane labeled “Safe Drivers’ Lane?” Or perhaps a toll lane for those who want to go over 80…with rubber bumper railings on each side, like a bumper bowling lane!

Our driving habits and fights at early morning Black Friday sales are two indicators of a cultural affliction. Most of us live by the theme “It’s all about me!” Who cares about the mom with three pre-schoolers trying to navigate the highway and parent crying babies at the same time? Who cares about the senior citizen whose reflexes are now a little slower who has the impatient over-caffeinated twenty-five year old riding his bumper?

Our highways reflect how we live our lives…out-of-control, living for the moment, thoughtless, risky, entitled, and ready for the excuses to sputter to the Highway Patrol officer.

 

Ground-Daughter

Posted February 19, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, Community, Grandchildren, Humor, love, Parenting, Pastor, Story, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 19, 2017

                                 

It had been one of those weeks! You know the kind…where you go a thousand miles a minute and never seem to get anywhere. It had been a week filled with always getting behind the person driving twenty miles under the speed limit; a week of dealing with a cold, and speaking of that, a week of dealing with snotty-nosed middle school students who seemed to think Valentine’s Day entitled them to hallway intimate embraces; a week of dealing with belligerent basketball coaches and fans; a week of neck pain, backaches, and throbbing knees.

And then our granddaughter got sick Friday night!

Both Carol and I were free on Friday, and I was looking forward to some early morning writing time perched on my Starbucks stool, but our daughter and granddaughter needed us. Admittedly, I agreed to come over early in the morning and sit with Reagan, who just turned six the week before, but I was muttering to myself!

I arrived at 7:40 so our oldest daughter, Kecia, could head to school, where she would face a full day of fourth grade parent-teacher conferences. Reagan was half laying and half sitting on the couch watching TV. We greeted one another and then I sat down at the kitchen table to do an evaluation for a friend. I thought it might take an hour, but, instead, took only about ten minutes. I went over to the couch and sat down by my oldest granddaughter.

On the TV was a kid’s show called Mia and Me. I started watching it with her, not realizing that it was a Netflix season series! After the first episode, seeing that the next episode would start in twenty seconds, I asked a few questions to the recovering sick one.

“So is that lady the bad guy?”

“Yes, she’s trying to get the unicorns.”

“Why does she want the unicorns?”
“To take their horns so that Queen Panthea can stay young.”

To myself. “Huh?”

“Who are the two kids flying around in the air?”

“Those are elves. They are trying to keep the unicorns safe.”

“Oh!”

We sat there for a couple of hours watching six episodes. Reagan leaned into me, like I used to do with my dad in church when I was her age. She settled into my side as Mia faced another riddle to solve in Episode 4.

We journeyed through the land of Centopia together that morning, the old guy asking questions and the young one providing the answers.

It was a morning that we both needed. A morning where a six year old got me grounded again, with some moments of quiet and togetherness. Sitting on the couch with my granddaughter was without a doubt the most meaningful experience I had all week.

Sometimes the inconveniences of life lead us to the moments that God most desires for us. They are moments that won’t make headlines, but are moments that plant the treasure of life within our hearts.

Church Going To the Dogs

Posted February 13, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Community, Faith, Freedom, Humor, Jesus, love, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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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?

Seventh Grade Cynicism

Posted February 12, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, coaching, Freedom, Humor, Jesus, love, Nation, Parenting, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      February 1, 2017

                                 

I’m becoming a seventh grade substitute teaching fixture. Two more days this past week to follow closely on the heels of the three weeks of seventh social studies. I’m starting to begin sentences with “Dude!”, and trash-talk with seventh grade athletes about sports teams.

Dude! It is making me see things in new ways!

One of those “new views” is the unmistakable seasoning of cynicism amongst the young audience. Although they are not proficient in understanding politics they are cynical about politics. They’ve picked up on the unrest of the nation from the recent political campaign, and wrestle with the confusion of the allegations hurled from each side of the arena. Perhaps part of their misgivings grow out of a statement that they’ve been hearing for a long time; that we live in the best country in the entire world, and have the best governmental structure. They’ve been hearing that, but are wondering why the citizens of this best country spout so much venom at one another over politics?

In fact, much of seventh grade cynicism emerges in questions that begin with the word “Why?” They don’t quite get it! Of course, neither do I! I just try to look like I understand!

Their cynicism is a foggy picture that reflects their parents beliefs and unbeliefs. They’ve heard the resistance towards immigrants, the absurdness of building walls, the plight of the poor, the dangers of terrorism, and the 4,000 piece puzzle that’s a picture of health care and insurance.

Seventh graders have become cynical about the world so they turn their attention to their immediate situation and environment. Yes, they heard that the unemployment rate went up, but there’s a school sock hop this Friday night that needs their attention. They heard about a school shooting in Oklahoma, but the new Chick-Fil-A opened up down the street. The President is coming through town for a speaking engagement, but the seventh grader just realized that he forgot to put a pudding cup in his lunch bag!

Schools stress an understanding of what is going on in the world…and rightfully so…but thirteen year olds yield to what their friends think. Their cynicism makes them skeptical of pure motives. They live in a world of hidden agendas. If I cut my neighbor’s lawn because he’s out of town these newly-arrived teens are wondering why I did it? What am I getting out of it?

In essence, we have made them who they are. They are the “Mini-Me’s” of our lives!

Sounds hopeless. And yet, there are certain people that have the distinct privilege and opportunity to ground our young people in social responsibility, compassion, and lives rooted in principles and purpose. For example, as a middle school coach for close to twenty years I understand that my players look to me for guidance, but also what my life conveys is truly important. Last week I told my 8th Grade basketball team that any detentions or behavior problems that require school administration involvement will automatically carry at least a one game suspension for the player. I told them that character is more important than athletic ability. I expect them to act responsibly and make wise decisions. I realize, on the other hand, that they are looking at me to make sure I’m acting responsibly and making wise decisions.

A few years ago I was camp pastor for a middle school church camp. One night we washed each other’s feet. It was a silent act. No words were said and it was strictly voluntary. For about thirty minutes, after I and another leader began the humble act, students would invite one another to the front and serve one another in a way that humbled the washer and honored the one whose feet were being washed.

In some ways that’s where we need to take seventh graders more often…to a place of service and humility. Dude! Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Leaving Pops

Posted February 11, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Community, Death, Grandchildren, Humor, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 11, 2017

                                           

Five days with my dad…not a lot of time, but deeply meaningful.

I flew into the massive Charleston, West Virginia airport on Thursday afternoon. Dad came home from another time-share experience at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington the previous Tuesday evening. When I knocked on the door of his apartment at Wyngate Senior Living Complex, heard the invitation to come on in, I was taken back by the tubes he had in his nostrils receiving oxygen. He looked a bit frail and “dragged out”, as he would say!

We chatted about this, that, and the other, soothed by the ointment of each other’s presence. After an hour or so it was time to let him be for the night. We had seen each other after an absence of about eight months. It was almost like checking in on one another to make sure we were okay, and now we could sleep.

The next day when I walked into his apartment I was taken back again, but this time in a good way! He didn’t have the oxygen machine going. He looked like he was “with it”, the familiar smile authentic and inviting.

“How’d you sleep, Pops?”

“I slept like a baby! Went to bed about 10:30 and didn’t wake up until 5:30!” Seven hours! My dad hadn’t been able to sleep for seven hours straight since he was…was…was probably in his seventies! Getting all the body parts of an almost 89 year old body to cooperate at the same time is on the same scale as getting all of Congress to agree!

“That’s awesome, Dad!”

Well-rested conversation flows much better than dragged-out dialogue. We talked about new great-grandchildren and grandchildren, “remember when” moments and tall tales of previous aunts and uncles.

“Are you going to have lunch with me?”

“Sure! Are you going to eat in the dining room?”

“Yes.” He hadn’t ventured down the hallway to the dining room of the complex since he had come home from St. Mary’s. He grabbed his “hurry-cane” and we headed down towards the room of wisdom and crankiness.

The residents who had arrived before him recognized his re-emergence from his isolation. Smiles and greetings floated his way, and he made the rounds to each table hugging the widow ladies and shaking the hands of the few men scattered around. We sat with Chuck, who hears about as well as someone on one side of the Ohio River listening to conversation on the opposite bank. Dale joined us, parking his motorized scooter in a spot close to another. Navigating through the scooter and the walkers in the dining room was like driving through a Walmart parking lot! Chuck could walk, but not hear. Dale could hear, but not walk! Senior complexes are a pantry of can’s and “can’ts”!

Meeting Dale and Chuck, as well as others, opened up hours of shared stories from Dad. I learned once again about Carl, who had been born four miles from where Dad had been born in eastern Kentucky, and is a constant source of encouragement for Dad; and Leo, who had been at the same Navy basic training camp with Dad and Carl in Williamsburg, Virginia.

We revisited the story of Leo setting off the fire alarm about a year earlier because he was frying bacon in his apartment at 9:00 on a Friday night. We laughed about the possibility of motorized scooter races in the parking lot. We paused to remember Nellie, the lady who lived in the apartment next door, who Dad had taught to give herself insulin shots. Nellie had passed away a few months before.

Each day of my brief visit followed this path of remembrance and revelation. Super Bowl LI was the first Super Bowl my dad and I watched together. Awesome!

And then Monday night I said my goodbyes. His embrace contained strength and joy. It seemed as if each day had been a step of progression for him.

Whenever I say goodbye to my father I realize it could be our last visit, our last embrace, our last walk down the hallway…and I treasure the moments of the stroll!