Archive for October 2009

October 28, 2009

WORDS FROM W.W. October 28, 2009
“Wishing I Was There”

Living in Colorado has its benefits (Except today as I look outside at the snow that is falling. Snow in October just isn’t right!) I step out my front door each morning and gaze at Pike’s Peak. I love the low humidity, and the significant drop in the mosquito population compared to Michigan. God has opened up doors for me to coach basketball at the middle school and high school just a couple of blocks away from our house. There is a lot of upside to life in “these neck of the woods.”
The downside is separation from my mom and dad, sister and brother, and attached uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, and nephews. It’s especially hard these past couple of years as my mom and dad have experienced so many hospital stays they almost have had a room named after them.
It’s a “deep aching from a distance.” Distance creates anxiety and uncertainty. It also has a way of putting a pinch of guilt into the recipe. I’m proceeding with my life, my ministry, my day-to-day routines even as my mom and dad are facing daily struggles. There’s something unsettling about that.
In the unrest of this week’s struggles from southern Ohio, I got on-line to see about getting a quick flight in from Colorado Springs to Columbus. The price, although hefty, didn’t drive me away. It was the way I would have to get there. Immediate need is not a good situation. I would have had to fly from Colorado Springs… to Houston… to Charlotte…to Detroit…to Columbus. A delay at any of those would have cooked my goose…the non-flying kind!
The immediate concern is my mom’s deteriorating memory and mobility. (My sister said Mom asked her where “Billy Dean” was yesterday- a name she hasn’t called me since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.) And in the midst of that situation, my dad’s servant spirit is taking its toll on him. He has had significant cardiac issues, but his wife of 62 years has needs that he can’t- and doesn’t want to- be blind to.
Thank God that my sister and brother-in-law live right down the street! They are a part of the daily battles of confusion, emotional breakdowns, and physical ailments that Mom is having.
Meanwhile I can only offer that I wish I was there. I took some solace reading in several of the Apostle Paul’s letters that he felt some of the same aching and desires. For example he told the believers in Colossae “For though I am absent from you in the body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.” (Colossians 2:5) To the Thessalonians he wrote “…When we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. (1 Thessalonians 2:17) In most of Paul’s writings that sense of longing echoes from the pages.
Distance is difficult, and it has taken me a short distance…from standing to kneeling.
It’s amazing how the episodes of our lives can keep driving us to our knees.
An almost-dad praying for his expectant wife and child that she is precariously carrying in her womb.
A mom praying for her son who is heading to Afghanistan.
A child praying for his dad to arrive home safely in the midst of a winter storm.
A church praying for renewal.
A friend praying for his buddy who is spiritually distant.
And so even though the aching is still deep, I go to my knees for my mom and my dad.

October 23, 2009

WORDS FROM W.W. October 22, 2009
“Satanic Church Signs
Last week I was going to change what was on our church marquee. As I strolled to the far side of the sign I discovered that someone had taken blue paint and put the name “Satan” on that side of the marquee. After the scrub brush and Ajax did their job I thought a lot about the contrasts of the situation:
• Satan on the church sign.
• Satan being noticed more than anything else on the church sign.
• Some people feeling un-intimidated to boldly paint Satanic graffiti on the church.
• Darkness invading light (In fact, our marquee is lit up!)
• Proclaiming hope is under-valued by some of the people that need it the most.
One word, one name, caused me to do a lot of thinking. My office administrator would tell you that it put me off-stride for the rest of the day.
It used to be that a church was considered sacred space. Whether someone ever darkened the doors of any church they still viewed church property as a place that was not to be disturbed. That day has gone bye-bye like a flock of geese flying south for a long winter.
“Sacred” isn’t what it used to be…even though it is!
More than the name of the Deceiver on our sign is the disturbing thoughts I’ve experienced about the impact of the church on the community. One of the foundational beliefs that I hold about the church is that it is called to make a difference…outside the walls…in the world…in the community…in the lives of people that the Body of Christ comes into contact with. For example, there is an elderly couple that live a block from our church building. Neither of them has ever been inside our building, but when the husband had a stroke the wife called our church and asked if I could visit him in the hospital. Since then we’ve had people from our church visit them at their home, take cookies to them, pray with them. This week I took communion to them. Our students are going to go rake the leaves in their yard this Sunday. That’s a picture for me of what the church is to be- a reflection of Christ to our, and in our, community.
When the name of Satan starts being cast on top of the reflection of Christ it causes me to ponder whether we have reached a point in the battle where being inside the fortress is a solution that will lead to a wider expansion of irrelevance. The church must be about preparation and advancing.
It is much easier to teach people what they are to do AT church, how to act, when to stand and when to sit, where to turn in our bibles when it’s Christmas time, and what an adequate donation would be for a Sunday morning donut and a cup of coffee. Our discipleship, our spiritual formation, must shift somewhat to include “who we are to be out there”, who we are to simply be…no matter where we are!
In that shift there will be an accompanying shift in how “the light of the world” will be perceived and function.
“…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
I see a lot of followers of Jesus and Jesus-people churches looking and acting defeated. It’s as if Satan has spray-painted the whole church and there is a weariness about whether going on is even an option. If we believe what scripture teaches, however, we’ll throw those thoughts back to where they came from. In other words, spray paint some hope on the dominion of darkness. What a picture…to see the Deceiver having to use his Ajax for a change!

October 14, 2009

“Corporate Church”

As I was watching the Rockies play the Phillies on Monday night at Coors Field, which is not too far from the Pepsi Center, I realized that a Rockies win would take the series back to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia for a game five, a city that also includes Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Come to think of it, the previous weekend when Carol and I went to our daughter’s homecoming at University of Sioux Falls we were reminded every time that the USF football team got a first down (which was often in their 64-0 victory) that the first down was brought to us by “First Premier Bank,” even though the tailback was the one who churned out the yardage. We watched many an extra point conversion kick glance off the end zone scoreboard that was sponsored by Sanford Medical Center.

It got me thinking!

Church budget deficits could be easily erased if we thought creatively about bringing in corporate sponsors. My mind is going crazy thinking of the possibilities.

• Not just a church work day, but a “Home Depot Clear Out the Dirt Day.”
• Not just singing a couple of hymns, but let’s do a “Harmony Bowling Lanes Hymn-fest.”
• Get over the potlucks. Rename it “Country Buffet at the Baptist Church Sunday.”
• Don’t call it the sermon. Liven it up with “Today’s message sponsored by Pizza Hut, now serving hot wings!” Or, perhaps better yet, how about “This week’s sermon sponsored by No-Dos.”
• Not Sunday bulletins! It could be the “FedEx Delivers On-Time Anywhere Programs.”
• The Praise Team could get shirts with a dog and cat logo and become the PetsMart Praise Team.
• A Christmas children’s program could be the Crimestopper’s Christmas. Extravaganza . . . okay, that one might not fly.
• Church tours for first-time guests might include the Mrs. Field’s Fellowship Hall, American Eagle College and Career Classroom, Babies-R-Us Nursery, and the Memorial Library complete with Blockbuster Family DVD Section.
• What about business sponsor signs on each parking space? Closer to the entrance, the higher the corporate donation!
• Perhaps we should investigate corporate stained glass windows. Golden arches in glass might bring a hefty contribution. Considering that the Sunday morning service is right before lunch, subliminal stained glass messages might have restaurants lined up. Taco Bell right beside Texas Roadhouse, and Red Lobster looking pretty tempting in the window beside the red-headed girl from Wendy’s.
• Safeway could be the sponsor of the sidewalks leading to the main entrance.
• How about the Pontiac Prayer Room?
• Band-Aid Summer Day Camp has a nice ring, and reality, to it.
• Sierra Springs Water Fountain?
• “Today’s baptism is sponsored by Hot Springs Spa!”
• Use “PowerAde” cups for communion.
• Using our visual technology for the screen in the sanctuary, we could rotate sponsor screens every time we have a different element of the worship service take place . . . kind of like what they do behind home plate at most major league baseball parks.
• How about Starbucks being the corporate sponsor of the youth lock-in?
• “Buffalo Wild Wings” single adults’ weekend retreat has a special flavor to it.
• Benadryl could kick in for the church hay ride.

Why didn’t we think of this sooner? We wouldn’t have to worry about the year-end deficit if we got on “Target” sooner. Pull in “Penney’s” now and we wouldn’t have to fret over the dollars later.

Just a few things to chew on! And, in case you’re wondering, I’m not being “Sirius”!

Pastor Bill

October 9, 2009

WORDS FROM W.W. October 9, 2009
“Changing The Terms…the Other Way”

(Last week I wrote about my credit card company’s notification that they were raising the interest rate on unpaid balances or cash advances. I then talked about how churches sometimes accept someone into the Body of Christ and then, after a while, change the terms of what that means.)
The Bible is filled with fickleness! The Israelites rated gods more often than the BCS voters. One week it was the Lord God Jehovah and the next week it was Baal. When Elijah slammed the 450 prophets of Baal…Yahweh was at the top of the rankings for quite a while!
But “fickle” has a limited memory, and pretty soon it was back to Baal or some other god again. Lukewarm with a sipping straw. If you picked up a bible for the first time and didn’t know how the story ended you’d find yourself shaking your head at all the ups and downs. You might even think that “Days of Our Lives” used the biblical story as inspiration for all its plot twists and turns.
Of course, Jesus had to deal with a lot of that as well. After he said some demanding things in John 6 we read this sentence: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:66) Evidently they were okay up to a certain point. Jesus had just fed the five thousand and walked on water. Things were good! People proudly wore their “I’m with Jesus” t-shirts and freely entered into conversations and discussions about what they thought Jesus’ next miracle would be. People were feeling good, and then Jesus gave a prickly message.
“Nope! Jesus, we’ve had second thoughts. The free meal complete with take-home container- that was pretty sweet! But these hard teachings are…too hard!” Sweeten the deal again and maybe we’ll come back. If not, we’re outta’ here!”
Sometimes the church changes the terms of the agreement, but perhaps more frequently the people change the terms, or reject the terms of the covenant they make with the Body of believers. It comes out in the language:
“That church just isn’t meeting my needs anymore.”
“The worship service extended into the NFL pre-game show too much. I’m looking for a place with an earlier start time.”
“The pastor preached too long. The Methodists were beating us to the restaurant.”
“I like to hear a choir every Sunday.”
“They started using wine and those little stale crackers for communion.”
“I got tired of being asked to help serve.”
“A new family showed up and sat exactly where I’ve sat for the past 20 years.”
“There’s too many old people there.”
“There’s too many young people there.”
“There’s too many people there.”
“There’s just not many people there.”
Our culture, especially the Christian culture, is more prone to opt out than buy in. It’s like deciding on where to grab a hamburger tonight. I might choose McDonald’s…or Five Guys…or Red Robin…or In-and-Out…or Chili’s. But if I grab a burger again on Saturday night I probably won’t go to the same place. Having a taste for a Butterburger at Culver’s on Friday may turn into a taste for a Big Mac on Saturday. For many people in our churches it’s the same for their commitment to church. One week I’m a Lutheran, but next week I’m a Pentecostal, and the third week I’m a patron of a sports bar with twenty TV screens. To enter into a covenant is something fewer and fewer people are willing to enter into, because the focus is not on me, but a greater cause and purpose.
Sometimes I ask myself “Am I just whining?”, but thirty years of experience tells me I’m dealing with reality. With all of the reality TV shows I’m surprised someone hasn’t done one on “church”.
Nah! People probably wouldn’t buy in to it.

October 2, 2009

WORDS FROM W.W. October 1, 2009
“Changing The Terms”

The snail mail has been pretty uneventful at home recently. Magazine subscription offers, Albertson grocery weekly specials, Geico…box stuffers like that. Our recycling can has been overflowing!
I thought when postage stamp rates increased recently it would increase the amount of quality mail, and decrease the amount of “paper fodder”, but I was wrong.
This week I got something from my credit card company. It looked like any other piece of excess baggage mail, primed for deposit in our “green can”. Instead of ripping it in half, however, I thought that maybe…possibly…perhaps it would have some kind of special offer inside, so I opened it!
What I “discovered” (That’s a clue on the credit card!) is that my annual percentage rate was being increased. Here’s a quote: “We will increase your APRs for purchases and balance transfers to the variable default APR of the Prime Rate + 22.99%, but such rate will never exceed 29.99%.” In other words, “we hope you don’t open this piece of mail and treat it as junk, and then not pay off your balance so we can jack you up for some easy extra cash.” (My translation!)
Naturally this comes before Congress can put into law the 800 pages of new guidelines and procedures for credit card companies to follow so people don’t get taken to the cleaners. Of course, it IS reasonable to expect someone to pay off their balance each month, but many of us have had that sudden lean month that has left us exposed…and now we will exposed for a longer amount of time as we try to catch up.
When I first got this credit card these were not the terms. In fact, I think we got a new toaster or steak knives or a battery-operated clock (battery not included). The terms have been changed, and either I can agree to them or I can call to say that I reject them. Of course, this is how it’s worded: “If you notify us prior to the Effective Date that you choose to reject these increases, we will close your Account and you will no longer be able to use it for further transactions!”
I guess you could say I’m a little perturbed by it.
And yet, isn’t that what we often do to people who are thinking about following Jesus? We make the terms simple, inviting, and loving. No free toaster, but there is often an invitation to the next chili supper.
Seriously, we offer the good news about Jesus in non-judgmental, uncritical, positive words.
But sometimes the person accepts those terms- accepts Jesus- becomes a follower, becomes a part of our church fellowship…and then the terms get changed.
“Yes, we know we talked about being saved by grace through faith, but…there’s a few other conditions that we become convinced are now added “interpretations” of what that all means.”
• “Give money…a lot of it!”
• “Be on a committee.”
• “Be in a class, a group, in worship.”
• “Achieve your monthly quota of how many people you’ve invited to come to church.”
• “Use spiritual verbage when you talk.”
• “Attend all church fundraising events.”
• “Be on a mission team…in another country (Close to home missions doesn’t count!)”
• “Eat donuts and drink weak coffee.”
• “Be a patron of Christian businesses.”
• “If you’re a Christian business person, give freebies to the church.”
Yes, I’m a wee bit cynical…but also a good bit right on target. We are often guilty of changing the terms. Grace can’t be that easy, because then anyone could say they were a Christian. (Cynicism attack again!)
There is something incredible about being a faithful follower of Christ. It’s worth it. It’s humbling. It becomes a ever-growing longing.
And there is also something fatal about adding fine print to the contract of the cross of Christ. As a friend of mine says quite often pointing at his bible opened to one of the gospels, “What’s it say in the red print? That’s what’s important.”
The “red print” is where we need to be.