Archive for the ‘Bible’ category

Jesus and Pizza

September 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  September 19, 2018

                                  

My friends, Ed and Diana Stucky, were telling me about a hike they made to an area in Colorado that has some magnificent red rock formations. They were surprised to find people dressed in attire that made them resemble biblical characters. They discovered that the group was there to film a video clip for their church’s Easter service in a few months. A film crew was getting set up. 

And then there was Jesus! He was eating pizza! Ed thought it was pepperoni pizza! 

There’s something strange, but also refreshing, about seeing Jesus sitting on a rock eating pizza. Kind of like seeing the middle school principal dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle at school on Halloween! It just seems out of character or, more accurately, outside of what we expect.

Jesus holding a slice of thin crust pepperoni pizza made my friends stop and stare…and smile!

My daughter, Kecia, who teaches third grade, is always amused by the disbelief she sees on her students’ faces when she encounters them in non-school settings like Target or at a park. She is associated with their understanding of school so much that they have a hard time believing she can be any other place. 

Jesus and pizza would be like that…unexpected and kinda’ cool!

In Jesus’ time people had rabbi stereotypes and messiah expectations. If I read my Bible correctly, there were a number of times when he did and said the unexpected. Sometimes organized religion is more comfortable with a Jesus that is sanitized and spiritually sterile than the Christ who offers grace and forgiveness for the sinful and unclean. In a way, we expect to see Jesus with a loaf of bread and a glass of water, not pepperoni pizza with a splotch of sauce nestled in his beard.

The refreshing thing about Jesus is that he is not confined by our nearsightedness or restricted to our personal legalism. He operates on the basis of who he is, not on who we decide he is to be.

In our concern over keeping anything with a hint of possible sin to it away from Jesus we’ve created a messiah who is about as exciting or appealing as a drink can of Ensure! Thus a non-dancing Jesus, who rarely laughs, never wears clothing featuring vibrant colors, and consumes food that is void of spiciness and sweetness. 

I’ll take a pizza-eating Jesus. Heck! I’m even okay with a Jesus who also has toppings of sausage and ham!

Blogging For the 955th Time

September 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              September 16, 2018

                                         

Today marks the 955th time I’ve sat down at my laptop and pecked out a blog post. 955! That’s almost a thousand! Okay…it’s 95.5% of a thousand! When I was in high school I longed for 95.5%. I would have considered it perfect if I had ever received a mark that high!

At the rate of my writing I’ll hit “the summit”…I mean my thousand blog post about the end of November. Since I’ve been substitute teaching quite a bit so far this school year (16 out of 22 days) my frequency of posting has dipped…but I receive so much of my writing material from being with the students that it’s a good tradeoff…kinda’ like continuing education!

When I write my 1,000th blog post I’m not sure what I’ll do. In the world of print, newspapers know how many copies they sell and subscribers they have. Authors know how many book copies they’ve sold. I, however, don’t have any idea who reads what I write and who doesn’t. Last week I sent a Facebook birthday greeting to a former college classmate of mine. She replied with a thank you and then said she enjoys reading my blog. 

Didn’t know that! The parent of a player I’ve coached said the same thing to me. I barely know her, but she reads the words I write that often bring chuckles and sometimes even profoundness. 

955 times. 

How did I get into it? The seeds for my blogging sowed back in 1980 when I went to be a part of the staff of First Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan. The church had a weekly newsletter and I began to write a column each week for it. It began a discipline for me where I’d be called upon to create something in writing each week. 

When I went to pastor First Baptist Church in Mason, Michigan the newsletter column habit continued…plus I had to come up with a sermon every Sunday. Some weeks the words flowed out as smoothly as breathing and other weeks the words seemed like elusive air bubbles that I couldn’t quite grasp.

36 years of ministry with the last 31 of those being the senior pastor resulted in the writing of about 1,300 sermons…and now 955 blog posts!

My first blog post was on December 30, 2008. It was entitled “Missing Mary”, and it focused on the fact that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had come up missing in our church’s nativity scene. 

The seed thought for my last post, before today’s, came from the Japanese science fiction movies we used to watch, where the dialogue was about three seconds ahead of the moving of the actor’s lips.

In between those two blogs I’ve written about having coffee with Jesus, psycho parents of young athletes, substitute teaching, growing old, my parents, middle school church camp, friends who have died, being a grandparent, coaching, pastoring, and questions about how churches function. 

People ask me where I get my ideas for my blogs and the answer is…from watching and pondering about life. Not very profound, but that’s it.

How much longer? Who knows? At the rate the world and technology are changing it could be that blogging will be about as relevant as cassette tapes in a couple of years, but until that happens I guess I’ll keep writing about life and the pursuit of it!

Remembering 9/11 and Other Days

September 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 11, 2018

                           

I was part of a foursome playing in a golf benefit tournament for an organization that provides housing and services for homeless families. In fact, we were on a goofy hole where we had to replace our golf ball on the green with a tennis ball and putt it until you hit the flag. And then we received the news!

The plane hitting the World Trade Center wasn’t an accident. It was the first of two planes hitting the twin towers in a terrorist attack. I remember that we made the turn after the ninth hole and went into the clubhouse and watched the news on TV. I can’t remember any of the other golfing events of that day, just that I was there when the events of 9/11 unfolded.

Each one of us has just a few events or moments in life where we can recall what we were doing, who we were talking to, or where we were when an earth-shattering event took place; that is, an occurrence that changed life for us, or changed how we viewed our world. 

And when I say events, I mean in our own lifetime, not in the past centuries before we were alive. For example, as a follower of Jesus the events of his Passion Week…death and resurrection…define who I am now, but it occurred before I was born.

For me, the first event that changed my perspective of life happened when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was a fourth grader at Williamstown Elementary in Williamstown, West Virginia. I walked home and threw myself on my bed and bawled. In my simplified view of politics I was grief-stricken by the fact that someone had WANTED to kill my president. The world wasn’t suppose to be like this. It was my “Come to Jesus” moment with the realization that I lived in the world that lacked harmony and goodwill.

Other assassinations were a part of our nation’s path in the years following that, but my view of the world had already been changed by Lee Harvey Oswald.

In July of 1969 another event happened that was pivotal for me. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I was sitting in the living room of our neighbors’ house in Zanesville, Ohio. He was a Nazarene pastor, and we sat there and watched the fuzzy images on the TV screen. It changed my view of the possible. A moonwalk was something that had been a part of science fiction movies. It put our world closer to the plot of original Lost In Space TV series that seemed unfathomable. To actually have someone walk on the surface of the moon broadened my idea of the possibilities of what people can achieve. 

From the destructiveness of one person to the inventiveness of a team of achievers to the depravity of an organization committed on causing destruction, these are three events in my lifetime so far that stand out as defining moments.

It’s different for each one of us. I’m not sure what someone who has been born since 9/11 would say is a defining moment for him/her. Just think! There a very few students in high school and younger who were alive when 9/11 happened. It is pre-history for them. They live in a  world transformed by 9/11, and yet don’t quite understand how it changed things for them.

There are numerous moments that slightly change us, but only a few that transform us. There are only a few where we can look back and remember what we were doing, where we were, and who we were talking to when “the moment” happened. 

9/11 is one of those for me. I remember and I never will forget.

Clueing In The Almighty

September 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 3, 2018

                               

(The seed thought for this blog post comes from hearing a sermon by Rev. Ed Stucky)

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13-14, NIV)

Sometimes we treat God like he’s the parent of teenagers…and we’re the teenagers! Remember those days? You know, when, in your opinion, your parents were completely clueless!

We believe it’s necessary sometimes to tell God what he doesn’t seem to know. It’s one of the ways we can stay in control, believing that God doesn’t have it all together, a divine being with developing dementia. 

The Bible gives us more examples of people trying to correct God’s poor decisions than people who took him his word. Moses tried to straighten him out at the burning bush. He was sure that God had mistaken him for someone else, kind of like Isaac mistaking Jacob for his brother Esau. 

Ananias felt God needed an update on who Saul (to be renamed Paul a little later!) was and what he had done. Like a royal advisor, he brought necessary intel to the Almighty All-knowing on this man coming to his city. 

If the Scriptures are filled with examples of people doubting God’s directives we can be assured that it’s a recurring story in our faith journeys. When God directs it’s rarely for something that we would naturally do. For instance, he didn’t have to tell me to go to Starbucks this morning and order a cup of Pike Place coffee. He knows that it’s part of my routine. However, if while I’m at Starbucks he nudges me to give a $20 bill to a man who has just walked in I might very well inform him that I only have one “Jackson” left in my wallet. To which he would reply, “So?”

Faith in the Lord is a slippery thing. We talk about it, learn scriptures that convey it, read stories of it’s existence and magnificence…but when the rubber meets the road of our life we challenge Jehovah God’s intelligence and wisdom. It is the evidence of our fallen nature. We’re prone to believe in the wayward guidance of the Deceiver that sounds good rather than the trusted voice of the Deliverer that causes a queasiness in our digestive systems.

Lord, we believe! Help us in our unbelief! 

Going Back To Familiar Places

August 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 26, 2018

                            

In recent weeks I’ve revisited places that had been part of my life from the near or distant past. Some of the spots brought back memories of when I ran around in child-sized jeans, white tee shirts, and Converses…like my old elementary school, Victory Heights, in Winchester, Kentucky, where I attended first and second grade…and Central Baptist Church in that same town where our family frequented three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. 

Other places I revisited brought tears. I drove past the farm where my Papaw and Mamaw Helton lived until about 25 years ago. It now like an ongoing rummage sale, cluttered and in disrepair. grimaced at the loss of what was.

I I traveled up the road to the cemetery where my dad now has been laid to rest beside my mom, and I weeped and smiled and weeped again, thinking of the good times and now the loss.

This past week I substitute taught in the classroom where my friend, Greg Davis, taught. If he was still teaching it would have been his 8th Grade social studies class I would have been instructing that day. Greg passed away not quite two years ago having fought the brain cancer courageously for 6 years. There were a multitude of Fridays when I would have lunch with him in that classroom, talking about the triumphs and the struggles. As I led four classes of eighth graders this past week I was acutely aware of previous conversations I had had in that classroom. 

This morning I return to the church I pastored for 16 years to give the morning message for the congregation’s 60 year anniversary service.  A quarter of my life has been spent in that building leading the congregation. I retired at the end of 2015. Even though I delivered almost 700 sermons in that sanctuary, today will seem strange. It will be the first time, besides the Sunday when I was candidating to be their pastor in June of 1999, that I will deliver a message NOT as their pastor. I’m now “a former!” 

I’ll look forward to seeing folks I haven’t seen in two and a half years. I’ll remember and smile, and maybe even cry.

There are places we’ve been that bring chuckles back to our soul, and places that cause us to remember the pain…and often the most meaningful places of our lives are the ones that have been a mixture of the two extremes.

At my old church I remember the incredible people, the special stories that got written and lives healed, and I also remember the difficult meetings and the individuals who had the spiritual gifts of agitation and annoyance. 

Of course, I can also remember the same chapter titles from my 15 years as pastor of the First Baptist Church back in Mason, Michigan…the saints and the sinners, the blessed and the beasts.

When you live most of your life from a place of grace, love, and hope you see the warts and the warmth. 

Today I’ll look to remember the changed lives and disregard the challenges to the Body’s life. And God will be glorified!

The Following of Fallen Leaders

August 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 20, 2018

                             

The allegations against Bill Hybels, Lead Pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, have caused a torrent of unrest and a flood of tears in the Christian community throughout our country. Hybels began Willow Creek back in the 1970’s and it has influenced the thinking and ministry of thousands of churches around the world. 

The allegations of inappropriate flirtations and embraces that lingered too long have come in the midst of the tidal wave of other “MeToo” movement outraged voices. The accusations against Hybels have traced acts of inappropriateness back to the 1980’s. 

It’s sad! It’s sad for everyone that has had to speak in this tragedy, from accusers to accused to church leaders to the two people who had already been named to succeed him as pastor, and who now have had to back out of their decisions. 

I’ve read several books that Bill wrote, attended a few Willow Creek services, been a Global Leadership Summit conferee, and referred back over the years to lectures from those Summits that Hybels gave. 

And now the church of Jesus Christ has its mouth open in disbelief! Questions thunder from the pews. Was it all a farce, a big show with no substance? When he was seeking to attract unchurched people to attend Willow Creek what were his true motives?

When leaders fall questions abound. We want our leaders to be above reproach. In fact, when a leader with a great personality has accusations hurled at him/her most of the followers initially react defensively in support of the accused. 

Side step! We all fail and fall. When a leader we follow fails, however, it’s similar to when we were kids and heard a rumor that Santa Claus isn’t real. We refused to believe it until some of our friends confirmed the suspicions. We don’t want our leaders to be fallible!

Back to the blog road! When people idolize certain personalities they tend to not see the impending avalanche until it’s too late. 

There are those people who are cynical and skeptical about everything…and there are those people who would believe the earth is flat if a certain person said it. 

So…in recent months big-time football coaches, famous actors, politicians, mega church pastors, priests, denominational leaders, film directors, civic leaders, other professional athletes, and CEO’s have been held responsible for past actions. Accusations have been made against our current president, but his supporters have been acting as shields in defense of him. We’re not sure yet how that one will play out.

When followers become disillusioned with those they’ve believed in, it leaves a mixture of apathy and outrage in its wake. Who is speaking the truth if the truth tellers are found to be suspect? 

A conflicted form of grief fogs in our understanding of how life is to be lived and how the world operates. And where there is grief there must be a chapter of healing- slow and painful, seeking to find that firm place to step onto. 

And, finally, where there is grief over what has been and what is there will be the ripple effects of loss and revision. Things will change. The people who journeyed in the caravan known as “church” will not be the same. The disillusioned will seek to find different kinds of oases and we can only look at them and say “We understand!” 

Is There Another Word?

August 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      August 7, 2018

                                  

Carol and I were watching a DVD movie last night and I found it ninety percent enjoyable. It was a comedy that was creative, included surprising twists and witty humor. The only distraction for me as I watched it was the language.

Okay! Call me old-fashioned and a fuddy-duddy, but profanity more and more seems to be an attempt to fit in rather than searching for that word that raises the level of the manuscript or dialogue. 

In the film the f-bombs that got tossed out as abundantly as bird seed in a park for the pigeons had no purpose. That is, they didn’t add anything to the film’s plot or flow of action. They just…were there! Like they were trying to make the film more appealing, more certain of it’s “R” rating. 

It seems that our culture is very sensitive about language that could be construed as degrading to a certain gender, ethnic group, or social class, but indifferently tolerant towards language that if uttered in the range of our moms hearing would have them sprinting to us with bars of Dial soap in their hands. 

The “F word” especially has become mainstream. Even people who don’t say it are being drawn towards it. I hear words like “freaking” and “frecking” being used by people who are being drawn to the edge of the cliff but they still have enough self-control to not jump into the “ff-ing chasm!”

A basketball coach friend of mine, whose teams have been successful year after year, doesn’t allow profanity from his players at practice or during games. He holds to the biblical principle that James writes about in his New Testament letter. James spends a good amount of time talking about the use of the tongue and the effect of our words. He writes, Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26, NIV). 

I’d like to take this “language” issue in another direction, however. I’d like to think of the benefits, the positive directions, that our words can take us. Proverbs 12:18 tells us, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

I live in the world of words. Quite often as I write my “Words from WW” I sit and ponder what the next “right” word should be. What I write can lead to apathy or interest, laughter or yawning, confusion or clarity. And so I search for the word to help paddle the blog boat on down the stream.

We live in a culture that is language lazy and more concerned with looking relevant than intelligent. It is a culture that’’s comfortable with shallow talk instead of communication that goes deeper than superficial.  Deep ideas and profound words of wisdom make us think, and not everyone is comfortable with that.

What do you think?