Archive for March 2011

Risk Free Christianity

March 30, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. March 30, 2011

The other night Carol and I went to a Mongolian barbecue restaurant. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s a place where you decide what you want in your stir-fry combination by adding different ingredients to a bowl. You then take the bowl to the cooks manning the grill and they cook it for you and then dump it on to a plate. The ingredients include about half a dozen kinds of meat and seafood, an assortment of veggies, and about a dozen sauces that you can choose from. In reality it’s a glorified buffet!
Mongolian barbecue is a no-risk establishment. If you don’t care for your plate full of food, you can simply shove it to the side and go fill up another bowl. If I don’t like the tofu too, bad for the restaurant!
If I want all meat and no veggies, it’s my choice!
“Mom, don’t tell me what to pick!”
When I was growing up Mom put the food on the table. It was not a buffet. A meat dish…most of the time. A vegetable. A potato item. A piece of bread or a biscuit or skillet cornbread. That was it. If you didn’t like it…it wasn’t going to be shipped to a hungry child in India. It was going to be eaten…by you! Thank God my mom and dad were both great cooks. No giant dumplings with an Alka-Seltzer chaser!
In comparing those two ways of food consumption, I often feel that Christians follow the first method in regards to their faith walk. “God, show me the way after I determine the ingredients!”
We seldom travel out of our spiritual comfort zones, because we’re not sure we’d like it very well. Better safe then sorry, even if it’s to God that we’re saying “sorry” to!
I read this quote the other day from Eugene Peterson that resonates uncomfortably in my spirit. He writes:
“Praying puts us as risk of getting involved in God’s conditions. Be slow to pray. Praying most often doesn’t get us what we want, but what God wants, something quite at variance with what we conceive to be in our best interests.”
Perhaps that’s why many of us shy away from prayer. It puts us at risk of not being able to make the decision about what we put on our plate. Deep down inside I think most of us know that God knows best, and we are frequently irritated by that truth. We think that if God created tofu he’s got something planned for our life plate that will result in a waste of space and time.
“Praying most often doesn’t get us what we want, but what God wants…”
That is strangely comforting. Not comfort food, just comforting.
I’m going to chew on that for a while.


March 23, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. March 22, 2011

I was giving Carol “the silent treatment” part of the afternoon.
No, she hadn’t mistreated me, or made a comment about my bald spot. I had been to the dentist. My mouth hurt. Actually, I felt like I was one of those Star Wars characters with off-shaped heads. At any rate I spent part of the afternoon not talking.
When I did talk I sounded like one of the characters in Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert TV cartoon show a few years ago. So I tried not to talk, just to be quiet.
Interestingly enough, Carol and I went to see the movie The King’s Speech later in the afternoon. By then I could chew popcorn on the right side of the mouth. (We go to movies to eat popcorn. In other words, we have a little movie with our popcorn!)The movie was based on a king’s inability to talk. I had read some of the history that the film was based in William Manchester’s extraordinary biography of Winston Churchill entitled The Last Lion.
Here was another situation of problematic speech.
My numbed mouth and King George VI’s stammering speech were both rooted in pain. In a few hours my pain was gone, but his kept coming at him wave after wave.
Sometimes our speech towards our Creator becomes numb. We fall into pain and heartache and we don’t know what to say to The Lord Who Provides, or we mumble it in embittered tones that make God out to be the villain and bestower of harmful intentions.
There are times when our prayer lives become speechless. We have no voice, no room for even receiving comfort. We are just tight-jawed and close-minded.
Like a son and his father there is the danger of being related but distant. With God, scripture tells us that we can call him “Abba”, while he refers to even one of us as his children. But sons have a way of moving away from their fathers, and then there’s the drifting to the point of silence and meaningless conversations when they do come back together.
King George’s speech was fluid when he was angry. He could cuss and speak angrily with the most convincing orators. It was in his times of uncertainty and royal expectation that his words became like high hurdles that caused tripping and hesitancy.
For many of us we cry out to God in our anger, and he passively pass him by in our successes.
Personally, I have found that I am much better at writing down my thoughts to God than speaking them to him. I’m deeper in thought and “writer’s block” gives me pause to reflect upon what he might be saying.
I dislike getting drilled, but once in a while- a great while- it gives me cause to keep my mouth shut.


March 8, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. March 8, 2011

I’ve noticed in numerous television shows and films I’ve viewed in recent months that when there is a conflictual conversation that is starting to develop the scene changes, or sometimes music deadens the tension on the screen. A conversation that is about to become heated just ends and the scene goes to a commercial or what someone else is doing.
It’s kind of like this:
MOM: So did you steal that twenty dollar bill that I had on the counter?
SON: (pause) What’s for dinner tonight?
MOM: Does that mean yes?
SON: (stares at his iPod) We haven’t had pork chops in a while.
MOM: (stares at son staring at iPod) I just don’t understand.
(Music starts. Scene switch to Burger King commercial.)

There is a side-tracking to safety. Depth is extremely uncomfortable! Better to focus on the dinner menu!
How often does my relationship with Jesus mirror that? When the Holy Spirit is “stirring the pot” of my life it is convenient to focus on the silverware. When I have opportunities to draw close to the presence of God and experience an intimate moment of being fully-focused on Him, there always seems to be something that has the potential to draw me away from Him.
Instead of the spiritual meat I stare at a water spot on the spoon. Instead of closeness I look off into the distance.
Quite honestly, churches are notorious for this very thing. The Body of Christ has the awesome privilege to be the residence of the presence of God, to gather together for an audience with the Holy; but we are prone to play it safe and focus on other things such as the color of the drapes, and the length, or brevity, of the worship service. There will always be something that seems more urgent than an encounter with God! It might be the type of translation that scripture is being read from, or the temperature of the room, or the noise that someone in the third row is making…there will always be something that is of a “trivial urgency” that has the potential to keep us from getting to close to the heart of God.
Such things occurred on a regular basis in the early church. Paul addresses the safe side-tracks quite often in his writings. Christians got on the nerves of other Christians. As they lived day to day in close proximity to one another they created lists of personal pet peeves- people getting all crazy in worship, sue-happy brothers in Christ, a couple of women who kept bickering with one another, losing the intimacy of the Lord’s Supper because people were unashamedly gluttons.
To focus on our relationship with Jesus is what we long for, and yet, what we most often avoid.
Do you hear the music beginning, and the scene changing? We’ve adopted the revised saying “Better safe…than soul-searching!”
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. May we seek to not play it safe, but seek first first his kingdom and his righteousness.


March 1, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. February 28, 2011

I felt it approaching my vocals cords on Tuesday, like a “bass frog” with low expectations. On Wednesday the volume level got turned down to the point that people thought I was whispering secrets.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday it came and went almost as often as my memory.
I lost my voice…and then I gained it back…and then I lost it again…and…you get the picture!
A preacher losing his voice is as bad as a chef losing his sense of taste, or a parent losing their sense of smell when their toddler is right beside him/her. (Let me clarify! Others can smell “it” as soon as they enter the room. I don’t want to explain it any more than that!) I can only stress a certain scriptural point so far with raised eyebrows or distorted facial expressions. After a while I just look weird. (Some would debate that point even if I still had my voice!)
Last week I was trying to make a point to Carol and I just squeaked like a baby chick. It’s embarrassing to talk to your wife and suddenly sound like Pee Wee Herman!
There are other times in life, however, when I have, and others have, lost our voices. Sometimes it happens as we’re talking, but nothing is being heard. Sometimes we lose our voice because we are beyond any more words. We’re speechless in our souls. There is a quiet frustration that evolves into silence.
I believe we all come to that point at times, resurrect from it, and then, hopefully, our voices rise again.
My recent voice experience is of the audible type, but there’s an inner voice that is prone to disappear from time to time. It’s the voice of God that gets muted by our lives, and our plans, and our meetings. It gets covered up by all our details, like layer upon layer of blankets on a bed. We didn’t mean to lose touch with His voice. It just happened.
The resurrection of Jesus tells us about death, and then the coming back to life. When Jesus died there was a thundering silence. There was a punctuated quiet!
And then just when it looked like the voice of God had been silenced there was the grinding sound of a heavy rock that was rolled away. Life came into death. The voice came back.
I think of that picture when it seems like my voice has died. It think of it when I sense the rock is being rolled back into place, and I’m looking into the tomb of my existence instead of out into the promise of the light.
My voice began to come back today. It’s a sign of the fact that we serve a God who restores and resounds in the echoes of our personal valleys. After all, God’s voice, his speech, was heard in the third verse of Genesis 1, and it continues from there. We talk about hearing the voice of God, and then at other times when God is silent it is never a good thing.
Losing my voice has made me appreciate having a voice, a leading, an inner longing to walk in the ways of God.
So, it’s coming back. My voice, that is! I’ve only had a couple of Pee Wee Herman moments today. At other times I’ve sounded more like Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Oops! I just showed my age!