Archive for August 2012

Persistent Pray-ers and Adult Whiners

August 31, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      August 31, 2012


And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’”  (Luke 18:3, NIV)


Recently I was on the sidelines for a game that my middle school football team was playing. This year we have fifty boys on the seventh grade team, and, as I stated in an earlier posting, I made the decision to dress all the players for our games. We needed an extended bus to get them all to the field!

One boy, who I will call Sonny, is not a very good player, but he is a persistent player! He persistently followed me up and down the sideline the whole game. His persistent following was accompanied by persistent talking. It would sound something like this:

Coach, do you want me to play outside linebacker next time?”

Coach, I can go in.”

Coach, I can play inside linebacker.”

Coach, if is okay if I go in the next time we’re on defense?”

Coach, I’m right here whenever you need me.”

He was driving me crazy! I would have to call out the names of other boys on the team- “Wilson…Wilson…Wilson…go in for Jones at safety.” But I never had to yell for Sonny…because Sonny was always there.

Finally I gave in! “Sonny, go in for Smith at Outside Linebacker.” I got a few moments of peace and quiet for the couple of plays that Sonny was in.

I admired his persistence even though it was a little irritating.

Contrast that with a recent basketball officiating assignment I had at the fitness center less than a mile from our house. I’ve been blowing the whistle there about two nights each month during this basketball off-season. The league that I officiate for I refer to in less than affectionate terms as The Adult Whiners League.”

There are a number of really good guys in the league, but there are also the ones that I would like to post pictures of on the post office wall. Some of them used to be great players…emphasize used to be! They still remember what their bodies have long forgotten. They still dream of the slam dunk they had in high school as they now stay earth-bound.

And guess what? They bring their level of play down to an even lower notch with consistent whining. Whereas a persistent twelve year old football player can get me to give in, a thirty-five year old overweight balding man in Nike shoes and slumping tattoos, does not get my sympathy. In fact, at best he gets a deaf ear, and at worst my two hands coming together in the shape of the letter “t”.

I thought about the contrast this week. When we pray do we whine to God about the unfairness of life, or do you beseech his mercy?

When we pray do we demand that he see it our way, or do ask him to help us in the midst of a difficult period in our life?

Persistently praying or consistently whining?

58 and Cute!

August 30, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        August 30, 2012


58 and Cute!”


I had an interesting experience yesterday. I was in the speedy-no time to waste-self-checkout at King Soopers. As I was scanning my items an elderly lady who had been at the self-checkout right behind me finished her order and was starting to exit, but she stopped and touched me on the arm and said “You’re cute!”

Yes, she was in her late seventies, probably about five fingers away from my mom and dad, who are both 84.

I smiled at her and replied, “Thank you! I guess it’s not often that a fifty-eight year old gets told he’s cute!”

Well, you are! I know! I had five sons, and you’re cute!”

Okay! I’ll admit it! It pretty much made my day. Now…I have to give some of the credit to my oldest daughter, Kecia, because I was wearing the dress shirt that she had bought me for my birthday.

I had just come from the funeral of one of our neighbors, so a comment such as that lifted my spirits.

Two words. Isn’t it amazing how two words from a senior citizen at just the right moment can turn around a day?       The reality, however, is that the balance of two word comments are either negative in tone, or meaningless in content.

Love you!” gets outdone by “Hate you!” or some other verb in front of “you!”

Our word selection can bring hope or divide and separate. With the same tongue we praise God and curse men. (James 3:9) With the same tongue we affirm and defeat.

One disclaimer! I walked into Starbucks this morning and got a cup of coffee (Not unusual. In fact, I’m sitting in Starbucks right now drinking the coffee and listening to Spotify.) The employee preparing drinks asked me, “How is your day going?” I replied “Pretty good! How about yours?”

But by the tenth person in a row she asked the question to I realized she was following “the party line.” The answer to her question wasn’t really what she was looking for. She was seeking a quota. How many customers can I say this to?

That’s not all bad, except when you have the impression she wants to know how your day is going and then you find out she really doesn’t…it’s just a little too “fakey!”

Genuineness in our words puts a fragrance within them!

Meanwhile, if a sweet elderly lady comes up to you and tells you that you’re cute…I don’t want to know about it. I’ve whether live in the fantasy world, at least for a while, that I’m the only one.

Jesus Fan

August 29, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                              August 29, 2012


Thanks to a local funeral home we now have “Jesus Fans” in our sanctuary! No, not the ceiling fan variety; I’m talking about the fan that has a picture of Jesus standing in front of the open tomb on one side, and the name of the funeral home on the other side with a long wooden paint stir stick in the middle.

The kind that was popular back when I was in my pre-teens in the un-airconditioned Baptist churches of eastern Kentucky. Everyone needed a fan in July and August because of the Sunday morning humidity that left you always wondering “Is it the Spirit or the humidity that is bringing upon me this rise in body temperature.

Most of the time it was the humidity! Thus, Jesus commenced to waving. On the hand fan one of his hands was in the air like he was greeting someone. It made the waving part of the fan that much more relevant.

Some Sundays the Jesus Fans were the only thing moving in the church. Jesus Fans could be non-verbal indicators of what was happening during the pastor’s message. When the fans went to warp speed it was a sign that there was going to be a lot of discussion and dialogue after the benediction. Fans working at increased speed usually meant the pastor had offended someone, or that he had touched on an area that was bringing the waver under conviction. It happened, however, to usually be someone who didn’t like being brought under conviction.

Hot and bothered would describe them. They might show up at the Presbyterian Church the next Sunday. The Presbyterians didn’t have much conviction, but they did have ceiling fans.

A fan that was on “slowing speed” was a sign to the perceptive preacher that he was losing them. The Sunday afternoon nap might be coming sooner if he didn’t pick up the pace. A guest speaker with a slow delivery in August was no match for a congregation of farmers who had been at it all week. A waving Jesus was always better than a Jesus who was starting to look as ambitious as Junior on “Hee Haw!”

Back in those days “Jesus Fans” weren’t just for women having hot flashes. Everyone had “hot constants!” We were consistently hot.

So now we have air conditioned sanctuaries and everyone can cool together. Jesus Fans seemed to raise the connectedness between pastor and congregation. They seemed to help people engage in worship more. I even think there were more “amens” when Jesus was in the midst of his waving. And, without a doubt, when you had Jesus right in front of you it made you a little more God-fearing. Having the name of the local funeral home staring you in the face was also a motivator.

Brown’s Funeral Home. We have a casket for you!”

Cremation wasn’t a big seller back in those days. When you are burning up every Sunday being laid down in the cool ground is a little more appealing.

I think I’m going to turn up the A/C temperature in our sanctuary this Sunday and put a couple of Jesus Fans in each pew rack.

Let the Spirit move…and Jesus wave!

Raising Expectations… for Everyone

August 27, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    August 27, 2012


This is football season, and, believe it or not, I’m in my seventh year as a football coach with Timberview Middle School. Seven years ago I saw the Assistant Principal/Athletic Director at Pike’s Perk Coffee one July morning, said hi to him, and he responded with “Hey, Coach! Do you coach football?” I had been coaching boy’s basketball at the school for three years at that point, and suddenly I was a football coach. Quickly I made it known that I was a basketball coach who happened to be standing on a football field.

Seven years later I’m in my second season as head coach…and probably the most clueless head coach around, but I’m a great organizer and I’ve learned to delegate well.

As we headed into this season one of my goals for the team was to increase our number of players participating. Goal achieved. We’re over 90!

Next goal! Include everyone on the school teams. In the past we’ve had some players who were only intramural players, and others who were interscholastic. Intramural players left practice at 4:00, while the others stayed until 5:15. The interscholastic players were the ones who were either more talented, more experienced, or who had parents who had poured more money into their football careers up to that point. In essence, the way we had done things meant that the better players got twice as much coaching as the ones who needed to learn more.

So I asked the question: “Why?”

With that step we launched into some recently uncharted waters and new challenges. How do you keep 90-95 seventh and eighth graders involved? We’re learning the “do’s” and “don’ts” of that every day. I scratch certain things off the list with comments like “Never try this drill again” and “A Worthless Waste of time!”

But along with the higher participation level this year has come something else that I’ve instituted…okay dictated!

Higher expectations!

Each player has signed a “contract” saying that he agrees to living up to certain expectations: Academics, Character, Commitment, and Responsibility. If players don’t live up to the expectations they are held responsible. For example, an unexcused absence from practice disqualifies the player from participation in the next game. Three unexcused absences means they are done for the season. I have sign-in sheets that they put a check on beside their name indicating they are there for practice that day. We have ten designated 8th graders who lead in opening stretches and warm-up runs. The locker room is expected to be clean after practice. (8 additional sprints the day after a locker room that was not up to my expectations has resulted in a clean locker room for the past week.)

What has happened is that almost everyone is there for practice every day. It is only the sick who aren’t. Last week I had a mom come to practice because her son was sick, and he was worried that he would not be able to participate in the next scrimmage.

Higher expectations.

I can not say that we will win any more games, but we will teach more boys about what it means to not only be football players, but be responsible participants on a team.

I believe the church should be more similar to that, than dis-similar! How it loves with a good dosage of grace mixed in makes it unique, but, honestly, we expect too little from the people who are part of the Body of Christ.

We hope that people will show up on Sunday morning, and we hope that some will volunteer to help out in some way, and when they don’t we bemoan and grumble. It’s kind of the other side of the coin from the Israelites who were ready to stone Moses for suggesting that they enter into “The Promised Land.”

Being a football coach for twelve and thirteen year olds has taught me some things about being a pastor.

Perhaps I need to raise my expectations as well!

Amen! Yes…But!

August 13, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    August 12, 2012


I recently read Eugene Person’s memoirs entitled The Pastor. In the midst of it he tells a story about his daughter asking what “amen” meant. The family said it at the end of the dinner grace, so her curiosity could not contain her “amen compliance.” Her pastor father told her it was like saying “Yes” at the end of what had been said in the prayer. Naturally her next question was why they didn’t just say yes? That started a new tradition in the Peterson household, and somewhat in their church family. At the end of the prayer they began punctuating the end by saying “Amen! Yes!”

At a basketball officiating camp I attend each year the camp director begins each camp with introductions and procedures. At almost every camp he tells a room full of aspiring whistle-blowers to receive the instruction from the camp clinicians, and to take the criticisms and suggestions for what they are worth.

And then he says, “What we don’t want is ‘Yes, buts!’”

His point is that we are there to get better, not to question the evaluations and tips of the people who are there to help us. Every camp, however, there is at least one knucklehead who wants to argue.


Many of us live spiritual journeys that are littered with “Yes…buts!” They come in different forms. Sometimes they come after we have heard of a promise of God from his Word. We hear the promise, we hear the hope, the proclamation, and we say “Amen! Yes…but…”

The “but” is seldom uttered after the amen, but it thunders from our life. I see many a believer who says he believes in grace, yet lives under the law. That’s a “yes…but” story in the making!

There are also those who identify themselves as Christians, but treat parts of the Christian walk as either antiquated or no longer relevant. Perhaps they see themselves as progressive believers forging a new path. Call it what you will, the smell of the “yes…but” is close at hand. (Maybe I shouldn’t have used the term “the smell of the yes but.”)

I recognize I use the same words in my life. Guilty as charged! Many weeks I hear the Spirit speaking encouragement to me. I sense the whisper of hope as I take another step in my journey as a pastor, a shepherd. And I am prone to inject a few “Amen! Yes…buts” into my response.

We practiced this morning in the midst of the flock. We echoed “Amen! Yes!” at the end of each prayer, and scripture reading. We withstood the temptation to add the “but.” We practiced hope and proclamation in prep time for a week that will surely challenge most of us.

We’re journeying towards a place, a point where we will wholeheartedly shout “Amen! Yes…Yes…Yes!”

Doubting Worship

August 8, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        July 31, 2012


I find myself reading The Message paraphrase of the Bible more and more. I’m amazed at how a passage that I’ve read over and over again will suddenly take on a new meaning when I read it in The Message. One of the passages that hit me recently was Matthew 28:16-17. Here’s how it reads:

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.”  (Matthew 28:16-17)

Of course, the next verse is the Great Commissioning of Jesus of the disciples.

…not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.”

If the disciples, who experienced the risen Lord, weren’t sure about totally risking their lives, it seems that I don’t have to have all the “t’s” crossed and “i’s” dotted before I proceed in my faith journey.    I have been freed from having to have all the answers. I’ve been freed from having to do all the work myself. I’ve even been freed from having to be completely sold out to the Lord…body, soul, and mind!

Many may argue that point. It is either all in or all out. It seems, however, that we ridicule the doubts  of many to the point that they submit to the Lord out of guilt. I recognize that there are pivotal decision points where we choose to acknowledge Jesus as Lord or deny we ever knew him. As time proceeds on there may be more than a few of us who will face a life or death choice that is connected to that proclamation or denial.

While we are between the “here” (our commitment to being one of his followers) and the “there”   (that point of standing with him or standing against him) however, there is a lot of…uncertainty. There is a tremendous amount of wavering.

It’s interesting to me that the doubting followers of Jesus in these verses are never identified. We might guess that one was Thomas, but Thomas’s doubt displayed in the Gospel of John was tied to his not being present when Jesus first appeared to the other disciples.

Some doubted…but they were all his disciples.

Jesus knew of the sense of reluctance of his closest followers, and yet he gave them the commission. Wait a minute! Jesus knew that there wasn’t total buy-in and yet he still imparted…delegated…the greatest commission that the church has ever been given ownership to!

If it was anyone else we might be inclined to say “What was he thinking?”

The Great Commissioning after the half-hearted willingness to risk may be an indication of the grace of God evidenced. It’s is somewhat comforting to know that Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to sign a contract before he gave them the commission. He didn’t ask for a franchise fee. He gave them a command…these followers who were all at different places on their journeys.

The longer I’m in the ministry as a pastor of a flock the more it seems that the journey of faith is more about the questions, the apprehensions, the fears, and the doubts, and less about the answers.

Strange, but that is peacefully unsettling!