Archive for July 2012

The Confusion of Language

July 30, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                July 30, 2012

The Confusion of Language”

Carol and I are hosting two twelve year old Chinese boys for a week. It’s an organization that matches up host families with the students who are in our area to study the English language, as well as experience American culture. The experience has been…an experience! The boys are very polite, and to help us they’ve been given American names while they are here. Thus, we are hosting “Alan” and “Andy.” Those names are a far cry from their real Chinese names.

Quite often I’ll say something to them, and the response I receive is two confused looks. For instance, how do you explain to a twelve year old Chinese boy that we are having a garage sale? How do you explain garage sales anyway?

How do you explain “Sonic Drive-Ins?” How do you explain “grits?”

How do you explain worship to boys who aren’t familiar with the concept? Since they are learning English the sermon slides on the screen in the front of the sanctuary are a little…advanced! I’m saying one thing, plus the words on the screen are saying something else.

If I was a 58 year old in a Chinese marketplace I might run for my life!

So Carol and I took the easy way out last night. We took them to a Chinese restaurant where the owner speaks Chinese. They had a great conversation. We felt temporarily relieved. The owner did share with us that the boys wanted more rice. I said, “Great! Bring them another bowl!” She replied, “No, I mean they want more rice…everyday!” We quickly scratched mashed potatoes off the dinner menu for the next night and penciled in rice.

I offered yogurt to them for breakfast and they curled up their noses like I was offering possum. Of course, Carol also frowns at me if I offer her yogurt.

We also discovered an app for our iPhones where we can speak a sentence in English and then it will be translated into the written Chinese language. We show the translation to them and are greeted with nods and replies.

So many challenges, so many stories in the making.

It has made me think about my own prayer language. Although I pray there are times in my journey where I tend to think that others will do it. Kind of like yielding the owner of the restaurant to do the conversing…it just seems like it’s the responsibility of someone else. Or perhaps, someone else can do it better so I willingly hand off the duty.

Also, although God knows exactly what I’m saying to him, there are a multitude of times where he is speaking to me, but I’m not hearing him. I’m just not getting it! Sometimes I just don’t want to get it! It’s easier to remain confused! It’s more convenient to only hear certain things being said, to stay within certain language boundaries.

So I’m thankful for Andy and Alan. They’ve taught me a lot even though quite often we miss the connection.

A Summer to Forget…or Remember

July 25, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  July 25, 2012

 

“The Summer of 12”! The usual squeals of kids splashing in pools, vacationing families touring the sites, and trips to the ice cream shop have been replaced this summer with drought conditions, out-of-control fires, and mass murder.

About six weeks ago we shook our heads in sympathy for the people of Fort Collins as their area dealt with the fires, only to have the nation with their eyes on Colorado Springs a couple of weeks later. Just as we grieved the Waldo Canyon fire the shootings in Aurora took us into another period of gasping and wondering.

Many would say that it is a summer to forget, but perhaps it is more a summer to remember. In Colorado Springs there has been a coming together in many ways of the community. Tomorrow I’ll go to the weekly meeting of the Waldo Canyon Long Term Recovery Team. About 75 people from various churches, organizations, and agencies have been meeting weekly for the past month talking through the recovery process. I’m in one of the sub-groups that is dealing with clean-up. There is a linking of hands and efforts to bring healing to a city. The harsh reality is that it sometimes takes a catastrophe to get people to work together. Such is the case with The Springs.

As we look back at it then, this summer may be one that will remembered for something of God rising our of the ashes, and something good coming out of the bad in Aurora.

Joseph saw God’s hand in the midst of his brother’s treachery and hatred. He saw that the long range plan of God included his trip to a pit and a place that would have been described as being “the pits.” He saw that what his brothers meant for bad, God meant for good.

That’s a hard thing to say in our culture where we often are bitter is everything isn’t completely peachy-keen! Our love and devotion to God is mostly tied to how much he’s blessing us!

But the Bible has a few of those other books in it…like Lamentations. When was the last time you heard a verse from Lamentations read as a part of praise worship?

Or Ecclesiastes…unless it was as a a part of a funeral (“There is a time and a season for everything…”)?

The trials and tragedies of “12” have the potential to draw us close to the one who stays with us through the tears and the laughter.

Let’s pray that’s the direction we head into.

Reflections of a Middle School Pastor, Day 5

July 20, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                               July 20, 2012

The end of a camp week is bittersweet! There has been the deepening of relationships, the establishing of new ones. There has been communal life that has reached new heights as well as other times of wading through “life’s mud.”

On the other side, however, there is the longing to see family and friends back home, to be able to go to Chipotle again, and sleep in one’s own bed.

Campers have the same reaction as Scripture describes the women rushing away from the tomb of Jesus after the angel of the Lord has told them that Jesus was no long er there, he has risen! Matthew 28:8 says “The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

The end of a week of middle school church camp means both emotions- fear and joy. There is fear of how this Jesus journey is going to play out back in familiar territory; fear that what they’ve experienced in the past few days doesn’t take hold, fear that an incredible camp experience is simply that…and experience that was at camp and has no other relation to the rest of their life; and there is the fear that knowing Jesus will put them in a different and uncomfortable place with their friends.

There is also, however, joy. It’s a joy that life does has hope; a joy in knowing that a counselor they’ve had really does care about them; a joy in knowing that there are others who share this faith in Christ; a joy because of how their lives have been impacted.

A life of opposites that somehow become intertwined.

Oddly enough, the journey of faith…the authentic life-changing journey of faith…is the weaving together of those opposites. Sometimes we convey the idea, on purpose or not on purpose, that when we have Jesus goes from all bad to all good, that the non-dancers break out into waltzes. Smiley faces are what it’s all about with Jesus!

The reality is that a journey of faith is punctuated with high-five moments and other times that take our legs out from underneath us. Stuff happens to followers of Jesus, just like anyone else.

That, I believe, is the struggle with a loot of middle school students. With Jesus in their life, shouldn’t it all be good?

Are you telling me that with Jesus math is still going to be hard?”

Middle school students struggle with the “happy meal reasoning”; that there is a prize in every box…that life as it is meant to be is always sugar-coated and enunciated with smiley faces.

To journey with them is to let them know that life is not always filled with thirty-flavors of happiness. And that is hard for many of them to handle.

Fear and joy…faith and doubts.

Many of them leave camp and begin to ask the question “Why can’t church be more like camp?” It’s a seeking to stay in a place that has been home for a week and has been safe. Perhaps the question should be rephrased into saying, “Thank God that camp isn’t more like church!”

That’s not a slam on church life, but rather an affirmation of the importance of a week-long camp life. It’s been good!

And I’m ready to sleep in my own bed again!

Reflections of a Middle School Camp Pastor, Day 4

July 19, 2012

I brought my bright blue pair of Nike running shoes to camp this year. For some reason, outlandishness makes you seem…okay to them! If I wore a bright orange tee shirt that said “I’ll shave my head for a quarter”, I’d probably feel normal. For some reason at camp craziness kind of has you going with the flow. It also makes you an acceptable person to talk about questions of faith, and doubts about God. A conversation I had with one of the campers today followed along those lines. She saw my shoes and let me into the inner circle of sitting at her lunch table…and then she said, “Would another one of the counselors tell their story tonight? I really liked it when Andy shared his story at campfire last night, and also when Julia shared hers the night before. It was good!” I nodded, and then I asked her, “Do you have a story to share?” “No. I don’t really feel that God is close to me.” I pursued it a little bit, without any “theologizing”, or “here’s what’s wrong with you.” “When I’m having a problem, or feeling lonely and I pray to him I just don’t feel that he hears me. It never seems to help.” I nodded again and encouraged her to say more. “I just don’t pray much anymore, because I don’t know if God really cares. It just feels like he’s always so far away.” And then she looked at me and said, “Okay! Staring contest. First one to smile or look away loses.” Yes, I know, that’s pretty random, but that’s how it is with middle school students quite often. A glimpse of their thoughts about God, and then to a staring contest. The young lady, like many others here, are at a time in their life when a relationship with God, or lack of a relationship with God, is often described in “feeling terms.” They may have had all the Sunday School answers, and know Biblical facts. And now they are in a transitioning phase when their emotions are going bonkers. She hasn’t sensed God wrapping his arms around her so does God really care? It’s a pivotal point in faith development. Can I doubt God and not be struck by lightning. Well quite frankly, the disciples of Jesus did. Tucked neatly right after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and before his great commission at the end of Matthew, there is a verse that says when the disciples “…saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17) If doubting and asking the why questions is something the disciples of Jesus dealt with, I think it’s a safe bet that a middle school student will deal with it. The question…another one…is whether or not the adults are willing to let the doubts be expressed and grappled with?

Reflections of a Middle School Camp Pastor, Day 3

July 18, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        July 18, 2012

 

Mid-week with middle school students is a trip! They’ve come to the point where they are sometimes bluntly open with you, or humorously entertaining..even though they aren’t quiet aware of it.

For example, here is a sampling of conversations I have had at the meal time table with some middle school students. Let me qualify this with two statements. This is not verbatim, but also there is not necessarily a flow to the conversation. The lack of flow is part of the fascination I experience in working with middle schoolers.

ME: So what has been the best thing about this week so far?

Going to the nurse Sunday night! We talked about Harry Potter for like ninety minutes.”

Harry Potter is cool. Some people don’t like Harry Potter, but I love him!”

Like that one song we made up about him!”

I love that song.” (Starts singing it.)

I can’t remember that one verse we made up.”

Isn’t Bobby good on the guitar?”

Yes, and he takes his shoes off.”

I got a new pair last week at Target.”

Shoes?”

No, socks.”

I saw the greatest pair of socks at basketball camp last month. They were Superman socks, with like a little Superman cape on the back of each one.”

Oh…have you seen the Spiderman movie?”

No, but there was a spider above my head in the cabin last night. Freaked me out.”

Do you think God created spiders?”

Why would he?”

Spiders are scary. I hate things that creep around in the dark when I can;t see them.”

Do you think God can see spiders in the dark?”

Probably. I think God sees everything.”

He doesn’t need a flashlight. His eyes are like headlights.”

No they aren’t!”

Then how does he see things in the dark.”

He just does, because he’s God.”

Oh! You know something? I hate peas!”

Amen to that! Especially when my parents mix them in with carrots.”

I don’t understand why God gave us peas!”

Some things are just unexplainable.”

That’s for sure! Pass the salt please!”

Reflections of a Middle School Camp Pastor, Day 2

July 17, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W. July 17, 2012

Yesterday we climbed a mountain! Last night we struggled with the pain!
Not the pain in my knees, mind you, but rather the pain in the lives of middle school students. I had encouraged them to write down questions they had for God about something that troubled them. The responses gave me a view of the landscape of heartache and doubt that “recently-turned teenagers” deal with.
And, troubling as it sounds, a sense of cynicism towards the workings of God. They are troubled by, what they perceive, as God’s inactivity. Where was the Almighty when they felt picked on? Why did he create life and then allow someone close to them to die? Why pray if God is going to do what he wants to do anyway?
In essence, they are open to asking questions that my generation was afraid to ask, although we may have thought them! My generation got structure in Sunday School and youth group (which were good things). We dealt with “when, where, what, which, and how.” What we seldom dealt with, however, which the middle school group is willing to, is “why?” We had the Biblical numbers down…”forty this” and “twelve that”…but time seldom allowed us to get to the why.
Our Associate Pastor, when I had gone off to college was a guy named Jerry Heslinga. When I would come home on break, or for the summer, I would love to be involved in discussions or Bible studies with Jerry, because Jerry was not afraid to take the “why road.”
Now I gladly am leading…or perhaps being led…by these middle schoolers down that same road. It’s a pathway that does not guarantee answers, but encourages the searching.
Last night I was ready to launch into a presentation on Joseph’s journey from the pits to the heights, from the dungeon to exactly the place God wanted him to be in.
BUT…a few of the campers were dealing with something last night, a loss in their own lives, and I sensed that what I was to say could keep for another day. I turned to one of the counselors, a great young man about 22 named Bobby Cody. I said, “Bobby, come here.” He came to the front of our meeting area and I simply asked him “Tell us why you love Jesus?” For the next five to six minutes Bobby shared from his heart to a group of kids, who were focused on what he was saying.
Which describes something else about this coming-up generation. They aren’t afraid to ask why, but they also want to hear the truth, and about the Truth, as it is being experienced and lived out of someone’s life.

Reflections of a Middle School Camp Pastor, Day 1

July 16, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W. July 16, 2012

 

Less than twenty-four hours in to six days as pastor of our Region’s middle school camp, and I’ve already climbed a mountain! My knees are telling me it was a fourteenth, but actually it was only about two thousand feet from 8,000 to 10,000. I’ve been coaching my knees to stop the whining with words shaped like Motrin, and cold stares shaped like cold packs.
The mountain is called Soldier’s peak, and we climb it every year on the Monday of camp week. Today I used the experience to talk about the encouragement of the saints, the great cloud of witnesses that Hebrews 12:1-2 brings to our mind. Before the climb began I told the campers that some of them would scale it like squirrels climbing trees, but others would look at it as an impossible venture doomed to failure. I told them that it would take “all of us” to make sure that “all of us” finished…made it…stood as a group, a team, on top.
The summit included a mixture of reactions. Some stood at the top and encouraged. They applauded and high-fived the ones who struggled, but finally finished. One young lady from our church, told me “I feel like I accomplished something!” Her smile encircled the mouthful of orthodontic “gold.”
Others, lost interest in the late arrivers and became self-focused and absorbed with life as it revolved around “the universe of me.”
If it weren’t for coaches climbing with some of the young journeyers around the midway point of the trip, the summit would not have happened. If it weren’t for people willing to share a drink of water with a resting pursuer leaned up against a tree, some would have given up the cause. If it weren’t for the element of perseverance, several would have gone down the pathway of “What’s the use?”
Different people complete the journey in different ways. Slow starters, steady pacers, fast finishers…our group was diverse.
And we made it!
It’s a picture of the church, a group of journeyers, many who stay on course for the whole experience, and some who stay on course as long as they’re a part of it. Some are more self-sufficient, and can make the climb mostly alone without help. Others need constant encouragement just to make it another step…another day.
When I think of the church, quite honestly, I can probably make a longer list of minuses and shortcomings than the list of positives and strengths.
And yet the church is the band of brothers that seek to go the distance. It is the sisterhood of seeking that desires to go higher up even as it is dealing with the loose footing in the present.
I won’t share all of that with my middle schoolers, but I will reaffirm again and again tonight as we gather “Well done! Well done! Great job! You finished! You finished!”