Archive for December 2009


December 24, 2009

WORDS FROM W.W. December 24, 2009

About the only thing I spend any time comparing prices on is Breyer’s Ice Cream and soft drinks. Those items get announced in the weekly grocery advertised specials that are included in the newspaper.
Breyer’s on sale! I’m there!
A&W Root Beer discounted! The shelves need to be re-stocked after my visit!
Other items, however, I don’t spend time bothering about where it might be selling the cheapest. When it comes to Christmas gifts I’m an impulsive buyer. I see it. It looks like it would be appreciated by the one I’m buying it for. Five minutes later I’m putting the box or bag in the back seat of the car, and I’m out of there!
True confession time! Very few gifts that I buy will be remembered by me two years from now. There will be a few. I remember getting my parents and siblings Enstrom’s Toffee Candy last year. I remember a couple of things I gave Carol last year.
But wait! I said two years ago!
My mind is blank.
Call me insensitive or hint that I didn’t put much thought into it. The truth is that my impulsive spontaneity is just my purchasing nature. Send me to the store for a bag of potatoes and I’ll come home with a dozen items that aren’t healthy, a bottle of shampoo…and the potatoes.
Let me detour to faith. How many people’s faith experience in our culture could best be described as impulsive faith buying? And how many people would be considered careful ponderers of faith?
If I’m more of the impulsive kind of faith follower do I allow the love of God to grasp the depths of my soul; or is there a shallowness that causes me to quickly look for the next thing on the list?
In The Message paraphrase the rendering of Luke 2:19 in regards to Mary’s realization of who her son was says, “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.” There was a grasp of the truth that took some time to sink in, to root itself, to own its validity.
This is not to say that God doesn’t move people in a moment, or the gospel can become alive and personal in an instant, but I do believe that the gospel is accepted by some for an instant and discarded in the next. Forgive the cheap comparison (It’s lunch-time!), but it’s the difference between Ramen noodles and homemade pasta. The first can be cooked, eaten, and forgotten about an hour later; while the other takes preparation, involvement, time, thought, and a commitment all the way to the end. One is cheap, and the other is more costly.
Faith should not be a blue light special. It’s a gift that was thought through and given by the God of love to the ones he loves. May the incredibleness of that gift be especially grasped in deep ways by us at this time of the year!

December 18, 2009

WORDS FROM W.W. December 18, 2009
“The Walmarting of Our Faith”
In his book, The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman writes extensively about the business practices of Walmart. We’ve come to recognize the “Happy Face” symbol that Walmart uses in its advertising as the picture for “falling prices.” Sam Walton and David Glass (the company’s CEO from 1988 to 2000) recognized three principles that have resulted in the success story of the company. I won’t go into them in this writing, but they were key to the expansion and on-going health of the company, even in the midst of wide-spread economic tough times.
Adhering to these principles has also allowed Walmart to undersell its competitors. In many towns where the arrival of a Walmart is announced, small business operators begin to board up the windows and close up shop.
I’ve been thinking a lot about consumerism lately as we rush through Christmas. Walmart is successful because it increases the thirst within people for products that they crave, and surrender to the craving, regardless of whether it’s good or bad. It’s successful because it knows what people want, not necessarily what they need.
When I look at our faith journeys I see the residual effect of Walmart spreading like a glass of spilled eggnog into the church. People want what makes them feel good. They want what feels comfortable without being too demanding, but still looking a little bit spiritual. Falling prices is just a cost-saving way of saying “falling doctrinal beliefs.”
And the thing is . . . it’s what people want! Call me cynical, but unless there is a radical transformation in a person’s life that can come only from an intimate encounter with Christ, we’re prone to look for the bargains.
The question someone is bound to be on the edge of blurting out right now is, “Don’t you go to Walmart?” The answer is “Yes! When it’s extremely beneficial for me.” Since I hate crowds of bargain-hunting people, my Walmart visits are usually restricted to early in the morning or late at night. For a long time it was the only place I could find Orville Redenbacher’s Pour Over Cheddar Microwave Popcorn. (Another example of a product that is not good for you, but, boy, is it good!)
In recognizing what I just said about “when it’s beneficial to me” I see another human flaw. Walmart makes it convenient. I CAN go early or go late. In other words it’s all about me.
Our walk with God has that unfortunate tendency to descend to that as well. It becomes all about “me” . . .
• “What’s God done for me lately?”
• “I’m okay right now, so I don’t need an intimacy with God. Check back with me next week.”
• “Is there a real short worship service? My availability is limited.”
I’m flawed as much as everyone else, and that troubles me—that I write about Walmart, and yet I’ll probably be in their “chips and snacks aisle” before the week is out. It’s an analogy for our lives. I’ve “Walmarted” my faith walk, but still want to be recognized as a saint.
Perhaps if I buy another new Bible it will raise my level of spirituality. I hear they are on sale for two days only at . . .

December 10, 2009

WORDS FROM W.W. December 9, 2009

“Specific Requests”

An old friend from Michigan (I’m old. She’s not!) wrote us about her son Timmy’s letter to Santa Claus. It read, “Dear Santa, could you please bring me a Crystal Swiper with the Power-minder guys and rock monsters and crystal Lego set. You can get them at Meijer’s (a store) on the top shelf.”
I love the specificity! It reminds me of the plot line in the movie A Christmas Story, where Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB gun, which his mom doesn’t want him to have because of a fear he would shoot his eye out.
It’s interesting that the Bible has a multitude of stories about specific requests of God to His people, but is lacking in the number of specific requests from the people of God to Him. It’s not a completely vacant category–Gideon did cast a fleece before the Lord–but specific requests are few and far between.
On the other hand, God “gets specific” with Moses about numerous points of emphasis for the Jewish law. He gets specific with Jonah about the city he is to go to and the message he is to speak there. He gets specific with what Philip is to do and say to the Ethiopian he meets. He gets specific with the wise men about where they will find the Christ-child.
God specifically requests that we go in a certain direction, listen in a focused way, speak certain words, practice procedures in a certain way and order. The intent is not to create a legalistic culture and following, but rather to hone and shape an obedience that deepens the divine-human relationship.
Perhaps Timmy has something that we need to recover! A child can see hope in the world in a certain way that being specific and precise in his requests does not bother him. He hasn’t lost faith in a parent, or Santa, or in many cases, God to come through with the boxed object on the top shelf.
The harsh stories of our lives have a way of lowering our sights. The more mature we become, the less we look up. That may sound a bit brutal, but it is often the case. What is beyond a child’s reach is still hoped for. What is beyond a grown-up’s reach is disbelieved. We’re afraid that looking higher will cause us to lose our bearings.
May there be more “Timmy” in us this Christmas, and less Thomas (the doubting kind).
Look up.

December 3, 2009

WORDS FROM W.W. December 3, 2009
“Leading an Accommodating Jesus”
My wife knows me like a book. She knows what I enjoy (jumbo shrimp, Monk, and basketball) and she also knows what pains me (reality TV shows, Walmart, and picking croutons off the top of my salad). One of the things she has been very cautious about asking me to do is going with her to the mall to do some shopping. I thank her profusely for extending “mall grace” to me.
But once in a while when she needs me to look at something in particular with her I tag along. I am not a man on a mission in those situations. Where she leads me I will follow . . . except into Victoria’s Secret. There I draw the line at the door!
When we go the mall the one store we’re going to go to turns into five. I usually don’t quibble, especially if I can get at least walk through Border’s. I don’t want to give the impression that I am always like this, but in that setting I am the picture of an accommodating husband.
She wants to look at new pillow cases.
She wants to see if Macy’s has sandals on sale.
She wants to check out the price of a new spatula at Sears.
When it comes to malls, she leads and I accommodate.
It may be a fairly rough comparison (because Carol is about as sweet and giving as you can get), but many times our relationship with Jesus has the same dynamics to it.
We lead. Jesus accommodates.
And whereas in a marriage relationship each spouse has those situations and occasions of leading, and other situations of accommodating (always leading and never accommodating would be a relationship based on authority, not equality), in our relationships with Jesus, He is the leader and we are His followers.
That understanding gets skewed by each one of us at times, or continually. The hymn gets reworded. “Where I lead Him, He will follow. He’ll go with me…with me…wherever I say.”
We can blame it on our fallen nature, our propensity for making mistakes, our home environment, or our friends, but it really comes down to our preference for a Jesus who accommodates us, who nods in agreement to our every whim, who rides in the back seat as we steer the vehicle, who always says “yes” when that’s the answer we desire to hear. Our life decisions often have us asking Jesus which direction to go in as we’re already turning right.
The cure is constant surrender of the controls to the Master; and repentance in those decisions that we’ve determined He will be the accommodating One.
I must unceasingly be asking myself how my life is accommodating the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It’s something I’d prefer to ignore, and therein lies the struggle.
Pastor Bill