Archive for December 2011

No Shoes In the Mall

December 24, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. December 24, 2011

It was a strange scene, hundreds of people standing outside the mall at a quarter to twelve midnight. Perhaps a celebrity was showing up, or the line to see Santa was so long that people were still waiting hours after the mall had closed.
But a closer look indicated that it was neither of those. The new retro Air Jordan athletic shoes were going on sale. I don’t remember there being lines back in the early seventies for “Chuck Taylor’s” when they went on sale, although I do remember wearing them until they were literally in shreds. No wonder we couldn’t jump in those days! We didn’t have any rubber left on the bottom of our shoes!
The scene was chaos as doors opened, got busted off their hinges and crowds of people ran frantically into the shoe store, only to have most of them be disappointed with the news “No shoes in the Mall!”

Even the fortunate ones who did get the precious pairs included very few people who actually needed a pair of shoes. Comments could be heard:

“I’m putting my pair on eBay for double the price!”

“I’m going to hold on to my pair for a couple of years and then make a mint off of them!”

“I’m just going to keep mine in the box, wrap it up in protective plastic wrap, and watch the value go up. Believe me! No one is going to take down the value of these shoes by actually wearing them!”
What to do? A crisis had emerged. Johnny Junior’s quest for a college scholarship and a lucrative professional contract someday was in jeopardy because there were no AJ’s to be had. Parents explained the repercussions of this shortage to store innkeepers, but to no avail. The only advice they received was “You might try the clearance rack over there. I think we have some old black high-top Converses. They aren’t as flashy, but they still fit feet.”
Some parents became adamant about the store producing more shoes, while others just walked away with downcast expressions. But one young boy found the clearance rack, noticed a brand spanking new pair of old Chuck Taylor’s and shouted out “I found my shoes!”
While others trampled on one another, pushed, punched, and pepper-sprayed, he walked out of the mall with his mom and dad, content, excited, and ready to lace them up!

Cluttered Signs

December 21, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. December 20, 2011

I had one of those “kairos moments” this morning. It was at Children’s Hospital in Denver, but the site doesn’t matter. It was the circumstances. After prayer in the family I went down to get a cup of coffee, and told them that I would meet them in the waiting area. After coming back from the coffee shop and situating myself on a comfy couch with my java, Lee (the dad) summoned me to a sitting area in the main hallway where he had already taken up residence.
I picked up my cup and coat and went out to where he was. A couple of minutes later the receptionist from inside the w3aiting area came out and said to Lee, “Your pastor must be directionally challenged.”
I looked confused (but it WAS early!). And then she said “You didn’t read the signs.”
“What signs?”
“The ones that say no food or drink in the waiting area where you were first sitting.”
“What signs?”
She led me over to the waiting room area, pointed to the sign standing in front of us, and said “This one!” And then she walked a few feet further and said “And that one on the wall…and then there’s that one that was right above your head where you were sitting.”
I hadn’t seen them.
But the thing about the signs (this is not an excuse, mind you!) is that each of them said so much that they didn’t say anything. That is, there were so many words on the sign that they looked cluttered, and therefore…ignored…at least by me.
The receptionist was very nice and was giving me some good-intended teasing. Lee, on the other hand, will be looking for the right moment to share about his pastor’s illiteracy.
What it made me think of was the brilliance of God’s revelation in ONE star over Bethlehem, instead of a cluttering of signs that would have brought either confusion or sighted people who were blind.
The Magi studied stars, but God understood the importance of one star. A thousand stars over Bethlehem would have made the event about the heavens instead of a newborn king. One star created a focal point, a comprehension of the importance, a recognition of the place.
The signs in the waiting area might have been seen by me if there was a picture of a “cup” with the words “Don’t even think about it!” written underneath.
It’s interesting that when Jesus was in the midst of the scribes and Pharisees they were always asking him for a sign, but they couldn’t read the very sign that God had placed in front of them. It’s also interesting to me that the wise men traveled a long, long distance because of the one star, but Herod, just a few miles away couldn’t see it.
Personally, there are times when my life when it is so cluttered that I wouldn’t notice a star even if it crash landed in my hot tub. We are in danger at times of missing the simplest, most evident sign of God, because of our obsession with ourselves.
Look for the sign! Beware of the receptionist!

Revised Christmas Story

December 20, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. December 18, 2011

Our church has about five nativity sets. They are arranged in different parts of the building- sanctuary, foyer, outside the main office, counter tops. The sets come in different sizes, and made of different materials. But there’s one thing about being a church that uses things once a year and then puts them away in storage, and besides that, being a church made up of people that are abundantly present for the “Hanging of the Greens” Christmas decorating night (Side note: Many years ago when I was an associate pastor, we had a family in our church whose last name was Green. For some reason they never showed up for “Hanging of the Greens” night! Go figure!), conveniently absent when we take down the Christmas decorations.
Things get misplaced! Things come up missing! It could be that certain items get put in with Easter items. It may be that this coming April when I open a box that I think contains a thorn of crowns for Good Friday that there may be a wise man crammed into the bottom of the box.
Anyway…things get misplaced, and then Christmas season I’ve discovered that a couple of our Nativity sets have taken on different looks. If taken at first glance they could easily be used to revise the Christmas story.
For example, one of the sets has two sets of Magi twins. Who would have thought that the Magi traveled in identical pairs? And it’s funny…each of the twins brings the same gift. There are two with myrrh, and two with frankincense. It could have been that there was a two-for-one sale in Jerusalem!
Think of the story line for next year’s Children’s Christmas program…”Lee and Leroy, the Magi Twins.”
Another one of our sets lost Mary! If people look closely they might think that Joseph is a single parent. Mary has disappeared. All the other participants are there…shepherds, wise men, sheep, cows, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. There’s even an angel to somehow try to attach to the wall or the lamp shade above the nativity set, but no Mary.
Think how people might communicate the story from what they see if they didn’t know what they weren’t seeing.
Of course, that’s the subtle point I’m trying to make about the Christmas story. If we don’t know the story, it can easily be changed to something that it isn’t.
“Revisionists” is a term that is used more and more these days. As followers of Jesus we want the truth to be spoken. Sometimes the truth gets revised by people with sly looks on their faces, and we believe it, because we aren’t that grounded in what is “the Truth.” Even though something is missing we sometimes are blind to what it is.
My prayer for you is that you would know the Truth…and also what isn’t…and that the Truth would set you free.

“Stuck Between The Can and The Will”

December 16, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. December 15, 2011

A walk with Jesus is a walk of faith.
Plain and simple! Faith is what moves us on when it would be rationale to stop. Faith is at the center of who we are as Christians. It takes faith to believe that what the Word of truth is really true.
But there is a point in our faith walk where it is easy to get stuck. It’s a point that is as consuming as Mississippi mud. It’s the place where we have faith that God can do something, but we’re not sure if he will do something. It’s an uncomfortable place for people of faith to be in, because we pride ourselves on believing. Stories of extreme faith fill our Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and daily guides. It’s the residence of the doubt-filled.
There’s an interesting story in Mark 9 where Jesus encounters a man whose son is possessed by an evil spirit. The father has grieved the pain of his son’s life for years. The boy is continually in the midst of situations that can bring him harm, plus he can’t speak. The father comes to Jesus and tells Jesus that he has already brought his son to the disciples, but they can’t seem to handle the situation. Jesus replies “O unbelieving generation…” (Mark 9:19)
His disciples were struggling with the “can” and the “will.” They were at an impasse. I picture it being like a group of government bureaucrats shrugging their shoulders and saying “We’re sorry! But this is a situation that falls outside our parameters. You might check with the disciples of John the Baptist. They may be able to help you.”
The scripture says that when the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. (Mark 9:20). At the end of verse 22 the father says to Jesus, “…if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
And Jesus replies, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.”
The disciples are over in the corner trying to not notice, and doing a lot of rubbing of their foreheads. The father then replies to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Those words resonate with me. I believe, but sometimes my unbelief tips the scales.
We may feel guilty in those moments and those points of “faith deserts” in our lives.
But the story doesn’t end there! After Jesus has cast out the spirit and restored the son, he is in a private location with his disciples and they ask him the tough question- the question that gets attached to the “stuck point of faith.”
“Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
And Jesus replies in Mark 9:29, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
It seems that prayer is an essential bridge builder over the gulf of doubt. How much prayer? I don’t know. I don’t read in scripture that there’s a minimum…or a maximum. It’s a vessel that slowly moves us, or, if you will, un-sticks us, from the “can” to the “will.”
Perhaps sometimes we don’t put faith in our praying.

“Short Candles”

December 8, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. December 7, 2011

Our church is splurging this year. We’re getting new candles for the Christmas Eve service! The personal kind that each person gets to light and hold as we close our gathering that night singing Christmas carols by candlelight.
There may be some who think that we’ve gone crazy with our free spirited spending. After all, we’re almost $5,000 behind in where our budget says our financial giving year-to-date should be! But…we went for it!
The reason for our carefree spending trend is that the candles we’ve been using…for the past 15 years…or maybe twenty…are getting to look more like cigarette butts than candles. We can now fit almost a thousand “candle butts” into the box that originally held 250.
We could have held out for a couple more years. After all, only a couple of people got their fingers burned last year! (That was a sarcastic remark, in case you missed it!)
The thing is I hadn’t noticed! It took someone else who had kind of a burnt smell rising from his fingertips to point out the fact that the candles had “miniaturized.”
When you don’t see something until Christmas Eve each year it’s easy to lose sight of what others see clearly.
It seems an appropriate statement for those of us who frequent church. We get entrenched in “what has always been” and have a hard time seeing over top of the deepening ruts. It’s like answering the question “When did the candle get short?” It didn’t suddenly happen. It gradually went from new to used to very used to useless.
In church we have an assortment of things that go from relevant to irrelevant, but it usually happens over time…and we frequently never notice.
And, sad as it is, there are a number of people in our churches who would rather be irrelevant and comfortable than relevant and challenged.
It may very well be that I’m have a few people show up on Christmas Eve and ask where the old candles are. If that’s the case I’ll look to see if they have burn marks on their fingers.

Half Full or Half Empty?

December 2, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. December 2

The church is the mechanism in our time that has the most potential to make a difference; and the church is also the most difficult organization to make a difference.
That statement may seem like a contradiction in terms, and yet it hits at the core problem…and possibility of the Body of Christ.
The church is comprised of flawed and fallen people who are trying to stand back up. We seek to help people in finding Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We seek to help people who are constantly falling getting back on their feet, and walking on with our Savior.
And yet because of our flawed fallenness, we quite often knock people back down who have started walking again. The Body of Christ can quite often be called the Bruised despite Christ.
Grace gets see-sawed with a grinch. Love gets paired up with hate. Peace is put in an uneasy relationship with unrest.
I wish it were not true, but it is. Behind the beauty are some warts. Crouched behind faith is unbelief.
And so we come together as the people of God and talk one minute about the blessings of the Lord, and then we talk about the problems of the people in the very next statement. We thank God for how we see his hand at work in one situation, and groan about our imperfections in the next one.
Is the glass half full or half empty? The answer is “both and.” This very moment I my thoughts might be consumed with the impossibilities of the situation, the difficulties of having to work with people; and then in the next moment I’m sensing the hand of God working in our midst.
It’s a glass of water that has tidal waves in it, at one moment rising to the brim and then at the next exposing the deep bottom.
And that is the church, fluctuating in effectiveness and emptyness; experiencing the moving of the Spirit, and then the barrenness of a valley.
The difference-making and the difficult nature of the church makes the journeying together complex and confusing, but, as time goes on, it also clearly becomes more and more vital.
Walk on! Walk together! Walk with grace!