Archive for the ‘Community’ category

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.

The Button-Pushing Middle School Student

November 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          November 4, 2017

                         

I’m becoming experienced as a substitute teacher. Everyday I experience new things, am dismayed in new ways, and face intriguing situations that would make good fodder for reality TV.

I’ve come to realize that there is a certain category, a distinct species amongst students that causes a few to stand out like peacocks. It’s not a very large group of students, and they don’t usually cluster together like geese.

They are the button-pushers, the students who would give Jesus a hard time for walking on water. They look for the seeds of distraction and chaos to infect good discussions and teachable moments.

Recently, I had a week with the same 125 students, grouped into four classes and another class period for specialized study. Out of 125 students I discovered “the button-pusher”. Everyday he pushed my buttons in some annoying way. On Day One he asked belittling questions to another student after she gave a report on a current event in front of the whole class. His questions, which I squashed after the first couple, were asked in a way to make her look stupid. Hear the button being pushed and held down! On Day Two he kept bothering the student sitting beside him, saying things under his breath to her, touching her arm with his pencil. I was clueless of what was going on until she finally erupted…which is what he was going for!

On Day Three we had a confrontation. When I asked him to stop making a noise with his ruler, slapping the desk with it, he pushed his button with “What about him?” “I’m not talking about him. I’m talking to you!” He gave me the button-pusher look of defiance. “Don’t give me that look!”

On Day Four he started early and I attacked early. “We aren’t going to repeat yesterday. You either get with the program or take a nice vacation to the assistant principal’s office and stare at his wall posters.”

On Day Five his dad came and picked him up for some kind of appointment five minutes into class. God does answer prayer!

Button-pushers gain reputations amongst teachers. This button-pusher had done a couple of things to other students that were just plain mean, but when the teacher talked to his mom the response was that the teacher must be mistaken. It couldn’t be her son!

Conspiracy theorists believe button-pushers have been inserted into middle school classrooms to sabotage the education of the masses, but, even more than that, to become detriments to the preparatory process for the state assessment tests. There’s rumors that they have taken summer training in “argumentative classroom behavior” and “creating crying teachers who start mumbling to themselves”. Like the four celebrity judges on The Voice they have learned how to recognize opportunity and hit the button at a moment’s notice.

Oh, that button-pushers would be a dying breed heading towards extinction, but unfortunately they seem to be repopulating every year. Perhaps it has something to do with the growing number of helicopter parents, absentee parents, clueless parents, and the natural order of disorder. THEY would have you believe that! And if you do you’ve just had another button pushed called “gullible!”

Going Back To School

October 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 28, 2017

                                  

My parents would testify to the truth of this statement.

I was not a very good student!

Actually, I was not a very motivated student. I was motivated to get to physical education class, but I can not remember another class in middle school or high school that I was motivated to excel in. Each day was a trip to Boredom in a vehicle named Mediocrity.

I remember a number of my teachers, but not necessarily for what they taught me. I remember “earthquake drills” in Health class where we laid our heads on our desks. An earthquake drill meant that our teacher hadn’t had time to plan a lesson. I remember my chemistry teacher saying that if an atomic bomb was going to be dropped by Russia it would be aimed at a place within an hour of our location. I don’t remember the chemical symbols of the periodic chart, but I do remember that we’d be the first to perish on doomsday!

I substitute taught seventh grade all five days this past week. The techniques and methods of teaching have changed, but the students are still the same. For many students the legal requirement of being in school seems to cast a looming shadow over the opportunity to go to school. Since they HAVE to do it there is a lack of WANTING to do it!

I was the same way…or worse! I now wonder what my teachers said to my parents during those parent-teacher conferences. I doubt that it included statements about my academic achievements and prowess.

And now…forty-five years after high school, I often wish I could return to the role of student and sit under the tutelage of some of those teachers that I rarely gave a hearing to. I wish I could actually sit in one of those desks and hear about dangling participles and plane geometry theorems. I’d like to sit there with my laptop and type out notes as my teacher lectured on the Spanish Inquisition.

Why is it that we are too often late in appreciating what we’re a part of, and left to sadly reminisce about lost opportunities?

Of course, that’s how it is with other area of our lives, also! We take for granted the presence of family and friends, talk about visiting that certain aunt someday soon…that never seems to come…and then it’s too late! We commit to getting out of debt…next month! We’ll make that doctor appointment for the physical exam we’ve been dreading…sometime soon! We’ll take the family to a movie…as soon as we get that major house project done that we keep putting off!

I wish I could go back to school. Maybe I will! My Great Aunt Lizzie took art classes at the community college in Paintsville, Kentucky when she was in her mid-nineties! I still have the painting she gifted me with of her log cabin birthplace. Maybe I’ll sign up for an American History class with young adults and risk being called Grandpa!

Funny, isn’t it…my longing for education when I used to long for it to be over!

Hugging the Leg of Jesus

October 20, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        October 20, 2017

                                      

The past two weeks I’ve been battling a cold which turned into bronchitis. After a few days of the medicines and seeing my physician I was feeling better. Carol was scheduled to watch our three grandkids at our daughter’s house so I drove her over there.

“Granddad has a cold so he can’t give you a hug, okay?” They looked at me with a mixture of “How could you do such a thing?” to sympathy.

And then two and a half year old Corin Grace came over to me and hugged one of my legs! It was the best medicine I received that day.

One of the stories in the New Testament that I find confusing and amusing is when the disciples try to keep the children from coming to Jesus. The story appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew 19:13 it says, Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.”

Jesus in turn rebukes the disciples and says  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Embarrassed disciples slowly creep off to the side as the children come to Jesus and do some leg hugging. I envision the chuckling of the Savior as little Corin’s and miniature David’s attach themselves to the part of his robe that covered his legs.

Perhaps I’m reading into the situation too much, like a Hollywood movie director adding a bit more to the scene than was really there, but, in my opinion, it is a picture of who Jesus was and is. He gave value to those who were considered to have no value. He raised women, children, and the outcasts up, making the point that everyone is valued and loved by God. To Jesus a small child was no less important than the most powerful king. The scribes and Pharisees were seated at the same table in the Kingdom of God as the toddler who has half of his food plastered to his face. In essence, Jesus had no time for those who had no time for the least of these.

When Corin hugged my leg she held tight for a few seconds. I can see children holding tight to Jesus. Could it be that in those “holding tight” moments Jesus was being ministered to as much as he was blessing the huggers?

It won’t be too long until he will be grabbed hold of by some others who do not love him!

Assuming Knowledge

October 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             October 19, 2017

                                       

Much of our lives are based on assumptions. Assumptions are as basic as assuming that the next time I inhale there will be air around me to breathe in, and when I get out of bed in the morning that there will be a solid floor under my feet to step on.

We assume certain rules of order. Close to the middle school I teach at there is a four-way stop. When the car on my right proceeds through the intersection I assume that I am the next vehicle that will go. Yesterday, however, someone behind the first car did a quick stop and stepped on the gas. My assumption of courteous and orderly driving was false. Irritation did a quick circuit through my body as the wild woman driver turned in front of me and gave me a non-conforming look.

Yesterday I was teaching a class of sixth graders about the homesteaders of the latter part of the eighteen hundreds in our country, the push to settle the Great Plains and the West. I began by talking about the Civil War and was taken back by some of the blank stares that communicated ignorance of the topic.

“Who knows what century the Civil War was fought in?”

A raised hand. “1900’s.” I gasped.

“No. Anybody else?”

Another raised hand by a confident young man. “1700’s?”

“No.”

Another hand. “1800’s?”

“Correct!” Of course, the student, using his inflated amount of common sense, had figured it out by the process of elimination.

I had assumed that sixth grade students knew about the Civil War. In quizzing them on why there was a Civil War only about twenty per cent knew the primary reason as to why it happened. Of course, about eighty percent of them knew the names of the most popular video games out right now and the words to several of the top ten songs on the “hits chart”!

It occurred to me that part of the confusion of these times that we live in goes to the uncertainty of assumptions. There’s the greying of guidelines, the haziness in unwritten rules, and the fog of expectations.

For instance, my daughter who is a fourth grade teacher can no longer assume that a parent who is sitting in front of her at a parent-teacher conference is on the same page with her in seeking to help the student have academic success. She now, too often, runs into parents who see her as their son’s adversary. The conference becomes a battle where she is viewed as the problem as opposed to little Jimmy’s reading level still being that of a second grader. She can no longer assume that a conference will help the parents understand where their child is in his schoolwork, and how they can help him.

Today before my 8th Grade basketball practice I will draw the team together and talk about the importance of selflessness in creating a strong team. I can no longer assume that players that I coach understand that the game they are playing is a team sport. I still remember the halftime locker room several years ago where the team I was assistant coach for was trailing by ten points. One player suddenly said, “Coach, I’ve got eleven points!” It was almost as if she didn’t understand that the purpose of the game was to win it, not keep track of personal stats.

We sometimes assume too much, assume things are the way they’ve always been, and assume people have a basic understanding.

Ohhhh…..for a clearer time when people understood the way life worked better!

Believing A Small Church Is Worth the Effort

October 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            October 15, 2017

 

Yesterday twenty five people descended on an aging church building in a town of five hundred people to be a help. Bill Hale, nine days my junior but years ahead of me in wisdom and craftsmanship, developed the idea along with our area denominational staff person, Mike Oldham.

The idea was to invite a few churches and individuals to come to Simla, a small town on Highway 24 that you would have no reason to go to if you weren’t heading someplace past it, and provide some labor for a few hours that would allow the church to get a few needed projects completed.

The First Baptist Church of Simla is a congregation of about twenty dear people. Bill Hale, Ed Stucky, and myself have been sharing pulpit responsibilities there for the last year and a half or so. They do not have a pastor, although they do have a parsonage right next door to the church.

The group of servers came from Pueblo, Greeley, Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Texas, and, of course, Simla! They ranged in age from four to seventy-four. One man, who owns a company in Colorado Springs, brought his “bucket truck” that allowed limbs and branches from the trees in front of the church that are about as old as sarcasm to be cut back. The carpet in the sanctuary was shampooed, the church sign was touched up with paint. There was painting done to the outside of the building after a power washing was done, and the wood frames of the stained glass windows got a needed fixing up. Sidewalks got edged, weeds got pulled, and the lawn got mowed and trimmed. Massive efforts that meant so much to the people of the church.

What I’ve learned from Simla is that small churches are worth the effort. For me Simla has become my home church. Most Sundays when I’m not speaking there I still travel the forty-five minutes east of Colorado Springs to worship with the “salt of Simla.” Small churches have a purpose. It may not revolve around budgets, staff, and packing the sanctuary, but they have a purpose. The Simla Saints have started doing community ministry efforts with the United Methodist Church a block down the street. They’ve even had discussions about how the three churches in town might have occasional worship services together, interchanging the pastors as the speakers. This past summer they made a good-sized contribution for the beginning expenses of a missionary family who had already been commissioned  by the American Baptist Churches to go to Chiapas, Mexico, but were trying to raise the last few thousand dollars that were needed as seed money. The Simla Saints gave the contribution and also started supporting the missionary family on a monthly basis.

They will never be a mega-church. They wouldn’t know how to handle that. The town of Simla has shrunk by two-thirds in the last twenty years. Mega-churches rarely happen in villages of diminishing size located between here and nowhere. Every week, however, fifteen to twenty people gather in the sanctuary of this church. They don’t whine about their size. Size does not effect the purpose or change the mission. Their purpose is to be Light in a community that struggles to keep on going.

Too many churches are trying to be great! Churches already have the greatest story to share. Sometimes it seems a congregation is trying to be greater than the story!

Simla is a love story of hope that tells of God’s love story. Call me simple, but when I retired from the ministry that’s what I was looking for…and it causes me to keep on keeping on!

What Character Qualities Will I Teach My Players?

October 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              October 11, 2017

                    

Last night I met with four other men who I will be coaching alongside this coming high school basketball season. During the course of the evening we talked about offenses and defenses, practice plans, try-outs, and schedule, but we spent the most time talking about what the foundational characteristics were that we looked to teach our players. More than just teach, to model for our players!

Twenty years from now when I meet a former player for a cup of coffee what is that I hope to see his life rooted in? What will I be overjoyed about as I talk to someone who has turned 35?

There are a lot of coaches who have been entrusted with opportunities to speak into the lives of their young athletes…who are simply scoundrels! Being a high school basketball official for years I’ve seen how their teams have often taken on their personalities…bad attitudes, sour disposition, arrogant, prone to temper tantrums.

So the men I’ll be working with are committed to emphasizing the development of character in our young players. Last night we talked about four foundations:

            Integrity

            Selfless

            Reliable

            Gracious

All four go against the flow of our culture. “Integrity” seldom makes the headlines. Scandals and conspiracies draw larger audiences.

“Selfless” gets applauded, and yet we live in a time of entitlement. During a recent sports season I had a couple of players who had missed significant practice time because of injuries. When it came to preparing for the last game of the season both of them wanted to be the running backs again. In practice I positioned one of the players at Offensive Tackle. He didn’t like it. After a few plays he asked to be subbed out because he needed to do some more stretching. The other boy kept, who had missed the previous three games, kept asking me “When am I going to run the ball?” Both of them had exhibited actions and attitudes that communicated that they did not understand concept of team. The result was they caused more trouble than they were worth. As I begin this new basketball season the character quality of “selfless” will be the first foundation I emphasize.

“Reliable” is a word that we used to take for granted. An employee was expected to be at work…and working! My son, who is a chef, often talks about his frustrations with workers who just didn’t show up for work. The effect of such an absence puts more pressure and work on those who are there. There’s a lot of people who float in and out of our lives who can not be relied upon. “Dr. Phil” makes a living out of telling life stories of people who aren’t reliable, and the ripple effect of such.

“Gracious” goes to one of my favorite words…grace! I’ve encountered a lot of players who stepped out of line when grace was being handed out. They criticize and demean their teammates. Wouldn’t it be awesome to play on a team where there is a recognition of everyone trying their hardest, committed to a team effort, and recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and needs the grace of their teammates? Grace, on an athletic team, means picking someone up off the ground instead of making them want to sink into the ground.

So this basketball season we’ll seek to lead our teams to victories, but we will also seek to lead them on a path towards being young men of character.

I’ve been out of high school for…Good Lord!…45 years now, but I still remember the people I went to school with who were jerks. Perhaps they’ve changed since 1972, but since I now live five states away I don’t know. My impression was etched in my memory a long time ago. I will strive to take my players on a journey this season that will help lead them towards young men of exceptional character.

And then when we sit at table in Starbucks in 2037 sipping some medium roast together I’ll attempt to hold back tears of gratitude over who this young man has become!