Archive for the ‘Faith’ category

Jesus and Pizza

September 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  September 19, 2018

                                  

My friends, Ed and Diana Stucky, were telling me about a hike they made to an area in Colorado that has some magnificent red rock formations. They were surprised to find people dressed in attire that made them resemble biblical characters. They discovered that the group was there to film a video clip for their church’s Easter service in a few months. A film crew was getting set up. 

And then there was Jesus! He was eating pizza! Ed thought it was pepperoni pizza! 

There’s something strange, but also refreshing, about seeing Jesus sitting on a rock eating pizza. Kind of like seeing the middle school principal dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle at school on Halloween! It just seems out of character or, more accurately, outside of what we expect.

Jesus holding a slice of thin crust pepperoni pizza made my friends stop and stare…and smile!

My daughter, Kecia, who teaches third grade, is always amused by the disbelief she sees on her students’ faces when she encounters them in non-school settings like Target or at a park. She is associated with their understanding of school so much that they have a hard time believing she can be any other place. 

Jesus and pizza would be like that…unexpected and kinda’ cool!

In Jesus’ time people had rabbi stereotypes and messiah expectations. If I read my Bible correctly, there were a number of times when he did and said the unexpected. Sometimes organized religion is more comfortable with a Jesus that is sanitized and spiritually sterile than the Christ who offers grace and forgiveness for the sinful and unclean. In a way, we expect to see Jesus with a loaf of bread and a glass of water, not pepperoni pizza with a splotch of sauce nestled in his beard.

The refreshing thing about Jesus is that he is not confined by our nearsightedness or restricted to our personal legalism. He operates on the basis of who he is, not on who we decide he is to be.

In our concern over keeping anything with a hint of possible sin to it away from Jesus we’ve created a messiah who is about as exciting or appealing as a drink can of Ensure! Thus a non-dancing Jesus, who rarely laughs, never wears clothing featuring vibrant colors, and consumes food that is void of spiciness and sweetness. 

I’ll take a pizza-eating Jesus. Heck! I’m even okay with a Jesus who also has toppings of sausage and ham!

Clueing In The Almighty

September 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 3, 2018

                               

(The seed thought for this blog post comes from hearing a sermon by Rev. Ed Stucky)

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13-14, NIV)

Sometimes we treat God like he’s the parent of teenagers…and we’re the teenagers! Remember those days? You know, when, in your opinion, your parents were completely clueless!

We believe it’s necessary sometimes to tell God what he doesn’t seem to know. It’s one of the ways we can stay in control, believing that God doesn’t have it all together, a divine being with developing dementia. 

The Bible gives us more examples of people trying to correct God’s poor decisions than people who took him his word. Moses tried to straighten him out at the burning bush. He was sure that God had mistaken him for someone else, kind of like Isaac mistaking Jacob for his brother Esau. 

Ananias felt God needed an update on who Saul (to be renamed Paul a little later!) was and what he had done. Like a royal advisor, he brought necessary intel to the Almighty All-knowing on this man coming to his city. 

If the Scriptures are filled with examples of people doubting God’s directives we can be assured that it’s a recurring story in our faith journeys. When God directs it’s rarely for something that we would naturally do. For instance, he didn’t have to tell me to go to Starbucks this morning and order a cup of Pike Place coffee. He knows that it’s part of my routine. However, if while I’m at Starbucks he nudges me to give a $20 bill to a man who has just walked in I might very well inform him that I only have one “Jackson” left in my wallet. To which he would reply, “So?”

Faith in the Lord is a slippery thing. We talk about it, learn scriptures that convey it, read stories of it’s existence and magnificence…but when the rubber meets the road of our life we challenge Jehovah God’s intelligence and wisdom. It is the evidence of our fallen nature. We’re prone to believe in the wayward guidance of the Deceiver that sounds good rather than the trusted voice of the Deliverer that causes a queasiness in our digestive systems.

Lord, we believe! Help us in our unbelief! 

Going Back To Familiar Places

August 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 26, 2018

                            

In recent weeks I’ve revisited places that had been part of my life from the near or distant past. Some of the spots brought back memories of when I ran around in child-sized jeans, white tee shirts, and Converses…like my old elementary school, Victory Heights, in Winchester, Kentucky, where I attended first and second grade…and Central Baptist Church in that same town where our family frequented three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. 

Other places I revisited brought tears. I drove past the farm where my Papaw and Mamaw Helton lived until about 25 years ago. It now like an ongoing rummage sale, cluttered and in disrepair. grimaced at the loss of what was.

I I traveled up the road to the cemetery where my dad now has been laid to rest beside my mom, and I weeped and smiled and weeped again, thinking of the good times and now the loss.

This past week I substitute taught in the classroom where my friend, Greg Davis, taught. If he was still teaching it would have been his 8th Grade social studies class I would have been instructing that day. Greg passed away not quite two years ago having fought the brain cancer courageously for 6 years. There were a multitude of Fridays when I would have lunch with him in that classroom, talking about the triumphs and the struggles. As I led four classes of eighth graders this past week I was acutely aware of previous conversations I had had in that classroom. 

This morning I return to the church I pastored for 16 years to give the morning message for the congregation’s 60 year anniversary service.  A quarter of my life has been spent in that building leading the congregation. I retired at the end of 2015. Even though I delivered almost 700 sermons in that sanctuary, today will seem strange. It will be the first time, besides the Sunday when I was candidating to be their pastor in June of 1999, that I will deliver a message NOT as their pastor. I’m now “a former!” 

I’ll look forward to seeing folks I haven’t seen in two and a half years. I’ll remember and smile, and maybe even cry.

There are places we’ve been that bring chuckles back to our soul, and places that cause us to remember the pain…and often the most meaningful places of our lives are the ones that have been a mixture of the two extremes.

At my old church I remember the incredible people, the special stories that got written and lives healed, and I also remember the difficult meetings and the individuals who had the spiritual gifts of agitation and annoyance. 

Of course, I can also remember the same chapter titles from my 15 years as pastor of the First Baptist Church back in Mason, Michigan…the saints and the sinners, the blessed and the beasts.

When you live most of your life from a place of grace, love, and hope you see the warts and the warmth. 

Today I’ll look to remember the changed lives and disregard the challenges to the Body’s life. And God will be glorified!

The Following of Fallen Leaders

August 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 20, 2018

                             

The allegations against Bill Hybels, Lead Pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, have caused a torrent of unrest and a flood of tears in the Christian community throughout our country. Hybels began Willow Creek back in the 1970’s and it has influenced the thinking and ministry of thousands of churches around the world. 

The allegations of inappropriate flirtations and embraces that lingered too long have come in the midst of the tidal wave of other “MeToo” movement outraged voices. The accusations against Hybels have traced acts of inappropriateness back to the 1980’s. 

It’s sad! It’s sad for everyone that has had to speak in this tragedy, from accusers to accused to church leaders to the two people who had already been named to succeed him as pastor, and who now have had to back out of their decisions. 

I’ve read several books that Bill wrote, attended a few Willow Creek services, been a Global Leadership Summit conferee, and referred back over the years to lectures from those Summits that Hybels gave. 

And now the church of Jesus Christ has its mouth open in disbelief! Questions thunder from the pews. Was it all a farce, a big show with no substance? When he was seeking to attract unchurched people to attend Willow Creek what were his true motives?

When leaders fall questions abound. We want our leaders to be above reproach. In fact, when a leader with a great personality has accusations hurled at him/her most of the followers initially react defensively in support of the accused. 

Side step! We all fail and fall. When a leader we follow fails, however, it’s similar to when we were kids and heard a rumor that Santa Claus isn’t real. We refused to believe it until some of our friends confirmed the suspicions. We don’t want our leaders to be fallible!

Back to the blog road! When people idolize certain personalities they tend to not see the impending avalanche until it’s too late. 

There are those people who are cynical and skeptical about everything…and there are those people who would believe the earth is flat if a certain person said it. 

So…in recent months big-time football coaches, famous actors, politicians, mega church pastors, priests, denominational leaders, film directors, civic leaders, other professional athletes, and CEO’s have been held responsible for past actions. Accusations have been made against our current president, but his supporters have been acting as shields in defense of him. We’re not sure yet how that one will play out.

When followers become disillusioned with those they’ve believed in, it leaves a mixture of apathy and outrage in its wake. Who is speaking the truth if the truth tellers are found to be suspect? 

A conflicted form of grief fogs in our understanding of how life is to be lived and how the world operates. And where there is grief there must be a chapter of healing- slow and painful, seeking to find that firm place to step onto. 

And, finally, where there is grief over what has been and what is there will be the ripple effects of loss and revision. Things will change. The people who journeyed in the caravan known as “church” will not be the same. The disillusioned will seek to find different kinds of oases and we can only look at them and say “We understand!” 

Going Through Purgatory

August 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          August 3, 2018

                                   

Our friend from Michigan, Janet Smith, was with us this past week as we went through Purgatory. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Purgatory, but it was pleasant enough…mild temperature and, actually, a bit on the cool side!

We noticed pictures of a recent Purgatory marriage ceremony with confused faces of delight in the midst of torment. 

Oh, I should mention that we were in Purgatory, Colorado, not the place of torment that Catholics believe is like a holding corral as departed souls wait for their acceptance into heaven. However, I did notice that no one was using the hot tub at our place of lodging! My morning cup of coffee there was an experience in liquid torture!

Golf is a game of suffering. I wondered if golfers at the course right beside our lodge received an extra dose when they played the Purgatory 18? Did their golf balls always go to the right or to the left to remind them of their location? Were there hidden dangers in the rough? Did playing the course bring them to their knees? Did repentance come at no extra cost? 

All kinds of theological questions came to our minds as we strolled through the location. Just like Hell, Michigan, there are many puns and plays on words with Purgatory. Janet was familiar with Hell already. A sign as you enter the Michigan town, located just about twenty miles from Ann Arbor says “Welcome to Hell!” Janet was hoping to take a picture of a sign that said “Welcome to Purgatory!”, but there was not one. I guess people aren’t welcomed to Purgatory, they just arrive and leave again.

We noticed that we weren’t able to get cell phone service in Purgatory! There’s probably some spiritual parable that goes along with that. 

My wife tossed and turned all night. I, however, slept soundly! I’m not sure what that says about us. She, being raised Catholic, may have been wrestling with memories of her confirmation classes growing up! I, on the other hand, being a lifelong Baptist, have become comfortable with Baptist guilt and the fear of hell. Purgatory was no big deal! I had sat through hundreds of worship services that were long-suffering!

Janet leaves to begin her drive back to Michigan this morning. She may be longing for a return to Purgatory about two o-clock this afternoon because she’s driving through Kansas today!

Muttering and Complaining About Church

July 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 20, 2018

                         

My friend, Ed Stucky, recently preached a sermon on the “First Church Business Meeting.” Coincidentally, the small town small tiny congregation where the two of us speak and worship was scheduled to have a church business meeting that morning after the worship service. 

Ed used the text from Acts 6 that tells of the crisis that the first congregation in Jerusalem had to contend with: the taking care of a group of widows who were “different from the rest of us!” These widows were Jewish, but had come to Jerusalem from other cultures and regions. At some time and place they had become followers of Jesus. One of the repercussions of that was the loss of a care system that the Jewish synagogue provided to its widows. The Jews took care of their own. Now…what about the new Christian church? And these women weren’t even native born! They were transplants…immigrants, if you will!

And there’s a lot of them! 

And the group of immigrants that the widows are a part of are “murmuring and complaining” against the native Hebrews. That is, the newbies are complaining about the people who have always been there! Today we’d describe the native Hebrews in this story as the people who would say something along the lines of “This is OUR church!”

It is the fertile soil for a cultural battle. I can hear the excuses.

“We’ve only got so much food.” 

“We can only do so much.” 

“We’ve got to take care of our own first!”

“Y’all eat different kinds of food than we eat!”

“It’s not our responsibility!”

And so the Grecian Jewish Christians muttered and complained, and the Twelve said let’s figure out a solution to this problem! 

The process was quickly defined. 1) A meeting was called of all the disciples. 2) The problem was identified. 3) It was determined that what was happening went against the core values/beliefs of the church. That is, it needed to be solved, not neglected! 4) The solution was found, put into practice, and the way the church functioned was changed accordingly. 

Huh! How ‘bout that!

The thing is this first century crisis could have torn the church apart. Just imagine a new church plant today that has half of its attenders wanting to meet on Saturday night and half who are firmly anchored to Sunday morning. Or half the people who mutter and complain about having a woman as the lead pastor for the congregation and half who believe she is who God has called to be the leader, that gender has no bearing on God’s calling.

The disciples decided that the widows of the Grecian Jews had a legitimate complaint and took care of the matter. They didn’t let it fester. Shortly before this they had witnessed the “drop dead” experiences of Ananias and Sapphire. That was an awakening moment for the Jesus followers, just as the two deceivers crumpled to the ground. It was a moment when the church got serious about this Kingdom business.

Let’s be honest! There have been numerous churches in recent times that have exploded because of muttering and complaining attenders/members who don’t feel they are being heard; and there’s churches that have people rushing for the exits because of complainers who want it their way or the highway. 

We live in a culture of entitlement, and that has filtered- sometimes like a flash flood- into the church. Some followers of Jesus feel entitled, while others are prone to discount anyone who differs from them. 

We’re like a bunch of dysfunctional Baptists! Oh, wait! Dysfunctional is not a term that has to be used with Baptists these days. It’s now just implied!

And yet the first church was able to figure it out! Huh! How ‘bout that!

Oh, and by the way! Our church business meeting right after Ed’s message that Sunday was productive, punctuated with laughter, and…short!

Is It Okay To Feel Okay About Life?

July 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      July 16, 2018

                               

People have gripes! I won’t list them here because of space, time, and the fact that I don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer!” Our days are peppered with people who look at the glass as being half-empty…with a good chance of leakage!

It’s gotten to the point that I ask myself if it’s okay to feel okay about life? Is it not okay to feel okay about where one’s life is right now? Should I feel guilty about not having issues that would have me sitting in one of those high chairs on Dr. Phil’s stage?

This does not mean that I have it all together and live a life void of any problems. I have physical therapy for my knee and hip pain later on this morning. I frequent the bathroom more than a bored eighth grader escaping math class. I read two paragraphs in a book and fall asleep. I have about five prescriptions! I often talk to speeding cars that rush by me on the highway, even to the point of showing them my middle finger…in my mind! Lord, forgive me!

But there is a wholeness in my life, a happiness…dare I say, a joy! The sadness in my soul is connected to the loss of loved ones…Dad back in February and Mom almost five years ago now, all my aunts, uncles, and Carol’s parents, dear friends and mentors who have gone on like Rex Davis…Greg Davis…Don Fackler…Ray Lutz. 

I’m okay with the goals in my life that I did not reach, or have not yet reached…officiating a high school state tournament basketball game, running a marathon in my sixties, owning an ice cream truck, hiking the Grand Canyon, slam-dunking a basketball. 

It’s the rhythm in my life that gives me a sense of peace and satisfaction. My life is spiced and seasoned with opportunities to impact young people. I’m blessed to be able to coach four teams in three different sports. I get all giddy at the opportunity to substitute teach middle school students. I have a good amount of time to write and (fingers crossed!) hopefully publish a novel in the next few months. I’m allowed to speak at a wonderful small town church that has about 20 saints each Sunday morning. I’m married to a wonderful woman. We’ll celebrate our 39th anniversary in a few days. We’ve got three great kids, but (Sorry, kids!) enjoy our three grandkids now even more!

The “feeling okay about life” is also connected to that deep sense within a person that he/she is in the midst of what God desires for him/her to be about. There is not any sense of unrest or frustration. The peace-within-myself understands that it’s not all about me. As I serve others and serve God, joy makes a home within my life.

Many people detour around contentment in their life because they think there should be more. There is grumbling about missed opportunities, usually blamed on something or someone else. Our culture seems to have been injected with a dose of disgruntlement, supplemented with pills to heighten a sense of entitlement. 

I guess for me the glass is half-empty because I’ve enjoyed the beginning and will continue to be blessed by the ending. I’ve been used by God and still have some left in the tank to be used!

And I’m okay with that!