Archive for April 2011


April 28, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. April 28, 2011

I’m a fun-loving person. Some may even classify me as a fun-loving pastor. Rarely, however, do I link in my mind church and having fun. That may be because I’m a professional clergy leader, or it may be because I’ve bought into what our culture has fed us about what church is and isn’t.
The Bible is filled with images of a holy God, and people with long beards and staffs. We have curtain protocol in Leviticus, and sacrificial procedures in several Old Testament books. But, let’s be honest! Having fun is not a dominate scriptural theme. It isn’t the purpose of the Story. Scripture is more about the broken relationship, and the mending of the broken relationship.
The question is can we can fun while still keeping the Story at the core of our purpose? Can we laugh, as well as cry?
Sometimes it seems that it’s okay for our young people and children to have fun, but once you cross that high school graduation platform you arrive at “the other side.” Time to sit around in a circle and drink green tea, or, as you age, black coffee.
Seriously, I remember a lot of “fun moments” when I was a youth director. I remember doing “turkey bowling” in the gym, and something we called “The Un-Prom Progressive Dinner.” I remember playing hide-and-go-seek at the youth New Year’s Eve Lock-In; and “Get Dirty Night” in the church parking lot, complete with a fire truck to hose down the unrecognizable participants.
And I’m sure the kids at our church’s day camp had a great time as they watched me get a Mohawk that was then died blue! (I’m neutral on the “fun-meter” for that one.)
When we think “fun for adults”, however, the church rarely gets put in the picture. Maybe it’s because we deal with tragedy too much; and the stress of life saps us of joy. Or maybe it’s because we get too busy for fun.
What might “fun” look like? Is it okay for adults to have shaving cream fights in the parking lot? How about a dunk tank? We wouldn’t even have to rent one. We already have the baptistry! How about a “Progressively Hotter Dinner”? Start with some mild dishes and gradually work our way down the road to something that will blow your socks off! Why don’t we have more movie and popcorn nights in the sanctuary? How about “non-contact roller derby night” in the gym? How might “Get a Pedicure Night” go over? Or “Shave a Head Night” where people would give money to see certain individuals get the bald look?
We get too serious as the church. Life is messy most of the time, and we need each other to make the journey tolerable much of the time. But just as inhaling is naturally followed by exhaling, the serious nature of life needs to be partnered with the light nature.
So, lighten up at times, Church! Get creative! Who is up for “Shrimp Dip Night”, followed by a rousing game of Limbo?


April 26, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. April 26, 2011

A TV show that I, unfortunately, don’t get to watch very often is entitled Middle. It’s about a family that is, plain and simple, middle class. And yet, there is always something unique about their “middleness.” Every episode seems to have its rising and fall, or fall and rise. They struggle with things like third grade math, teenage driver’s license, and getting cut from sports teams.
It mirrors a lot of our life, even down to dental braces!
I find that a lot of life has similar characteristics. I was answering some questions about being a pastor recently- the feelings I have, my energy level, whether or not I want to hug the congregation on a Sunday or strangle them (Not really!).
It was one of those tests where you give a number rating between 1 and 6.
“If people seem to get very excited while you’re preaching give yourself a “6”. If you fall asleep while you’re preaching give yourself a “1”. Or rate yourself somewhere in the middle.”
“If you are always happy and upbeat, give yourself a “6”. If you watch Comedy Central with an uninterrupted scowl, give yourself a”1”. Or rate yourself somewhere in the middle.”
“If a casserole is placed in front of you and you start salivating, give yourself a “6”. If you take a casserole dish (still filled) and throw it against a wall, give yourself a “1”. Or rate yourself somewhere in the middle.”
My problem (one of them!) is that I find myself wanting to write a “.5” between each of the whole numbers. Sometimes I’m fairly excited- maybe not as much as a pentecostal snake handler, or a pastor who has done multiple communion services with “happy juice”, but still fairly excited. However, if I rate myself “too excited” I’d be stretching matters.
Give me a “3.5” spot to circle.
Life has a lot of “.5’s” in it. Christians beat up on one another because we seem to flow back and forth from joy-filled to joy-less. “Is it possible for me to be close to Jesus and not be happy? Yes!” We’re like a kid making waves in the bathtub. The water splashes out on both sides, not just one side.
“.5” tells of the fluctuation of our lives. Each day has the potential to go either way. If I draw blood while shaving, the day could go south real quick.
I could be singing praises to God one moment and, in the next, be cussing out the policeman who has his lights flashing behind me.
I could be charging ahead with ministry plans one moment, and then, in the next moment, wadding up the paper plan because of the sudden resignation by a key volunteer.
I’m in that “.5” most of the day.
And it’s okay!
Because, you see, God is Lord of the middle, not just the mountain-top ratings and the valley lows. He’s intensely with me in those moments when I’m not sure which direction that moment is going in, or how positive or negative my attitude is on the verge of pointing towards.
Most Americans are middle-class, yet we refer to it more often than not as a place to move away from. We desire to be heading more towards Forbes and less towards Crime Digest.
The Bible talks about the first being last, and the last being first, but what about the half-in and half-out? In the moments when “I could go either way” God is there with me. That’s quite often difficult to remember, but it’s true.
Just something to think about!
If you’re in the middle of something right now, just pause and give God thanks for being there in the midst of it with you.


April 20, 2011

There has been a lot of publicity and sparring in the last few weeks about the new book by Rob Bell entitled Love Wins. It is a book that questions the judgment of Hell for people who do not profess to have a relationship with Jesus by asking questions about the nature of God. Rob Bell is a pastor of a Michigan church that draws a large number of young adults. He has been involved in an excellent DVD series that has been used in thousands of churches, entitled Nooma. I would describe Nooma as thought-provoking, and media excellent.

Love Wins is thought-provoking as well. Actually, it probably is thought-provoking taken to a new uncomfortable, and highly-controversial level. I haven’t read it yet, but from comments that I have read about this new read my reactions span from “I need to read it!” to “I shouldn’t read it!” The purpose of the book, and the controversy, took it to the front copy of this week’s Time magazine. There is no hiding it any longer. It’s out there.

Perhaps I’ll get the e-book. That way, it wouldn’t stand out on my hard copy book shelves.

What hits me about the controversy involves two thrusts, or observations, if you will.

The first is that the church is increasingly becoming a divided camp. There have always been divisions, mind you. We have verbal wars over the type of coffee that is served at church functions, what translation of the Bible we use, who can and can’t partake of communion, what the Sunday ushers should wear . . . and not wear, and, of course, worship music. We have a history of dividing more than we conquer.

But this division is one that is rarely talked about, and yet stands out like an over-grown neon pink elephant is a room that is filled with people in folding chairs. It’s not a division based on Rob Bell’s book. It’s a division based on openness to dialogue, or, closed to dialogue.

It seems that many people in faith-based buildings and structures are hesitant about openness. Is it wrong to question a Biblical principle? Or, does it sometimes take the journey of questioning and doubt to finally bringing someone to a point of belief?

I was raised on the saying “The Bible says it! That settles it! I believe it!” And whereas such a motto conveys the belief of my heart, soul, and mind, it also is ineffective in helping someone move along in their quest to arrive at ownership.

It’s interesting that in recent weeks I’ve had conversations . . . dialogues . . . with several people who long for an environment of “searching,” but are afraid of pursuing such that search as a part of a church. They are literally afraid of being ostracized if they raise the doubts they are trying to work through.

Can the church fertilize the soil that will grow dialogue amongst the seekers?

The second thrust is that each of us must ask what it is that we are anchored to. Do we believe that the Bible is the Word of Truth? Is it a firm foundation to help us keep hold when we stretch ourselves with questions?

Who is Jesus? Is He personal? Is He who people make him out to be? Can I see Him kneeling at my feet to wash them, as He did to His disciples? Is Jesus Truth; and if I believe He is, how close am I to the Truth?

I could go on with other examples of “anchors,” but the point is that there are those who aren’t anchored to anything or anyone. When a new idea comes along they hurry to it like chickens who have some feed thrown in a certain direction of their pen. Being able to differentiate between truth and half-truths are beyond them, because they aren’t sure what base their lives can reach out from.

I think it’s important to believe because I believe it, not just because someone else has told me to believe it. I’m troubled when people don’t feel they can say “I don’t believe . . .” because of a fear of chastisement and ridicule. It only creates a lack of searching.

Some might say that I should end this piece of writing with a chastisement of Rob Bell. I can’t do that, because I haven’t read his book. And even if I read it I will tell people what I believe about the things he writes from the basis of the anchors I hold firm to, and not what they must believe. I will walk with them in the journey of spiritual dialogue, believing that Truth will become apparent the more we talk about Him.


April 12, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. April 12, 2011
A lady in front of me at Starbucks this morning paid for her latte’ with her cell phone. I was amazed! I’m still just trying to hit the right numbers on mine to call someone. I felt extremely primitive when I paid for my coffee the old-fashioned way, with currency.
There is an “app” that she had on her phone that allows her to scan her phone to pay for her drink. My mouth was wide open in awe. In the midst of my wonder I still wasn’t at that place where I could comprehend the action. How does the transaction get from the cell phone and scanner to the financial institution? I mean, I know it does, but I don’t know how it does it! It’s a wondrous mystery! I can’t even make the statement “I’ve got to get me one of those things!”, because I’m still fearfully amazed by it.
“Here, I’ll just stick with two Washingtons!’ It will help thin out my wallet a little bit.”
There is mystery, and then there is comprehension; and often the two are not holding hands with each other.
Last Sunday people from four of our neighborhood churches were led through a Seder meal by a rabbi. As we went through the bitter herbs, matzoh, parsley, and other elements, the rabbi often would be reading or speaking in Hebrew. Several times he led us in reciting Hebrew together. I have no idea what it was that I was saying, but there was an element of mystery to the experience.
Not a bad mystery! It’s different than my comment made about a basketball official a couple years ago who was doing the game I was coaching. I told someone after the game that “Every time he blew his whistle it was a mystery that was about to be revealed!”
This mystery had a special feel to it. You sensed that in the midst of the foreign language being spoken that there was the story of God being told. My lack of comprehension did not dim the glow of the mystery.
Sometimes there is a wide gap of cluelessness between the language and practices of the church. People that enter into a worship gathering, or a prayer time, or a Bible study, and have no background of understanding, are left in the dark. There needs to be some awareness of that.
And yet, we need not over-explain to the point that we lose sight of the Mystery of God. I’ve been intrigued in reading the stories of the Resurrection, and the events following it, at how many times the followers of Jesus didn’t comprehend, but they still were drawn into the mystery. There are moments of being aware that something of God was taking place, but comprehension didn’t enter into the picture until some time later.
The best way I might describe it is being on a tour of an art museum and having a tour guide explain the history and the meaning of a painting…but then there is the actual gazing at the painting, the pause in the words, and the absorbing of the scene into one’s mind and memory. All the words, and history, and explanation about why certain colors were used, can not replace the pause to view and reflect.
I didn’t understand the words of the rabbi, but I sensed some of the mystery. God is about mystery, and also, in His timing and His ways, revelation.
I’ll keep that in mind when someone whips out there cell phone to pay for their new High Definition TV!


April 5, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. April 5, 2011

The recent issues of Time have included a hefty amount of coverage about the disasters in Japan. There has been even more emphasis given to the unrest in numerous Middle Eastern countries. As we’ve watched the situation it amount of information seems to be like falling dominoes that keep tumbling into the next one, and the next one, and . . . .

Is it just a coincidence? Is it just something that happens once every thousand years or so? Surely, it doesn’t mean that Egypt’s unrest was a cause in Libya’s unrest, and Yemen’s unrest, and . . . you get the picture!

I would say “no” and “yes.”

Each nation has it’s own unique set of circumstances that have led it to the point of rebellion. Corruption, poverty, lack of hearing, rich and poor, oppression, long-held traditions, and entrenched government leaders . . . all of these ingredients have been poured into the pots of each country in varying degrees. So, in one way, what has happened in Egypt has no relation to what is happening in Syria.

BUT, in our ever-connected world, what happens one place gets communicated quickly in another. I’m “facebooking” my nephew in Baltimore about his wedding in Chicago next October—it is faster than a letter, and even a phone call. Videos of our grandson are being shown to our families in Ohio and Georgia through our daughter’s Facebook page as soon as they happen. My son and I were wondering what the student enrollment at Butler University in Indiana is, so I “googled” it, and found out that it is just under 4,200, within seconds. I was recently curious about how many times Elizabeth Taylor had been married, so I went to online to Wikipedia and found the answer in 10 seconds (8 times to seven husbands). And, I’m texting my daughter in Sioux Falls about what we’re having for dinner.

In other words, there is immediate communication, unless you’re in the middle of a tsunami. With immediate communication comes an expectancy of immediate change. So, what happens in Egypt does impact what will happen tomorrow in Jordan.

Change is changing!

The Body of Christ needs to hear that. I doubt that it will be taken as good news. We, the church, are skeptical of change. The history of the Christian church is dotted with numerous changes that have left people confused and spiritually damaged. It has left us scarred, but, hopefully, a little wiser. Sometimes change is good, and sometimes it’s just craziness lived out.

But change is changing! It has come, and is still coming; and the way it’s coming is changing. It’s more rapid, more reactive. Change is less frequently concerned with the aftermath. Sometimes it is self-centered, while at other times it is an aggressive step forward in concentrated human compassion.

We can look at the Middle East situations and easily conclude that change will be mostly be resisted and fought. Change, however, when meeting unsympathetic intolerance, in recent times has gained remarkable momentum.

I’m even envisioning a cartoon where a young child is texting his friends. His mom asks him what he is doing and he responds, “I’m texting all my friends to schedule a protest rally tonight to put pressure on you to change your decision about buying a bag of cookies at the store tomorrow.”

Change is changing. Movements, right or wrong, are created overnight.

Bottom line, I believe this will impact the church more than it ever has before, and more quickly, too. The urgency in that is that we must know what the essentials are. But, the essentials need be more clearly stated than ever before, and we also must know what the non-essentials are.

What must we hold on to? What are the beliefs that cannot be compromised away, for in compromising them we lose the foundation of our Christian faith?

And, what are the things that we’re just too stubborn to allow to be changed? By not changing those things, we will lose our ability to speak to the culture.