Archive for September 2017

Missing God

September 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 30, 2017

                                             

Carol and I were driving home from a wedding recently and she said to me, “I think that’s the first wedding I’ve been to where God was never mentioned.”

“You’re right! No prayers, no blessings, nothing with any spiritual meaning to it!”

Of course, why invite the presence of God if he isn’t a part of your life? Seems a bit contradictory to do that! At least this couple was being authentic in their ceremony. How many other marriage ceremonies have been spiritual in appearance, but the One who created love goes missing afterwards?

I don’t want to create a whole divine conspiracy on the basis of God not being invited to one marriage ceremony I attend, but I think we’d be idiots to think that the importance of the Almighty has not taken a dip! In many lives he’s segregated from the daily routines and opportunities. He’s like Uncle Fred who never gets invited to family gatherings any more because no one feels comfortable around him.

Instead of God being at the center of our lives many of us now look for how he might fit into our lives. He’s like that weird puzzle piece that needs to go somewhere, but I’ll put it to the side until most of the rest of my puzzled life gets put together.

The secular wedding ceremony was like a wake up call for me. In what areas of my life do I relegate God to the luggage rack, attached to the top of the vehicle of my life but strapped to a place where I can’t hear him?

In what ways am I “faking it” with my Jesus journey?

In what ways is the church faking it? In what ways is the church hindering the relevance of the spiritual faith of its people?

Those are all tough questions which are being asked by less and less people the more God goes missing.

Years ago one of the young ladies on my basketball team responded to a directive I gave to the team before the season started. I had told them that if any of them had boyfriends that they were to put them on the back burner for the next three months. This delightful young lady (who is now in law school) looked at me and said, “Coach, boyfriends are like a pocketbook. They’re just an accessory!” We still laugh at that storyline years later!

But, you know something! God has become an accessory for many of us, and has been easily shoved to the back burner!

Cheaters Never Prosper…Kinda’!

September 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            September 29, 2017

                               

This week’s news about a number of college basketball assistant coaches being indicted for bribery and other forms of corruption after a two year FBI investigation rocked the sports world. Four assistant coaches at four NCAA Division 1 institutions were arrested for taking bribes. The shoe company, Adidas, is also involved in the corruption schemes that were made public, as are a couple of financial advisors. In all, ten different people were indicted.

The investigation revealed that athletes were being paid to, first of all, sign with a certain financial advisor, and second, to sign with certain colleges that have contracts with Adidas. The family of one high school junior was demanding a certain payoff for their son to sign with University of Louisville. A couple of other parents of two Auburn players were also receiving payments as a way to get the players to sign with a certain financial advisor.

The whole story stinks of entitlement, greed, and a total lack of ethical behavior. The FBI also hinted that there may be more indictments coming. That prompts the question, “How wide spread is this pattern of seeking to gain advantages and wealth by not following the rules?”

One of the principles we were taught was that cheaters never prosper. Well, obviously they prosper at least for a season! The purity of college athletics has long sense disappeared. Now, however, the smell has filtered down into the high school ranks. Even high school coaches are getting involved in the odor of sports’ underbelly.

There’s enough blame to go around. Parents push their kids into club sports to the point that a  number of athletes are burned out by the time they are high school juniors, and others robe themselves with a thick layer of entitlement. College coaches know that their job is based on how many wins they chalk up and, therefore, many are willing to edge outside of the legal lines to gain a few more victories. College athletes want to be paid to sacrifice their bodies and hours to being a part of that success. Receiving a full ride scholarship to that university no longer seems to be enough for a number of players. Others steroid up in order to be more dominating, and still others practice academic fraud in order to stay eligible.

Sports is turning into a pastime for cheaters, because cheaters kinda’ prosper! We would be naive to think that this scenario started just recently. I was raised in Bluegrass Country, listening to Kentucky basketball on radio in my growing up days. Although it was shortly before I was born, the history of Kentucky basketball still has the distant scar of the 1952-53 point-shaving scandal. UK’s basketball season was canceled that year due to the scandal in which four players were implicated.

Sports has worn expensive suits with stains for a long, long time! Hopefully, the recent evidences of what has spilled out from it will cause people to steer back towards doing what is right and what is good, but I’m sure there will also be other people who will simply seek to be sneakier in their addiction to prosperous cheating.

Feeling My Worship Age

September 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              September 27, 2017

                                   

It was a bad sign! In the Sunday announcement sheet under informational items there was that blurb that was probably intended to be a forewarning of what was about to come!

“Ear plugs are available at the Information Booth for anyone who needs them.”

It’s a bad sign when they care about your hearing! When I was pastoring we cared also, but it was for those who had diminished hearing so they borrowed a hearing device that helped amplify the sound of the speaker or music. This was the other direction. This was: “We’re going to turn up the volume so much that you’re going to be thinking you’re standing by a jet engine on steroids! So you might want to put these in your ears!”

I’m 63 and I realize I’m sneaking up on crotchety! I’m becoming like a dear saintly lady from the church I pastored in Mason, Michigan. Grace Ankney was  a great lady who couldn’t hear squat! And she would let the speaker know that by yelling from her third row seat, “I can’t hear you!” I don’t remember what Grace’s spiritual gifts were, but she scored low on hospitality!

And here I was about to shout “I can’t hear myself!” But, of course, I couldn’t hear myself so I didn’t say it.

I realize the church I was attending last Sunday is designed for a younger crowd…soon to be younger deaf crowd…and there are all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. I’m a person of grace who is fairly tolerant about circumstances and situations. I remember the “worship wars” of the 1980’s when that period’s older generation fought hard against the new worship music that was settling upon the hearts of congregations. Our leadership council had several hours of discussion about it. We did planning retreats where we sought to figure out the direction we were going in worship, while being sensitive to those who liked it the way it had been…for fifty years!

I remember one young man from my church asking me if the lady who played the organ could take the parking brake off! On the other side, an older couple left for greener, hymnier, pastures because we had sung a couple of praise songs that had produced clapping, albeit Baptist clapping, which sounds kind of like the light patter of rain on the driveway.

And now I was that couple…longing for a calmer sanctuary of praise music. Just to be fair, the songs we sang last Sunday were all familiar to me. I knew the words to three of them, but since I couldn’t hear my own voice I never sang any of them. It wasn’t that I was being vain. Although people say I have a good voice I’m not infatuated by the sound of it. I just like to know that I can hear the words that I’m speaking or singing!

And now I’m starting to type kind of crotchety!

I’m a “has been” who is still being. This Sunday I’ll travel back out to the little congregation of twenty in a town forty-five minutes from where we live and give the Sunday message. We’ll sing some songs together in a sanctuary with great acoustics, and I’ll get a bag of fresh produce from a couple of farmers who bring in their excess each week. It will be totally different from my experience from last week where we had to park a few hundred yards away. This Sunday at Simla everyone can park right next to the building.

Perhaps that’s who I am now…a participant of a small congregation journeying together in a slow walk. At Simla this Sunday we won’t need ear plugs. Two sixth grade boys will take up the offering. There will be a Sunday bulletin, which we really won’t need because the order of worship is almost always the same. And after church people will grab a cup of weak coffee, a cookie, and stand around talking for a good 20 to 30 minutes.

That’s now where I feel at home, it’s where I sense the closeness of God and the struggles of his saints, and I’m okay with that!

Americans, Antagonists, and An Anthem

September 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          September 26, 2017

                             

Like children sticking out their tongues at one another professional football players and our president keep spitting towards the other side with no saliva involved. The National Anthem has become like the battlefield of the sports world.

It has also caused millions of people to be conflicted! Countless people voted for our president, but they also worship NFL football players. Countless other people didn’t vote for him…and they won’t let us forget that!

History is the best clarifier of the present. The National Football League rakes in more money from its starry-eyed fans and television networks in one year than some nations’ gross national income. It includes owners who are deeply involved in their communities and other owners who are always looking for a better deal in another city. (Most recently St. Louis to LA Rams, San Diego to LA Chargers, and soon-to-be Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas Raiders! Some NFL owners are not adverse to ripping out the hearts of their team-jerseyed fans!)

It includes players like J.J. Watt whose heart went out to his city (Houston) in the midst of the recent flooding from a hurricane, and other players passionate about contributing. But it also includes players who are all about themselves with egos as massive as Mount Rushmore and a sense of entitlement simply because they are physically gifted and intimidating.

On the other side is our president who someone needs to man-up to and take his cell phone away from. I’m sure that there will be a book published someday entitled “Trump’s Tweets!” Our president is the same hard-nosed egotistical man who hosted The Apprentice for serval years. Empathy is not one of his strong suits, although it showed recently in how he responded to the Florida and Texas hurricane victims.

And the focus of this fight between a bunch of stubborn alpha males has settled on an anthem that is a tribute to the never-say-die attitude of our nation!

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was first sung at a sporting event back in 1918 during the World Series in Chicago. Believe it or not, the Cubs were playing the Red Sox. Babe Ruth pitched Game 1, a 1-0 Red Sox win. The game, played at Comiskey Park because it held 30,000, was quiet until the seventh inning stretch. At that point “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played. The third baseman for the Red Sox, a furloughed Navy sailor named Fred Thomas, snapped to attention. Other civilian players followed suit and placed their hands over their hearts. The United States had entered into World War 1 about a year and a half before that. The moment was a recognition of national pride and unity. The Cubs continued the playing of the song the next two games during the seven inning stretch, and when the Series moved to Boston the Red Sox also incorporated it, but moved it to part of the pre-game festivities. The next season other baseball clubs began singing it.

The National Anthem has been a part of the national pastime for almost a century. The National Football League was late arriving at that anthem-singing party.

Both sides of this fight have good points that neither side wants to hear. Instead of being a catalyst for unity the National Anthem has become the rock that is being thrown back and forth, seeking to embarrass, insult, and divide.

I wonder what Fred Thomas would think about it. The Red Sox went through multiple third basemen that 1918 season before asking the Navy if they could borrow Thomas for a couple of weeks. What if one of those other third basemen had been sufficient? If that had been the case Fred Thomas would not have come to his salute posture that September afternoon in Comiskey Park…and, it could very well be, the song we sing before almost every sporting event I attend would not be part of the program.

Interesting that a type of inadequacy paved the way for the National Anthem to arrive. Perhaps this time a realization by all parties involved in this recent dispute might once again pave the way for us to realize that we are inadequate without one another! In a time when our country and area of the world has endured devastating hurricanes and a terrible earthquake aren’t there more important things to deal with? Fred Thomas had that thought in 1918, because he knew the war was bigger than a baseball game, but a song had the potential for a few moments to focus a crowd of people on what was really important!

When You Feel Spiritually Indifferent

September 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  September 24, 2017

                                

But I’m a pastor!

That’s usually my reaction to having an honest admittance of being at a point of spiritual stagnation. Pastors are suppose to have the glow of Moses, the wisdom of Solomon, and the spiritual chanting of the monastic desert fathers. Instead of profanity every other word we’re suppose to punctuate our language with spiritual language like “Yes, Glory!” and “Praise his name!”

So what should I do when I’m in a place of indifference? Deny it? Hope it’s like a bunion that’s on my foot that no one will see and will just go away…someday…maybe…I hope so?

I’m indifferent about a lot of things…stewed tomatoes…professional basketball, even though I’m a basketball coach and still lace the sneakers up at age 63!…Walmart…Nebraska…generic cereal…there’s a lot of places, events, and items that I am totally indifferent about. Translated: I could care less! But my relationship with the Majestic is different. I care, I love, I serve, and yet there are those times when I just want to be left alone and be spiritually irresponsible!

I’m about to slap myself into some sense!

Most of David’s songs and laments to the Lord in the book of Psalms deal with his plea for God to not turn his back on him.

“How long, Lord? Will you forgive me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

“My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.” (Psalm 27:8-9)

It’s sobering to realize that God might be saying words with similar ideas towards me. How long will I disregard his presence? How long will I ignore his importance?

As I ponder the wandering a number of solutions come to mind. Reading scripture more, or memorizing the Word; a spiritual retreat; sitting down with Oswald Chambers; getting into a weekly bible study; finding a mentor or spiritual counselor…there’s a whole book of possibilities, but getting past the apathy is the highest hurdle to jump over. The other possibilities will help me in the staying on course.

I know I’m not the only one who deals with this, and yet I think I am the only one. I’m not alone and yet I feel like I’m all alone. People who have never been passionate about God don’t understand what I’m saying, and those who have been passionate and then lukewarm like a glass of day old Coke left on the kitchen counter have a sense of where I am.

I’m heading to church in a few minutes to listen and to hear, to investigate and ponder. Indifference is not like dry erase markings on a white board. It can’t be suddenly erased in a moment, but must be gradually smoothed away to uncover the spring of spiritual water.

Hitting The Hole of the Church’s Mission

September 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         September 21, 2017

                           

I wiped the cobwebs off the golf clubs and went, along with my friends Mike Oldham and Reggie Fletcher, out for a stroll around the golf course this past Monday. None of us were going for our PGA tour card. In fact, even though it was September 18th it was the first round of the year for all three of us.

None of us were on our game. When you play one round a year you don’t have “a game”! I was hitting the ball okay, mostly keeping it out of the rough, sand, and water. You need to understand something about my golf play. I don’t get upset if I hook it, splice it, miss it, or even hit a shot off the tee that doesn’t make it past the women’s tee. I also don’t get that excited about a good shot. I just enjoy the experience, the sunshine, and the fellowship.

The interesting thing, however, is that all three of us had a hard time putting the ball in the hole. The little white ball- or, in Reggie’s case, pink ball- went to the right of the hole, the left of the hole, rimmed around the hole, and short of the hole. To putt the ball in the hole was like trying to get a Cleveland Browns’ quarterback to throw a touchdown pass! Or, I should say, a professional quarterback of any Ohio NFL team!

We laughed at our ineptness. It wasn’t that we were trying to miss, but missing was the only thing we were consistent in doing.

And it hit me that the mission of the church often goes that way as well! The mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. It’s as simple as seeing the hole on the seventh green, and yet the simplicity of the mission is complicated by our ineptness in hitting it. We veer to the left to focus on discipline problems in church members, or we veer to the right to emphasize a sub-point of a doctrinal belief. The church hits a budget issue and pulls up short of the mission. It misreads a downhill slope and winds up twice as far from the hole of the mission.

I kept asking myself how I could be on the green of a four hundred yard hole in just three strokes, but then have to putt the ball three times before it went in? How could I come so far so quickly, but then fail so easily?

In terms of the church hitting the hole of its mission, the closer it gets to completion the greater the chance of having the mission derailed. In my years of pastoring churches I experienced this multiple times. It might be rephrased as “gaining momentum”, but it seemed that as we headed towards the hole of the mission something or someone would cause us to veer to the side. Squabbles, crises, disagreements about the music we were singing in worship, arguments about the children’s ministry, division about how much ministry should be done outside the walls of the church compared to ministry within the walls…there always seemed to be something that took our ball off course.

For the church to hit the hole of its mission a couple of things are important to remember. One is that it must read the green. Sometimes what seems to be the case is not the case. That little ridge on the right wasn’t seen, or that break on the left wasn’t probably diagnosed. I can remember a few times when I thought we had consensus on a certain direction only to have it derailed by a portion of the congregation who didn’t want to say anything to begin with, but then decided to speak up as the ball was rolling towards the mission. Some of those situations were simply because I didn’t read the breaks, or misread the situation. Others were because of a passive resistant group who simply wanted to stonewall the direction. When the church misreads the green it must recalculate the direction from a different point.

Second, the church must admit it missed and aim at the mission once again. In golf there is a definite difference between professional golfers and weekend duffers. Churches are kind of like that, also! There are churches that are better at reading the obstacles and distractions that will keep it from staying true to the mission, but there is not a single church that always reads the situation correctly. Since grace it vital to who followers of Jesus are, grace must be a part of the journey. When I putted my ball and it went three feet to the left of the hole I had to be willing to start from a different point and continue my quest. It’s the same for the Body of Christ. What needs to be changed to have the next attempt be better aimed at the hole of the mission?

The game of golf is the great revealer of failure. On Monday my frequency of failing was in abundance. Perhaps my once-a-year visit to the golf course had something to do with my game being haphazard! There may be a life lesson there for once-a-year worship attenders as well, but I won’t go there! I’ll just veer off to the left, so to speak!

Re-entering The World of First Grade

September 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         September 19, 2017

                               

The six year old boy stood beside my desk and looked at me. “I’ve never had a boy teacher before. I’ve always had girl teachers.”

“Oh, is that so?” I replied.

“Yes, and I’ve always wanted a boy teacher. If I didn’t have a boy teacher by the time I’m eight or nine I was going to be really upset!”

“Okay! Well, I’m a boy!” He smiled and walked back to his desk. My morning of teaching first graders was beginning with one young man’s personal agenda being fulfilled.

Being a substitute teacher in first grade is a delightful experience…mostly! There were the moments when movement in certain students legs required them to get out of their seats and wiggle for a few seconds, and there’s always a student who wants to answer everything, be the one who is always chosen, and the one who is always first in line…but, for the most part, it’s an enjoyable experience. Someone’s pencil falls on the floor every five seconds, but no one ever throws a pencil at another student. That doesn’t become a problem until like…middle school!

Being a man…or a “boy teacher” in first grade causes the mouths of first grade students to drop open as they see the teacher of the other gender standing there as they arrive.

Some people who know me would say that my maturity level is similar to a first grader’s. At the school I subbed at a classical piece of music is played over the speakers in the classroom to begin the school day. I could not help myself as I swayed and moved my head from side-to-side in front of the classroom. The students giggled at my gyrations! In my opinion first grade needs to include a lot of laughter and giggling. Each day needs to be an experience in education, not a task in learning.

I led them on a journey with a nomad tribe, as we studied history. I made a fool of myself by intentionally saying the months of the year incorrectly and having them tell me when I messed up. I told them about my family as they enjoyed their mid-morning snack. My granddaughter is in first grade this year, and they thought that was pretty cool!

But this first grade class steered me back on the road when I was straying off-course. For example, at the beginning of the day the date is written on the board and I was forgetting to do that. STOP! As we were heading out for recess I had not taken the whistle that was hooked to the wall right by the door. One cute girl with a very serious look on her face corrected me. I repented of my omission and grabbed the whistle. I believe she has a future in law enforcement.

At noon the teacher who had been at training that morning…a girl teacher!…returned and I turned the rest of the day’s journey over to her…a little sad that I was leaving and blessed to have been a part of it!