Archive for March 2013

Spotify Theology

March 29, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 29, 2013

 

As I write this blog post I have earbuds in and I’m listening to Darlene Zschech sing beautiful praise songs on Spotify. If you arent familiar with Spotify that means you are probably still paying for the music you listen to. Spotify is free…unless you go premium…which they hope you will! Premium is $9.99 a month and it means you can listen to music without any commercial interruptions. It’s like a music DVR. You can fast forward through the ads.

But, in terms of music, I’m cheap! So I go free and basic. What that means is that every four songs or so you get “commercialed up.” It makes for an interesting combination. Since Spotify is a music supplier that has Christian music as just one of it’s listening possibilities the advertisers to the business are all over the map.

For instance, I’m listening to Darlene sing the great song “I Will Wait.” The song ends and a commercial comes on advertising Trojan condoms. Awkward!

One moment I’m listening to Barbi Franklin play “Breathe on Me, Breath of God!” on her violin, and the next I’m being invited to a party where the beer is flowing.

Such pendulum swings are hard for me to make. I could pay the ten bucks a month and stay secluded in my own little between-the-ears world, but I won’t!

It seems, however, that our culture is more and more comfortable with the pendulum swings. Listen! I am not such a prude that I’m going to cast Trojans and tequila into the lake of fire. It seems that is also a polarizing element in our world; too often giving verdicts that something or someone is totally demonic or something or someone is the next thing to being in heaven. We have a hard time saying that something can fluctuate from good to bad depending on the situation.

It also seems that more and more people are comfortable with a Spotify kind of theology. A belief system that operates without concern for conflicting practices. For instance, I can pray for the leading of the Holy Spirit in my life this afternoon, and gather with a few friends to use a Ouiji board tonight.

Whereas my generation is uncomfortable with such diverse practices, other generations are not as uneasy with them. However, that isn’t meant to be a slam, because I think other generations, especially the current young adults, are more willing to dialogue with people they may disagree with. There seems to be more of a willingness to converse and learn from one another.

The red flag for any generation is being so immersed in the culture that our theology starts resembling basic Spotify. Praising Jesus one moment, and deciding on what type of condom I”ll buy your tonight the next.

Do I have solutions or answers? No, we seem to be too quick to give solutions and slow to listen. We live in a world of intertwining connections. So I want the free music, but without the commercials…and yet a big reason the music is free is because of the commercials. One can not operate without the other.

So I’ll continue to listen to Darlene Zschech sing the song “Under Grace”, and then try to live by grace

Thursday Agendas

March 28, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 28, 2013

 

We often approach the same event with differing agendas. It’s like going to Lowe’s with Carol. I may be thinking that we’re going there to buy a bag of weed-n-feed, but her agenda is deciding on what new kitchen appliances we’re going to purchase. We enter the front doors and I start heading left…but she’s not following! That’s when she breaks the news to me!

Life often displays our conflicting agendas.

As a pastor I’m often bombarded with them. For instance, I’m thankful that I’m color blind so that I don’t have to be involved in what the color of the new sanctuary carpet is going to be. I have a hard time looking like mis-matched puzzle pieces in what I wear on Sunday morning, let alone knowing whether the carpet looks good or not!

Thursday of Holy Week in an upper room in Jerusalem a group of men with different agendas gathered to partake of the Passover meal. Some of them saw the gathering as a way of impressing the leader. Some of them saw it as a customary meal, like any other passover meal. Some of them saw it as a time to put their feet up. They had been walking a lot lately. An upper room away from the increasing crowds sounded good. One of them knew it was a time of preparation for a difficult time ahead.

Each approached the gathering differently. Only one of them was willing to take the very nature of a servant and wash the feet of the others.

What an awkward moment that must have been, to suddenly realize that one is on a different page than the one who leading! I wonder if there was a few moments of excuses thrown around.

I was just about to do that, Jesus!”

What I meant to say was…”

Next time give me some forewarning. I didn’t know that was what you wanted to see happen.”

My knees are really bothering me today.”

Thursday was like a traffic intersection where six different streets are converging. So of the mass one agenda, one mission, rose to the surface.

How did the others’ wants and preferences disappear?

Easily! Sometimes comparing wants and needs has a way of sorting out what is really important and what I wish would be important.

Of course, how often do I elevate my desires to the throne, and dismiss the Hope of nations?

I have to remind myself of that when I talk about what I “get out of a worship gathering.” What I tend to trash, someone has seen as being life-changing.

Today I will keep surrendering over and over.

Tim’s Place

March 28, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 27, 2013

 

Carol and I had a unique experience this week while we were in Albuquerque. We went to a restaurant called “Tim’s Place.” (“http://timsplaceabq.com”)

“Tim” is Tim Harris. He was born in 1986 with Down’s Syndrome. His life could be characterized as one that continues to exceed expectations. Tim was voted Homecoming King of his high school in 2004. He was voted “Student of the Year” by his school administration and faculty. Friendliness is his gift. The slogan of Tim’s Place is “Breakfast. Lunch. Hugs.” Tim is the hugger. He roams the restaurant chatting with people and giving hugs. A digital counter on the wall keeps track of the number of hugs given. When we were there it was registering around 88,000.

Carol, who has a heart for kids with special needs, watched Tim carefully as he gave attention especially to little kids, children, and senior citizens (We aren’t quite there yet!). He took the role of host, conversationalist, chuckler, coffee refiller, and whatever else needed to be done.

Carol heard about Tim’s Place from watching a feature about it on NBC’s Today show. The restaurant was started by his mom and dad, who were looking for a way to help Tim experience success. His ability to make people feel welcome was evident from working at a Red Robin restaurant in prior years.

There was something special about the restaurant. The lady who waited on us seemed happy…joy-filled. In fact, everybody who worked at Tim’s seemed in good spirits.

Oh, that more of life was like Tim’s Place! Unfortunately it seems to be more of an oasis in a desert of self-centeredness. A day after we were there our youngest daughter called to say that her boyfriend’s house in another part of Albuquerque was broken into in broad daylight and the thieves made off with a few items.

That’s how our world is! Hugs here, hoodlums there!

Uncertain Tuesday

March 26, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   March 26, 2013

Tuesday of Holy Week is a day of uncertainty. It doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb. Rather, it’s kind of like the finger beside the pinkie- it has purpose to hold my wedding band on, but I’m not sure what else it’s good for. But it’s there!

As a pilgrim on a journey, Palm Sunday is like the opening scenes of a movie, establishing the beginnings of the story, introducing the characters. Thursday and Friday are the days of tension, where the wringing of hands is taking place in the audience. Sunday is the climax, the victory. The forces of good triumph.

But Tuesday…is just there. It’s when the customer leaves the theater to get his popcorn bucket refilled. It’s in the middle, but not quite.

Tuesday is where most of us live. Our lives are full of triumph, tragedy, and resurrection, but most of our life is lived between the highs and lows. Most of our days are lived in the “not yets.”

Moses experienced triumphs and tragedies, but for many years before his burning bush experience we lived in the Tuesdays of life.

The Israelites had a Tuesday that lasted forty years.

David lived most of his childhood and adolescence in “Tuesdays.”

Tuesday is when we are most prone to wander. It is the time when we are most susceptible to losing our focus, or even doubting our focus.

Tuesday isn’t even “hump day.” It’s a day of discouragement. For some it’s the day of just going through the motions.

Holy Week Tuesday is like the child in the family that gets none of the attention, but is expected to be there.

In my walk with God I can pinpoint certain moments that stand out: my baptism on a Sunday night in August at the First Baptist Church of Zanesville, Ohio; youth retreats growing up at Camp Francis Asbury outside of Rio Grande, Ohio; being ordained to the ministry; hearing Tony Camplo speak during Spiritual Enrichment Week at Judson College. I could go on and on…but I won’t! Those events, those moments rise to the surface.

But most of my spiritual journey is not on the peak. In fact, it’s not in the deep valleys as well. It is the space between. Using the Bible as an analogy, it isn’t in the Gospels, but rather in Ecclesiastes, a period that is seemingly void of meaning. Honestly, getting through Ecclesiastes is like trying to read War and Peace in one sitting.

Spiritual journeys require perseverance, stamina, even flexibility. They require a willingness to get through the Tuesdays.

Things You Will Never See on a Baptist Church Sign

March 20, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    March 20, 2013

A pastor’s group that I’m a part of (called Together in Ministry) includes some people who like to laugh and say things that we would never say on a Sunday morning. In fact, a lot of my blog post ideas come from this group. They help me create!

After my first mug of coffee this morning I got to thinking (finally) about some things to put on our church sign. I look for witty and short sayings that might catch some motorist’s eye without causing an accident. As I thought about some things to put on the sign my mind started thinking about how that topic might just played out in my TIM group, but not with sayings that WOULD appear on a sign, but rather with some things that will probably never, ever, ever  be seen on the sign of a Baptist church. For some of them…I am tempted! We are told, however, to withstand temptations…and also avoid being fired!

Here’s some list:

 

BYOB Communion Sunday this week!”

All are welcome…but especially those with deep pockets!”

Bingo this Saturday night- $1,000 jackpot guaranteed!”

This Sunday! Big donuts and a little sermon!”

Our restrooms are clean!”

Make sure you wipe your feet!”

Free Coffee, but it’s cheap!”

Baptism this Sunday! Dunk Tank available afterwards!”

Our music is slower than Lawrence Welk!”

Looking for a friendly church? Sorry!”

Our pastor rocks! Sometimes he even reclines!”

We love everyone…especially if they are like us!”

We’re a progressive church! We loved the 50’s, but we live in the 70’s!”

2-for-1 Sunday. Come to one service, get the second service free!”

Our kids are out of control, but our young people are just out!”

Jesus loves you! We’re still making up our minds!”

The world is full of problems. That’s why we keep our church doors locked!”

We believe in the Bible, especially the parts that don’t convict us.”

Free Guilt served here! No questions asked!”

Don’t come in here looking like that!”

Pastor on vacation! Party this Sunday!

 

Sometimes it seems my mind is more focused on what I can’t say than what I can.

The Appearance of Being Christian

March 19, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    March 18, 2013

 

I was wearing a basketball hoodie, comfortable sweat pants, and my blue Nike’s, as we ate a leisurely dinner at a semi-fast food restaurant. Towards the end of our “snack” I went back up to the soda machine to get a refill on root beer. Just ahead of me was a young man…probably mid-twenties…wearing a nice suit. Another man around sixty, and also wearing a nice suit, approached him and asked the question, “So, where do you go to church?”

Did I mention that it was about 7:30 on a Sunday night?

The young man responded, “Oh…I’m from out of town, but I go to Glad Tidings Baptist Church in the city I’m from.”

The older gentleman then said, “I go to (couldn’t quite make it out) Church. Just got out of Sunday Night Service.”

I, evidently, did not look like church material. Hoodies and sweat pants give kind of an “unspiritual vibe”.

I wasn’t sure what to think. Was I more ticked off at being unnoticed, or by the fact that someone in a suit on a Sunday night in a hamburger place was assumed to be “churched?” I tried to not be cynical, but as I stared at my root beer the cynicism was rising to the surface faster than the carbonation bubbles.

As I read the Bible it seems that Jesus had issues with people who wore their religion on their sleeve. It seems to be a symptom of contemporary Christianity as well. Sunday night suits in hamburger joints is a calling card for more conservative-minded church-goers. Back in my college days at Judson College wearing a cross around your neck was considered “a sign.” In fact, the bigger the cross around your neck the closer to were seen as being to Jesus. Some of those former college classmates can attribute present back problems to heavy college year crosses. I never wore a cross. My cross to bear was Economics 101.

Some congregations base spiritual maturity according to a number- the number of times you entered the church building that week. Others base the fervor of their commitment to save the lost on the basis of how many stanzas of the closing song were sung before the pastor finally surrendered to the benediction.

Could it be that churches of different flavors are simply trying to outdo one another…like Target trying to attract more customers than Best Buy? Is our appearance of “following Jesus” as hollow as the chocolate Easter bunny many of us will bite into a few days from now?

We seem to be more and more confused by what it means to be a reflection of Christ. Suits and ties, giant cross necklaces, a few well-timed “amens”…different looks seem to be fashion statements.

The reality is that the appearance of being Christian is becoming sketchy. When I read the scripture on Sunday morning there are more smart phones being used to read the Word than the leather-bound kind. In most churches what people wear to church on Sunday morning is very similar to whatever attire they usually wear during the week. Many gatherings of followers of Christ happen away from church buildings in homes and coffee shops. I can rarely go into the Starbucks close to my house on Friday mornings and not find a table of guys in the midst of a Bible study. House churches are growing exponentially. The appearance of being Christian is losing its value and hearing in a world of church scandals, irrelevant congregations, and impoverished third world countries. What people are looking for are those who are being more the reflections of the Jesus who was on his hands and knees washing his disciples feet…the Jesus who was willing to get his cloak…his suit…dirty!

Funny Church

March 18, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                         March 17, 2013

 

I pastor a non-proper church. Non-proper in that we don’t get hung up on the unplanned. We do put an order of worship in the bulletin, but it is not deemed to be as sacred as the Word of God. (Although some Sundays you might get that impression!)

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated communion in the midst of the service. Most Sundays when we have communion it is at the end of the service after the children have departed for children’s church. This time, however, with communion is the smack dab middle the children were still there. Either a few people were double dipping on the communion cups, or the communion preparer hadn’t fixed enough. The servers passed the trays out amongst the congregation, and after assembling for the march back to the front each of them sheepishly looked at me…each holding an empty tray. I’ve never said the words of invitation for the cup…without a cup! It was a moment that might have unglued many pastors and congregations, but we took it all in stride.

I follow a Jesus who I firmly believed laughed a lot. I pastor a church that finds a lot of things funny.

One Sunday a few years ago I was wearing one of those Hawaiian shirts with leaves or palms or something like that on it as a design. One of our senior men, who was sitting by his daughter, leasned over and asked her “Is that marijuana on his shirt?”

During a children’s story a four year old sneezed and suddenly displayed to the congregation a nose with Niagara Falls flowing from it.

 

On an Easter Sunday the wrong video was being shown of a resurrection song danced to by two thousand people, but a heavy metal song had been dubbed into the background.

 

Usually one Sunday every month we have one of the two candles on the communion table go out. It looks like we’re halfway committed to ritual.

 

Countless Sundays the words to a different song than we are singing appear on the screen.

 

Our heater in the baptismal tank has taken a holiday resulting in a few baptisms where the person really…really…really wanted to be baptized.

 

The iron railing by the walk of one of our entrances has the design of two bowling pins and a bowling ball in it.

 

One of our stained glass windows has the clear image of a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap.

 

We’ve decided that life has enough tragedy in it. Let’s smile as much as we can.

 

For that to happen a church needs something else as a core value also. It needs to believe and practice grace. Grace helps us find humor in what is often too proper. Grace helps us see the reasons to chuckle in an empty communion tray. It frees us to think of possible future solutions to the present problem, instead of beating our chest and crying “Woe is us!”

Perhaps some churches don’t have funny moments because they don’t live by grace. My best friends in ministry are two guys that I can laugh with…and also cry with. I believe Jesus experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum as well. Art Linkletter used to host a program named “Kids Say The Darnedest Things.”

Perhaps for us it might be “Churches Do the Darnedest Things.”