Archive for April 2012

Church Obesity

April 30, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 April 30, 2012

 

I returned last Wednesday from being with my mom and dad in Ohio for two weeks. Since my mom is almost entirely bedridden, Dad and I ate dinner at the house just about every night. My sister, who lives down the street, would cook a double portion- one portion for her and her husband, and one portion for Dad and me.

Chicken salad casserole…meatloaf…spaghetti and meatballs…pot roast…potato salad…lasagna…banana cream pie…the food just kept coming. “Lord, bless this second helping I’m about to have…and may there still be room in my tum-tum for pie!”

Seriously, I was there for two weeks and I gained ten pounds…and that’s with just eating an infant-size cup of Activa yogurt for breakfast! If I had stayed another week I could have applied for a position as a boulder! It would have been a new version of “Rock and Roll!”

The thing is…my weight gain was the result of a few subtle changes in my usual daily routine. In Colorado I’m usually pretty active…early morning hoops at the “Y”…walks with my wife in the evening…a lot of movement during a typical day…but in Ohio I was focused more on being with my parents, being stationary. The setting necessitated a lack of movement, and my sister is a great cook! Did I mention the squash casserole or the lemon cake?

It gives me pause to consider what happens quite often in a church. There’s a lot of “feed talk” in church. People want to be fed the Word, they want to feast on sermons and Bible studies and Sunday morning fellowship donuts.

There is a time for a feast, and there is a time for implementing.

I wonder what the reaction would be is the pastor or the teacher were to say, “That is the lesson for the day, the food for thought. Now, there will be more no food until you do something with what you just received.”

What is we were to implement an exercise program, a putting my faith in action exercise program?

It was easy for me to become physically inactive, but a food glutton. Within a few days I had been transformed…and extra waist size!

The danger is for a church to encourage church obesity. That is, a person losing focus of what is outside the walls, and becoming focused on the next spiritual offering.

Don’t misunderstand me! There are plenty of examples of congregations that offer spiritual lean cuisine that leaves a person without the spiritual nourishment to put their faith into action. There just needs to be some balance. A church that doesn’t offer spiritual nourishment is a church that is, or soon will be, insignificant and irrelevant. A church that practices the “Golden Corral principle” is the church that will create faith waddlers, who partake of sermon after sermon and then take a long nap.

One Side of the Conversation

April 29, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  April 27, 2012

I don’t know! Should I get fresh broccoli or some asparagus? The asparagus looks pretty good, but the broccoli would be cheaper this week.”

As I stood in front of the cucumbers, I didn’t quite know what I should say to the attractive thirtysomething lady who was on my left staring at the broccoli. I paused…

Well…what do you think? Which would you rather have?”

These are not easy decisions for a man to make who is now at a point in his life when he has to consider the implications of any food he eats and how it will effect his digestive system.

I could get both!”

That’s what I usually do. Go to the store to get a loaf of bread and then I don’t want it to feel too lonely in my basket so I get a few other items to keep it company.

I think I’ll just go with the asparagus.”

“That would be a good choice,” I finally manage to say.

Did you say something?” she asked, turning towards me.

That’s when I noticed the Bluetooth headset that was positioned in her left ear.

Oh…I thought you were talking to me when you were trying to make a decision on the broccoli or the asparagus.”

Awkward moment!

No, I was talking to my husband.”

“I apologize. I didn’t think you were talking to me…but then I wasn’t sure…and I think I’ll head over to see what the strawberries look like.”

Awkward moment now punctuated with red face!

How strange it often is to try to understand the phone conversation of just one person when you aren’t privy to what is being said on the other end.

How strange do some of the prayers of others seem when we are knowledgeable of what has gone on in their lives, or what their hearts are crying out to God about.

That even became apparent in some of Jesus’ prayers. His disciples often didn’t understand what Jesus was talking to God about…okay, maybe they very seldom DID understand what he was praying to God about. They missed some of his heart cries, what ailed him.

Most of the time we are not in the know about what God has been stirring in a person’s spirit. Someone who is able to verbalize might be about to fill us in on the story, but “God leadings” are frequently hard to put into words. They simmer in our soul like a new pot of stew, waiting a bit to allow the favor to flow out. And when they flow the listener still heard just the one side. The voice of God may not be heard, but there is often a whisper of it in the storyteller’s sharing.

Spiritual journeys therefore are enriched when “one side of the conversation” people join together and share their stories of God. The more stories that we hear the more weavings get threaded through to the picture that God is creating.

Grace at Walmart

April 23, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 April 23, 2012

 

Bobby pulled into a crowded Walmart parking lot. Walmart was not one of his favorite places to visit. He wasn’t a crowd kind of guy. As he navigated his way down one of the lanes he spied a wide space that he’d be able to turn his Chevy pick-up truck into. As he approached, however, a Honda Civic coming from the other direction sped up and then turned right in front of Bobby to take the space. Bobby had slowed to a stop to let the Civic go by before making the wide turn to get into the spot.

A thirty-something woman jumped out of the car, and walked right by Bobby, who was still sitting in the same spot he was before she turned in front of him. She didn’t even look in his direction, but just kept walking to the store entrance. The started guy in the truck shook in head in disbelief, and then proceeded to an open spot about thirty yards further down the parking lot.

He walked into the store still muttering to himself, grabbed a basket to put the four things he was buying into, and proceeded to the aisle that sold mustard and mayonnaise. It took him a while to find the baby wipes. His wife usually did the shopping, and having to pass the aisle that had fishing rods and reels took an extra unplanned five minutes, but finally after close to fifteen minutes he had the four items he came for, plus a bag of chips that somehow got into his basket. He headed to the speedy check-out lane. As he was approaching, the Civic lady was coming from the other direction, and she seemed to be on a mission. She got to the lane right about the same time Bobby did, and once again turned in front of him- except this time she was driving a shopping cart.

Bobby knew that he could react in several ways. One would be to confront her. The other extreme to that would be to yield to her. He chose to yield.

The red-haired woman started tossing items from her basket onto the counter, but after putting several items there the check-out cashier said to her, “Ma’am, this lane is for orders of twelve items or less.”

If she would have had thirteen or fourteen, that would be one thing, but she clearly had close to twenty. The woman’s mouth dropped open. She looked troubled and perplexed.

Bobby had an opportunity to see justice rendered. The next few moments could cause him to break into applause, or react differently.

He thought of a recent experience where he was the beneficiary of a random act of kindness. There was no reason for him to even be involved in a solution to the situation, but…

“Excuse me, ma’am! Would you like to put six or seven of your items with mine? We can figure out afterwards how much you owe me.”

The woman who had caused him to mutter to himself, and question his salvation, looked at him, and her troubled facial expression suddenly changed.

“You would do that for me?”

“No problem!”

“Thank you! You don’t know what this means to me!”       They divided up her items, and ended up with each one of them checking out twelve. In the parking lot they took a moment to calculate what she owed him.

“I appreciate what you just did for me. I’m having kind of a bad day, and it seems like everything is a fog for me. My sister was just diagnosed this morning with breast cancer and I guess I’m a little shook. I didn’t know how to react to the news so I got in my car and came to Walmart. I don’t even remember where I parked.”

“Over here,” said Bobby, pointing her towards her Civic.

“How did you know?” the lady asked with a confused look on her face.

“Well…this is kind of embarrassing…but you cut me off when you pulled into the parking space.”

“Oh…I’m sorry! Why did you help me in the check-out lane? You could have gotten some revenge watching me with my excess baggage standing there with my mouth open.

“Each of us needs a touch of grace in our lives.”

Bobby detected tears running down the lady’s cheeks. She looked away, got her composure back, and then looked back at him and said, “Thank you!”

“Have a great day,” Bobby said to her as he started walking away.

The woman- Penny was her name- got into her Civic, sat there shedding tears that were a mixture of sadness and blessing. It wasn’t until she put the key into the ignition that it occurred to her she hadn’t paid the gracious stranger. She jumped out of the car and ran up and down the parking aisles, but the man was gone.

“Perhaps,” she thought to herself, “there are angels!”

Earth Day at Starbucks

April 22, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 22, 2012

 

Bobby showed up at Starbucks ready for some early morning caffeine. At 7:30 on a Sunday morning he expected to have a few early morning church attenders to contend with, but when he walked in the store he was pleasantly relieved to see only one man, a little weathered from life, standing at the counter.

“Morning, Bobby!” It was the usual greeting from Judy, the seasoned Starbucks employee who had served about as much coffee over the years as McDonald’s had hamburgers.

“Good morning, Judy!”

The senior citizen thanked Judy as she handed him his tumbler of coffee. Judy’s face broke into a smile that Bobby could tell touched her to soul depth.

On the chalkboard behind the counter Bobby noticed the words written: “Get that warm feeling from doing good and from free coffee or tea. Celebrate the earth and save a paper cup. Bring in a tumbler on Sunday, April 22, and we’ll fill it with hot or iced brewed coffe or tea, our treat.”

“Oh, man! I didn’t know it was Earth Day! I would have brought my coffee mug!”

“That’s too bad,” Judy sympathized with him.

“Just been too busy to notice, Judy! Too busy with stuff to notice life around me.”

“Hopefully things will be calmer for you today, Bobby! It’s Sunday! What do they say about it…being a day of rest, or something like that?”

“Doesn’t look like you’re resting much today, Judy.”

“Someone’s got to mind the store.”

“Well…their customer will take a coffee…dark roast. I’ll be back in a moment.”

Bobby had to hit the men’s room quickly, so he headed to the back of the store. Life had been busy for him. It seemed that anytime there was an open day on his calendar something had happened to bring the openness to a screeching halt. If it wasn’t one thing it was another. The last time his schedule was open all day long he came down with the flu the night before. Life wasn’t fair! Life was often brutal!

Bobby came back from the restroom and pulled out his wallet to pay for his paper cup of coffee on free coffee Earth Day. Judy intercepted his reach.

“It’s free, Bobby!”

“What do you mean, Judy? I don’t have a tumbler with me.”

“I know, but the gentleman who was in front of you paid for yours already.”

Bobby took on a surprised look. “What?”

“He paid for it.”

“Who is he? Why would he do that? He even had the common sense he bring his own tumbler today and get his coffee free.”

“I don’t know who he was, but he did.”

“What did he say?”

“He just said to tell you to have a great day, and he hoped that you would notice life going on around you today.”

“Why would a guy who didn’t need to pay for anything, pay for my everything?”

“I don’t know, Bobby, but I hope he comes back again. He made me feel like the customer instead of the employee.”

“Maybe today will be different for us, Judy!”

“It could be…it very well could be.”

Behavior Modification or Transformation

April 20, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 April 20, 2012

 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

 

When I was in first grade I pulled a chair out from the boy who was sitting in front of me in Reading. It was hilarious to me…for a moment! Then my teacher grabbed me off of my chair, stood me up, and shook me! Not something teachers, who want to stay employed, do today, but effective. Never again did I think about pulling the chair our from under an unsuspecting student, although I wanted to on numerous occasions.

My behavior was modified. The laughter of a student sprawled on the classroom floor was soon erased by a bespectacled  instructor peering down at my puny little body. I learned to not do things that upset my teacher…when she was around.

It was not a transformation experience. It was a modification moment. The first of many in my first grade year. (Another was throwing wet paper towels in the restroom at boys who were using the urinals! In case you’ve never done that…don’t! It resulted in my first opportunity to see the inside of the principal’s office!)

In our faith journey with Jesus we talk about having a transformation experience, coming to that point when we realize that we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ. We talk about asking him to be our Lord and Savior. It is a Damascus Road experience, a kairos moment> At that moment we know things will never be as they were again. It’s a new way.

Yesterday I was riding with my sister to Ironton, Ohio, where she teaches a Thursday afternoon class at the college. As we traveled along the usual route traffic was backed-up because of some work that the road construction crew was doing on the hillside removing some huge boulders that were putting vehicles in peril. My sister turned around, headed back the other direction, and suddenly turned left. We headed down a narrow road that had more curves in it than a Sandy Koufax Dodgers’ game in the Sixties. We actually went through a place called Possum Holler. It was like riding a roller coaster on asphalt.

But somehow we came out on a road that led into Coal Grove, Ohio, that then led to Ironton. The usual way led to danger. We had to change our way. It was the Ohio version of someone saying “We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!”

Spiritual transformation is God grabbing hold of our hearts and then we realize we must change our way. It’s taking us through “Possum Holler”, because, otherwise, there is no reason why we would want to go there.

Behavior modification is changing my ways. Spiritual transformation is changing my way. Modification is realizing that the principal’s office is not where I want to visit very often, so I’m going to be a good boy, or maybe a better boy. Transformation is realizing that my life has purpose and the principal’s office is a dangling boulder that does not need to be a part of it.

In our faith walk there is a subtle difference between conforming to a church’s culture and being transformed by the Spirit. The first can mask itself as the second. The first changes the exterior, the second is an internal working that changes me externally. The first is my pulling the chair out from under my classmate, realizing that will get me into hot water, so I never do it again…but I’d still like to!

Conforming or being transformed…changing my ways or finding the Way.

If Jesus Were To Be On Undercover Boss

April 19, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      April 19, 2012

 

The King will reply. ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40)

 

A current show on TV that is pretty interesting is Undercover Boss. The plot revolves around a company CEO, or similar, going into one of the company’s business locations as a “bottom rung” employee and getting a new perspective on how things get done, the attitudes of the employees, how customers get treated, and the frustrations of the lowest level positions.

I was at a Long John Silver’s restaurant last night in Huntington, West Virginia, and I left there muttering to myself “I wish an Undercover Boss would visit this establishment!” After standing in front of the disinterested employee for a good minute, and there was no one else in line before me or after me, she then acknowledged my presence with a pseudo-interested “How are you today?” Having just read Lencioni’s The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, I wanted to ask her “What is the purpose of your job?”…but I didn’t!

As I left the restaurant and headed to CVS for some Pepcid, I thought of Jesus! After all, eating a sampler platter at LJS probably brought me a few steps closer to meeting Jesus…for eternity! (I wonder if they have Friday Night Fish Fries in heaven!)

I thought about Jesus doing an episode of Undercover Boss in one of his churches. What would that look like? I’m imagining conversations. Our church is small enough that any visitor stands out, but also there has developed a deeper interest in recognizing one another. That is, if you are in attendance at one of our worship services everyone gets greeted. In fact, restoring order after the time of greeting is like herding cats. So, I’m pretty confident that Jesus would be inundated with greetings and handshakes.

But Jesus, being the One who knows the truth, the way, and the life…since he is…would also, I’m sure, discover the dirty little secrets that are a part of every congregation. I don’t think he’d ask much about programming and curriculum, or even about the songs that were sung or the organ that wasn’t used. I think he’d focus on the church’s relational life- how the church communicates the love of Christ to one another, how the church “cross-generations” itself in conversations, how much talking it has about “God things” and “Christ-learnings.”

How does the Body find out that Betty is in the hospital?”

How does the church specifically pray for Jim’s job situation?”

How does the Jones family sense the church’s concern for their eleven year old son who was just discovered to be diabetic?”

How does the Body keep talking about their “new life” experiences?”

And I think “undercover Jesus” would focus on how the faith experience is meshing with life. In other words, his discoveries would be made just as much outside the walls of the church building as in it. Dare I say, even more of the “aired episode” would be in the out-and-aboutness of “the church”!

I could see Jesus “shadowing” the fourth grade teacher into her classroom.

Why do you bring extra snacks with you to school?”

I’ve got a few students who very seldom are able to bring a snack with them. They know that there will be something for them if they have nothing. “Nothing” is more their norm, and it’s because that’s how it is with their family’s situation.”

Jesus Undercover would reveal the connection and disconnections between faith and life. Lived-out faith, if you will!

Finally, I think Jesus would focus on “hope.” How does his church give signs of hope and words of hope to the community? How does hope become a part of the proclamation of the Gospel? How much does the church buy into the message?

The young woman at Long John Silver’s had not bought into it. She was getting some things out of it- a pay check and an attitude of indifference- but if the deep fryer at LJS malfunctioned and the restaurant burned down today her response might more likely be “Thank God! A free night!”

Of course, in regards to the faith community and our faith, the Word tells us that our love for Jesus is lived out in how we love one another. The living out of our faith is intimately connected with how we treat one another.

For the record, don’t get the fried shrimp at LJS. I think they put in an order for the smallest possible shrimp available! Why do they always look so much bigger on the menu board?

Irrelevant Busyness

April 18, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    April 18, 2012

Every church at some time, now or later…or both/and…struggles with irrelevance. It is not that the church is irrelevant, it is rather that some of the things the church does are irrelevant. To borrow an example that Jesus used, it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to get a church to stop doing a ministry or a program that it has always done!

If church programming was like a person’s plate going through a buffet line, or more appropriately a potluck dinner, it would be multi-layered. There would be “fruit jello outreach programs” on top of “fried chicken committee meetings” laying beside men’s early morning prayer pastries that are squashed on top of mashed potato women’s missionary circle meetings.

We layer our ministries like food gluttons who seem to think we can’t get enough, more is better! We create churchgoing obesity.

A few years ago I remember a friend of mine saying he didn’t want to be a Christian. When I asked why, he responded that he didn’t want to end up like his Christian neighbor who always seemed to be going to church for this meeting or that group. My friend had gotten the impression that being a follower of Christ seemed to carry with it implication that he would always be pulling into the church parking lot.

It prompts me to ask the question “What is relevant?”; and the second question “What are we doing simply because we have always done it?”

I’m leading a team of people from our regional group of American Baptist Churches that is addressing those very questions. We’re dealing with the challenge of figuring out what is really important, and what isn’t important but we don’t know what else to do!

Crucial questions for our region, but even more crucial for each congregation. There are some things that churches do that our culture looks at and just shakes it’s head in bewilderment of the waste of time they see in it.

Our culture has a longing for intimacy, a desire to explore the mystery of the Holy, and a hunger for relevance, but also sees the value of time. If a church function doesn’t help them in deepening relationships with God and one another, or lead them in the serving and life-impacting of others, it will be seen as irrelevant. If it no longer has a purpose or a function, its following will be in danger of being based on guilt rather than purpose.

In essence, the church must continually ask the question “Why?” Most of the time, that question is much more important than “how”, “what”, “where”, or “when?”