Archive for October 2012

Form Dependent

October 31, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     October 31, 2012

 

I’ve coached a few basketball players over the years who have terrible shooting form, so I spend a lot of time trying to correct it!

Balance. Feet shoulder width apart and knees bent

Eyes.

Elbows in.

Follow through.

I’ve had a few players, however, who have been decent shooters with flawed form, and when I have corrected them they have become poor shooters with great form. In essence, they become more concerned about their form than making the shot.

They start asking questions like “How did that look? Were my feet okay? How was my follow through?”

Questions that seem to miss the point that their shot created a crack in the backboard. They threw up a brick, but they had perfect form.

Sometimes I think we’re like that in the worshiping community of the church. We’re hypnotized by the form and miss the Presence.

Did we say enough prayers, sing enough hymns, raise our hands enough in praise, have a long enough sermon (or maybe a short enough sermon!)? Was the service orderly and controlled? Did the pastor may the right words at the distribution of the communion elements? Was he well-dressed and eloquent?

Most of us would probably say that our worship services aren’t about the form, but about worshiping in the presence of our Lord. That may very well be! The test is to have a worship gathering where everything doesn’t go according to the plan.

A crying baby is kept in the service and sometimes to bawl.

An elderly man falls over in the pew and has to be resuscitated.

Someone forgets to put bread on the communion plates.

The sound system goes dead.

A little girl keeps flashing the congregation during the children’s story.

The offering plate gets dumped in the midst of the main aisle.

A soloist loses her voice.

You can tell if a congregation worships the form or the presence when something unplanned trumps the plan; when a dose of grace is required to go on because a young man has just stood up as the pastor has ended his prayer, and openly admitted that he is an alcoholic.

Moments of uncomfortable truth when we have to put the form on the shelf and trust in the leading of the Spirit are revealing of a church’s heart.

Don’t misunderstand me. We worship “form” in various aspects of ministry. Try replacing Sunday morning donut time with healthy bran muffins. The possibility of a riot will go up exponentially if you try it more than one Sunday in a row. In the Baptist tradition changing a light bulb unexpectedly might cause a letter-writing campaign. In some churches using a different version of the Bible than the congregation culture is used to could cause facial spasms to begin.

So form takes different forms. Form is a route to a destination, but, as I’ve found out in flying back to southern Ohio to see my parents, there’s more than one way to reach it. Sometimes my route takes me from Colorado Springs to Houston to Charlotte to Huntington, West Virginia. Sometimes I go by car to Denver, and then fly to Columbus, where I pick up my rental car and head south. And sometimes…well, hopefully just one time…I get stuck where I am (Hurricane Sandy ripple effects) and never am able to leave my point of origin.

There’s been a few worship gatherings like that. No matter the form, no matter the liturgy, mo matter the planning…the plane just never seems to get off the ground…and we know it.

I still teach my players the fundamentals of shooting, the perfect form, but realize that prayers get answered not necessarily because the knees were properly bent.

The Dread and The Draw

October 26, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                         October 26, 2012

 

To be a pastor is to blessed and cursed at the same time. Before you start a petition to have me thrown off a cliff…kind of like the crowd’s reaction to Jesus first sermon (Luke 4:14-30)…let me expound! I’m good at taking a few words from Scripture and talking about them for 30 minutes!

The blessing is to walk alongside people in their celebrations and struggles. It’s to know that you can be used by God to share a word of encouragement with them; or just sit quietly with them as they grieve and be present; or be the storyteller to a group of children; or lead people in worship and discovery. Extraordinary blessings!

It’s a curse in that your time is not your own. There is always the anxiety of a date night with my wife being detoured towards the hospital. Saturday nights are not spent relaxing in front of the TV, or reading a mystery novel. Sometimes people get upset with you because you were suppose to automatically know about their mother’s surgery even though nothing had been said.

Most weeks, however, the blessings tip the scales heavily away from the curses.

It points to another tension that is evident in most pastors on Sunday afternoon or evening. It’s the dread of another week beginning, but also the draw of a new beginning. Monday brings hope, but also tired realism. The sharing of “a word from the Lord” is a blessing, an opportunity; and yet, Monday is the face smack moment of knowing that there needs to be a new word for the next Sunday. A pastor feels blessed that people want “a word” from him. A pastor feels cursed in that people expect “a word” from him.

I know that I need to vacate for a few days when the dread on Monday creates a tsunami of despair on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Every pastor, no matter the gender, race, denomination, or size of congregation he/she serves, goes through periods where there is a vacancy sign in receiving words from the Lord. Our rest is interrupted by the scene of standing before the congregation on a Sunday and saying “There is no word from the Lord this week!”

Someone approaches a pastor after worship and says, “Great sermon, pastor!” Although the affirmation is appreciated, there is also the renegade thought running through the pastor’s mind about whether next week’s message can be as meaningful. Pastors have nightmares about sermons that are complete disconnects with the hearers.

As I said, however, Sunday night brings that tension point of dread and draw. The draw is that Monday is a new beginning. The Christian walk is about new beginnings, new life, new things, new hope. Monday is a reaffirmation that God is about something new. It’s about seeing his truth, and presence in another new way.

Monday is like the beginning of a new book. The danger is that books can become never-ending and overwhelming, like a seminary student who looks at the stack beside his study desk and realizes that there are twelve other new books that will need to be started in addition to the one he has just opened.

That’s the dread! An ongoing avalanche of newness that results in a desire for some oldness. Sometimes our soul sings “Tell me the old, old story!”

Pastors can identity whether they are in a period of dread or a period of draw. We’re pretty sharp in many ways, even as we’re clueless in others.

All of us have heard the wisecracks about pastors working only one day a week. The truth of the matter is that, even with a day off, we pastor seven days a week. It’s a constant calling that we can not separate ourselves from, almost like being a father or a son is an “always.”

The Emerging Rude Factor

October 24, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                October 24, 2012

 

I was driving in the downtown area today with my youngest daughter and witnessed a determined lady turning on to the street we were on and disregarding a woman and her pre-schooler crossing the street. She sped on to pursue her daily agenda items, leaving an angry mom in her wake.

But sometimes there is justice! A police cruiser saw the whole thing, turned the flashing lights on, and sped after the speeding lady.

If only it would be that way all the time!

Rudeness has made a comeback, not that it ever left. It is leaving offended people behind it as it races on. I see it at high school sporting events, not just with the students, but also with the adults. Once in a while a display of good sportsmanship emerges to the point that it is commended and put on YouTube, but those have become the exceptions and not the norm.

I see it in how young people treat older people, and how older people treat younger people.

I see it in politics, but enough of that!

I see it in how people treat someone who is overweight; and I see it in how someone who is slower than another person can tolerate.

I especially see it in driving habits.

And now I see it in Facebook posts and Twitter tweets.

I see it on t-shirts that seek to either incite, draw attention, or both.

And I see it in the church.

Rudeness has become the norm.

The thing is…there’s this list qualities and characteristics that are written down in Galatians 5 by the Apostle Paul. It’s a good list! A list that many of us would want to see lived out in our child, or the potential marriage partner that we bring home to meet Mom and Dad. It’s a list of fruits, spiritual fruits. As I look at that list- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control- each of the fruits goes sharply against rudeness in some way.

If I’m patient I won’t try to rush ahead and cut someone off.

If I’m kind I won’t look for the first opening to tear someone down.

If I’m joyful there will be no bitterness in my actions.

 

Rudeness is a slippery slope sliding towards ripped apart relationships.

And why do we give in to its lure. Because even though we don’t want to admit it, too often it is still all about you, or all about me. And if you point that out to me I may call you rude!

Kids and Jesus

October 17, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    October 17, 2012

 

Most Sundays I have a children’s story as a part of our morning worship service. We try to find a nice balance between children being a part of the worship service and having time together as a “children’s church.” It might be my imagination, but it seems that the kid’s story has more attentive adults than the main message does.

I’ve tried not to analyze it too much. Perhaps it goes back to the days of Art Linkletter and “Kids Say the Darnedest Things.” You were never quite sure what was going to pop out of someone’s mouth. It’s the same with the Sunday children’s story. You never quite know! The congregation has been flashed a few times. I’ve had one cute little girl climb up in my lap as I’m trying to make a serious point about Jesus. I’ve had one preschooler steer my story about prayer in the direction of color of paint in her bedroom. I’ve learned the hard way that any questions have to be carefully worded, and if a hand goes up with an answer it might have something to do with the question, or about what Santa is bringing the kids for Christmas.

In other words, kids are unpredictable.,,which makes them “dialogue dangerous”, but delightful to the core.

I wonder when Jesus’ disciples tried to keep the children from coming to Jesus if they were concerned about the detours that children can take you on. Instead of Son of God rhetoric they like to talk about fruit roll-ups and the sick little boy in their class at school. Instead of repentance and confession they like to giggle and pick their noses.

In fact, the disciples were a little uptight about anyone under five feet tall. Luke 18:15 says “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.”

Are you serious? Not exactly a “User-Friendly Church! More like “Seeker-Over-Sensitive.”

I guess you could say that the disciples may have over-reacted. Although it doesn’t say it, I can envision Peter being Jesus “muscle” here, guarding the Savior from those dangerous parents of newborns.

Church today still runs the danger of being “a place for grown-ups.” Kids are sometimes seen as a distraction, to be tolerated as long as they are cute.

Jesus rained on the disciples’ power parade by saying that “…anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)

Perhaps some grown-ups need to commence sucking thumbs. Less scowls and more smiles; smaller words, and bigger dreams.

The kingdom of God more resembles a playground than an office building, a super twisty slide more than rushing through traffic.

Have you ever noticed how caring and giving kids are? Oh, there are the selfish moments, but there are other times where they model mercy and compassion. Have a baby bird fall out of it’s nest, and just see who takes the role of caregiver and savior. Adults are sometimes too tall to see the basic misery around them.

Ask a child to help someone who has suffered through an earthquake in a distant country and watch the lemonade stands pop up.

I don’t think Scripture says a bad thing about kids, except maybe in Proverbs, and there it is not explained what age the verse is referring to. (“A fool spurns his father’s discipline…” Proverbs 15:5a)

Maybe that’s why Jesus liked to hang out with youngsters. He knew he would not have to get into a battle about righteousness, fasting, or spiritual authority.

One last thought! Maybe the reason that the grown-ups are so attentive to the kid’s story is that there is a longing within them to be kids again!

FFL- Fantasy Fellowship League

October 15, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    October 15, 2012

Fantasy Football has become an obsession in recent years. Recent research has come out with the conclusion that $6.5 billion in work productivity is lost in this country during the fantasy football season. There’s even a radio station on satellite radio dedicated to fantasy sports. Eight percent of guys who play fantasy football have been dumped by their girlfriend because of their obsession with it.

Our church has a fantasy football league. It’s fun! The only cost to be involved in it is the blows to your pride that occur quite often. On-line trash talking is encouraged with a smidgeon of mercy. We meet on an evening in August to do the league draft and enjoy harassing each other on the ineptitude of each decision. Two years after the fact I am still being ribbed for taking a kicker, David Akers, in the seventh round. The funny thing is that I can’t remember anyone else I drafted that season, but I remember my kicker!

In case, you’re not familiar with fantasy football, remembering who your kicker is, but not your QB, running back, or receiver…is a bad sign!

In thinking about it I got to wondering about starting a Fantasy Fellowship League. If fantasy football can be such a hit perhaps taking some of the heroes of the faith and drafting them on to teams might be the new hot method of evangelism.

Who might be the QB, the field general? David? Solomon? Gideon?

Next we’d go for two prophets. We could even break them into major and minor to further specialize matters. Give me Isaiah, and the two “Z’s”- Zephaniah and Zechariah. John the Baptist is tempting, however! I’m just not sure how the locusts would go over in the locker room.

Of course, we’d have to have a position for “prayer warrior.” I’d get Daniel early on.

Apostles would need to be drafted. Peter rises to the top, but you have to be prepared for his inconsistency. Walking on water one moment, denying Christ the next; proclaiming who Jesus is here, but then a while later taking an unncessary and untimely penalty by cutting off a guy’s ear. That’s unnecessary roughness taken to the extreme!

You’d have to draft a church. The Church at Philippi would be a good choice, although they were a little bit over the top in their joyfulness. Stay away from Corinth! Too many factions, and off-the-field distractions.

A hero of the faith would be on the list. Abraham would be taken early, not much before Joseph with his flamboyant coat. The question would be who would go out on a limb and pick Rahab.

Of course, the next thing is how you would keep score in this FFL. I haven’t quite figured that our yet, but there’s got to be a way.

Years ago there was an intense youth event called “Bible Quiz Bowl.” Teams of young people from different churches would compete against one another for the title of Bible Quiz Bowl Champions.”

Perhaps the Fantasy Fellowship League could be a new wave of competition. It would be great to have a pastor’s division where pastors could show their credible managing skills. I could see a Baptist deacon trash talking with a Presbyterian elder. The FFL could replace all those church softball leagues that have been established with the hidden motive of getting the power-hitting left-fielder to come to church…during softball season.

This could be big…I mean huge! What worries me, however, is that eight percent who got dumped because of fantasy football obsession. Could it be that eight percent will leave the church because they got trounced by someone who has a hot field general one week and forgets to practice humbleness? Could there be a multitude of thorns in sides?

I need to check our church’s insurance policy to see what kind of coverage we might have. In the meantime I need to be thinking about a kicker. I was leaning towards Balaam’s donkey, but he has a reputation for veering to the right!

Pastor Appreciating Month

October 11, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 October 11, 2012

 

I’m not sure when it started, and who started it, and how it came to find a home in October, but whatever the unanswered questions are we are eleven days into Pastor Appreciation Month. On Sunday I’ll wear the tie that some of our church kids made for me last year. It’s a great tie with hand prints of each of the kids on it.

Other people over the years have sent me cards, Starbucks gift cards, restaurant gift cards, books, taken Carol and me out to dinner, and expressed their gratitude in a number of ways.

Not to be mushy, but there is the other side of the ministry. It’s the side where the pastor appreciates. It’s the side where the heart of the pastor is meshed with the congregation in a multitude of life-sharing ways, the side where the passions of the pastor are expressed and owned by the people of the Body.

The pastor appreciates a congregation where people feel comfortable enough with him to talk about their spiritual questions, as well as their faith journeys.

The pastor appreciates a congregation where people mention to him something he said in a recent sermon that hit home in an experience they had not long after that.

The pastor appreciates people who initiate hugs.

The pastor appreciates people who ask him if they can pray for him.

The pastor appreciates children who give him high fives and are disappointed if there is a Sunday when there isn’t a children’s story time during morning worship.

The pastor appreciates sitting in Starbucks with someone who just needs to talk.

The pastor appreciates a congregation where the style of music is not nearly as important as the worship of God.

The pastor appreciates a youth group that sabotages his office.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that likes his Far Side cartoons that he posts outside his office.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that is inviting…and continuing. That is, they invite someone to come to church with them, and then continue the conversation over lunch.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that comes alongside persons with mobility problems.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that recognizes that they are living the Gospel.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that wants to make a difference in the community.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that lives out grace, not just expects to receive grace.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that becomes uncomfortable with the implications of the Gospel.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that he is not motivated or manipulated by money, and yet desires to make sure he receives a fair wage.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that sees value in each person, regardless of gender, age, race, financial or marital status.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that honors his day off, and, once in a while, even forces him to take a break.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that looks for ways that they can help him become more effective as a pastor.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that affirms, but also corrects.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that moves according to the voice of God, not according to who yells the loudest.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that claps!

The pastor appreciates a congregation where coffee can be taken into the sanctuary.

The pastor appreciates a congregation that is appreciative!

And perhaps most of all, the pastor appreciates a congregation that is appreciative long after October has passed!

Bad Ideas and Leadings from God

October 9, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   October 9, 2012

 

Sometimes people say things to me like, “You’re a pastor! You’ve got extra influence with God.” Or “You’re a pastor! Would you say a prayer for me, since God listens to you more than me.” I’m tempted at that point to respond with a “Show me where Scripture says that” , but usually the person saying it doesn’t have muchof a grasp on Scripture.

And I want to also tell them that I often confuse bad ideas as being the leadings of God. After all, pastors are suppose to have leadings from the Lord, and when we walk through a desert period in our spiritual lives we’re sometimes guilty of inventing leadings. It’s kind of like when a group has a prayer time and the group members are told to pray that they feel led. Sometimes there are the heart-felt prayers that are spoken, and sometimes there are prayers uttered because of the uncomfortableness of silence.

Someone needs to pray something.”

There are leadings that are really reactions. People get ticked off at one another, and “are led” to do some things that I can’t believe God would lead them to do. Pastors have often been “led by the Lord” right after a heated church council meeting. I’d like someone “to be led” to do a study of what percentage of pastor resignations come within a week of church board meetings.

There are leadings that shine the spotlight on a person, and leadings that get leaked to the media. The word “revelation” gets substituted for leadings on occasion. For some reason it seems like it’s more spiritual for pastors to talk about “receiving revelations from God”, but everyone else has to use the term leadings.

Leadings can sometimes be responses from our tendency to not just stand there but to do something. Peter felt that urge after the Transfiguration of Jesus on top of a mountain. Spontaneous as he tended to be he came up with the “leading” of building three shelters to recognize the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. One translation uses the word “tents.” I remember reading that when I was growing up and I couldn’t get a Boy Scout camp-out image out of my mind. I started envisioning Jesus sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows with his guests and disciples. I discovered that it was my imagination, not a revelation.

Leadings can only be so far, also. What I mean is that a leading can be so far out there that people lose sight of it. The shepherd doesn’t lose sight of the sheep because some of the sheep tend to lose focus. And yet the shepherd knows when it’s time to move…to be led to a new place of grazing.

Bad ideas sometimes emerge out of a desire to be relevant. Relevance is something that the people of God need to keep in mind, but sometimes it is relevance that is driving the cart. It shows when it seems that a lot of people are being led by the Lord to suddenly dress a certain way, or start a certain ministry. My cynical side asks why God didn’t lead someone to open a coffee house in their church back in the 70’s? Why does it seem that there are so many leadings of that ministry in the past five years with the Starbucks explosion?

Of course, you can take that reasoning and “why asking” only so far. To take it to an extreme is a bad idea. There is always a danger of questioning a new idea simply because we question anything that is new.

I pray consistently for the leading of the Spirit, but realize that the leading is in the Spirit’s time not mine. Sometimes the Lord leads with a stop sign, and sometimes he leads us in retreat.

My hope, as well as my fear, is that on Sunday morning when I stand before the gathered saints and faith journeyers that he will have led me to a word…a word from the Lord to share with the church. It is a moment of trepidation because of the fear of sharing, not a leading, but a bad idea…and a fear because of there always being the possibility that the Lord didn’t lead me to a word that week. Perhaps some Sundays the sermon should simply be silent!