Archive for May 2010


May 26, 2010

WORDS FROM W.W. May 26, 2010

“Atheist” (n.)- Doubter; agnostic; nonbeliever.
I’ve been reading Craig Groeschel’s book The Christian Atheist. The title leaned me in the direction of the bookshelf that displayed it. The “half-price for three days only” got me to pick it up. The gift card convinced me to buy it. The book sleeve’s sub-heading is “Believing in God but living as if He doesn’t exist.”
Unfortunately I have to get through the first 11 chapters before coming to the final chapter entitled “When You Believe In God, But Not in His Church.” (I’m too compliant to jump to the last chapter first. Somewhere in my life- probably first grade- it was hammered into me that “good little boys” didn’t do that!)
Atheist is one of those names that we’ve black-listed, but an atheist is a doubter. That means that at one time Thomas qualified. Even at the end of Matthew, one verse that continues to confound me, talks about the disciples worshipping Jesus, “but some doubted.” Everyone of us doubts in some way. That doesn’t mean that that on Sunday I’m going to say something like “You may have come here this morning with a lot of atheism. You’re atheistic about the possibility of healing happening in your life. You’re an atheist that hope could come into your life. But,let me assure you, that you don’t have to leave here today still an atheist. Jesus is big enough to handle your atheist-infected mind.”
The word has history that usually conjures up pictures of Madalyn Murray O’Hair ranting and raving about prayer in the public schools. O’Hair was named by Life magazine as “the most hated woman in America” in 1964. If you remember her at all you may remember that she didn’t really convey having “a warm personality.”
So “atheism” has history in Christian circles.
But it’s also very close to home in an uncomfortable way! We do doubt! We do live in ways that say we’re believers, but not committed to it. When we talk about commitment it too often is defined by how many church activities and study groups we’re a part of. The confusing thing is that there are believers who aren’t committed to anyway. Being committed to a group, or a study, or being in a worship service each week would be a welcome sign that they are still alive, let alone following Jesus.
My “atheism” shows in my too frequent doubting that people can change. I become cynical that God can mold and shape clay into something extraordinary. History is more often than not a good indication of what will happen in the future, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob also has a history of writing the impossible made possible.
Could it be that the “atheism” of the church keeps pulling us back to what we’re used to and what we’ve always experienced? Could it be that a more intimate relationship with God is just outside of our reach because we’ve doubted that he can extend himself just a little more in our direction?
That takes me to the end of this column, but also the beginning of chapter seven in Groeschel’s book. It’s entitled “When You Believe in God, But Don’t Think You Can Change.”
I’m hesitant to read it.


May 23, 2010

WORDS FROM WW May 23, 2010

Today is one of those days! Depressingly celebrative! Joyfully sad!
Lizi, our youngest child, receives her college diploma. It’s the culmination of four years of hard work and applying herself. And now today she walks!
Why downcast, O my soul?
Call it “the dad syndrome” or “fatherhood flu”, but it comes as a dad reflects and remembers…
…the day of birth (Carol and I watched several episodes of M.A.S.H. and played two games of Scrabble as we waited in the birthing room. Scrabble strategy you never hear about: Play against a pregnant woman in labor. Her words will get shorter as the game goes on and she will care less and less about winning.)
…eating birthday cake for the first time- kept the hose close at hand.
…first day of school etched in our photo album. (The missing front tooth will always give it a special flavor.)
…swimming like a fish.
…Buddy Basketball dominance.
…kicking the “For Sale” sign down in front of our house in Mason, Michigan. (The next day it was not only kicked down again, but also dispatched underneath a pine tree hoping not to be discovered.)
…making intelligent decisions in situations that many of her friends didn’t.
…getting baptized, and Dad not being able to finish it because of all the emotion.
…seeing her developed sense of justice and compassion appear in a number of situations.
…taking her to college that first year, and experiencing synchronized crying with Carol within a mile of leaving the parking lot of Lizi’s dorm.
And so today as she walks to the front of the platform and receives her diploma, I’ll be proud and also a little sad. I long for those days when she was still on the slide and swings, but know that part of parenthood is the growing of the child to come to the point where, in some ways, she doesn’t need us to catch her any more. It’s a fulfilling moment that we receive with hesitation and dread.
Oh, to keep them as children! I’d better stop. The tears are heading towards my eyes!


May 15, 2010

WORDS FROM W.W. May 14, 2010

I grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show. I got to know all the characters. Aunt Bee always got on my nerves. Otis continues to be my favorite drunk of all time on any TV show. I looked far and wide until I finally found a barber like Floyd, except his name is Phil. And Barney…well…what can you say about a grown man who can still sing soprano?
And then there was Goober! Goober was weekly evidence that you don’t have to be smart to get noticed. In fact, if there was an episode without Goober I felt a little cheated. I wish I could have met Goober’s parents to help me understand how he became who he was. Goober was always saying something that showed his lack of comprehension, and he would do things that had you rolling on the floor laughing while secretly hoping you yourself never did anything like that…and people saw you do it.
In years since we’d use the derogatory comment “What a Goober!” to categorize events that were completely void of intelligent decisions.
And yet all of us at one time or another put a hat on that communicates that we are Goobers.
Goobers in a GQ world, that’s who we are much of the time.
The GQ world is that place where people look perfect and without blemish. It’s a world that distances itself from Jesus, because when you believe you have it all together there’s no need for someone to be your Savior. Flaws are admissions of guilt. Imperfections taint the view.
Which makes Goobers stand out even more with their faults and failures!
I was a real Goober this past week. No…really! I got tickets to a Colorado Rockies baseball game and three of us headed to Denver on a night that more resembled hockey weather than baseball. We were just a few minutes away from the stadium when the radio informed us that the game had been cancelled. I had put the five layers of clothing on for nothing!
Then one of my friends (He still is, in case you’re wondering!) told me that our tickets wouldn’t have been good anyway.
“These tickets are for the afternoon game tomorrow.”
I had ordered tickets for the wrong day, and, of course, we couldn’t go the next day.
My friend said to me, “Well, think of the positive. At least we didn’t pay and park.”
I guess that’s a victory. I envisioned us walking up to the gate, having the ticket scanner scan our tickets and then saying “These tickets are for tomorrow’s game.”
“These tickets aren’t good for tonight.” And then under his breath “What a Goober!”
Goobers need grace…lot’s of it! People who are permanent residents of the GQ world need grace also, but won’t often admit to it.
Come to think of it, Barney was one of those who always was trying to live in the GQ world, that is, the place of perfection and power…but he was more of a Goober than Goober himself. Most of the episodes of Andy Griffith were about the predicaments Barney would get himself into as the result of trying to be something he wasn’t.
At least Goober knew who he was…and wasn’t.
Back to my recent Goober moment. I am extremely thankful that the two guys I went to the game with, or almost went to the game with, gave me grace (They put in some grief also, but no objects were thrown at me). It will stand out as a moment that we will laugh about for years to come. It’s good to have people like that to walk through life with. If you can’t think of anyone who can be that for you there’s some searching you need to do.


May 6, 2010

May 5, 2010

A few weeks ago I spent the good part of a day in the library of a seminary. It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to do that. Seminary libraries have changed in many ways. We didn’t have the anti-theft gates in our seminary library—the ones that buzz and flash when someone tries to make off with one of the books without checking it out. If we would have had those when I was a student maybe the latest copy of The Wittenburg Door magazine wouldn’t have gotten ripped off each month. (For the younger folk, Wittenburg Door was the best periodical of all time! It’s what helped us as seminary students keep our humor in the midst of Barth, Moltmann, and Kung.)
While I was browsing through the seminary library I came upon a book that I had read in recent years. It had allowed me to gain a current (at that time) analysis of the state of the church, and provided some hints as to how to move the people of God forward.
Then I noticed on the next shelf below two other books that have been a part of my completed reading list. Stepping over one book case there were a couple of other motivational guides, and turning around I had staring me in the face another essential book that I had read because it was vital to ministry in the local church.
In fact, I discovered that there were close to 50 books along that row of book shelves that were a part of my library, and that I have used to help shape the form of my pastoring.
But then I went over a row, curious as to what books I would find there that I could identify as being on my “completed” list. There was one that dealt with social justice that I had gotten halfway through . . . but no others.
Next row . . . nil!
Next . . . same thing!
In my strolling I came across only a handful of books that I had read, or even attempted to read, that weren’t in that first row that I was so proud about.
Slow as I am, I still had an “A-ha” moment. The vast majority of my ministry thinking, and dare I saw walk with the Lord, has been determined by a very limited view. I’ve taken a row of books and made it the whole library!
It’s similar to when I went back to a town in West Virginia that I spent part of my childhood. I swear that someone had reduced the width of the streets in the 40 years I had been gone. In my memory that were a lot wider when I was 8! That was back in the days when I thought Frisch’s Big Boy was the only restaurant that existed . . . anywhere!
Sometimes it’s amazing, and humbling, to discover the vastness of our limited perspective. When we realize there’s another view, or another part of the journey that we hadn’t even realized existed, the reaction can go one of two ways—free us to discover how God speaks and is revealed in different ways, or close up our mind to what is familiar.
For instance, recently a couple of friends of mine have discovered “centering prayer.” It’s not that it’s like the iPad and has just been introduced to the public, but rather it’s been there and they just hadn’t discovered it yet. It’s as if it was simply in the next row. They just needed to realize and be introduced to “the books on the other side of the shelf.”
The library experience also made me realize how much, even at this late stage of life, I still have room to grow. I see things most of the time with the eyes of an American Baptist pastor of a small congregation. What about my Presbyterian pastor friend down the street? Could it be that my experience allows him to see things a little different—sometimes better, sometimes not as clear—than I do? Could it be that the “richness” of the kingdom of God for us will be more deeply experienced when we allow our eyes to roam to the next bookshelves over?
Dangerous thoughts! If I give myself permission to do that I may find out that I haven’t been as right as I’ve always thought I was. It may affect how impressive I have been in my own eyes!
And why would I want to do that?
Pastor Bill