Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

“I Don’t Like Faith!”

July 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  July 16, 2019

            “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’…” (Matthew 17:20-21, NIV)

Last Sunday I was speaking at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado…or, as I refer to the folks of the small congregation, the Saints of Simla. As is my custom, I also do a children’s story that goes along with the sermon theme of the day.

I asked one of the older kids to define the word faith. He gave a great answer, saying that faith is “believing in someone to the point that you trust him with your life.”

Awesome answer.

I asked a five year old boy if he would help me illustrate what faith looks like. He stood beside me and I explained that I was going to ask him to close his eyes and fall backwards. I assured him that I would catch him as he was falling. All he had to do was have faith that I would be true to my promise.

Instead of closing his eyes he brought his hands up and covered his eyes with them. Once again, I assured him that I would catch him. He seemed to be a little unsure of this.

Maybe someone had told him about my experience in the seminary class called Ministerial Duties where we practiced and performed baptisms on our fellow students. (Yes, we did!) Bonnie Bell was my baptizing partner and when we practiced without the water she had been reluctant to trust that I could catch her as she leaned backwards. I said, “Bonnie, trust me.” And she did…and I dropped her like a lead balloon on to the floor. 

This boy, however, only weighs about 40 pounds, so I said to him, “Trust me.” I counted to three.

“One, two, three.”

On three instead of falling backwards he just sat down on the floor. No fall, no faith, a lack of belief that Pastor Bill could do what he said he would do. 

It was too scary for him, and when I asked him why he didn’t fall backwards he looked me in the eye with concern on his face and replied, “I don’t like faith.”

Classic!

I worked those words into my sermon that morning with the adults, because the words of the five year old echo in our hearts. There are enormous areas and situations in our lives where we don’t like faith. Faith is risky. It demands a plunge into the unseen that, once begun, can’t be halted…so we don’t like to even begin to lean. 

Churches are like that, also. They adopt a budget that gets referred to as their “financial faith vision”, and then a  number begin grousing about how unreasonable it is. 

I recently connected with an old college friend, who had also been one of the groomsmen in my wedding. Randy was diagnosed with a serious illness a number of years ago that weakens the heart muscle. He had to step out of his middle school teaching position because of it. He has doctor visits and checkups, but he credits the progress in his health to the power of prayer and the healing of Jesus. It’s his picture of “falling backwards and leaning into faith.”

“I don’t like faith.”

I said to the little boy, who looked at me with fear in his eyes, “It’s okay. Most of us have a hard time with it, too.”

Laughers, Lamenters, and Losers

July 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  July 13, 2019

                        

I was telling my sister a story from my middle school substitute teaching experiences of this past year. It probably was the one where a seventh grade boy tried to hide in the library and play video games on his cell phone. 

She laughed and said, “Oh, Bill, you make me laugh every time you come to visit us!” 

Shortly after that we drove past a section of run-down houses and properties along the banks of the Ohio River that made us shake our heads and I said, “I’ve come to realize that there are those people in life who make you laugh, those you make cry, and those who just make you shake your head.”

Laughers, lamenters, and losers.

I’m in the laughing category. I had enough lamenting during my 36 years as a Baptist pastor. There was plenty a Sunday where someone who looked like they had been sucking on lemons before they arrived at church, continued siphoning the joy out of the congregation. When I retired…kinda’…at the end of 2015 laughter moved back in with me. 

Being a coach and a substitute teacher with middle schoolers brings multitudes of laughter into my life. 

Like the kid who decided he wanted to sit under his desk one morning as school was beginning. My advice to sit IN his seat went unheeded and so he found himself in the principal’s office before we had even said the pledge of allegiance.

Or the young lady who noticed that I was giving nicknames to several other students and she wanted one. So I named her “Beano”, which was just a slight variation from her real name. I heard her grumble to her friend, “Oh, great! He gives me a nickname that deals with farting.” The next year I changed it, after discovering what a great young lady she was and her level of intelligence. She became “Braino”. She liked that better.

I love to laugh. In most situations of life (Notice I said most!) I can find an avenue towards laughter.

Lamenters are those who have endured the traumas and trials of life and you feel for them. Long illnesses, tragedies, unfair circumstances, heartaches…the list of life events leaves the listener saddened and empathetic. 

There are some lamenters who feel almost at home in the residence of drama. They wear the moments like a dark sweater that fits well. 

Lamenters sap our energy. We hurt for them, try to walk with them, and offer encouraging words to them. 

My dad was a laugher and my mom was a lamenter. Through 65 years of marriage he encouraged her and walked with her. He loved her dearly and they were about as devoted to one another as a couple can possibly be. 

Lamenters aren’t bad people. They tend to simply be more pessimistic. Laughers are, more often than not, optimists.

But then there are the losers! That is, those people who just make you shake your head. They are the ones who after hearing what they did, you mutter to yourself, “What was he thinking?” They are folk who overslept the day common sense was being distributed, and tend to think that the solution to their financial debts is just one more lottery ticket away. 

Like the man in Oregon who burglarized a house, along with his cat. (Does that make his cat a “cat burglar”?) He was caught INSIDE the walls of the home. He had eaten two and a half cupcakes that were in the refrigerator, and had put on a “onesie” that belonged to the woman who lived in the house. The cat was wearing a tee shirt. It’s a story that you read and you just shake your head…”what was he thinking?” 

Laughers, lamenters, and losers, that pretty much sums up people. I suppose I could have come up with a few other “L’s” for categories like “Lame”, “Laid Back”, and “Leave Me Alone!”, but I’ll just LEAVE it at that!

Grace Makes Me Squirm!

July 9, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     July 9, 2019

                                  

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV)

When it comes to foreign languages I’m suspect! Always have been, from two years of Spanish in high school, a flunking quarter of Latin in college, and a “Did Not Pass” in Hebrew one fateful term in seminary. I could blame it on my Kentucky and Southern Ohio roots where English words are pronounced differently or just man up to my weakness.

It drove me to cheat! Yes, that’s right! In Mr. Gerling’s Spanish 1 class at Maysville High School I looked for any way to avoid flunking, so there were a few times where I glanced at someone else’s “examen” (I just used Google to find out the Spanish word for exam! See!)

So when I received a “B” in Spanish the feeling of accomplishment was tainted by my own feelings of guilt. What I received I hadn’t earned. It made me squirm, but, of course, I was not forthcoming with the sharing of that knowledge with my parents. 

There is something about us, about our nature, that makes us uncomfortable about receiving something we haven’t legally earned. I should say “most of us”. The recent college admissions scandal is an example of people who have used their influence and wealth to gain something not earned, and they didn’t seem to feel uncomfortable over the situation until they were discovered.

But I was “squirmed” by my Spanish B! 

I think of that classroom episode when I ponder the grace of God. Cheating on Spanish tests is not the reason I think of grace, but rather that feeling of guilt- Baptist guilt, mind you, the worst kind!- that descended upon me.

What I’ve found is that a lot of followers of Christ are very uncomfortable with grace. It’s like they snuck into the ballpark and suddenly found themselves in the VIP seats. There is that nagging feeling about receiving something that was not earned. 

It makes grace, this amazing gift of God, so uncomfortable to receive. 

Many followers of Jesus resort to one of our foundational societal norms: earning whatever it is we desire to receive. Most of us desire to be loved. Some people go through their whole lives trying to earn their parents’ love. Some spouses try to earn the love of their husband or wife, even though they’ve said marriage vows that say as much. We desire to be loved.

Followers of Christ desire to be loved by God. Some accept his unconditional love and experience the embrace of His grace. From my 36 years of pastoral ministry, however, I will tell you that most Christians are so uncomfortable with the grace of God that they seek to earn it. 

They serve out of obligation. They worship out of duty. They pray out of a sense of  responsibility. They read scripture as if it’s a chore. The spiritual barrier in their lives is the acceptance of God’s grace. They just can’t quite go there. It feels…what’s the word…unearned!

And that’s because that’s what it is! Unearned. It goes against the grain.

There are, mind you, other people who are on the other end of the spectrum. That is, they take the grace of God for granted. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Over the years the people who have embraced the grace of God and lived their lives refreshed by His grace are a small congregation. Many others fluctuate between grace-filled living and trying to earn the love of God. I know, I’m one of them!

I squirm as I admit that, even more than I squirmed when the B showed up on my report card for Spanish 1. 

Bathroom Humor

July 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      July 2, 2019

                                       

I’m not sure when it became okay, because it was never quite okay with my mom. She was kinda’ proper and well-mannered. I say kinda’ because I can still see her looking my dad in the eye and saying, “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” 

So for me to be comfortable with bathroom humor must have happened away from our home. It may have started in high school while I was hanging out with my friends Dave Hughes and Mike Fairchild. For some reason belching and farting became normal and welcomed. All of us coming from families where such actions were shunned, perhaps we felt freed when we were together to live on the wild side and exercise the fine art of the fart. 

It could have also started as a result of using the outhouse at my grandparents’ farm in Oil Springs, Kentucky. Long before there were port-a-johns there were outhouses. My grandparents’ outhouse was balanced precariously beside the creek that flowed behind their house. No one went swimming in that creek!

So by the time I got to college I had been well-versed in bathroom humor. Bill Schultz at Judson College was known for playing “Bombardier” while he stood on his toilet. Your mind can probably figure out the reason for the name!

Artie Powers used to come into the restroom where I was “sitting”, take paper towels, get them wet, and then throw them over the partition into the stall I was occupying. There was more than one time where he had a direct hit on me, leaving a nice big wet spot on my shirt or pants.

We started creating a new kind of language to fit the crime…er, humor. “SBD’s” stood for “Silent But Deadly”. There were certain people that disguised themselves as conversationalists, but were just biding their time before infecting the scene. We categorized various types of flatulence like the “Squeaker”, “The Blow-out”, “The Great Escape”, “Time Released Capsule”, “Eighth Wonder”, and “Rhythm and Blues”. Marc Didier was known for his “Blue Flame” performed for the Sunday evening restaurant crew at the Ramada Inn across the street from the Judson College campus. All of us who worked there on Sunday nights were college classmates. We were awed by his “talent”!

Bathroom humor is a gift from God. There, I said it! It breaks the stiffness of overly-rigid religious people who seem to believe that Jesus never smiled, laughed, or ate beans. It’s not a part of our fallen nature, but rather a sign of how God created our physical bodies to properly function. Guys I’ve been in bible studies with, on mission teams with, prayed with, and been in deep spiritual conversations with I’ve also laughed with uncontrollably because of a category of bathroom humor. 

My oldest daughter, who teaches third graders, lets her students know at the beginning of the year that flatulence is a natural part of what we do. There are giggles that ripple across the classroom, but it calms the nerves of her new students and their anxiety about their new teacher.

My friend, Ron McKinney, another teacher, has mastered the SBD around me. I always try to stay upwind from him. When he seems to be trying to extend a conversation while standing close to me it’s a sign that the air raid siren is sounding. One year he abstained from eating meat during Lent. The increase consumption of bean dishes made him a potent weapon until the resurrection of Jesus. 

If you asked my family who the best belcher is our youngest daughter, Lizi, would be the unanimous selection. She is amazing in her deep burping proclamation voice. It’s her gift! Our family has come to expect to be amused by it.

Some might read this and frown at the uncouthness of it. BUT (one ’t’) my guess is that most people will smile and chuckle…and maybe wonder exactly what Marc Didier’s “Blue Flame” was?

Yelping The Church

July 1, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 30, 2019

 

My wife is a “yelpster”! She uses Yelp to see what people have said about restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions, and businesses. On vacation we choose the eating establishment on the basis of what the Yelp reviews tell us. Sometimes we’ve been thankful for what the review has said and we’ve experienced. Other times we’ve wondered if the reviewer was at a different restaurant than the one we went to.

It’s amazing how one customer can talk about a restaurant in such glowing terms and another person can give a review that makes it less appealing than the school cafeteria. One gives it five stars and the other one star. Amazing the difference!

I noticed that people can now give church reviews on Yelp. The Bible refers to the followers of Jesus being “the salt of the earth”, but a person needs to take the Yelp church reviews with a grain of salt. One review talks about how friendly and welcoming a church is and that they have coffee and snacks available. Another talks about the biblical application to everyday living that the sermon emphasized. Still another talked about how great the music was, almost like being at a concert.

OR there were reviews that criticized the music, trashed the sermon, made fun of the pastor, lambasted the greeters for not greeting. And these were reviews of the same churches where reviewers had experienced almost divine encounters. 

Yelp is the new proclaimer! So when you invite your new neighbors to come to Sunday worship with you they may very well say that they will talk it over and get back to you…and then bring your church up on Yelp for the decision. (Church strategy: Have its members flood Yelp with great reviews!)

Here’s the thing! Yelp is all about the customer…where she can get the best service, where the best steak is served, where a trustworthy mechanic is located…it’s all about the buyer, the customer. How many times can I write that word…customer?

The church is all about the Christ. For many of us our “custom” has been to worship on Sunday morning as a part of a congregation where the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and worshiped. That’s our custom, but we aren’t customers.

It’s a sign of how the proclamation of the gospel has been altered when we get the idea that we’re looking for the best deal, the best music, the greatest preacher.

I get murmurings and open admissions from so many people- followers of Jesus, mind you- who talk about swapping churches, changing churches, trying a different church, as if they are changing their bed linens. There’s no connecting commitment, no sense of being a part of a spiritual community. In fact, “community” is seen more and more as existing in other places and other groups- the school they teach at, their softball team, the Starbucks they hang out at, the folks they watch the football game with. 

Perhaps Yelp is just another analyzing method for showing what the church no longer is. 

I Wish I Would Have…

June 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 15, 2019

                                      

A friend of mine made a wise statement today as we waited together in the Calgary airport. His dad had died at the age of 62 after sustaining a brain injury in a fall. My friend, a month into his 65th year, says he does not want to live his life out of the whine that says “I wish I would have…”

This past week was the third mission work trip I’ve been on with him. He’s vey much about helping people by using the skills and knowledge he has gained over the years, and he has become passionate about that pursuit.

That is awesome! It’s also probably not the norm. My estimate is that there are more people who live with the outlook that says “I wish I would have…” than there are people who say “I’m blessed to be able to…” There’s more people who preside in the land of regrets than living their lives for a reason.

“I wish I would have budgeted better.”

“I wish I would have studied more when I was in school.”

“I wish I would have spent more time with my kids.”

“I wish I would have valued rest as much as I did my work.”

“I wish I would have thought about the consequences before I committed the stupidity.”

The list is long and torturous, the tears tragic and wet. Oh that there would be more people to understand why in the world they are here!

When you meet someone who comes to that understanding of purpose-filled and healthy living it impresses you. It makes you ponder what would happen if there was ever a whole village of people who lived with that outlook? 

Or even a whole block that adopted that mindset! Wouldn’t that be something? They’d probably send a national news team to cover it.

Or even a church that seeks to live out the gospel, however that may look, more than padding its stats and increasing its numbers.

Instead we’re pummeled with stories of regret and sadness that make us wonder what is wrong with people? 

Maybe this life of purpose, living for a reason, maybe it could just start…with me!

In The Midst Of The Blessing

June 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 13, 2019

                              

Our lives are filled with waiting. We wait to go through security at the airport. We wait to see the doctor. We wait to leave and we wait for others to arrive. 

We also have those situations in life where we are waiting for something to begin. We wait for the movie to start and we wait for the light to turn green. We wait for the new baby to arrive and we wait, years later, for that baby to walk down the aisle with his new bride.

Sometimes in life, however, we may be waiting for something that we are already in the midst of. 

Blessings are like that. I hear people talk about looking for a blessing, or praying for a blessing. The implications are that the blessings are always in the future or haven’t happened yet. But what if we’re in the midst of the blessing? What if we’ve been walking on the bridge of blessings that connected the before with the after?

Do we consider that God has answered our prayers to be blessed already and we’re in it? Blessings are too often seen as “not yet happening”.

I write this from a beautiful church camp location in British Columbia. Five other men and I are here this week doing work projects for friends of ours who are the camp directors. As our projects have progressed and come to completion we’ve been prone to stepping back and looking at what has been done.

Like blessings, however, the tasks were being accomplished as we were in the middle of them. Completion is just another phase of the journey.

Recognizing that blessings are happening in the present, in the moment, is a perspective that evades many people’s understanding. There is the danger of always looking to the future for the gold pot at the end of the rainbow and never rejoicing in the peace of the present. 

Oh, that there would be more people who sense the touch of God’s hand upon their lives right now, this moment, today! Oh, that there would be more people who have the awareness of God’s guidance and love now, not the warped sense of reality that thinks the blessings are always on the other side of the fence.

What a tragedy it is when someone is waiting to be blessed and he misses the fact that it commenced a while ago!