Archive for November 2017

The Quandary: When Your Wife Says She Wants Nothing For Christmas

November 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     November 29, 2017

        

I’m married to a woman from Italian descent filtered through North Dakota. It’s an odd mixture of passion and stoicism that emphasizes the importance of family and the simple things of life. Translated that means our grandkids make out like bandits at Christmas time while Grammy and Granddad enjoy the gifts of watching and laughing. Snapshots developed in our minds of family Christmas scenes are the greatest gifts we enjoy.

That being said, Carol tells me each year “Don’t buy me anything!” It’s a problem! Christmas Day comes exactly seventeen days after her birthday. For her birthday she says…you guessed it!…”Don’t buy me anything!”

So what do you do when your wife tells you to “go x-nay on the presents-nay”?

For Mother’s Day I usually give her a gift card to Lowe’s or Home Depot so she can go and pick out plants and flowers to re-create her garden each spring. She loves that! But a gift card to Lowe’s in December would be greeted with a North Dakota blank look.

We could always use a new frying pan or broom. How exciting would that be to open up a wrapped frying pan?

She’s not a jewelry person. In fact, she has about four pseudo-wedding rings that sit on the counter. It took half a dozen boxes of Cracker Jacks to create the collection.

Her vision has not been good since before we got married. Some would sarcastically say that’s why she married me- she didn’t get a good look before the wedding! Actually, Carol had a cornea transplant about thirty years ago. She reads the newspaper from about an inch away. But what do you give someone who can’t see well? She’s already got five pairs of sunglasses to help her on sunny days. She has an e-reader that expands the type.

We’re at that stage in life when neither of us really needs anything. Like I said, we’re simple people. Years ago I went to the Holy Land with a group of people from American Baptist churches in Michigan. My roommate for the trip, Rev. Tom Bayes, bought his wife a diamond necklace while we were in Tiberias. What did I bring home to Carol? A roll of Israeli caramel candies! Why? You guessed it! Because she told me not to buy her anything!

So, what to do? A Lowe’s gift card stuck to the side of a box of Cracker Jacks with a ring inside? I’m envisioning a gift such as that bringing her passionate Italian side to the surface. When she opens up that box of Cracker Jacks and discovers that new ring she’s going to grab me and smother me with passionate kisses…in my dreams!

A Creature of Habit

November 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 27, 2017

                                  

Perhaps you can identify with what I’m about to write. I am a creature of habit!

My habit-dominated life begins with my wake-up routine. I rise from bed fifteen minutes either side of 6:30. If I’m still in bed at 7:00 Carol knows that I’m either sick or dead. The second hasn’t happened yet so it’s usually the first!

I shower, brush my teeth, shave…the usual morning routines, head downstairs to feast on…yogurt! If I’m not substitute teaching I’m usually out the door by 7:15 headed to my local Starbucks, where I am now sitting on the last stool on the right looking out at Pike’s Peak. If someone is already sitting on that stool I make an adjustment…and sit on the last stool on the left! It is on one of these stools that I peck out my blog each time, sipping Pike Place coffee that has been flavored with cream and two raw sugar packets. The baristas at Starbucks know that I’m there for my coffee with my reusable Starbucks cup, and that I will stay there until I’ve gotten my second free refill with my Starbucks Gold Card.

Coincidentally, the book I finished writing, and am now writing the sequel to, gets created at Library 21C in Colorado Springs from the last chair on the right  at a counter that is looking out towards Pike’s Peak. Go figure!

I drink juice from a plastic cup that looks like it belongs to a first-grader. I wear low-cut white socks to bed that get taken off sometime before I fall asleep. I sleep with my “blankie” that is hovering around forty years old. I like to read for an hour or two at bedtime…underneath my blankie…that covers up my displaced white socks.

When I go to our fitness club I run/walk on the treadmill, do weight training, swim, and then shower in that order. Always…in that order!

By now you’re thinking I’m a bit anal, but if I had the habit of betting I would wager that you’ve got some ingrained habits as well.

Habits bring order and structure. They’re like the side wall of a pool that you know you can grab on to when things seem to be getting a little too hairy!

When I retired from pastoral ministry I suddenly realized that I had the freedom and the choice to go to a worship service on Sunday morning. The first Sunday after retirement, guess what I did? I got up and went to worship at First Baptist Church in Colorado Springs. The next Sunday I got up and went to a Church of Christ that friends of ours belonged to. The habit of worship continued to resonate with me. It was foundational, and continues to be.

Habits, however, need to emerge out of a purpose, a reason. Why is it that I attend Sunday worship? Because of my love for and relationship with Jesus. Why is it that Carol and I hold hands and pray before we share a meal together? Because we are grateful! Why do we contribute to ministries, churches, and other charitable organizations? Because what we have is all God’s to begin with, and we believe that giving a portion of what he has blessed us with is a privilege and an obligation.

Sometimes people adopt habits because their family had the same habits. They, however, never bought into the purpose of the habit. When a crisis happens, or a change occurs that causes them to evaluate what is going on in their lives the habits often get tossed to the side because of their rootlessness.

It seems that I serve a God who is also into the habit of doing certain things that have meaning and purpose. I’m extremely grateful of the fact that he is forgiving, gracious, and loving. That those habits are rooted in his desire for relationships with people. God has good habits!

Perhaps deep within my soul is that yearning to be relationship with him as well, and that yearning has caused some of my spiritual practices to become holy habits.

Dancing Grandkids

November 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 26, 2017

                                        

When the music starts our three grandkids start gyrating! Uninhibited, and often bordering on spasmodic, they dust the wood floor in the living room with their socked feet.

On Thanksgiving Day, after feasting on casseroles, turkey, rolls, and pie they took to center stage and worked off dinner to the music of Imagine Dragons “Thunder.” The oldest, Jesse, throws himself around like a balloon that is losing air. He puts all of himself into it, sometimes on his feet and other times on his belly or back.

Reagan, the middle child, leans towards “princess ballerina” moves, graceful and calculated. She keeps her distance from her brother’s widespread routine and slows down the pace to savor each moment.

Corin, the two year old, moves her hips like a hula dancer. She goes from standing to falling to standing to falling. For someone her age she has potential…if she can stay clear of her brother’s spinning legs!

They twirl and spin, creating as they go. The audience of grandparents, parents, aunt and uncles watch from the safety of couches and chairs, applauding the effort and energy.

There’s something about kids and dancing that is renewing. It reminds the older audience of days long past when they also swayed and swung to music with no thought of throwing their backs out or breaking an ankle. And so we stand in awe punctuated with chuckles at some new twist in the midst of a series of twists and turns.

Dancing grandkids is a glimpse into the joy of heaven, unreserved delight and total commitment.

Jesus gave us a picture of the importance of being childlike in our living a life of faith when he said “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17, NIV)

Think dancing kids caught up in the rhythm of life.

Jesus is telling us, “Look at your children! Watch them! Learn from them! Dance life with them!” Some of us reply with the excuse, “Lord, I don’t know how to dance!”

And Jesus says, “That’s your problem! You still think dancing is a series of steps and haven’t learned that dancing is an attitude and a release.”

Next time perhaps I’ll dance with the grandkids, but today I’ll simply dance through life.

Verily, Verily!

November 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        November 25, 2017

                                              

“Not in my house! Not in my house!” bellowed the basketball player to the camera after blocking the shot of an opponent.

“That’s how you do it! That’s how you do it!” screams the wide receiver who has just made a touchdown catch.

“Go back to Michigan! Go back to Michigan!” trash talks the Ohio State defensive tackle after he has sacked the quarterback.

I’ve noticed a growing trend in college and professional sports. Players have to repeat themselves as they trash an opponent, or immediately after making a good play. Saying a statement once isn’t enough. Saying it twice let’s the audience know that the player thinks he is all that! Saying it three times in a row means he believes he should be on ESPN Sportscenter that night.

In each situation, however, the focus of the repetitive language is the player. It is an indication of the arrogance of athleticism. In the old days before trash talking became “a thing” we used to get psyched for a game, pumped up, and motivated to win. There was no strutting for the cameras…maybe because there usually weren’t any cameras! Nowadays making a great play isn’t enough. There is the verbiage and performance that follows the play that seeks to convince the viewer that the player is the next football messiah.

Jesus was a bit different. In the Gospel of John he often began a statement with the words “Verily, verily…” (King James Version) or “Truly, truly…” (RSV). It was an indication that what he was about to say was the truth. Saying verily twice indicated that what was about to be said was important for the listener to hear. In John 5:24 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

In the Upper Room Jesus said, “When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (John 13:21) And then when Peter felt that he had to profess his devotion, Jesus said “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:38)

When Jesus repeated himself it was to state a spiritual truth, or to foretell what was to come. It wasn’t to boast, but rather to guide.

Today and tomorrow as athletes bluster in front of the cameras I think I will speak back to them and say “So? So?” In fact, their performance is just “so-so” when compared to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. After all, scripture tells us that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and tongue confess.

That is something to proclaim loudly and often!

Thankless Living

November 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             November 23, 2017

                                            

I was talking to a friend of mine recently and an acquaintance of both of us came up as a subject. My facial expression must have given me away because he asked me what the problem was? I had to explain.

The person he was referring to always seemed to come at life in a negative, pessimistic way, and I explained to my friend that I tried to minimize my contact with this other person. I feel a bit guilty about that, but it’s the reality of the situation.

Everyone of us probably knows someone, or a few someones, who fall in this category: people who lead thankless lives that see nothing positive happening. They would complain if Jesus turned water into white wine instead of red. They are the type of persons who Chick-Fil-A would never hire simply because of how people perceive them.

Thankless living people find it close to impossible to give thanks to the Lord, because they believe they have nothing to be thankful for. Thanksgiving Day is torture for them. Three football games become an escape from all the thankful people around them. They count down the hours until Black Friday where they will complain about the lines and the lack of good deals as they trudge from store to store with downcast faces.

Some thankless people have gradually taken on the cloak of despair as a result of the lives they’ve had to lead. They’ve been on the receiving end of verbal abuse for years, and now they can’t see any light. Some have been disappointed too many times and now see disappointment as the norm.

I wonder if that was a factor with the ten lepers that Jesus healed in Luke 17. Only one of the ten ever bothered to say thank you. The other nine who had stood by the side of the road and shouted to Jesus to have pity on them were healed, and now headed to the priests to show them that they were now clean. It would have been too much of a transition to go immediately from thankless lives to thankful living…at least for 90%!

Today I’ll look for the many reasons to be thankful, to give praise for the blessings of God, for his lovingkindness and mercy. Hopefully you’ll do the same!

Hand Me Down Life

November 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 19, 2017

                                

Yesterday the freshmen boys basketball team I coach had their team picture day. The varsity and junior varsity squads also had their pictures taken. A few of the varsity players were looking at the uniforms that the freshmen were wearing and remembered that they had worn those same uniforms two years before when they were playing junior varsity. If a former player three years older than them had been there he could have said that he remembered wearing the same uniforms when he was on the varsity.

Hand me downs. The freshmen uniforms for this year had been handed down through the years. The life of a freshman basketball player is saturated with “hand me downs!”

Being the youngest of three meant that a good part of what I had growing up had been handed down to me. Thank God that I was always the original wearer of my underwear…Towncraft “tightie whities” from J.C. Penney’s. Most everything else had been worn or used by my brother or sister. My bike had the dings and dents from two previous people learning how to ride it. My baseball glove was about as big as the rest of my body because Charlie had used it, and was still using it.

Some of my toys were hand me downs. The plastic cups I drank from had my siblings teeth marks on them. Most of my tee shirts and coats had my brother’s body scent still attached. It was a day when garments lasted longer, not necessarily because they were better made, but because they had to endure.

At some point in my life, however, the purpose of the hand me downs shifted. Several books that are a part of my personal library had been handed down to me by Dr. Floyd Norton while I was the Assistant Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan. Floyd was a fan of Elton Trueblood and believed his writings would benefit my calling as a pastor.

And then there was the hand me down wisdom and learnings that Chuck Landon, senior pastor of that church, passed on to me. Things to do and not do, how to work with boards and committees, effective visits to some of the elderly folk, how to plan a sermon…all these and more he passed on to me.

In our journey most of us become thankful for what was passed on to us, and, after we realize the value, we long for the day that we can pass on our hand me downs to others. A couple of years ago I passed on to Bill Hale the portable communion set that Rev. Elmer Boyd’s widow had handed down to me. Bill was entering a late-in-life career as a pastor. And the clerical robe that Dr. Ben Dickerson’s widow, Alice, had passed on to me I in turn passed on to Rev. Rich Blanchette as he entered the ministry.

We go from being blessed to being the blesser, and whereas I wasn’t that keen on having my brother’s sweatshirts relocated to my dresser drawers I was especially thankful for the gifts from some saints that encouraged me to press on.

Elton Trueblood still has a section in my library, but Rich and Bill have received a number of other books from me to assist them in the fulfillment of their calling. Some day I’m sure they will do the same. The older I get the more precious are the things passed on to me.

Generic Christianity

November 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           November 17, 2017

                                         

Starbucks is decorating their stores with Christmas…err, Holiday gifts and ornaments. Although they have a dark roast coffee called “Christmas Blend”, as far as I can tell it is the only reference to the name we place on December 25. They use words and terms like “joy”, “peace”, and “give good” to point to the festive holiday time without saying Christmas.

Starbucks keeps it generic in order to be more appealing…and raise the profit margin. I don’t fault them for this. Although I enjoy my coffee I don’t see it as a spiritual experience to sit on a stool in a Starbucks for an hour…as I’m doing now!

Christianity and the Christian church, on the other hand, should stand for something solid and transformative. The Christian faith is decorated with words like “redemption”, “transformation”, “grace”, and “forgiveness”. They are pillars built on the sacrifice of Christ.

It seems that churches are in danger of becoming generic in their presentation, their terminology, and their beliefs. I’m not talking about churchy terms like benediction, narthex, Eucharist, and sacraments. No, I’m going in a different direction…kinda’! Instead of mirroring Christ, the church too often mirrors culture. Instead of counter-cultural we mostly go with the flow. Instead of transforming we have been mostly transformed…by the NFL, The Bachelor, and CNN and Fox News.

There are encouraging signs, however! The relief efforts of various churches and faith organizations in recent months to help those affected by flooding and hurricanes has been awesome. It reconnects with the early Christians in Rome who would minister to those dying of smallpox. The epidemic that killed as much as a third of the population in AD 165 spared no family. Even the emperor, Marcus Aurelius, succumbed to it. Families would push their sick out of the house and into the street to die alone. Followers of Jesus, however, remembered their Savior touching lepers and healing the sick, and so they willingly became infected with the disease in order to show love and compassion to those who were dying. John Ortberg, in his book Who Is This Man? (page 38) refers to sociologist Rodney Stark who argues that one of the primary reasons for the spread of the Christian faith was because of the way Jesus followers responded to sick people. Comforting the afflicted gets us back to our roots.

Generic Christianity sets up a buffet table of doctrinal sample and avoid…like the prime rib of beef and the peas and carrots. This looks good for me and that has no place on my plate. Generic faith gets customized for my taste. Prayer may have a prominent place but grace gets avoided; worship is appetizing but confession is about as appealing as week-old fruit salad.

Authentic Christianity is life-changing and, perhaps, that’s why it gets avoided. It requires our surrender, our yielding.