Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Out of Shape Churches (Part 3)

April 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 23, 2017

                             

Jesus’ words to his followers at The Last Supper have new meaning for me this morning. This morning my body feels broken. Don’t worry! I understand that the kind of brokenness I’m feeling is different than the heartache-filled brokenness of Jesus, but I am “feeling it” today!

I got on a treadmill yesterday and ran a couple of miles, and then did some weight-training. My hips and shoulders are having temper tantrums this morning! They are like the stiff wind that was blowing through our middle school track practice on Friday. Besides the 41 degree temperature, the wind blowing in the faces of our runners as they did 200 and 300 meter intervals around the track was biting! What do you tell a 70 pound seventh grader trying to sprint into the wind…and he forgot to bring his school-issued sweats with him? He’s thinking of a dozen reasons why what he is doing is stupid. I’m urging him on each set of sprints. A couple of our more manly coaches ran alongside the sprinters. There’s something about having a coach run with a student that causes the runner to grit it out!

I realize that today is “a quitting point” for me! Even as I write this I’m constructing my list of reasons as to why I should be “unmoved” this morning. Everything from “hip replacement”, to Sunday being a day of rest, to needing to catch up on my bible reading…as well as a few other excuses…are coming to my mind! My hips are warning me “Don’t go past this line or else!”

Years ago I ran the Chicago Marathon. At the 22 mile mark I “hit the wall!” Not literally! that’s just what they call that moment of decision. It’s when a runner is physically fatigued and mentally tired. I had cramps in both legs. I had to convince myself that I could go on, when my body told me to lay down and die! I took my inspiration from the people who lined the streets cheering the runners on..plus the embarrassment of the sixty year old woman who passed me by!

I take these recent and distant memory examples into my understanding of out-of-shape churches. Out-of-shape churches will without question face “quitting moments” in their journeys to wellness. Avoiding pain in the present will lead to debilitation in the future!

Here’s the thing! The uncomfortableness of the needed moves and decisions toward getting in shape have the enormous potential of keeping a church from seeing the long-term. It is the most tempting quitting point. It’s “the wall” moment, and it is “the wall” moment that causes churches to give up and stay unhealthy.

Rough comparison! When I was growing up and had to go see the doctor to get a shot our doctor would give me, the one who just suffered the agony, a sucker at the end of the appointment. It was a reward…and perhaps a way for the physician to ask my forgiveness for making me cry! In out-of-shape churches it would be like giving the kid a sucker and never administering the shot!

Churches are very good at avoiding life-and-death decisions. And even after deciding to move on, the lists of excuses continues to be constructed. Remember! If put to a vote the Hebrew people would have most assuredly voted to return to Egypt! Egypt was what they knew and were familiar with. The journey out of Egypt was the unknown. If put up for a vote they would have voted to return to bondage rather than walk towards the unfamiliarity of freedom!

That Biblical story is still getting played out in hundreds of churches today!

In a personal way, this morning my hips are voting to return to Egypt!

Out of Shape Churches (Part 2)

April 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           April 22, 2017

                          

I heard a presentation a couple of years ago from a state high school athletic association commissioner who expressed the growing concern about the number of one-sport high school athletes who were getting injured. I remember him referring to the NCAA’s growing concern about this. More athletes, who were coming to college with full-ride athletic scholarships, were missing some or most of the competitive seasons because of injuries. The sports affected the most were volleyball and baseball. The main cause of the injuries was “over-use” of certain areas. In those two sports it was appearing in the rising number of shoulder injuries. Bottom line,  those muscles were overused and exhausted.

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to figure out that out-of-shape churches are susceptible to injury for the same reason. The saying that has been heard to ad nauseam is that “20% of the people do 80% of the work.” The truth of that statement also leads us to discover a couple of things. When twenty percent, or less, of the people are doing almost all of the work their spiritual exhaustion makes them vulnerable to hurt and injury. In the workout world a common term is that a certain body part, like a knee or a lower back, “just gave out!” A sudden movement or moment changed everything. In churches “the twenty percent” is in danger of the same thing happening…”just giving out!” Someone who has been heavily involved in a ministry- one of those constants that people just take for granted- suddenly stops showing up. In simple terms, they just pooped out! Exhaustion mixed with frustration frequently results in absence!

The other dilemma of the twenty percent is that some of those people are a bit warped to begin with. They may volunteer for anything, but no matter where a psycho church member is serving he/she is still a psycho! Put another way, if an elephant volunteers to work in a china shop there is bound to be damage!

Several years ago I injured my lower back. To be more precise I herniated a disc. The injury was because of lifting some heavy objects and putting too much stress on that area of my back. In my physical therapy sessions the therapist showed me some safer ways to pick up things that won’t cause injury, and some exercises that would help strengthen a weak area. Looking back at that, now it is evident to me that I was doing things wrong. Injury was bound to happen at some time.

I’m helping with the middle school track team right now. We spend a lot of time stretching at the beginning of practice and then at the end of practice. In other words, we do a lot of prep work before we start depending on various muscle functions. Years ago when I was planning on running the Pike’s Peak Ascent, a 13.2 race UP Pike’s Peak (affectionately referred to by my wife as “The Death Race!”) I would go over to Barr Trail, which runs up the mountain, and train. I’d run up five miles and then back down the five miles. On other days I’d run around our neighborhood for a few miles. Although the Ascent was a challenge my training preparation was essential in getting me to the top of the mountain…and surviving!

Out of shape churches are too quick to press a warm body, or an overly-committed body, into ministry work. They expect their volunteers to attack a mountain when they still breathe hard just going upstairs.

Healthy churches do a lot more preparation before the ministry race starts! Healthy churches understand the value of the Holy Spirit in the functioning of ministry.

Out of Shape Churches (Part 1)

April 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 21, 2017

                                

My eyes were wide awake this morning at 5:45, so I pulled my AARP body out of bed and went to the YMCA to get some exercise on the basketball court. It was the second eye-opening moment I had experienced within the past twenty-four hours. The first one was when I stepped onto a scale and weighed myself. I thought I heard a cow mooing behind me!

So I laced up my Adidas’ and played some roundball…ooo, that term “roundball” has a different definition for me today!

It’s been a while since I’ve played with the early morning geezers. My substitute teaching gig has affected my physical well-being. Two times up and back and I was gasping…and that was playing cross-court! Understand that I used to run marathons! I captained my college cross-country team. Now I shoot baskets in my driveway. It slopes downhill so the ball usually even rolls back down to me!

I’m out of shape! It happened…one candy bar and Dr. Pepper at a time. So today was my first day of trying to recover some of what I lost…or should I say “lose some of what I gained!”

It hit me as I was searching for oxygen this morning that my physical condition mirrors where a lot of churches are. They are wheezing and thinking more about what once was than about what might still be. Now…I can’t take the comparison between my physical condition and a church’s state too far. I’m not suggesting that a daily regiment of activity is the cure for out of shape churches. Filling up the church calendar with church activities may lead to death faster than anything else.

Let me suggest a couple of parallels, however! I slowly came to this point where I am. It didn’t happen overnight, or even in a month. When I ran cross-country in college I weighed 120 pounds my senior year. I wouldn’t say I was chiseled, but I also didn’t have to wear any clothes that had an “X” in front of their size. My energy level was high. I remember one Saturday morning in the Spring three other teammates joined me on a 25 mile run for charity. I think we went out for dinner afterwards. In like manner, most out of shape churches don’t get to that point overnight. It occurs over a period of time. I fondly remember my 120 pound physique, but I also realize that it was who I was FORTY YEARS AGO! It is not the reality of who I am now. I’ve been in a number of congregations that talk about how it was “back in the day!” But some of them don’t realize those days are long gone. It isn’t who they are anymore, but perhaps they can begin a new journey that will lead to a new kind of health and wellness.

This morning the first step for me was to get out of bed. I’ve played a lot of basketball recently…in my dreams! For me to recover some of my physical conditioning required my willingness to take that first step, that first roll out from under the warmth of my blanket. Out of shape churches need to take that first step before they take a second step. What that first step is differs, but it must emerge out of a willingness to change. We advance a gospel that transforms, but we so often think of transformation in regards to those people who aren’t walking with Jesus yet. Transformation, however, relates to congregations just as much…and maybe even more…than individuals! Transformation comes out of a congregation that has a willingness to recognize what kind of shape they are in, admit to it, and roll out of bed!

Two hours after my early morning exercising my body is saying to me, “What did you do to me? Never do that again!” Getting back in shape, especially for a guy who turns 63 in two weeks, will not be without discomfort. The Advil bottle got opened this morning! My willingness to change will be tested tomorrow when I do some kind of exercising…or not! Getting in shape will involved some pain and suffering.

Out of shape churches face the same dilemma. Are they willing to endure some discomfort to recover their ministry and realize their purpose? Most are not that willing! Many would rather die in peace than lose the fat that has accumulated around their calling.

Some hard words for today that might tweak our warped understanding of reality, just like my knees will remind me all day long that I don’t run like I used to!

Stay with me, and I’ll try to get to some more encouraging words tomorrow…if I’m able to roll out of bed!

Seventh Grade Social Responsibility

April 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            April 19, 2017

                                 

In my substitute teaching experiences I’ve recently been teaching in the “Portable Village”, a series of four classrooms outside of Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. I’ve worked my way down the classroom line, starting with math last week and following it up the next day with science, and then teaching social studies yesterday, and in line to finish the classroom course with Language Arts next Tuesday.

The Social Studies class I taught yesterday is the same class I did the January long-term substitute position for. I’ve gotten to know these 125 students of “Portable Village”, and enjoy them immensely!

Yesterday my assignment was to show part of a video that dealt with world poverty and possible solutions to it. In the midst of the video I was to stop and get into some discussion about our understanding of what poverty is and looks like. All four classes I taught had incredible discussions. (It also looked impressive when the assistant principal walked in and the class was quietly engaged in the discussion. What a miracle! A classroom of seventh graders quiet for a substitute teacher!)

All of the students were aware of poverty, locally and worldwide. A few of them had encountered poverty first-hand through church mission trips to distant lands, and one student who had recently moved to Colorado Springs from Uganda had experienced poverty first-hand in his family. Hopefully he will teach his classmates about the effects and struggles of poverty.

The struggle I sensed in the midst of these students is the “tipping point”…knowing about the issue and being concerned about it compared to knowing about it and being committed to being a part of the solution of it! What will cause them to tip to the side of commitment?

Unfortunately, the older generations of our society have frequently modeled behavior and attitudes that communicate life purposes of accumulation and being self-absorbed. We are elated to be in America, and separated geographically and life style-wise from the poverty of the world. I sit on my Starbucks stool as I write this, recognizing that the two dollar cup of coffee I’m sipping costs more than a vast number of people in the world will have to feed their families with today. A few minutes ago a mom pulled up in her Expedition, ran in, grabbed her mobile order of four $5.00 drinks and four pastries, which she handed out to her kids in the back seat. Doing the calculation I figured she had just willingly shelled out $35.00 for minimal nutrition. I make that judgment and then realize that I’m about twenty pounds overweight myself!

The challenge will be to bring this group of seventh graders, as well as other students around their age, to the point that they willingly want to make a difference…without injecting Baptist guilt into the equation or catchy gimmicks or celebrity endorsements. Part of the solution, in my belief system, is spiritual. Followers of Jesus are called to care with more than distant sympathy. I come from a tradition (Baptist) that emphasizes personal salvation through a relationship with Christ while we gorge ourselves at church potlucks. Having social responsibility has not been as important as having enough casseroles for people to feast upon. We talk about poverty and hunger even less than we do about tithing.

But maybe this group of seventh graders will glean some things from the new boy from Uganda that will allow them to take a step in a responsible direction! Maybe, just maybe!

Redefining What Resurrection Means

April 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 16, 2017

                             

It’s Easter Sunday! As followers of Jesus we point to this day as the changing agent in our faith journeys. It gets referred to as Resurrection Sunday, sometimes with conviction and commitment…and sometimes because we’re paranoid people about the Easter Bunny! In about two hours I will be standing in front of a small town congregation of about 25 people proclaiming the hope of life after death, and life out of death. It has caused me to reconsider what resurrection means for this group of faith journeyers, and for myself.

When my friend Steve Wamberg and I started traveling out to Simla, forty-five minutes east of Colorado Springs, a little over a year ago, we encountered a church that had experienced its heyday two or three…or four decades ago. Some of the people still recall the Sundays when the sanctuary pews were filled in a place that seats about one hundred and twenty-five.

But things changed! The main industry in town shut down. Kids grew up, went off to college, and didn’t come back. Other people grew old and passed away and there were no others to take their places. Baptists did battle with Baptists and left for the Southern Baptist church on the edge of town. Other Baptists just turned on the TV and watched Charles Stanley.

When Steve and I started driving out and speaking on Sunday mornings we encountered a church that had a fear of closing. They can’t afford a pastor, even though there is a parsonage right next door to the church. I’m not sure if and when they will be able to afford a pastor.

As the weeks and months passed, however, there was a growing sense of hope in the midst of that small group. We’ve found what I like to call “the rhythm of community.” There’s been a couple of conflicts along the way, but you know what they say about Baptists…where there’s two Baptists there’s at least three opinions!

It has caused me to redefine resurrection. Whereas in many churches the success of Resurrection Sunday is tied into how many showed up, in Simla resurrection is tied to the growing hope of new life in the midst of an aging building. It is intimately tied to the hope of new life in the midst of impending congregational death hanging over the people.

Personally, it has brought new life into the spirit of a tired and fried pastor. You see, resurrection isn’t just about the people in the pews. It’s also about the people who lead the people in the pews.

Last summer we were able to get a few kids to go to church camp, the first time that has happened in recent memory. This year there is a congregational effort to get each of the children who are age-eligible to camp. Resurrection can sometimes grow from a seed of hope into a tree of determination.

This morning I look forward to hearing a ninety year old man named Henry lead one of the prayers. In his speaking to the Lord he anoints my soul. I look forward to seeing the five or six kids we have enjoy an Easter egg hunt after church. I look forward to hearing of this week’s farm stories from two sisters who run the family farm. I’ll chat with a former county commissioner named John about how blessed he and his wife are and how thankful he is for the grace of God. Victor, a fifth grader who comes by himself, will show up in his Sunday suit. Three year old Eric will arrive with his Minion hat on and be cared for during the children’s story by the older kids as we sit together at the front of the sanctuary. We’ll endure the music from a music machine that is about as Mayberry as you can get! The church moderator- a man named Ray who talks kind of like Andy Griffith- will lead the worship.Two of the kids will take the offering up.

Resurrection gets experienced in the shared life of the saints, and this group of saints has come to understand the hope of an empty tomb in an entirely new way.

The Quandary of Little Kids

April 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             April 11, 2017

                                   

Jesus loved kids. In fact, he told the grown-ups that they needed to be more like kids if they wanted to enter the kingdom of God. There’s a situation that happens in the gospels that gives us some understanding of Jesus’ thinking. His disciples are trying to keep kids away from him. “Sorry, kids! No children’s story today! Beat it!” The people who brought the kids, who we can assume are the parents, would have been a little taken back by that, I’m sure. All they want, according to Matthew 19:13, is for Jesus to place his hands on their children and pray for them. We’re not talking photo op here!

Jesus sees what is happening and Matthew 19:14 gives his reaction. He says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

     Jesus following was not to be exclusive, but inclusive.

A few days ago a restaurant a news story went national about a restaurant in Mooresville, North Carolina that banned children under five from dining there. Caruso’s had a number of customers complain about children being disruptive and affecting their fine dining experience. Since banning young kids business has improved greatly.

I hear the concern, and yet I wonder how Jesus would have reacted. The closest thing to a fine dining experience we read about in the gospels is Jesus eating with tax collectors and prostitutes. He also tells a parable about a banquet, where those who wouldn’t be invited to anything become the invited because of the refusal of others. Children aren’t mentioned in either story, but Jesus always had a thing for those whom the culture had minimized and considered of little value.

The quandary that people have about little children is that they…they…make noise when adults are trying to converse, or enjoy their martinis, or watch NFL football. Let’s face it! We like to be in control, and little kids haven’t learned that the world doesn’t revolve around them…because we think it revolves around us!

Okay, maybe that was harsh! But there is some truth in that statement. I’m sitting in Starbucks on my usual counter stool as I write this. Sometimes when a parent comes in with a couple of pre-schoolers the whole atmosphere of the place changes…and that’s okay!

Recently all of our family, ten of us, were flying back from San Diego after a great family vacation with our kids, son-in-laws, and grandkids. Our two year old granddaughter had a couple of meltdowns on the flight home. I’m sure some of the passengers were annoyed, and my guess is that a few of them thought that little kids shouldn’t be allowed on planes, but I’ve met a number of adults who also act like two year olds, and those are the ones who should be grounded!

The restaurant in North Carolina is just one of many that has ruled out little children. Part of the reasoning is that there are parents who bring their children, and it seems like the kids are the ones who are in control; and there are parents who think their kids can do no wrong, even when they are setting the place on fire! With different philosophies about parenting there comes conflict and unrest. That was evident when we took our grandkids to Legoland outside of San Diego.

What a quandary! Is there a Jesus’ solution? Is it as simple as having adults not play in the McDonald’s play areas and kids not going to upscale restaurants? No, nothing is that simple. What is evident is that we like to create our personal comfort zones that are void of distractions and nuisances. In a culture that trumpets diversity most of us expect things around us to be homogenous. We want to hang around with people that are like us.

What would Jesus do? I think he’d probably have a picnic in a wide-open park where anyone could come! He’d be someplace where he could bless people, not separated from them.

A Two Year Old’s Stairs Shepherd

April 9, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 9, 2017

                               

On Friday I had the opportunity to spend the day with my just-turned two year old granddaughter, Corin (Rennie). Her regular child care provider was battling a sickness so “Granddad” got called up from the Reserves to Active Duty.

About an hour into our time together I thought that I caught a whiff of something…potent! Time to change the diaper, so I said, “Rennie, let’s go change your diaper, okay?”

“Okay!” she replied, a sure sign of the fact that she had made a direct diaper deposit. She headed for the stairway leading to the upstairs, and proceeded up the steps…one step at a time like her brother on the playground monkey bars. I followed along behind ready to stop a tumble. My focus, although she didn’t know it, was on her.

A few minutes later, now wearing a dry diaper and the clothes for the day, she began going back down the steps…one step at a time. She would sit on a step and slowly slide her feet off of the step below it while also sliding her butt off the step she was sitting on.
I went before her! I positioned myself below her, but facing her, and made sure she safely came down the stairs one step at a time.

I’m speaking at church this morning about Psalm 23, the Lord is my shepherd! It tells us about the protection of God and the care of God. He is a Shepherd that goes before us, but also follows along behind us. In essence, he is always there for us.

Rennie is only slightly aware that her granddad is looking out for her, being in the place and position I need to be in order to make sure she is okay. I’m like the shepherd of the stairs for her!

My guess, however, is that she is more aware of my protection on the steps than I am of my Shepherd’s presence of protection! Today, at least, I’m going to seek to have a heightened awareness of what my Lord is doing, where my Shepherd is leading, and how my God is following!