Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Feeling It!

March 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 25, 2017

                                          

There is a TV commercial airing these days from a high-tech mainstay that promotes one of their products that can help assess the shooting ability of a basketball prospect. Showing it several times during each March Madness college basketball game gets noticed by viewers. They add a small “megabyte” of humor to it, but the point is clear: Technology is a valuable tool in assessing talent and potential!

Moneyball was a book and movie about how the Oakland A’s baseball team used statistics and probabilities to figure out how to put a winning team on the field with a small payroll. I loved the movie! Once again, however, it brought the concept to the forefront of using technology and statistics as the determining factors in making decisions.

“Feeling it” seems to be getting pushed further and further back in the decision-making process. I can appreciate that. Hunches, intuition, and feelings are prone to being misread and misleading. If the Cubs had ended up losing the seventh game of the World Series against the Indians their manager, Joe Madden, would have been crucified for following his gut feeling and using relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman on short rest. He would have been rooming with Steve Bartram!

But, thank God, there is still some room for following what a person is led to do or say. Thank God Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have a statistical probability!”; or Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t encourage Luke Skywalker with the line “May the analytical findings print-out be conclusive for you!”

It seems that churches have bought into the information and analysis age as well. One program that is being sold right now promises to be able to help churches fill their sanctuaries on Easter morning. Follow the program and have success.

My cynical side has always been a bit suspicious of a church whose worship leader guides the congregation into worship, complete with raised hands and tear-filled faces, but ends the gathering after an hour because there are two more worship services scheduled that morning. It’s like we trust the leading of the Spirit to a point…er, a time…and then the emergency brake gets engaged. It’s like leasing God instead of buying into him!

What happens when a church is “feeling it?” What happens when the Spirit is truly leading? Unfortunately, most times in recent history when the church has “felt it” has gotten communicated in grandiose projects such as new building campaigns and launching satellite campuses. “Feeling it” doesn’t seem to surface in the relational areas of being led to ask for forgiveness and the practicing of grace. It seems to be in gigantic Solomon temple-sized visions! Perhaps that has made the church, and its people, a bit hesitant about the whispers and leadings of the Spirit.

In my old age I still lace up my sneakers from time to time and play hoop. A couple of weeks ago I was playing with some young guys and every shot I took except one went in. In two pick-up games I made like… ten baskets (Not that I was keeping my “statistics” or anything!)!

“Feed the old guy!” was the increasing emphasis because the old guy was…”feeling it!” It went against success probability and 62 year old player analysis, but they kept giving me the ball and I kept burning the nets.

That “feeling” doesn’t happen very often now, although I still have a “shooter’s touch”, but when it does you’ve got to go with it. To carry it a bit further, there is nothing quite so frustrating as having someone “feeling it” and someone else reluctant to feed the fire.

That sort of summarizes the church, doesn’t it?. We are a people of faith, hatched by an unbelievable God-story… driven most of the time by statistical probabilities!

The Entitled Church

March 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 March 23, 2017

                       

     A few days ago I wrote a piece on the entitled church attender. I presented the idea that there are a lot of church attenders who mirror one of our cultural themes as they relate to the church. That is, there is a heightened sense of entitlement, and focus on what the church can do for “me”, as opposed to how I can join a community of believers in service and ministry for Christ.

An old friend of mine responded to that writing with another view that got me thinking. Having lost her husband in the last year she experienced a church that seemed to place its needs above her grieving. She had held a couple of positions within the congregation, and it seemed as if the church was more concerned with her continuing on in the work of those positions than it was in her journey of grief.

She was right on! The shoe is on the other foot this time! There are a number of churches who treat their servants like the Borax Mule Team. The focus is on getting things done, as opposed to being a community of believers who lean on others and are available to be leaned on.

We talked about it quite often in my years of pastoring: burn-out! The exhaustion of the saints and the pastor. It seemed that there was seldom good balance; that it was either the pastor burning the candle at both ends, or the twenty percent of the saints who were doing too much. Sometimes it was the pastor who drove “the mules”, and sometimes it was the church leaders who barked behind the pastor like an army drill sergeant!

Rarely were there situations where the rhythm of the saints and the clergy found a healthy balance.

And so my friend finds herself, after years and years of serving, now wondering about the church. Did it consider her to be like middle-management in a corporation? Did it really care for her, or simply care when it was convenient?

Honestly, that scenario has been played out too many times. Sometimes the church even uses the excuse of the Great Commission to minimize the importance of its messengers! “We’re all about Jesus, so put your pity party on the back burner!”

Entitled churches are simply gatherings of entitled church attenders who have control of the reins!

“Hahh, hahh!” says the guy with the whip riding behind the mules.

Switching Pockets

March 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 20, 2017

                                

I am a creature of habit in so many ways. Last night Carol started to make scalloped potatoes to serve with the hamburgers I was cooking on the grill. I stopped her! “We”, meaning my family growing up, always had either french fries or potato chips when we had hamburgers. So we had to make a trip to the store to get a bag of chips…and one other bag in reserve!

Habits! Habits are traditions that have become natural reactions.

I’m sitting on the last stool on the right at Starbucks that looks out at Pike’s Peak. Habit!

In the morning I shower, dress, comb my hair, brush my teeth, and shave…in that order…every morning…no variations!

I get the morning newspaper and flip through to the sports section first before I read anything else!

Whenever I’m doing work on my book manuscript I go to the public library and find a cubicle to create some words in the midst of.

Recently I’ve been dealing with another habit that I’ve tried to change. It’s simple and silly, and yet so hard to change. It involves my wallet and my left hip pocket.

You see…I’ve always carried my wallet in that pocket…always! But last week a hole started appearing in it, which clearly outlined the top part of my billfold. In the past when that has happened I’ve headed to Old Navy and simply bought a new pair, but this time someone made the simplistic suggestion of switching pockets…to move my wallet to my right hip pocket and my comb and handkerchief from right to left!

So I did that, and it is not going well! I’ve dropped my comb out of my pocket numerous times because it has suddenly gone from left to right at sometime during the morning, cozying up to my displaced wallet, and then falling to the ground when I reach for the billfold. I keep reaching for my hanky in my right pocket and finding my wallet there. I reach for my wallet in my left pocket and don’t feel it, which brings on a moment of panic about where it went. The answer…eight inches to the right…doesn’t occur to me until after the cold sweat surfaces.

Habits are hard to break! There’s a pocketful of lessons in there somewhere. We get entrenched in systems that lead to stagnation and frustration, but we can’t imagine things ever being done differently. Even when a hole gets worn in a pocket…or the carpet…we go on with our daily living habits as usual.

Lord knows that churches have hole-filled habits that need to change, but tend to cause the weeping and gnashing of teeth when they are changed. We always said that it took at least three Baptists to change a light bulb…one to change it and at least two others to stand there and comment on how nice the old one was!

Of course, there are habits that should never ever change…like the caring of the impoverished, seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus, being light in the midst of darkness, sharing the good news of Christ and being a reflection of his grace, love, and peace. It seems , however, that those are often the habits that aren’t deeply ingrained. They haven’t left their imprint showing through to the outside of the pocket.

Habits!

I just felt a sneeze coming on and reached for my wallet! Darn it!

There is an increasingly good chance that I will be going to Old Navy sometime today!

The Entitled Church Attender

March 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             March 19, 2017

                              

There is a lot of talk and conversation these days about entitlement…from government programs to children of helicopter parents to job wages and benefits to kids sports. Entitlement could be a defining term for our culture. We hate it and yet we expect it!

Entitlement has entered through the front doors of the church as well! This past week I was listening to the morning host of a Christian music station as he launched into a discussion about finding a new church. One of his co-hosts had invited him to visit her church. The discussion flowed around what he might tell her afterwards if he didn’t enjoy the experience?

There was much laughter and humorous remarks related to the subject. How the host approached the subject left me a bit chilled. His opening was something like this: “Recently my family and I have been looking for a new church and been trying out some different places…”

His tone gave me the impression that changing churches was kind of like deciding on what restaurant we’re going to have lunch at today? How will the service be? Will we feel comfortable? Will we have our needs met? Does the time suit us? Will we like the music? How will we be made to feel special? Will it be easy to get into and out of?

He seemed to indicate that changing churches is no big deal, as difficult as deciding whether or not to get cheese on that burger I’m ordering!

But, of course, it goes with our culture. All those questions place “me” as the focus! After all these years we’re firmly traveling through a period of time where people don’t understand the purpose and mission of the church. The church simply reflects our culture, as opposed to being counter-cultural.

Perhaps the radio host had a good reason for leaving his old church. Maybe there was some doctrinal issue. Perhaps his church had lost its understanding of being the hands and feet of Jesus. Maybe the way it treated women and minorities was out of line with the gospel. Maybe the worship service had become an hour of entertainment.

The way he began the topic, however, made his previous place of fellowship sound like an old sock with a hole in the heel…tossed to the side!

Counter-cultural would have the host say something like this: “My family and I recently began a search for a new church to journey with. It wasn’t that the congregation we had been journeying with was bad or anything, but they didn’t expect anything of us. They didn’t expect us to be willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the gospel, and didn’t expect us to understand and incorporate the idea of servanthood into our lives. So we’re in search of a fellowship that will challenge us to live out of faith in word and deed.”

Wouldn’t that be a twist in our thinking? It would go completely against our culture’s question of “what can I get out of it without putting anything into it?” Of course, we read that idea into some of our hymns and praise songs. “Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed me white as snow.”

We sing the song, say “Thanks Jesus!”, and then stroll out to the church parking lot saying “Where shall we go for lunch?”

The Church’s Go To

March 8, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 8, 2017

                                     

In sports there is a saying that rings true. If a team needs a basket, a first down, or a final out they have a “go to” player or play that they are confident will give them the needed result. It is not a coincidence that the Cavaliers get the ball to LeBron James in crunch time, and that the Golden State Warriors get the ball to Kevin Durant…er, Steph Curry…er, Klay Thompson. Okay, okay! The Warriors are not a good example for me to use!

Back to the point I was trying to make!

Churches have a “go to” also. Once in a while it’s a person, but usually it’s the bottom line of their congregational culture. Whereas with professional sports teams the “go to player” is a positive most of the time, in churches the “go to” is more often than not a negative.

Churches, in general, resist change. At best change is tolerated as long as it doesn’t threaten what people are comfortable with. When changes threaten the congregational culture there is almost certainly going to be a shaking that happens. Picture a tree in autumn. If a strong wind happens most of the leaves on the tree get blown or shaken off. What remains, however, is the tree trunk and branches. A church’s “go to” is the tree trunk. New ideas and thoughts might be present, but a wind of unrest will scatter them, leaving the church’s trunk in place.

Spiritually sounding churches will say that their “trunk” is Jesus, but reality says something else. Sometimes the “go to” is whatever the power family in the church says is going to happen. Pastors may come and go, but the power family dictates what will be and what will not be.

Sometimes the “go to” is more aligned with Old Testament judgment rather than New Testament grace. Church discipline becomes punitive and harsh rather than restorative and healing.

Church budgets are often indicators of what a congregation’s “go to” is. For instance, how much of the budget is focused on building maintenance and property compared to missions and community outreach? Going back to the power family, what do they support? Is their influence apparent in the breakdown of the budget?

The Cavaliers go to LeBron because they want to win. Churches yield to their “to go” because they fear losing. Losing, however, is defined as a family getting upset and leaving over a change they don’t care for; or it is defined as the loss of the church’s comfort zone; or “too many new leaves on an old tree!”

What is your church’s “go to?” How does it tend to react to problems and/or changes? More often than not, going to LeBron produces a victory. For churches, the tendency is to yield to the “go to” because they can’t afford to lose!

Darla Time

March 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     March 6, 2017

                                      

I got my hair cut on Saturday. Not an earth shattering event, I know, but one that I enjoy because of the person who cuts it for me.

Her name is Darla. I’ve known her for eighteen years and she always makes me laugh. I was her pastor for years and years, and there are just some people who you will always be close to even when your positional relationship with them changes.

Darla has a heart of gold. A couple of weeks ago a man that we both knew passed away. His daughter called Darla and asked if she could fix her mom’s hair. Darla, who works a ton of hours, made time to take that “worry” off of the grieving widow…hair that was showing the effects of sudden loss!

When I enter her shop, Locals Barbers, she greets me with a hug and asks me how I’m doing? Sometime in the first thirty seconds laughter erupts from each one of us! She plops me down in her chair and makes some comment about my hair or eye glasses, or the level of my tiredness. Her shop serves a free beer to its customers, but Darla knows that I hate beer so she offers to have one of her assistants go next door to Smashburger and get me a Coke.

Commence the chatter and conversation. With Darla there is no shortage of conversation. She flows one story into the next, always with a background of scissor snipping. She is my “Floyd!”, accomplishing her task while telling current day Mayberry stories.

I marvel at the importance that Darla places on fairness. She is the advocate for the mistreated, the balancer of the uneven. Her sense of fairness has cost her over the years. People who have looked to win or be right regardless of who gets hurt have turned their backs on her. They despise her emphasis on fairness. A previous employer was taking advantage of his employees so she stood in the gap for them. It cost her, but she can now look back at that situation knowing that she did the right thing.

So now I sit in her chair, laugh, listen, and talk as she sculptures my hair look. It is a time of pampering and levity that I am blessed to be the focus for.

We meet Jesus in different people. Darla has her limitations and challenges, but I see the reflection of Jesus coming through her. “Darla time” is always a time for being blessed.

Redefining My Retirement Focus

March 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 4, 2017

                            

    Every May I travel down the street to see my optometrist, Dr. Bettner. We chit-chat for a few moments and then he checks my eyes. I’ve worn eyeglasses since I was in fourth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Riley, had noticed my squinting in the classroom trying to figure out what was written on the chalkboard. She passed along the info to my parents who made an appointment with an optometrist in Marietta, Ohio. They discovered I was as blind as a bat, and have been ever since!

Dr. Bettner checks out my vision each year to see if it has changed at all. A few years ago I went to progressive trifocals. Now he looks for things like cataracts and other unwanted situations. Mainly he looks to see if I need a lens adjustment to sharpen my focus.

Fourteen months ago I retired from full-time ministry after almost 37 years.  A number of people thought I’d sit in my recliner watching curling competitions on ESPN all day with a bowl of potato chips and a Pepsi in front of me. Although I like chips and a cold Pepsi from time to time I seldom sit in front of the TV with them. No…retirement has been similar to a Dr. Bettner eye exam. As I’ve entered into it my focus has gradually been fine-tuned to where my time is most productive and meaningful.

Last week I took officiating high school basketball games off the table after sixteen years. Substitute teaching has been put on the table, especially middle school substitute teaching. I’ve discovered the riches of the public library. It has become my second writing spot, next to my Starbucks stool! I enjoy coaching and influencing young people, and now coach three middle school teams while volunteering as an assistant coach with two other teams.

Carol and I are more available for our kids and grandkids. Granddad doesn’t have a church meeting to rush off to, and, beginning next basketball season, will not have a game to take him away for the evening.

My focus has become sharper even though a typical week is not nearly as structured and planned. What I’ve found, for me at least, is that retirement has been a time of defining who I am. For 37 years most of the people I associated with defined me as a pastor, which I was, but the other ingredients in my personal recipe were undiscovered. That hint of creativity went undetected. The pinch of humor was unknown. Like my fourth grade squinting, my focus was fuzzy. The lens of retirement has been a time of clarity.

Some people ask me, somewhat accusatory, “So you aren’t a pastor anymore?” And I respond, “Oh, yes! I’m still a pastor! I just don’t get paid for being one anymore!” People still seek me out for advice, counseling with problems, and prayer.

If God desires I have thirty percent of my life still ahead of me. My challenge and opportunity is to finish the journey with a clear focus instead of a foggy idea!