Archive for August 2011

Messy Conversations

August 31, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. August 30, 2011

I’m speaking this coming Sundays on “Messy Conversations”, and I have to tell you…I’m a little anxious! I’m praying that God will work through me to not create a mess, but to proclaim the possibilities “in our messes.”
There’s a a growing chasm in our culture between “opposites.” They say that opposites attract. Maybe with magnets that’s true, but in regards to our belief systems, values, and opinions, recent history has shown the…”opposite!”
The ongoing political campaigns are an example. What we see on TV, and the internet, is usually people on opposite sides of the canyon throwing rocks at one another. Everyone seems to think they are right and the opposite side is wrong that very seldom do you hear of the possibility that each side has some of the right.
Messy conversations are those situations where my need to make you see the error of your ways is not as important as hearing what you are basing your belief on. Our conversation is somewhere in the middle of the mess.
Jesus didn’t feel a need to be right. Well, okay…he was always right, but it’s not what drove him. He showed a consistent habit of giving value to those who had lost their voice- a woman dragged to him under a charge of adultery, a tax collector of minimal stature, a woman who had a feminine condition that caused her humiliation.
There aren’t too many families that have not been touched by either an unwanted pregnancy, a drug-dependent relative, an alcoholic uncle, a “prodigal son” child, a job-terminated kin, or a marriage gone south. All of us have messy conversations that we are connected to.
It would be nice to think that walking closely with Jesus keeps our lives feel of such pain, but each of us knows that’s not true. The messy conversations of life often cause us to rush to the feet of Jesus in our grief and pain, and seek his leading when we have no words to say.
If our walk with Jesus created a force field around us protecting us from the chaos of this world, perhaps our congregations would all require parking lot attendants to help with the overflow.
One of the telling points of a church is whether or not it can be a community of grace in the midst of the messy conversations. Rigidity tilts the slide towards legalistic righteousness, which is okay until you’re the one needing grace.
Some might be concerned that I’m hinting that there are no absolutes. There are absolutes. There are absolute truths that I am firmly committed to, but I am also firmly committed to the uncomfortable conversations with my opposites.

Saltines and Sandies

August 25, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. August 24, 2011

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8)
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” (Psalm 119:103)

My favorite cookie has always been the Pecan Sandie. It’s not that I don’t like others; it’s just that I have history with the Sandie. My Aunt Irene used to have a stash at her house in a cookie jar. Aunt Irene had no children, so I could feast on cookies the whole time I was there. A Sandie has good memories for me.
But cookies in our house growing up were up high. It demanded that a little guy, like me, had to do a bit of cabinet scaling to obtain one.
On the other hand, the lower shelf that I could reach with no effort had the Saltine cracker box on it. Saltines were there for the taking.
Perhaps you think differently, but my thinking was “How many Saltines can a kid eat?” I’ve never heard a parent say, “You’ve had enough crackers! Now put them away!”
If you go into a restaurant and request crackers, they will bring you a basketful, but if you ask for a chocolate chip cookie check your bill. Restaurants give crackers; some even give pickles, peanuts, and popcorn…but no one brings a plate of cookies to the table for free.
In terms of the leadings of God in our lives, are we munching on Saltines or reaching for the Sandies? In other words, do we obey the God-leadings that never demand too much, or allow ourselves to stretch to reach what demands all of who we are?
Another way of saying it is, do we “dull-ify” the things of God in order to not risk being disappointed? I can remember reaching for the cookie jar, pushing the “in peril meter”, only to discover that it was empty. It was disappointing!
And there were the Saltines! Multitudes of them, easily within my safe reach!
A follower of Jesus is always settles for the Saltines will never taste the richness of God’s calling.
There are times when a Saltine is what we need. It’s usually when we’re in the midst of some kind of stomach illness. We’ve overextended, and we need to settle for a time. Think of it as a sabbath rest, a centering experience.
Honestly, though, how many of us are reaching for the hand of God so often that we need a “Saltine break?”
Personally, it occurred to me this week that most of what I’m about, and most of what I’m leading my church in, is cracker-based instead of cookie-reaches.
“Lord, I pray for power to reach for the Sandies, the sweetness of Your favor as I pursue the risks of Your calling!”

Different Languages

August 18, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. August 18, 2011
On a recent flight to Chicago, Carol and I witnessed an interesting language situation. Across the aisle and one row up there was a little girl about 7 years old sitting in the aisle seat with an open seat beside her. We couldn’t quite understand why she was by herself, but, of course, “not understanding”is a key term in this story.
A good-sized man in his late twenties came up the aisle as people were finding there seats, and when he got to the aisle that the young girl was sitting in he looked up at the sign that tells which seat is which, looked down at the young girl, looked back up at the seat, and then asked the young lady “Excuse me! Is this your seat?” She looked up at him with a seven year old’s confused eyes, but didn’t say anything. The young man, who was about 6’2”, 230, was very patient and he sat down in the open seat behind her and waited until a flight attendant might happen to wander by.
About a minute later a young woman came up the aisle and the young man realized that he was in her seat, so he unoccupied it and stood in the aisle…with great patience. (Yes, where are the flight attendants when you really need them?)
Finally one of the attendants happened to come by and the young man asked him about the young girl. With a bit of frazzlement the attendant said to the 7 year old, “Miss, this is his seat.” And then the attendant fled the scene! The young lady didn’t say a word, and continued to sit and play with her teddy bear.
The football player continued to be very patient. He got the attention of another flight attendant who came by, said something similar to the young lady, and then proceeded on.
A minute later as the plane has filled and the man is still standing in the aisle, another attendant came by and talked to the girl. Finally, it dawned on someone that the child didn’t speak English. She only spoke Spanish, and her grandmother was in the row ahead of her, and her mother was four rows in front of her.
Enter a flight attendant who spoke Spanish, and the situation got easily solved. And let me say it again, the “Hulk” was patient the whole time. The young girl was simply one seat away from where she was suppose to be, but the language of the airlines was foreign to her. She simply sat in the first open seat.
I thought of how people who aren’t familiar with church sometimes brave a visit. We need to ask ourselves how much of what we say is like a foreign language to them. It’s not that we should not use terms like “atonement” and “blood sacrifice” and “Pentecost.” But, perhaps, we must be willing to slow down enough to explain them. How comprehensible is the message that we proclaim about the gospel of Jesus Christ? How clear is the pivotal truth of the grace of God in a culture that believes more in earning one’s way?
When I receive a blank stare from someone who happens to navigate what the right entrance is into our building, find the sanctuary, and join our congregation in a gathering of worship, are there other things I should be considering to bridge the “language gap?”
In the confusion of the situation with the seven year old there were statements that dictated, and questions that weren’t understandable. Finally the right question was asked that provided clear direction about what should be done next.
Sometimes the people of God ask the wrong questions. Asking someone is they have been filled with the Holy Spirit makes no sense whatsoever to someone who then is wondering “What is the Holy Spirit?” Jumping over “A” to get to “B” doesn’t work very well.

“Vacation Diary”

August 10, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. August 10, 2011
My wife and I returned from two weeks of vacation on Monday in the Midwest. I thought I would summarize the experience.
Day 1- Left home at 6:30am to travel to DIA (Denver). Vacation started with standing in lines at airport. I thought I was at Cedar Point Amusement Park, but instead of standing in line for a roller coaster I realized I was standing in line to meet a TSA agent.
Day 2- In Michigan. Hot and humid.
Day 3- In Michigan. Hot and humid. Carol and I get reintroduced to something called a mosquito, and his friends! We become “blood relatives.”
Day 4- In Michigan. Hotter and more humid. Instinctively I start to pull off my sweater, and then I realize I’m not wearing one. It’s an invisible “humidity sweater.” Not a fan!
Day 5- In Michigan and then traveling to Ohio. Hot and humid. Humidity has decided to follow us down I-75. We stay with my “best man” and his wife. Good to see them again. He proceeds to humiliate me in ping-pong!
Day 6- In Ohio. Weather forecast calls for increasing hotness and widely uncomfortable humidity.
Day 7- In Ohio. My armpits feel like perspiration fountains. Longing for a blizzard, and I don’t mean from Dairy Queen!
Day 8- In Ohio. It’s raining! Praise the Lord! We celebrate by going to Long John Silver’s for lunch. Mistake! The rest of the day I feel like there is a fish swimming inside me.
Day 9- In Ohio and Indiana. Hot and humid, but we’re in our rental car so we are oblivious…until we stop for gas. It’s so hot that I’m afraid the fuel might ignite. Humidity lower, however. Only about 75%!
Day 10- In Illinois. Hot, humid, and considerably miserable. But on the positive, we get to be in bumper to bumper traffic!
Day 11- In Illinois. Family golf outing. Eighteen holes at a nice golf course. I notice that Carol’s cousin is sweating profusely and we haven’t even teed off yet. After teeing off I realize he just got a jump on us. Each of us (Ten of us in all!) proceeds to “sweat like a pig”, as my grandfather used to say. After my tee shot on the first hole I’m counting down how many holes are left before I can shower!
Day 12- In Illinois. Hot and humid as we trudge through our last day before flying back to Colorado. The highlight is meeting with some old college friends that evening. It rains as a sign of God’s blessing on our gathering together.
Day 13- Back to Colorado. We arrive at the airport extra early so we can get the full effect of waiting in lines again. I feel like a steer that is being led to a place I don’t really want to go to. At O’Hare the TSA agents make you feel a little bit like you are a criminal who is being processed through to a holding cell. The full body scan is a trip! And, of course, since we arrived extra early we discover that our flight is delayed. Arrive back home at 1:15am.
Day 14- Back to work and it’s hot…but it isn’t humid! Praise the Lord!