Archive for the ‘Community’ category

Wrestling with Spartan Loyalty

January 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             January 28, 2018

                                 

It’s been a tough week in Spartan Land! The Larry Nassar horror had been going on for a while. I wanted to believe that he was more connected to USA Gymnastics than Michigan State University.

You see, that’s a big part of my problem, and struggle. I don’t want to believe that anything can go wrong in Spartan Country.

Sports Information Director at the Air Force Academy, Troy Garnhart, told me of the Academy’s football game at Michigan State a couple of years ago. He was impressed by everything- the people, the facilities, but, most of all, the hospitality and genuineness of the coaches and players. That’s what I want to hear! It’s difficult to hear that the coin actually has another side to it.

I want to believe that about the other university about an hour southeast down the road. Anything that makes Jim Harbaugh want to puke…like a blocked punt on the final play of a football game…brings a smile to my face!

But this is Spartan Land, and I wouldn’t even want such a debacle to happen in Ann Arbor. One of sexual assault victims of Larry Nassar is the daughter of a man who was a part of the youth group I led back in the early eighties in Lansing. Her testimony personalized a story that became so immense that there was a danger of seeing so many victims- more than one hundred and fifty, but forgetting that each one of them endured pain and suffering.

As happens in our culture, the indiscretions of one becomes the fault of the many. We’re teetering on the edge of a moral ledge where things that have been kept hidden are raising their ugly heads. In recent months, more than usual, an incision into the heart of our society has revealed the darkness of how we live. In our talent for avoidance we usually shrug off the rumors, but, in this situation, the reality has tsunami’ed us. The Nassar crimes are like when you look at a wall and see a crack in the paint, but when you more closely investigate it you notice that the crack extends in all directions.

I want to still live in Spartan Land but the “Green and White” has become grey-ish! I want my heroes to stay standing on pedestals, but I’m afraid that the possibility of falling off is increasing daily.

And how far does the failure of responsibility ripple out? A university president and the athletic director have already retired/resigned. The entire board of USA Gymnastics joined the list of resignations. How many more will be found to have ignored the elephant in the room?

I’ll always root for the Spartans, but when I wear my Michigan State hoodie nowadays I’m reminded more of the damage that has been done to a multitude of lives than I am of Spartan victories.

A school that has been known for “Magic” has entered a new chapter that is entitled  “Tragic”!

Half-Free

January 17, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 17, 2018

                                             

We are drawn to the word free! After all, we live in the land of the free and the brave. Free sells!

Last week’s mail brought a couple of “FREE” offers. I intentionally wrote the word in capital letters there because that’s how it was displayed in the advertisement. “FREE” draws a person’s attention like the smell of your next door neighbor’s barbecuing. I looked closer at the ad for the restaurant. I could go there and get a free breakfast, lunch, or dinner…here it comes…with the purchase of another meal and two drinks.

Wouldn’t that make the free meal half-free? Or, wouldn’t it mean that I’d be getting two meals for a little bit more than half-price ( knowing what they charge for a soda!)?

We love free! Half-off still dips into our wallet. It still costs us something! If we approached a marriage proposal by saying “I’m half in love with you” or “I want to be married to you half the time” the results, hopefully, would be an end to the relationship before the wedding vows were half-said in front of a crowded church sanctuary.

Free is a word that must be untangled from the grasp of an addendum.

Some might say that being a follower of Jesus is like that; that the person who is witnessing for Jesus talks about being freed from sin, but then talks about what it means to be a follower of Christ. It’s that tension between the understanding that Jesus died on the cross to set me free, and then being told that accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior means that I’ll do this and that.

In the days of the New Testament there was the division between those who were free and those who were enslaved. Paul refers to that cultural condition quite often in his epistle writings. Those who read his letters understood the separation, and even though they were slaves to masters they were drawn to the principle that freedom could be experienced in a spiritual sense.

What if the gospel only set us half-free? What if it unchained us in some ways, but failed to unburden us in others?

And from another perspective, are there those who see themselves as followers of Christ but have allowed his sacrifice to only set them half-free?

Half-free is half-hearted.

The Wisdom of Moderation

January 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              January 9, 2018

                                         

Two of Apple’s largest stockholders are asking the company to help curb the digital addiction of children and youth. A ripple effect of the iPhone’s popularity, as well as SnapChat, texting, Facebook, and other forms of social media, has been the increasing amount of time the younger generation is “hooked” on their digital devices.

At the middle school that I substitute teach and coach at digital devices are part of the educational tool shed. Students are told to get online on their devices and sign in at Google Classroom for the reading assignment or questions to answer as they read. Research gets done at their desk on their iPhone.

Last spring, however, I experienced the other side of the digital addiction age. Several eighth graders focused on their iPhones when they were to be reading a textbook assignment. They attempted to keep their devices hidden from sight, but I wasn’t born yesterday. I recognize that sneaky look from my days of trying to hide cheat sheets in high school Spanish class.

Social media and iPhones are just the latest of a long, long line of products and vices that grow to the point of being obsessions and addictions. The average American teenager receives his/her first iPhone at the age of 10 and spends four and a half hours a day using it, not counting texts and phone calls. Recent research is connecting the risk of teen suicide with the amount of time teens spend using their digital devices. Adolescents who spend several hours a day using their digital devices tend to feel more isolated and depressed. Teens that spend less than two hours a day on their devices tend to be happier.

We should not be surprised at the negative implications of over-consumption. It fits with the scheme of things. A healthy life- physical, spiritual, emotional, mental- has balance to it. An unhealthy life is often out of balance in some way or several ways.

Several years ago I discovered Chinese buffets. I’d go there for lunch and gorge myself. The afternoon was spent feeling lousy, and I added several pounds to my body weight. I finally wised up and swore them off. I now have not been to a Chinese buffet in about ten years and, I don’t want to say it is the only reason but, my cholesterol has dropped.

There’s a great proverbs of Solomon’s that says this, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28)

When we become obsessed we become vulnerable. We see in our culture today that obsessions come in different forms and in various venues. There’s greed, drunkenness, gluttony, sexual addiction, workaholic-ism, laziness, and on and on. Any obsession leads to a “broken wall’ where some kind of enemy or evil can enter in.

Pretty much anything in our life is to be practiced, consumed, or done in moderation. There is wisdom in moderation, and there is usually trouble in excessiveness.

It will be interesting to see how Apple and social media companies respond to the request about digital addiction. Apple may simply see it as a way to develop a new product designed for adolescents. In essence, it could be a new way to make money for them. The real question is what will the social media companies do that rely on consumption, exposure, and screen time to make their profits?

Companies, also, more often than not, have no self-control!

Getting Past February 16th

January 2, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       January 2, 2018

                                   

Each day I receive an email from “Trivia Hive” with the trivia question of the day. Yesterday the question was related to New Year’s resolutions. It asked what the date is that the typical resolution last until it is broken?

Negative Nellie here responded January 15. I’m not optimistic about people’s resolve about resolutions. The answer was February 16, a whole month and a half into the cause!

Why only six weeks? Why make a twelve month promise and cut the cord 12% into completing it? One reason, I’m assuming, is that a lot of resolutions are ludicrous and irrational! It’s like if I resolved to not eat any fried foods the whole year. That would be crazy! I was born in Kentucky. If we could eat it we could fry it! My farming grandparents had fried eggs every day, and the eggs were fried in the grease form the bacon that was fried in the skillet before them. Cutting down on fried food would be a more realistic goal, but to cut it out! Come on! Who would I be kidding? Myself!

A lot of people make resolutions that they know they can’t keep. By February 16 they resemble a shot putter running a marathon.

Another reason they hit the wall by February 16 is that some resolutions are too closely related to ingrained habits and routines. If something has become my common practice suddenly eliminating it from my life is going to be a struggle.

So, the question is how does someone make a resolution that goes the distance? I look to Jesus and the early church for answers to the question. At the top of the list is having someone who walks with you in the journey. It’s interesting, and revealing, to me that Jesus sent the disciples out “two by two” (Mark 6:7). The importance of someone joining us on the journey is paramount. When I am in the midst of self-doubt there is someone alongside me to encourage me and to push me on over that next hill.

When I ran cross-country back in college we would often do road runs together. Running with a group for ten miles gives a runner who is a bit lacking in self-confidence the support to finish the task.

Who will come alongside you as you resolve to attempt something that will improve your life in some way? That companionship, that sense of community, was essential for the early church. Following Jesus today becomes difficult because of all the things in our lives that have the potential to be more of a priority. Following Jesus in the first century was difficult because of the persecution and cultural expectations and practices. Thus, the first church had to hook their arms together and stand together.

For me personally I need to find that person or persons to journey with. Since I pastored for 36 years I’m used to being the one who supports and encourages, not the one who seeks support and encouragement. Several guys who have come alongside me in the past have moved on to other places. I was blessed to have them be my companions for a period of time, but now I need to seek a couple of guys for the next part of the journey.

That traveling companion is essential for each one of us stumbles along the way. Who will be there to pick us up and push us ahead? Who cares enough about us to not let us fail? Who cares enough to get us to the point where February 16 is in the distant rearview mirror?

Two Double A’s!

January 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                January 1, 2018

                                             

I arrived at Simla First Baptist Church yesterday as usual…about 10:00 for the 10:15 worship service. Simla First Baptist is one of those older small town church structures, white on the outside and dated on the inside. Pleasant looking enough, but it’s far from contemporary. People don’t go to Simla for contemporary and fashionable, let alone church in Simla.

I walked into the sanctuary and was immediately greeted by Laura, who was shivering in front of the communion table. The temperature in the worship space felt forty five-ish!

“Ray went to get new batteries!”

“New batteries?”

“Yes, the batteries in the thermostat died.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Wish I was! Two AA batteries, that’s all it is!”

The death of two Double A’s had rippled into a lack of life in the furnace on a Sunday morning when the temperature outside was hovering around twenty degrees. The sun shining through the east side sanctuary windows was not going to lesser the lack of heat. We proceeded to light every candle at the front of the sanctuary, but fifteen wax candles are not the same as a campfire to warm your hands beside.

The blankets were dispersed amongst the pews. We usually prayed for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be upon us. This morning we grabbed comforters and wrapped ourselves within them.

Two Double A’s!

There’s a lesson to learn in that. Here’s the cold hard facts! (Sorry! I couldn’t resist using a pun here.) It’s the small things that bring warmth to a church!

When perfection is more important than the person a coldness descends.

When grace and forgiveness get smothered by program and performance the temperature of the church plummets.

When ministries that care for the poor, displaced, and discouraged are seen as being of less significance than ministries for the well-to-do, established, and encouraged the warmth of community flickers away.

It’s the small things, often unseen, that cause a congregation to experience authentic fire and relational depth.

Two Double A’s!

Thank you, Lord, for the lessons you teach us in the little things of life!

Self-Centered Generosity

December 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             December 30, 2017

                                     

The year 2018 will be a telling experience that will show just how generous middle-class Americans are. New tax laws will reduce the benefits “kinda”… for many of moderate-income to give to charitable organizations.

One of the changes in the new tax laws includes a doubling of the standard deduction. That means an individual filer can deduct $12,000 and a married couple $24,000 without itemizing their deductions. Estimates are that less than 10% of taxpayers will continue to itemize their deductions. Thus, the incentive to give to charity will go to how genuine a person’s generosity really is!

Except for this year! Charitable organizations are seeing an increase in giving as the year ends for givers to take advantage of itemizing deductions. In other words, some people are being charitable in 2017 who will think twice about giving next year. It smacks of self-centered generosity. “What do I get out of this?”

To be honest, churches have been scrambling for years to make ends meet. In 2016 the typical church attender gave about 2.5% of their income to their church. During the Great Depression of 1929 the percentage was estimated at 3.3%! Generosity has not exactly run roughshod through the pews as things are. Now most ministries are expecting a decrease in giving to budgets that are already looking pretty threadbare!

So 2018 will be a year of indicators! Are Americans, especially followers of Jesus, generous or only generous when it helps their tax burden?

It’s not like there won’t be people in need next year. In Colorado Springs there are not enough available beds to take care of the growing homeless situation. The various shelters are looking for options to increase capacity, but more capacity requires more money to fund the ministries to the poor…and where will these funds come from?

The optimistic faith-based view of the coming situation is that the nation will see the heart of Jesus in the incredible outpouring of financial support from his followers; that Christians will take seriously Jesus’ directive to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. That’s a view that could indicate a spiritual renewal in our midst!

The pessimistic view is that the tax law changes will show just how greedy and self-centered we really are!

Speaking Hope In the Christmas Shadow

December 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               December 26, 2017

                                  

Yesterday our three grandkids ran around our house like sugar-hyped squirrels, excited about the wrapped presents that they would soon tear into. It was a great day of brisket chili, chilled shrimp, homemade Chex mix, and pie. The bounty of food items on the kitchen island was simply dressing for the family time, laughter, and the playing out of various family traditions.

Yesterday was a feast in the midst of a time when Carol and I have encountered several families in the midst of emotional famine. This Advent Season seems to have been more about speaking hope to various folks in the shadow of Christmas.

On Friday I had attended the funeral of Ray Lutz, a fifty year football and basketball official who was one of my officiating mentors. At 77 he had passed away suddenly. Funerals close to Christmas have a sadness to them regardless of how old the departed is.

On Saturday the wife of my friend, Mark Miller, went into the hospital…and is still there…with some serious health complications. Crystal, the mother of four, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day laying in a hospital bed, a time that had always been spent gathered around the family Christmas tree and dinner table. There is something deeply discouraging for a mom having to be monitored by ward nurses on Christmas Day instead of being the monitor of the family festivities at home.

And then on Sunday afternoon Carol and I went across the street to our neighbor’s house to express our condolences. Their eighteen year old grandson, a young man I had watched grow up, played basketball in our driveway with, and had coached in middle school football, was murdered a few weeks ago. We hadn’t heard about it until a former neighbor told us. We sat and talked to the grieving grandparents whose hearts were broken. To go through Christmas with the absence of one of the young ones is a journey walked with heavy emotional boots. We could not understand the depth of their grief, but we could sit at their kitchen table and listen to their hearts.

And finally to talk to my dad later on that same day and offer him encouragement. Just a few days released from his latest hospital stay, he has slowed down a good bit and now has to make choices about what he has the energy to do and not to do. Each day he is a gift to us, but each day is also a struggle  for him layered with uncertainty. I’m so thankful for my sister who watches over him since I live four states away.

Ray Lutz’s funeral was a community sharing of hope. The hundreds of folks to attended brought hope and encouragement to the family. The laughter caused by the staring of stories was like a soothing ointment to the wounds of loss.

With Mark and Crystal Miller I was simply a presence that symbolized hope in the midst of confused despair. With our neighbors Carol and I assured them of our prayers and support. It was an assurance to them that we will walk alongside them as they take each day ahead.

With my dad I simply spoke hope to him about his grandkids and great grandkids. That things are good with them. It provided some laughter in his soul as he pondered the stories of their lives.

Christmas sometimes is all glitter and lights; and sometimes it’s simply a word of hope that we suddenly realize is the greatest gift we could ever give!