Archive for June 2011

Speed Traps and Grace

June 30, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. June 30, 2011
A few blocks from our church building an unmanned police speed van has been parked one or two days each week. It’s driven to the spot around 7:00 in the morning and left there for the rest of the morning and afternoon. This nifty vehicle, that was created in the back of someone’s dark mind, takes a picture of any speeding vehicle that happens to unsuspectingly go zooming by.
If I can use the word “unfair” in this situation it’s in regards to the fact that the van is parked at the bottom of a hill. There is a slight curb as people come down to the hill. After the curb there’s another two hundred yards or so before reaching the bottom of the hill.
According to the law the expensive photo gifts that the drivers receive is legal. The speed limit is 35, and if you’re going 42…downwards!…that’s your problem. Unmanned police speed vans don’t understand grace. It eats into the city revenue.
It should be at about this time that many of you are expressing your sympathies for the speeding ticket I received. Except…I didn’t get one! I did, however, notice a number of other people having flashes go off as they were braking. Pausing at a red light just a block away from the speed trap I saw eight flashes in the span of one red light.
Let’s see….eight times $125 (estimate)…that’s $1,000 in about thirty seconds. Why doesn’t the police department order more of these revenue makers?
As I said, unmanned police speed vans don’t understand grace.
I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t understand it as well.
Some expect it, but don’t offer it.
Others stretch it like a size 44 trying to squeeze into a 34 waist. How far can it be taken without splitting at the seams?
A forty-four never looks good in a thirty-four, but someone will try to make it happen. (Stay at a distance from anyone who is trying to do that!)
A Christian who believes in grace as it pertains to him, but becomes judicial in its application to others is a contradiction in terms, but, unfortunately, also too common.
We have a habit of reading grace into Scripture as it pertains to us, but seeing it as a possibility in others requires a reach that is hard to extend. Grace is for my speeding vehicle, but at other times I’m the police speed van rigid in my situation assessment.
Absolute law!
When will we live in absolute grace?
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors!”

RUSHING DOWN THE STEEP BANK

June 27, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. June 26, 2011
One of my favorite Jesus stories is the “swine dive” in Mark 5. In case you don’t have it memorized, it’s the story of Jesus’ encounter with the demon-possessed man. The man is so afflicted that his name is Legion, an implication about how many demons has taken up residence in his life.
Jesus is going to set this poor fellow free and the demons request that he send them into a herd of pigs nearby. When that happened there was a two thousand swine mass stampede to death.
I can only imagine what that must have looked like. I’m seen a bunch of guys rush into a lake to try to get the greased watermelon, or a herd of crazed people rushing through the doors of Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving about 4am…and those were quite the sights, but I’ve never seen a herd of pigs racing to their doom.
I think of that story because of another comment that was made by a man who assigns basketball officials to college games. He said “moving too quickly maximizes risk.” His point was about how someone who referees basketball games usually wants to move up the ladder to high school, then Junior College, College, and then…for a very, very few…professional basketball.
He’s seen many officials advance too quickly, and then come crashing down, because they hadn’t put in the necessary time to season their game.
The same principle applies to the growth of a follower of Jesus. Moving too quickly maximizes risk. How many times has someone experienced new life, had incredible enthusiasm and excitement, and been put into a position, or entrusted with certain responsibilities that they weren’t ready for?
Many times!
We expect instant success and sudden stardom. To have gradual growth as a disciple is looked down on.
The responsibility is on the mentors and the Body of Christ. If we don’t see the value in solid gradual growth then no one else will. We even see it in church growth. If a church grows by 50% in one year it’s applauded. There’s a good chance a traveling workshop will arise out of it within the year after that. It’s common for other people to want to copy the sprint to success.
But a sprint to success is on the same level as the swine dive off the steep bank. People aren’t ready for rapid growth, individually and corporately. The first church grew quickly…I mean, off the charts growth patterns…and then it had to stop and figure out the Hellenistic widows who had fallen between the cracks. In essence, it had to stop and think about where things were.
Moving too quickly maximizes risk.
Perhaps that’s why the description of an overseer, or elder, in 1 Timothy 3:6 includes these words: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”
Hmmmm…

“FRAMING THE FUTURE”

June 16, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. June 16, 2011
“Framing The Future”

For Father’s Day a year ago my daughter Kecia surprised me by framing all of the photos I have had of teams I have coached in the last decade or so. She put each team photo into it’s own frame and then arranged them on one of the walls in my home study. Some of the photos are larger and require special frames. Some are situated where the vertical sides of the frame are the longer two sides, and others are just the opposite.
The frames don’t change the pictures, but they do influence one’s perspective of it. For example, one of the teams that I enjoyed coaching the most has their photo in a black frame with thin borders around it. The frame, from my view and memory, enhances the sweetness of the season that I shared with the players in that picture. One of the more difficult teams I coached has its photo centered in a solidly built frame that, for some reason, acts like a memory-eraser of the afternoons I felt like I was trying to get a team of mules to take one step forward.
The wall is about to gain a few others frames of this past year’s teams. In preparation for this I went to a store and looked at new frames to place the photos in. I was amazed at the options! A couple of them seemed to communicate serenity. Others non-verbally said “Strong” and “Loving.” I would describe a few as traditional and others as “adolescent-bound.”
The frames communicated perhaps as much as the pictures.
It occurred to me that our faith experience, or perhaps our faith experience through church, is influenced by our “frame.” What has given us a sense of comfort and peace often becomes the “frame” through which we see the view of the present and our hopes for the future.
In essence, disgruntlement or satisfaction with our church is often connected to how well we have experienced the past. It helps us understand why older generations are so passionate about singing hymns. It helps me understand why I sometimes think of youth ministry being done in a certain way…because that’s how it was done when I was in high school, and how I did it when I was a youth director. It explains why certain things are in specific places in a sanctuary, not necessarily because Scripture instructs that way. It also helps us make sense as to why one church has a weekly calendar that never changes, but other churches are more open about altering the schedule on a regular basis.
Our past experiences help frame the present and future. If someone’s experience in a traditional church was riddled with chaos and hurt, he may never be involved in an organized religious group again, or when he does become interested in a faith journey again it could very well be in a non-traditional setting that is fresh and completely different.
Sometimes people leave churches not because they were offended or angered, but because their frame needs a more familiar picture in it. Who would put a Picasso in a frame that would take the attention away from the picture? Who would put a picture of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks in a 1890 picture frame that once held the photo of my grandparents with “four greats” in front ot their names?
The Pharisees often got upset with Jesus. Their faith frame was being seen with a new photo in it, and it was just a little too much out there for them to be comfortable with.
In a culture that is very spiritual, and decreasingly church-based, there will probably be more and more conversation…and heated debate about our different frames. It’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It just is.

“WEED-BEARING SHRUB”

June 8, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. June 7, 2011
“Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.”
(Matthew 13:24-26)

This is a story about two shrubs, small and young, bought at the store in two of those small shrub containers and carefully bedded down into the ground a few feet apart from each other. The shrubs were cared for, fed and watered, and they slowly took root. Each of them had tiny fragile leaves bursting with potential.
And then something strange happened. One of the shrubs grew at an alarmingly rapid rate, while the other shrub seemed to be barely growing in comparison. The two shrubs were pictures of contrast. How could they have been like twins from birth, who now looked like polar opposites?
As time went on the shrub that was still smaller began to display brightness of color in its appearance. It was stunning to behold. The larger shrub sprouted limbs that gave it a bad hair-day look. Each day that went by did nothing to change that appearance.
And then the oddness of the situation brought forth a solution. The larger shrub had company in it’s beginning carton, for there had also been the beginnings of a weed that was sharing the space with it. Towards the beginning of the growing the weed had given the small shrub a look of vitality, of health, and fully-lived life. But as time went on the weed had taken over the shrub, began crowding it out, drinking all of the water that came it’s direction, and expanded.
The other shrub, though small, was weed-less. It very carefully grew towards strength. After a while it stopped worrying about it’s size in comparison and focused on being what it could be. Each growing season it became steadier and more deeply rooted. It stayed on course with what it had been planted to do.
But the first shrub lost it’s direction. The weeds crowded it out to the point that it couldn’t see what it was any longer. It even came to a point where it couldn’t separate itself from the weeds. It thought the weeds were signs of it’s fruit. Everyone else, however, knew the truth, even if the shrub couldn’t see it.
Finally, a day came when the weeds began encroaching on the other shrub and it could no longer be tolerated. The weeds were pulled out of the ground. The shrub was so entangled in their existence that it was pulled up, also.
But the other shrub thrived and blossomed, and after a while, no one remembered that at one time there had been another shrub.

Author’s Note: This story, that Jesus first brings out in Matthew, was re-lived in our front yard this past year. There is still a bare spot where the weeds and shrub got pulled up, but the shrub beside it is doing well! Read into it however you want. To me it is a vivid illustration of the Christian life. Sometimes a person’s language and outward appearance fool others in the short-term. A steady walk is only noticed after it has been shown for a long, long time.