Archive for March 2016

Using The Disreputable

March 30, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            March 30, 2016

                                   

God has a way of surprising us.

Easter Sunday is an example of that…Christ-followers huddled together behind a locked door in fear, and then there is a knock from a woman saying that Jesus was alive! That was a surprise!

This morning I was reading the story of Rahab in the Old Testament book of Joshua. She was a woman with a reputation…and not a good one! She was a prostitute, and, obviously, known for that. The two Israelite spies went right to her house. The welcome mat was always out for Rahab’s business.

And God uses her to protect the two men! And not just that, she is in the genealogy of Jesus. Check out Matthew 1:5 if you don’t believe me! Someone with a bad reputation, someone who was on the other end of the spectrum from “the honored”, gets brought into the God-story.

Saul had a reputation for persecuting Christians, and then he got blinded by an encounter with Jesus and had the first letter of his name changed. The meaning of his name went from “asked for” or “prayed for” to “humble.” And who would have thought that the chief persecutor of Christ-follower would be used to be the main proclaimer? Paul, without a doubt, was humbled!

Chuck Colson was a scoundrel! There’s no better way to describe him. He was “guilty as sin”, as some of my Kentucky relatives used to say, of crimes  committed during Nixon’s Watergate scandal. And then he came to know Jesus in a personal way, and through his conviction and incarceration the ministry of “Prison Fellowship” was started.

God seems to be accustomed to using the disreputable for his purposes. Who we often discard becomes his trump card (No, that is not a political reference!).

Granted, it does not always happen that way, but we mostly write-off those who God has written into the storyline.

When Community Gets Stomped On

March 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                March 29, 2016

                      

What does it mean to “be community?” It is a term that gets used often these days, an ideal that gets raised as something people want, but what does it mean?

If you go to some of our more rural areas you’ll find that there are farms, or what used to be farms, often situated on each corner of a crossroads. It’s an interesting picture that describes a learning that farmers from decades ago discovered as an essential principle for living: They needed each other. Instead of building the farm house in the middle of their property, farmers built their homes close to their neighbors. Isolation was a threat to their existence. When they planted in the spring they helped each other. When they harvested they helped each other. If a new barn needed to be built they helped each other.

Community meant knowing that they needed each other! Life wasn’t about hoarding, and it wasn’t about looking out for a person’s own interests…and the heck with everyone else!

Such life wisdom was also weaved through scripture into God’s design of the church. There was to be the dependence on God and the interdependence on one another. In fact, the church was charged to look out for the needs of those who were without, especially the widows (Of which there were many!) and the orphans. Community meant sharing. There was not to be those who had and those who had not.

That idea of community often receives lip service, but, in a culture that is self-focused, it is seldom put into action.

Sadly enough, a free Easter Egg Hunt in Orange, Connecticut, demonstrated that the wants of the individual are more important than the welfare of the community. Outside of the Peez candy business pushy parents said to heck with it and rushed the fields that held over nine thousand Easter eggs. Children were pushed to the side as adults descended “like locusts”, as one Peez employee described it, on the fields.

You may be saying “What!!!!” at this point!

The event was scheduled to happen in three phases, starting with the youngest children at 10:30, but before 10:30 arrived mayhem moved in first! The result…crying children, angry parents, and a lot of questions.

Over plastic eggs filled with candy!

The principle of community got stomped on!

A couple of my favorite passages from the New Testament come in Acts 2 and Acts 4 where, talking about the first church in Jerusalem, the writer Luke says that no one was in need. If there was someone in need the others made sure they were taken care of.

That’s the kind of community I want to be a part of- the sweetness of agape love over the momentary taste of sweet candy!

The Price of Being a Christ-Follower

March 28, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 28, 2016

 

In Pakistan seventy people were killed and three hundred injured by a suicide bombing that was aimed at a gathering of Christians in a public park to celebrate Easter. A Taliban faction claimed responsibility for the bomb, it’s fifth bombing since December.

The casualties and injured were mostly men and children: 29 children and 34 men.

Pakistan has several Islamic militant factions that are seeking to create unrest and overthrow the existing governmental leaders.

It is another example of Christ-followers in various places around the world experiencing the price of their faith. In 2013 eighty people were killed in a Pakistani church that was attacked by a suicide bomber. On Good Friday an Indian Catholic priest in Yemen was crucified by ISIS militants.

Although the simplicity of accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is evident, following Christ often has serious consequences. In Pakistan Islamic militants are trying to establish a government that has a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

In essence, they desire that the government be guided, even ruled, by their religious beliefs. In Pakistan being a Christian is not a glamorous experience.

What does it mean to be a Christ-follower, regardless of where you are in the world? Are there common core elements that can bind believers in our nation with the believers in Pakistan?

Coming through Holy Week brings a couple of things to my mind.

Suffering and sacrifice. The cross tells of the sacrifice of Jesus to atone for the sins of his followers. It is punctuated with suffering. We can empathize with the grieving Pakistani people because our faith journey may travel through hardships and trials.

We are familiar with the scriptural “Roman Road”, but there was also a road leading into Rome in the first century that was lined with Christ-followers nailed to crosses. Nero used to light his Roman gardens at night by making human torches out of Christians.

In essence, suffering and sacrifice are elements that have past history and present happenings for those who follow Jesus. We identify and come alongside the suffering, the poor and neglected, oppressed and powerless.

The second identifying element that we have with Christ-followers around the world is “hope!” Just as the cross tells us of suffering and sacrifice, the empty tomb tells us of the hope that we have in our resurrected Lord.

It’s Monday and he is still alive!

It is easy in our culture to get caught up in the Final Four, spring break vacations, the presidential campaign, fashion trends, and the beginning of Major League baseball, but take a pause once in a while to ponder the situations that Christ-followers around the world are dealing with. Some of those are tragic and others are incredibly hope-filled.

And Jesus is Lord of all!

 

 

Looking Outward From A Tomb

March 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   March 26, 2016

                                    

Today is Saturday, the day before Easter. It is a day of waiting for many of us. Being a Christ-follower, I know what tomorrow means. It’s a day where I’m between death and life…Jesus is laying dead in the tomb, not back alive…not risen…the rock hasn’t moved an inch.

Sunday is different. I’ll put my sweat pants and t-shirt to the side and put my suit on that will make me look fashionably alive. I’ll speak to a group of believers gathered at First Baptist Church in Simla about the hope that the day tells us about.

As a pastor I’m living in the Sunday event even today as I prepare tomorrow’s words. It’s a unique perspective. In essence, I’m speaking from inside the tomb, but also looking outward from it. What words might Jesus have to say to the mourners of his death? What are the words that the church needs to hear?

Looking outward changes your view. It’s impossible to forget the primary purpose of the place you are standing in, but it also intensifies the excitement of the outward opening. Like the welcoming of a new breath of air for someone emerging from a deep dive into a lake, an opening in the tomb signals a path from death back to life.

So often I live for Jesus inside the grave. I turn my back from the hope and become the walking dead in Christ. I go through times of doubt, just like his disciples, and wallow in the self-pity of the demands of my faith. There is a tendency to close the story on Saturday and communicate the faith of a cranky, embittered Christian.

On the other hand, I see Christ-followers who detour past the tomb and live out a faith that seems to jump from the sweet, cuddly baby Jesus to the glorious glowing resurrected Jesus. Pain and suffering don’t make the cut in the abridged story of the messiah.

I’m becoming more convinced as I grow older that Jesus desires that I view life as a tomb person looking outward. That death is not the conqueror…that hope emerges out of hopelessness…that life follows death…these are the words to remember and the message to proclaim.

From inside the tomb I can speak about what is no longer true. I am able to tell my own story, that once I was the walking dead, but now I am spiritually alive. I understand who I was and, by the grace of God, who I now am.

March Sadness

March 19, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 19, 2016

                                            

Dear Sir,

Our family suffered a devastating loss yesterday that will require multiple grief counseling sessions. We have a lot of questions that don’t seem to have answers. Most of them begin with the word “Why?”

Depending on the family member our grief has emerged in various ways. Loss of appetite is a common element. Other signs of our suffering include hair-pulling, moments of walking around in a zombie-like state, spontaneous bursts of tears, and sleepless nights filled with that one word. That’s right, why?

I’m wondering if you can fit us into your counseling schedule immediately…like this afternoon. I know that is short notice, but so was the loss we incurred. You see, it wasn’t suppose to be this way. We’d planned ahead and prepared for what we thought was going to be a glorious ending. To have the rug pulled out from under us like this is a bitter pill to swallow. We know it has happened to others in the past, but we never expected that it would happen to us.

You see, our Michigan State Spartans were a two-seed. Two-seeds aren’t suppose to lose in the first round. In fact, we thought our glorious end was going to include cutting down the nets in Houston two weeks from now after being crowned national champions.

But a fifteen-seed beat us! Middle Tennessee State University. Their name even suggests mediocrity. Yesterday, however, they played top-level basketball and our Spartans were stunned as much as we were. Things like this, however, are suppose to happen to Georgetown and Syracuse because they deserve the grief, but not us!

So you see, our need for counseling is urgent. March Madness got blanketed with March Sadness. We cried in our soup and went through two boxes of tissues. I’m making a Sam’s Club run this morning to buy boxes of tissues in bulk because we’re going through them so fast.

As I’m writing this a propane gas tank delivery truck went by with the company name on the side: Blue Rhino! Middle Tennessee State’s mascot name is “Blue Raiders.” As the truck moved past I instantly saw “Blue Raiders” instead of Blue Rhino. I’m haunted and afflicted! I counted Blue Raider players shooting three’s in my sleep last night!

Please respond immediately…unless you’re a Michigan Wolverine! In that case, please disregard!

Drawing Close to Death

March 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              March 18, 2016

                                      

The Passion Week of Jesus is about to begin. In many ways it’s an unsettling time. One day Jesus gets paraded through town with cheers and singing, and a few days later he gets paraded towards a hill of death with jeers and mocking. It is a lonely week, a week of being deserted, betrayed, and tortured.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday experiences are solemn and reflective…and avoided! Many of us are ready to get to the celebration of Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus’ tomb was open and the body was no longer there, and by-pass the days of suffering and death.We often even see this in our funeral services. The tendency is to rush by the grieving and embrace the rejoicing. If the departed had a close walk with God people sometimes feel guilty about being sad, about mourning the loss of a loved one. “Well, he’s with the Lord now, so we shouldn’t be sad!”

Yes, he is with the Lord, but he is no longer with us in the same way he has always been with us, and for that I’m grieving. Ben Dickerson, a good friend and ministry colleague of mine, passed away suddenly a few years ago. Ben was man of prayer and depth, a mentor and confidant. His death set me back. I struggled with the nonsensical nature of it.

I could not get to the celebration! Hear me on that! I could not get to the celebration. I was still dealing with the Good Friday grief! Just as cancer patients deal with the loss of health, and anxiety about the future moves into the room that has been occupied by future hopes and aspirations, I must deal with the closeness of death in my life.

Perhaps it seems silly, but I’ve grieved the loss of every one of our five cats: Tickles, Prince Charming Kisses, Duke, Katie Katie CoCo Puffs, and Princess Mailbu. Don’t mock me! My daughters named them all. Even as I write this I’m getting a little teary-eyed thinking about them.

Death is hard, and important to draw close to. When Moses died Deuteronomy 34:8 says “The people of Israel wept for Moses in the Plains of Moab for thirty days. then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.”

Thirty days! In our culture it is more likely that the memorial service can’t be scheduled for thirty days due to schedule complications.

There is a time for celebration, but there is also a time for grieving and remembrance. Death precedes eternal life…profoundly!

Good Friday needed to occur for a rolled away stone to signal that something significant had just happened.

Our culture has a hard time dealing with death. The pull is to just move past it and get on with life.

And so Good Friday services that bring us to scenes of Golgotha will be slightly attended, unless the pilgrim comes from a traditional that mandates attendance; and Resurrection Sunday will see pancake breakfasts, and balloons, and chocolate crosses…and crowded sanctuaries.

My belief…you don’t have to accept it if you don’t want to…my belief is that we can not fully appreciate and understand the incredible news of the resurrection unless we draw close to the death of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Small Churches Are Not a Bad Thing!

March 17, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 16, 2016

                            

Andy Stanley made the news last week as a result of something he said in one of his weekend messages. Since then he has tried to do a rewind of what he really meant, but it is similar to trying to rewrap the toilet paper after it springs loose and rolls down three flights of stairs. You can’t quite get it back to where it was. (I don’t recommend you try it! It won’t turn out good and people will stare at you.)

Andy, who I’ve heard speak several times, and have a lot of admiration and respect for, made a reference to parents being selfish if they keep their teen children at a small church. This came right after a weekend youth conference that was attended by about 3,500 youth from Stanley’s church, and, I’m assuming, other churches.

He didn’t mean to make a dig at small churches, but that’s what was heard. Andy’s church runs around 20,000 each weekend…give or take a few thousand! Obviously, his church is doing a few things right.

His church is the spiritual Walmart that draws customers to the happy faces signs.

Last Sunday I spoke at a church in a small rural town to a gathering of twelve. There are less people in this town than will be seated in Andy Stanley’s overflow room at one weekend service. And yet “The Twelve” allowed me to experience community. After the service instead of a rush to the parking lot to be directed out into traffic by off-duty police officers, at this gathering of the saints we stood in the center aisle for twenty minutes talking and sharing. No one rushed out. They didn’t want to. This was a foundational part of their week.

I read Andy’s interview that was meant to be damage control. Believe me, he’s not totally wrong…and he’s not totally right. Sometimes small churches get set in their ways and become hospice centers for the dying, but other times small churches bring a depth of caring and fellowship that mega-churches should take notes on.

Our culture is drawn to “mass”, to quantity. We overindulge at Chinese buffets and super-size at McDonald’s. On Black Friday we get in line early at the “big box” stores, and we flock to ocean cruise line ships that are like floating cities.

Those things aren’t necessarily bad (except the Chinese buffet part), but they should not be seen as what will meet all of our needs either.

There are places at the Lord’s table for small churches and large churches, and every church in between. This doesn’t need to become a finger-pointing event between the student bodies of two arch rival high schools, shouting across the gym at one another.

On Easter Sunday I’ll be back at that small gathering of God’s people to preach about new life, new hope, and a new day. They will nod their heads in agreement, because they believe that their church is in the midst of the story. Then we will stand in the center aisle and talk about life as it is, and life will is coming.