Archive for October 2016

So Many Presidential Choices!

October 28, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         October 28, 2016

                          

I cracked open the piece of mail that has been sitting on my desk for a couple of weeks. It’s the election ballot with all kinds of goodies on it to vote up or down. What surprised me was the number of candidates for President! On the Colorado ballot there are twenty-two…count them, 22!…President/Vice-President tag teams. I was having a hard time choosing between four candidates for President…wishing for another choice, but not 18 other choices!

For instance, Rod Silva is the presidential candidate for the Nutrition Party. He is a restauranteur who owned fifty-five “Muscle Maker Grill” restaurants. He sold them to another company in 2015, and appeared on an episode of Undercover Boss in January of this year. His campaign platform is focused on the rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol, all related to poor eating choices.

Who knew?

There’s also Evan McMullin, who is “trump-eted” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) as being “the last best hope for the Never-Clinton and Never-Trump masses.” One of the news headlines says that “McMullin is surging in his home state of Utah where Mormons are repulsed by Trump!” He is running “unaffliated!” I bet he garners a few votes!

Then there’s James Hedges of the Prohibition Party! What? Yes, there still is a political party of teatotallers! Hedges graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Music Performance, and also holds a Master’s degree in Geography from the University of Maryland.

Frank Atwood of Littleton, Colorado, carries the torch for the “Approval Voting Party.” Approval Voting believes you should be able to vote for as many candidates as you approve of, kind of like a Jimmy John’s sub sandwich…”I’ll take onions, tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, but hold the jalapeno’s!” Unfortunately for Frank there is another person also named Frank Atwood who is well-known. He has been on Death Row in Arizona since 1987!

Lawrence Kotlikoff is running as the candidate for…wait for it!…the “Kotlikoff for President Party!” He is an economics professor at Boston University and the author of the book The Coming Generational Storm, on sale at Amazon for $14.77 (paperback).

Need I go on? The ballot is a smorgasbord of choices! Wouldn’t it have been awesome to have had all 22 candidates invited to at least one of the debates? I would have watched that! I would have loved to have seen the two main stage candidates debate Bradford Little of the Nonviolent Resistance/Pacifist Party!

In contrast, there are only 7 candidates for Colorado U.S. Senator, and just 3 for the U.S. Representative for my District.

It’s like with my 7th Grade football team. Everybody wanted to be quarterback and no one wanted to play tackle! Okay…that’s not a great example but…it’s lunchtime and Muscle Maker Grill has made be crave some Kale Salad…and a Whopper!

“If Men Were Angels…”

October 27, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          October 27, 2016

                                         

The time in American History around and after the American Revolution fascinates me. The founding fathers, often portrayed in our time as a harmonious patriotic rowing team, synchronized in all of their thoughts and actions, were often at odds with one another. There was dislike and animosity that had to be contended with. Several of them had their quirks. Alexander Hamilton, a part of George Washington’s cabinet at the age of 25, was a genius and also hard to live with. John Adams was the first Vice-President, not because he was Washington’s running mate, but rather because he finished second on the electoral votes of the United States Senate. The assortment of personalities and backgrounds made this first group of leaders resemble the diversity amongst Jesus’ disciples.

And this group had the important and difficult task of devising the government that would bring unity and direction to the new nation! They came from British backgrounds. It was what they knew, and for some the first president was to be like the English monarch. For others there was great fear that the new president would simply be another king, just like the one they had just gotten unchained from! Every legislation, every proposal was scrutinized. Even the design of the presidential residence and the Congressional building were subjects of debate. There were fears that the size of the president’s residence would convey royalty. It was not to be to big or to small. Like the chairs of the three bears, it had to be just right! The same thought went into the size of the property around the Congressional building. It needed to be at a distance from the residence and an appropriate amount of land around it. In other words, our founding fathers were just as concerned about looks as they were about principles and structure. They believed that they had to get it right the first time!

James Madison made the comment repeated often, “If men were angels there would be no need for government!”  But, of course, men were not angels and therefore there was an urgency for a government of the people by the people for the people.

It is obviously no different today than it was 230 years ago. As time has gone on the Constitution and government system of checks and balances has often been blurred by political interests and power hungry politicians. Getting our government to put all the oars in the water at the same time, rowing in the same direction, is now more of a coincidence than it is a strategy.

“If men were angels…” Well, our cynicism scoffs at that statement as we enter the last week and a half of the present election. Some of us remember that there are the heavenly hosts and there are the fallen angels, and we’re leaning towards the second type becoming a little more visible these last few months.

Senior Class Media Fast

October 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           October 26, 2016

                                       

I was the substitute teacher yesterday for a high school teacher who teaches seniors literature and rhetoric. The subject matter for the day was uneventful…study hall! The other major event, however, was causing the weeping and gnashing of teeth- a two day media fast!

One of the books the rhetoric classes had been reading dealt with the influence of media upon people’s lives, how it shapes our minds and opinions, and occupies much of our time. Mr. Reed, the veteran teacher, had his students commit to a 48-hour fasting from music, cell phones, TV, computers, listening to sports talk radio, and any other forum of media.

The fast began at the start of the school day, 7:45 A.M. Like confident marathon runners at the beginning of a race, surrounded by cheering crowds, the students approached the starting line of the day. In the midst of the confidence there was a heightened level of disgruntlement. Most of the seniors saw the fast as an annoyance as opposed to a learning experience. It was going to mess with their routines!

Twenty minutes into the first class two young ladies asked if they could go to the library to check on a couple of books. At 8:18 they came back repenting! On their way to the library they encountered one of the middle school teachers that they knew. He was watching a funny video on his cell phone and invited them to view the thirty-second clip also. Like bugs drawn to the light they leaned in close to the small screen, watched and laughed…and then realized! They had broken the fast less than thirty minutes after beginning. Aghast at their transgression, they limped back into the classroom and confessed of their fallen nature. One of their classmates wrote their names on the board with the time, “8:18” beside it! They recognized that this media thing was a seductive temptress!

In the next class three boys got into a discussion about whether watching that night’s Game 1 of the World Series was exempt from the media fast. Two of them were Cub’s fans. The last time the Cubs won the World Series media consisted of two tin cans and a string, as well as newspapers. Surely watching the baseball game would be allowed, almost like a last steak dinner for a condemned criminal…outside the laws of reason but within the realm of grace! One student hinted of deception.

“I don’t care! I’m going to watch it!”

“You can’t!”

“No one needs to know!”

An afternoon class amused me with a conversation between several boys about not being able to play their game systems for two days. One boy confessed that he had spent a quarter of the past year playing some on-line game in which he was ranked seventh in the world.

“Dude! Twenty-five percent of your life this past year? That’s six hours a day…every day!”

“Yes! My mom doesn’t know! I don’t think she would be very happy!”

His friend, still amazed and wondering about whether his classmate had any common sense, “Dude! Are you kidding me? That’s like all you’ve done is eat and play video games!”

“I know…crazy, isn’t it?”

I could tell his friend wanted to say “No…stupid, is what it is!”, but instead he just shook his head.

Media is second nature for most people these days, like dressing and combing one’s hair in the morning. For young people these days, if someone wants to be a radical then being “disconnected” would qualify. It’s counter-cultural! Earlier this year I was guest teacher in another class of senior students studying world political systems. The assignment for the day was to find articles on-line that supported their view on democracy. Everyone had a smart phone! Everyone! And everyone searched for news articles, editorials, blog posts to back up what they thought they believed.

Media shapes minds and influences people. The point of the high school teacher in pushing for the media fast was to make that point. From there my guess is he will spend some time talking about how the media can feed its audience mis-information that will be accepted as true! Glitzy graphics and emotion-inducing music can sometimes be more convincing than the facts!

I wish I could have subbed for Mr. Reed again today to hear of the pain and suffering…the media pangs, if you will…of the first twenty-four hours. Would the one student confess to his World Series infraction? Would there be tears from a few over having to drive home from school in silence? Would a few look haggard and bleary-eyed?

And would there be some who began to understand?

The Hope In Suffering

October 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        October 24, 2016

                                     

    People say that I’m more of an optimist! I can see the silver lining in just about any situation. If a flight I’m on gets delayed I think about the fact that the flight attendants will probably give us an extra mini-bag of pretzels during the flight. When my 7th Grade football team got beat 42-2 in a game this year I replayed in my mind several times the play where we scored the two point safety.

So it fits that I’m able to still stay the optimistic course when it comes to suffering. A week ago my friend, Greg Davis, passed away. I led his funeral service on Saturday. During the course of the week I had some heart-wrenching conversations with his family. It had been a six year journey with cancer. Even in the midst of the grief Greg’s wife was able to say that they had come to experience the hope of God.

During the service I read Romans 15:13, a verse that Greg had underlined in is Bible. It reads, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In the journey with the uninvited passenger of cancer the Davis family discovered that God is hope. Granted that discovery was paved with a multitude of tears, countless moments of confusion, and a list of questions all beginning with why, but they slowly arrived at the village of Hope.

Greg’s journey paved the way for other conversations I had last week with other people about being a follower of Jesus and the uncomfortableness of suffering. Some tainted theology emerged from people’s minds. Simply put it said what is the use of following Christ if he doesn’t protect you from things like cancer. If Jesus isn’t a lucky charm warding off evil, accidents, and illnesses why follow him? Great revealing questions that evolve out of a person’s real motives, that being “What will Jesus do for me?” People are always more comfortable with Jesus as a savior, but Jesus as Lord is not nearly as agreeable.

What Greg and his wife Jordan discovered is that God walks closely beside us. Following Jesus is not like having a rabbit’s foot in my pocket, but rather knowing that he is with me in the valleys, not waiting for me on the far side of the valley. It’s knowing in the depths of my soul the truth of that verse in Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

     Times of suffering are a part of life as much as times of delight. The hope comes in knowing that the love of God is constant and pure, a mighty shoulder to cry on and a hand to lead me on. The only person who enjoys pain and suffering is a masochist, but when the agony of life makes a stop on the front steps of where I live it gives me a peaceful assurance knowing that the Good Shepherd is standing beside me as I open that door. And that isn’t optimism, but rather heart-felt belief!

When Your Friend Passes On

October 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           October 23, 2016

                               

Yesterday I officiated at the funeral service for my friend, Greg Davis. “Officiated” is an interesting word to use in this context since Greg and I have been basketball officials for years. In fact, I think that’s how we first met…being a part of the same high school basketball officials’ group.

Then we discovered that he was teaching at the same middle school that my youngest daughter attended…then we discovered that he had been on the summer staff at Black Forest Baptist Camp…then I discovered that he had been raised in the First Baptist Church of Sterling, Colorado, another American Baptist Church! It was a series of discoveries that forged a deeper relationship.

Then the cancer was discovered!

Then I became his pastor!

Greg and Jordan had exited the church they were a part of and, to put it bluntly, they were done with church…an organized church, that is! I noticed that they still had a support group of friends who had exited the church scene along with them, and this group was on an unusual faith journey together.

Then about a month after his brain tumor was discovered I entered our sanctuary one Sunday to begin the worship service and was surprised to see them sitting in a pew on the right side about four rows from the back. Cancer has a way of putting things in perspective for a person. The church I pastored became a safe place for them to ask God the hard questions, a place where they could ask for prayer and have the congregation gather around them…literally!…lay hands on them and pray! They relocated as time went on to the left side of the sanctuary about five rows from the front and many Sundays Jordan would share the latest news of Greg’s MRI or oncologist appointment. I would see Greg sitting beside her and weeping. When I retired from the pastorate at the end of 2015 it was gratifying to see my former church continue to journey with Greg and Jordan through many difficult days, and they will continue to be a support system for Jordan and Kayleigh in the days ahead. She knows that she is not alone.

Yesterday was an emotional day for many people. The sanctuary was full of family, friends, teaching colleagues, and church folk. I found myself riding the roller coaster of emotions as I sat on the platform and then while I was speaking. I’ve presided over probably 150 funerals in my years of ministry and I rarely get emotional during them, but yesterday was different. As I thought about it last night it occurred to me that my flood of emotions may have been connected to the six year journey I had traveled with Greg, a road that was filled with as many praise-filled occasions as gut-wrenching test results.

The funeral was two hours of laughter and tears. One person commented to Greg’s parents that he had never laughed so much at a funeral. That’s good! Laughter is the sugar cube in a cup of tears. People laughed at the sharing of some of Greg’s old sarcastic comments and his brothers’ sharing of past stories, and people cried as his nine year old daughter read the letter she had written to her dad after he passed.

Death is harsh. It will hold hands with each one of us whether we are willing or reluctant. As I told those at the service yesterday, for the follower of Christ it is a confusing blend of grief and joy. There is deep sorrow over the physical departure of the person and a simmering joy because of his eternal relocation.

I miss my friend, and I’ll continue to miss him. In a very weird way one of the blessings of friendship is the sorrow of loss.

The Dangers of Freely Thinking

October 12, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 12, 2016

                

With four weeks until the election it seems that more stuff is being thrown back and forth than a high school cafeteria food fight. Social media, such as I’m using, spreads the drama quickly. Every day we are bombarded by new revelations about the past. Accusations meant to discredit and humiliate are the norm. How candidates deal with health care, foreign policy, education, and all the other issues has been pushed back to the end of the program guide. I have a hard time remembering where each candidate stands on such issues in the midst of email scandals and locker room comments.

There are Trump supporters, Clinton supporters, Johnson supporters, Stein supporters, a growing number of people who keep hoping that a knight in shining armor will ride on to the scene in the nick of time, and still others who are praying that Jesus returns before November 8!

This may be an election where there are more people a little embarrassed about who they finally choose to vote for than those who proudly proclaim who it is they support.

What I’ve also noticed is the danger of freely thinking. In the past few days my college alma mater, a small Christian college in Elgin, Illinois called Judson University, has had people throwing Facebook comments back and forth about the fact that Dr, Ben Carson is scheduled to speak on campus in the spring. Some of the words written had the commentator reaching down into the gutter and getting a handful of that really disgusting and foul-smelling mud and flinging it towards the school’s administration. How could an educational institution allow someone to come and speak who has been supportive of Donald Trump?

I remember a number of years ago when colleges fought the fights of being places of free thinking. There is great danger that the winds have changed directions in regards to that. It seems our culture is enamored with hearing what we agree with more than different ideas, and throwing sharp verbal jabs at those who hold other viewpoints.

The election is just the latest of these contentious battlefields. I wish I could say that the followers of Jesus have been different, but alas…

Christians are often the worst! Many of us have mastered “sanctimonious spiritual language” to belittle those who we disagree with. “How can you call yourself a Christian and…” It used to be that you finished the phrase with things like “…drink a Budweiser?” or “…wear a skirt that short?”  Then things changed a little bit and we ended the sentence with issues or life situations like “…say that abortion is okay?” or “say that divorce people can get remarried?”

In recent years it has changed again. Now the accusing question gets completed with words like “…say that you are voting for ______?” or “be willing to even listen to what he/she is saying?”

In a time when the church could be a safe place to express different opinions it has taken on the appearance of political preferences. There’s more free thinking happening at Starbucks than the coffee fellowship time in most churches.

What would Jesus do? I’m not sure, but many of us are hoping that he will come back and tell us real, real, real soon!

Conversing With A 5 Year Old Evangelist and Her 18 Month Old Sister

October 8, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 October 8, 2016

            “Conversing With A 5 Year Old Evangelist And Her 18 Month Old Sister”

Yesterday was “Watch the Grandkids Day!” since our teaching daughter had meetings at her school. It was an experience of gospel and giggling!

Reagan, a highly-verbal five year old, was up and ready for conversation when I arrived at 7:45. Her 18 month old sister, Corin, was also chowing down on mini-waffles as I entered the room and immediately offered me one. When I took a move to accept it she withdrew the offer…and redirected the waffle to her mouth quickly!

Denied!!!

As I sat on the couch Reagan started sharing the gospel with me, using some “gospel block” creation to explain the steps to getting to heaven.

“Granddad, this is the cross! Do you know who that is who is on the cross?”

“Jesus?”

“Baby! Baby! Baby!”, came the voice of Corin directed at me while pointing to a babydoll in a stroller.”

“Yes! That is Jesus, Granddad. Do you know why he is on the Cross?”

The 18 month old walked up at that moment with a hat in her hand. “Hat!”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“Hat!”

“He died for our sins, Granddad!”

“Yes, he did.”

The toddler was not yet impressed by that truth. She had discovered one of her brother’s Hot Wheel cars. Jesse was still in upstairs slumber, unaware of the fact that Corin now was prancing  around with his Mustang.

“Car! Car!”

“Yes, that’s a car!”

“If you want to go to heaven, Granddad, you need to believe in Jesus…okay?”

My mind was spinning like an NFL head coach fielding questions from all parts of the press room after a game. The Mustang went thundering across the wood floor, followed closely by a squeal of delight.

“Do you know what this is, Granddad?”, asked Reagan showing me another side of the gospel blocks. “This is heaven. It’s bright and sunny, and people don’t have to wear shoes.”

“Socks! Socks!”, clarified the waddling blonde pointing at the red socks on her feet.

“Yes, those are socks, Corin!”

“Good people go to heaven, and bad people go to hell, Granddad!” I did not want to straighten out the kinks in her theology at 8 A.M., and was a little taken back at her matter-of-fact usage of the word men fling around freely to make a point about their opinions and actions, or in disturbed confusion about something that has just happened…”What the hell!” And now my granddaughter had guided it naturally into her gospel presentation!

“Juice! Juice!”

“You want some juice, Corin? Okay, just a minute!”

“Someday you can go to heaven, Granddad!”

“I hope so, Reagan!”

“…if you believe in Jesus!” There was doubt in her tone! Later on I could envision her doubting my citizenship in heaven because I refused her request for a mid-morning bowl of ice cream! Her evangelism had not yet differentiated between saying yes to her requests being different from saying yes to Jesus. Jesus went to the cross for her, so wouldn’t I at least go to the freezer?