Archive for March 2010


March 30, 2010

WORDS FROM W.W. March 28, 2010

Quite often I feel privileged (okay, I’ll use the spiritual terminology here–I feel blessed!) to be a pastor. Pastors are different people. We are driven, but try to look peaceful. We are multi-tasked, but rarely multi-taskers. We’re goal-oriented, but “people persons.” We’re expected to be fluent in our understanding of Scripture, but are always behind in our reading. We’re administrators, who are expected to be out and about. Or perhaps we’re out-and-about people, who are expected to be administrators.
Those last parts of our job description are why we are often confused. When we’re working on the Sunday message we feel guilty that we’re not with a person in need of some counseling, but when we’re sitting having a cup of coffee with someone in need . . . and we use that excuse for not having a sermon ready the next Sunday . . . the sanctuary will be punctuated with raised eyebrows.
Here’s what a lot of pastors feel . . . deep, deep down. People look to how we’re living and relating to God to give some credence to their weekly commitment to us as their pastors. We’re like spiritual college football coaches who have the support of the boosters’ club until a few losing seasons get strung together. The difference with pastors is that the “wins” are a combination of how people are feeling spiritually, and whether or not the people are perceiving the relationship between their pastor and the Lord as being close to another Mount Sinai experience.
A little cynical, I know! But pastors are half-cynical, half-trusting. We’re faith-filled followers who too often resemble the disciples in Matthew 28:17. “When they saw him (Jesus), they worshipped him, but some doubted.” That’s us! Robert Schuller on Sunday, and Ricky Schroder on Monday.
People look to their pastors to model Christian maturity, while still expecting to see growth in their spiritual walk with God. But there’s a tricky catch.
In our church we have someone who has just left the military after 13 years to follow God’s call into the ministry. He’s a thirty-something first-semester seminarian. And we also have a mid-thirties couple who left financially secure positions to join different branches of the armed forces. We applaud the growth and new directions that God calls people into. God called another couple to leave us a few years ago to become full-time missionaries in British Columbia. We’re taken back by their faithfulness and obedience. It’s a radical shift that echoes of their commitment to the Lord.
The catch for pastors is that we’re expected to be changed, to be grown, in our walk, but the climate of the church is expected to not change. That is, people want the Lord to touch a pastor’s heart to the point that it doesn’t mess up things at church. It’s like getting a new flat screen TV at home. We’re delighted with the upgrade, but the furniture is going to stay in the same place.
Changed sameness. It’s an uncomfortable quandary. If you don’t think your church has that “changed sameness” attitude think of your reaction if one or more of the following happened:
• The seating in the sanctuary got rearranged to help the pastor communicate the theme for a worship service.
• Donuts got replaced with fruit on Sunday morning.
• There was not a Sunday bulletin the week of Earth Day.
• One Sunday the communion bread is hush puppies.
• Someone spills coffee on the sanctuary carpet.
• God blesses a congregation with a drummer.
• A visitor sits in your spot.
• Too many strangers show up on a Sunday.
Perhaps in your mind none of those would be any big deal. I have to admit the appearance of grapes and the disappearance of glazed donuts would be hard for me to swallow. We’re all dieting . . . tomorrow . . . or after the pastries are all eaten . . . or the ice cream carton has been finished off . . . or . . . .
Changed sameness. Our prayer may sometimes be about changing us on the inside, because change around me is hard to handle.
With that being said I’d better close. I try to keep the word count of my columns pretty much the same, and this one is getting totally out of control.


March 19, 2010

WORDS FROM W.W. March 18, 2010

I’m two days removed from spending about 27 hours at a retreat center run by a group of Benedictine nuns. Our group of pastors that have been meeting monthly for about a year and a half went there to “draw to the side” and examine our spiritual lives.
No internet. No Facebook. No cell phones…most of the time.
Carol told me to leave my pajamas that have penguins all over them at home. She didn’t think that would be very flattering to wear penguin pajamas around a group of nuns. (Of course, why would the sisters be seeing me after I had put them on in preparation for night-night time? I suppose there could have been a fire alarm in the middle of the night and there I would have been sporting black-and-white penguins in the midst of stern looks!)
The Benedictine sisters gather for prayer three times a day- 7:45 in the morning, noon, and 5:00. During the course of a month they pray through the whole book of Psalms in their gatherings. We were welcomed into their gathering like children attempting their first steps being greeted and encouraged by glee-filled parents. We journeyed with them, seven American Baptist clergy with twenty or so nuns, as different psalms and prayers were echoed.
I felt a little bit like a technologically-challenged older adult in front of a new computer.
• “Where’s the On-Off switch?”
• “What are all these pictures and F5’s and how do I turn the volume down?”
• “I can actually pay a bill through my computer. How do they know it’s me if I don’t show them a picture ID?”
In the prayer gatherings, however, the sisters guided us through the experience with encouraging smiles and quiet directions.
What I was struck by was the rhythm of their reading scripture. They sit on two sides of the chapel facing one another. The reading would be divided between the two groups. As one group finished a verse there would be a brief pause before the other group began. The pause revealed our “”rookie status”. Our group of pastors would be the ones who would jump into the words one syllable too soon or a word too late. The sisters were as synchronized as an Olympic rowing crew.
We got better. They were already there.
What occurred to me as I reflected on that later was that the rhythm of the reading, the symmetry of the sisters, was a verbal expression of their living in community with one another. They have journeyed together not just for an hour on a Sunday morning each week, but every day all day. The richness of their lives is planted in their spiritual relationships with God, and as a result they look for something of Jesus in each of their companion’s lives.
I find that it is hard to find that rhythm in churches today. It may be one reason why the house church movement has blossomed. People are looking for the rhythm of community, but too often find the chaos of an institution. Not that the Benedictine sisters don’t have their share of problems. One of them at age 40 is battling cancer. One of them had taken a leave from the monastery to just be away for a while. They have many personality clashes because they are together for much. I guess you could say “Their dinner dishes get dirty just like ours.”
But they are seriously serious about working out the problems through personal prayer, community prayer, and the shared wisdom of the community.
In churches today, disagreements too often result in someone heading for the exit. Perhaps community is hard to experience because my agenda is seen as being more important than yours…and vice-versa. As long as you have to do all the work I’ll be fine…or vice-versa!
Rhythm. We joke that we are a church of rhythm-impaired people. Musically we extend a lot of grace to one another. The rhythm of community needs a dose of grace as well, but before grace can be offered there must be a commitment to pursue that rhythm.


March 10, 2010

WORDS FROM W.W. March 9, 2010

I was raised in Kentucky, the Bluegrass State- the state where every other barn had either “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco” or “See Rock City” painted on the side of it. Kentucky was, and is, a wonderful place. Don’t let the mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby fool you, sophisticated mixed drinks don’t define this state. It is about as homey and laid-back as you can get.
One of the food items that is part of Kentucky culture, as well as in the other southern states, is grits. I’m not sure why, but grits has gone mainstream. Maybe it’s the ripple effect of Cracker Barrel restaurant! Whatever it is, people seem to think its “cuisine chic” to order grits at food establishments where it is offered. If it was called “gruel” the response might not be as favorable, or seem flavorable.
Don’t let anyone fool you by saying they love grits. The might like it smothered in butter, or sweetened with sugar, or, in my case, mixed with some sausage gravy, but the number of people who love grits…plain grits…can be counted on one hand that has even lost most of its fingers.
I firmly believe grits was added to the southern breakfast plate because there needed to be something to fill in the open space. There were the eggs…the bacon and sausage…and the biscuits opened and closed on a gracious spreading of butter and honey.
There was still a space to be filled. Throw some grits on top of that opening!
No one eats their grits first. Most people go for a piece of the bacon or a bite of the sunny-side ups. Grits are the filler when the good stuff is all gone, and yet any typical southern breakfast will give more acreage to the grits than the more flavorable items on the plate.
It’s not that grits have no purpose. In places around the globe that are impoverished, grits, or a form of them, make up the difference between life and starvation. It’s just that in our culture they get too much play. People talk fondly about them, but a taste of them is not usually followed by a smile or even an expression of satisfaction. Oatmeal has a higher approval rating.
Grits, however, is a good visual analogy for how many of us live our lives. What is void of joy is what we fill our plate with. What is soul-satisfying gets pushed to a little space on the edge.
“Give me a taste of that stuff right there that consumes 60 hours of your week.” (Pause as the life taster samples the product.) “Wow! That must have taken a lot of effort to make something that is completely lacking in taste and flavor!”
“What’s this that has dropped off your plate?” (A finger swab to sample.) “Wow! That is exquisite. That is delightful. It’s like a taste of heaven. What do you call that? The sweetness of knowing the Savior.”
Remember! “The grits of life” is meant to just be filler, not the main entrée’. Take a look at your life plate. What are the main things that are feeding your daily appetite?


March 4, 2010

WORDS FROM W.W. March 3, 2010

We are a pack-rat people! There are piles of accumulation around us and we can’t let go. For many of us it’s how we keep some sense of life control. We’re afraid that releasing will bring us to the edge of the unknown. Like the Hebrews whining to Moses about their loss of being enslaved, we tend to defer to what has been “the known” rather than release our grip and experience freedom.
Our possession is the most visible expression of this tight grip on life, but as I’m writing this I’m thinking of other, perhaps less obvious, ways that we don’t let go. There’s the accumulation of the years with our children, and then one day we realize that they’ve grown up, matured, and don’t need our mothering or close-at-hand fathering any more. But it’s what we’ve known, it’s what we’ve become accustomed to, and it’s what we’ve allowed to define us. Letting go at that point is heartache personified. They have been our kids!
We’re not anxious for them to be adults.
There’s the letting go of our parents, or the letting go of our spouse or sibling who is in the winter of their life. How often do we cling to the shell of the person who we have grown old with? How possessive have we become of the one who is now closer to heaven than he is to earth? We sometimes think we’re being heartless when we release the dying to the Lord. The void that is viewed by the empty seat beside us is too much to be willing to bare.
There is also the reluctance to let go of our will in order for the Lord to do His. Each Sunday worship includes multiple references to words like “faith”, “ trust”, and “believe”, and the rest of our week could e characterized as a time of having a death grip on our personal agenda. Surrendering all is easy to sing about, but like oil and water in practicing.
The ironic point is that we are called people of faith, the trust-and-obeying types. We stress the Lordship of Christ in our theology. We talk up accepting Jesus as being our Lord and Savior, and then we spend a lot of the rest of our life living it down.
We rationalize that is why there is grace.
Don’t think I’ve got it figured out. I’m just as self-centered and wanting to be in control as the next guy. I’m afraid that if someone stood up this Sunday in the worship service and asked to share a word from the Lord, I’d respond to “Get to the back of the line!” Letting go of the sermon time is difficult for me, especially when I’ve spent so much time preparing it.
We’re pack-rats in a multitude of ways. How do we get past that?
Sometimes we get past it as a result of something getting ripped out of our hands. God knows that there are situations in life where he must be in a pulling motion to get us to move on to the next point in our journey.
I was just reading a story in Acts 21 about Paul heading towards Jerusalem. A prophet named Agabus has told him that he will be bound by the Jews and handed over to the Gentiles (the Romans). Those who hear this try to dissuade Paul from going, and Paul’s respond to their hold is “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Then Luke writes this summary comment of the situation. “When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.”
Perhaps that’s what it comes down to, “the Lord’s will be done.” How comfortable are we letting go and letting God?