Archive for the ‘Freedom’ category

Somewhere Between Too Religious and Jesus-And”

February 6, 2021

I’ve been reading “The Message/Remix”, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, for my devotional/quiet time reflection this year. This week the readings took me into Leviticus and Hebrews. Peterson gives a brief introduction to each scripture book. For Hebrews, he says that it was written for people who were either “too religious” or had a bad spiritual habit of putting a hyphen after Jesus…Jesus-and-angels, Jesus-and-Moses, Jesus-and-priesthood.

It’s so relevant for us today that it’s scary! There are followers of Jesus who are so concerned with the fabric of his robe and the color of his crown that they fail to see the Jesus they are called to follow.

And then there are those who feel like Jesus can’t be enough. The hyphen adds any number of things…Jesus-and-politics, Jesus-and-church programming, Jesus-and-money. The danger with hyphens after Jesus’ name is that whatever it is that follows the hyphen is prone to become the dominating force. In other words, it’s almost like Jesus stands up to introduce the guest speaker for the evening and then whatever the add-on happens to be rises to the podium, and Jesus steps to the side.

To clarify, it’s not that Jesus isn’t connected to other parts and interests in our lives; it’s the tendency to contort the Savior into some kind of shape that fits into our interests. He becomes a reference for our opinion, instead of the Revelation through whom we come to an opinion. He becomes the after-the-hyphen word, kind of a substitute driver if the main driving passion of our life gets exhausted.

Peterson makes the point that the book of Hebrews is getting the followers of Jesus to realize that God’s action was in Jesus, not Jesus-and! In our complex culture, many people shudder at the idea of simplicity. It’s too plain for them, like a bowl of rice with no seasonings or butter. Jesus is just not exciting enough for them. The “happening church” they attend adds some color to the plainness of their King with a moving light display and a pastor in skinny jeans. The cappuccino they can sip during the live praise band performance also adds flavor. They are addicted to spiritual seasonings, not quite the intent of Jesus’ words telling people to be the salt of the earth.

Imagine, however, hearing the words of grace and forgiveness for the first time, and finding out that the One who loves me and beckons me to follow is the Only One who does not need to be hyphenated. In fact, the only punctuation after His name might be simply a wondrous exclamation mark! Simply amazing!

Center Wisdom

January 16, 2021

Rubber bands have always made me a bit nervous. When I use one to hold a stack of notecards together or to keep a box-top from flying open, I proceed with caution. You may be doubting my manhood at about this point, but, you see, I hate it when a rubber band suddenly snaps. The snap often results in my fingers getting hit in the recoil. And then I have to do the same thing all over again with another rubber band. It’s like having your mom shovel a second helping of hominy grits onto your plate right after you had survived the last bite of the first helping!

Rubber bands have their limit. They are only so flexible, and then they snap into a worm-like piece of useless rubber.

It’s a visual example of the extremism that is stretching our nation. Both progressive and conservative extremists are bringing us to the snapping point, and the flexibility of our nation is being sorely tested. Those of us in the middle, or leaning some either way can see it, but the ends of the tug-of-war keep pulling like it’s a taffy pull.

As I’ve grown older, I hope I’ve grown wiser in some ways. That wisdom has caused me to see the foolishness and selfishness of political extremists. Their agenda is usually short-sighted and prone to displaying various versions of bullying. Wisdom, more often than not, makes a home in the middle or close to it.

Not to be left out of the equation (And I’m not using the word ‘left’ there to hint at anything!), many churches have also stretched the elastic band of their member bodies. There’s been the pulling on Jesus’ arm to reposition him in one camp or another. Interestingly, this week I was reading some words that were written by Philip Yancey all the way back in 1996. He wrote these words in an article in Christianity Today magazine, entitled “Unwrapping Jesus” (June 17, 1996): “Each time an election rolls around Christians debate whether this or that candidate is “God’s person” for the White House. I had difficulty imagining Jesus pondering whether Tiberius, Octavious, or Julius Caesar was “God’s man” for the empire.”

Jesus was “God’s man” and God’s Son! He was always aware of the pulls to get Him to support this or that agenda. His wisdom, given to us in the Gospels, is void of any agendas but His Heavenly Father’s. He had a social conscience that sought to care for the widows, orphans, the poor, and outcasts; and He displayed a passion for the spiritually lost. He ate with a tax collector who was perhaps the most despised person in his town, and probably the richest; and he walked with fishermen who were about as common as anyone of their time, and struggling to make ends meet.

In the end, the Jesus I follow, knew what His purpose was and where it would lead Him. The factions that He listened to but would not join turned on Him and snapped back.

That’s what happens quite often with the wisdom in the center. The pulling ends won’t give up. The call for unity in the views of the extremists is not a priority, but rather a nuisance. Like the rubber band about to snap, their focus is more on getting a bigger piece of the rubber, regardless of the pain.

What’s My “Jesus Word”?

January 7, 2021

Cary Nieuwhof wrote a blog recently as a result of the Washington protest/unrest. Although written with church leaders and pastors in mind, it had several great points to make about the power of our words. I love it when I read something or hear someone speak that results in causing me to think and ponder the words of the author/speaker.

Cary makes this statement: As Jesus so clearly said, out of the overflow of the heart your mouth speaks.

Word issues are heart issues. The only way to really fix your words is to fix your heart. Sometimes we get so tired of the words we’re hearing that we retreat to silence or irrelevance. Last night, for example, my wife and I got so tired of the reports of what was happening in Washington that we switched channels and started watching the Tennessee-Arkansas basketball game. For someone who grew up as a Kentucky Wildcats’ basketball fan, watching Tennessee play was almost sacrilegious, but we needed a break from the “words”!

Words carry power and influence. They are impactful expressions of our mindset. However, they can be used to lead folks to a place of greater understanding deeper peace, and broadened hope; or they can be used to lead the herd to the edge of the cliff.

The question that came to me, being a Christ-follower, is what’s my Jesus-word for this time? What communication of Christ will inspire me, instead of causing me to change the channels? What word will emerge from my mouth that will be an reflection of my heart?

I think of Jesus sayings at the beginning of the fifth chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. We refer to them as His Sermon on the Mount. He talks about people of mercy and peace, people whose life-priorities are God-glorifying, people who are caring and loving, and people who may be poor in the world’s views but rich in spirit. There are Jesus’ words about grace and forgiveness, servant-minded, and giving. He teaches about inner beauty as being delightful in the eyes of God versus outward piety.

I must do self-inspection of what word my heart is echoing before inspecting the lives of others. We live in a time where criticism has dominated the tapestry. The darkness that shades our hearts affects our vision of our surroundings. For me, I must ask myself why I react with bitterness to a person whose perspective is different than mine? Why am I apathetic toward someone’s passion for a just cause? On the other side, why do I get emotional when I see a child who is seeking to befriend a lonely elderly person?

What Jesus-word will be a guiding force for me in these coming weeks?

Smile, Students!

November 24, 2020

Since I’m a fill-in teacher this year, kinda a fake instructor, I do some things that are a little bizarre and lacking in academic seriousness. Like last week when I started adding stuffed animals to flank the Cabbage Patch doll that was neatly arranged at the desk close to my classroom desk. I refer to the troupe as my fill-in students, since in-person students won’t be in the classroom until January.

On my back wall I had the word “Laugh” for a couple of weeks, the letters formed by Far Side cartoons. Last week I rearranged the letters, inserted some new Far Sides, and spelled out “SMILE”. Unfortunately, our school went to remote learning before my students had a chance to see it, but I’ll keep it pinned to the wall until they come back.

It’s difficult for them to smile much these days, being partially in class and partially virtual until now, and now they are totally remote. My teaching teammates and I started doing virtual lunches with them to help keep the connection. As they sit and eat their PB&J, they can log into one of our communication channels and converse with other classmates and teachers. It’s like an online cafeteria.

I want them to know that it’s okay to say they aren’t okay, to say they don’t enjoy this distant educational experience. If, in the midst of that, I can bring a smile or a chuckle I’ll have led them toward a moment of normalcy. If I can make comments about their on-screen backdrop or mention that they’re looking awesome that day, perhaps they will let their defenses and reservations down for a few moments.

This year education is more about instilling a calmness in the midst of the pandemic storm. It’s about getting these adolescents to trust in the belief that it’s going to turn out okay.

It’s getting them to rediscover their ability to smile.

The Popularity of Extremists

November 22, 2020

They make me cringe and want to floss my teeth for no apparent reason. The extremist views of the right and the left are…well, extreme!

And popular! Not popular, because mega-number of people agree with them, but they attract attention because they are so “out there”. They are the political versions of The Real Housewives of Wherever, another cultural favorite that makes me run for the bathroom cabinet.

Being a moderate, I have to shake my head and go for a walk. And yet, as I think about it, extreme views and personalities are apparent in most areas and arenas of our world. Football players, and the whole offensive line, now make it an end zone production after a touchdown is scored. It seems like no one now scores and simply hands the football to the nearest official. Broadway has to make a showing. Speaking of Broadway, that brings back the memory of Joe Namath from the 60s and 70s, the quarterback whose nickname was Broadway Joe.

Even religion goes for the extremes, from Benny Hinn smacking people in the forehead to extreme conservative churches that frown on smiling.

In politics we’ve had the Moral Majority and the Tea Party and, on the other side, there’s the Progressive “Pack” and “The View”.

The thing is…those of us in the middle are very uncomfortable with the extreme views in just about any area. We don’t frequent marijuana dispensaries and we’re likely to have a beer in our refrigerator. Our sense of what is right is more resembling of a Norman Rockwell painting than a protest march. We don’t believe everything should be free and that work is not a four-letter word (although it has four letters).

We don’t attract a lot of attention and don’t garner the kind of Nielsen ratings that make us appealing. We’re more comfortable with farmers and the town square barber than we are with techies and fashion statements. We understand how blessed we are to be Americans, but also are willing to help those in other parts of the world who need food.

We drive Hondas and Chevys at reasonable speeds and reach for the floss as the red BMW speeds by us, weaving in between three lanes of moderates.

And we know that we’ll probably never be popular! We’ll just be average, or better yet, normal!

VIRTUAL MOTIVATION

November 15, 2020

It’s an intriguing, even perplexing, problem. In some ways it’s a puzzle that I often faced in my 36+ years as a church pastor. How do you motivate virtual students? How do you shepherd the flock to move along toward the green pastures of more knowledge, understanding, and problem-solving?

I’ve wrestled with the dilemma for some time now. Not being a teacher, but kinda being a teacher, I do not have any neat-and-tidy educational formulas that fit the situation. On the other hand, it might be to my benefit that I don’t have any neat-and-tidy educational formulas to make me believe that this pandemic era eLearning setup is something that can be answered with a step-by-step lesson plan.

My concern is more for the students who are lower performers, students who struggle enough as it is in a normal school classroom setting. To be sure, their are some students who could care less and are using this time of virtual learning to improve on their gaming skills. One student this past week didn’t realize that his microphone was unmuted and the teacher could hear the “ping, ping, ping” of a video game gun being fired. As I’m discovering, there’s even a few parents who are uninterested in their child’s disinterest. But there are those students who need an in-person human voice to help them navigate a problem or assignment. They are the students who don’t see what needs to be done as a math calculation, but rather an unclimbable wall that inhibits them from moving forward.

How do you motivate young minds to gain ground when there is chaos happening all around them?

For me, the relationship with students is the pavement for the instruction. Knowing the students– their dreams and fears, the things that bring smiles to their faces and the topics that make them cringe– helps them believe that I’m there to assist them, not inject more dreariness into their lives. I want them to know that I understand that they will not always be on their A-game, that some days will be immersed with a feeling of meaninglessness.

That element of caring demands more from the teachers than from them. I must be willing to go the extra mile, because their engines have stalled. A gentle push with a few words of encouragement may be the only fuel needed to get them moving again.

However, there are those students who are resistant to being motivated toward academic advancement. For those students, their loss in education must not be multiplied with a loss of relationships. Like the prodigal son that Jesus talked about, they need to know that their teachers will be there for them when they decide it’s time to return to learn. They need to believe that those who lead them in this weird way of doing school have not given up on them.

Tomorrow I’ll see four different screens full of faces, some who have simply rolled over in bed and logged on to class and some who will be expecting to learn. Like a shepherd, I’ll try my best to move the flock on down the road. I’ll punctuate the journey with moments of laughter and words of affirmation, and hopefully we’ll all survive being taken by the predators we encounter along the way.

It’s funny, in a way, that this teaching shepherd is a “Wolf”, but with an ‘e’!

Redefining 7th Grade Deadlines

November 8, 2020

Since we’re living in a time when some seem comfortable in the rewriting of history, it makes sense that other parts of our culture are also being redefined.

Like at Starbucks this morning where my tall Pike Place coffee is really the small, or the email I’ve received for fifteen days that says “this is absolutely the last day for this mega-sale.”

Many of my seventh-grade language arts students have decided that the term “deadline” now has a new definition. In the middle school urban dictionary it is rendered like this:

Deadline: An estimate; a suggestion; in academia, the stated time when a student should begin thinking about working on the assignment; an approximation.

Last week- the third week of the new school quarter- I received five different assignments that were part of the first quarter. That is, they were part of the grade that had already been punched in…four weeks ago! Sorry, Charlie!

I’ll receive the glazed over looks again this coming week. “Answer the discussion question and submit it. I’ll give you the next five minutes to complete it.”

What some of the students hear: “Would you consider giving a response to this discussion question and, if it’s not too much of a bother, submit it in the next couple of weeks so that I might have the privilege of granting you a score?”

I must say this! There are plenty of students who are responsible, on-task, committed to the old definition of deadline, and in pursuit of excellence. They give me hope that my hair will not fall out in the midst of instructional agitation.

It’s interesting that the “deadline-redefines” become irritated if the school food service didn’t plan accurately and run out of chicken nuggets, or their video game doesn’t load quickly enough. So, they do show some reaction to slowness.

I’m wondering if in a few years when they become taxpayers if the IRS will understand that they might not get their tax returns completed by April 15? I’m envisioning their 2030 tax return being submitted in 2032…but only halfway done!

Agreeing to Love in the Midst of Purple

November 7, 2020

I remember the worship wars of the 1980’s. It was a time when church congregations did internal battles over praise music versus traditional hymns. Quite honestly, the “hymn camp” was nastier than the praise music lovers. One man in my congregation would leave the sanctuary until the praise music was done, and he made his protest known.

The worship wars, however, had been preceded by the “Holy Spirit fights.” A number of churches actually split over the third person of the Trinity. More precisely, the friction was focused on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and, to narrow it down even more, the differences were over the baptism of the Holy Spirit manifested in the “speaking in tongues.” For those unfamiliar with those terms it might sound foolish, and in many ways it was. Congregations would divide over their views on a spiritual issue. Go figure!

And now, in recent years churches have taken political sides and fractured over voting preferences. A recent article in Christianity Today magazine focused on the division in churches that are “purple”, a mix of red and blue, Republicans and Democrats. More times than not, pastors have felt the pressure to lean one direction or another, instead of creating a oneness that is rooted in Christ. The dislike for one another is the current issue that seeks to take the church’s mission and purpose away from Jesus. It’s the worship wars and Holy Spirit fights transferred to political preferences. In a nation that is polarized, the church has allowed itself to float down the stream along with the rest of the venomous vessels. It’s anchor to “The Rock” (Jesus Christ) has begun to be torn away. Instead of being a community of transformation and renewal, for the most part, it is simply a reflection of a divided nation.

Jesus prayed a prayer as He faced his impending death. In it he prayed this:

” I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one –  I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

Oneness…unity, words that were right in rhythm with other descriptions of the church…community, Body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers. It seems that most churches these days resemble the dysfunctional New Testament church in Corinth rather than the One that Jesus prayed for.

The pandemic has caused enough chaos in the ministry of faith communities. Now, our distaste for those who vote differently than we do has fractured the church even more. We have gone from a bandage for the cut to needing a hard cast to heal the fracture.

I think I’m going to go back and re-read The Politics of Jesus by Yoder published in 1972. I need to hear from a voice that doesn’t have a dog in the fight.

Do I Need to do “The Shoulds”?

October 31, 2020

My mailbox and email “box” seems to get filled each day with opinionated positions and stresses telling me I should do this, think in this way, vote in that way, support something or someone in some way.

Although the election season has magnified the clutter, “the shoulds” follow me around like my shadow, always lurking with another appeal to think the way I should think.

The shoulds try to convince me that I should be interested in what they are selling. There’s the guilt pinch that seeks to pain me into believing there is something wrong with my moral character or ethics of life.

In recent times there’s the subtle jab at a few of my spiritual foundational beliefs. Whereas, I’m not one to force someone else to believe the way I do, I am very unease at the chipping away of the bark of my roots. Since I hold the Scriptures as being truth, it’s as if I’m being told my Guide is no longer knows the way.

I should realize that I’m a relic, a “Not-with-it” old fuddy-duddy. But, you see, when you have come to experience peace in your journey that is punctuated with certain routines and firm decisions you see no reason to alter how you understand the living of life.

How I live my life and how our family functions may not work for some others, but neither do the shoulds work for us.

The Excuse of Fallen Nature

October 3, 2020

For countless children who were in the discipleship classes I led through the years one verse that was memorized was Romans 3:23, “For all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

I would talk to the boys and girls gathered with me about the inevitability of our sinning, although I never used the word “inevitability” with them. It would lead into a teaching about the effects of our sin, which would then lead into talking about grace and the meaning of Jesus’s death on the cross.

Young minds seemed to get it! A few weeks later I’d stand with each of them and dip them into the waters of the baptistry, or as some referred to it…“the dunk tank”!

I think I need to do a TED talk on Fallen Excuses. In our turbulent, uncertain times where the need to be right has been mixed in with a world that has been turned upside down like a Dairy Queen Flurry, a new flavor has been concocted with lumps of callousness and a sprinkling of disrespect.

Instead of realizing our fallen nature and the need for a rescuer, we seem now to use it as an excuse for how we treat others. Just as the verse says we all have fallen short, I’m sure most of us could also say we have all made excuses. An excuse protects me in a weird sort of distorted way from taking responsibility. Like the driver who is riding the bumper of the car in front of him, he might say it was the other person’s fault for only going the speed limit.

For many people, taking responsibility for their actions is seen as being a sign of weakness, an indication of their vulnerability.

So, do I have an answer? Well, I have what I call a Personal Covenant, a few guidelines to help me navigate a life that is reflective of my faith. They would be the mix-ins for my “life flurry” that, I hope, would be listed on the menu as “Person of Integrity”.

  1. Respect everyone. My respect of someone else is not dependent on whether he/she respects me.
  2. Be forgiving and ask forgiveness. I do not have it all together, and no one else does either. I will not use that as an excuse, but rather as a reason to seek reconciliation.
  3. See others with equal regard. As my seminary professor, David Augsburger would teach us, see others as part of the solution we seek together, not as people to act superior towards.
  4. Relationships are valued treasures to be nurtured and supported. The other side of that is that relationships are much more difficult to nurture and more easily fractured. They resemble that dinner plate that has the potential to slip out of a hand that is tainted with the residue of life.
  5. Disagreeing on an issue does not mean I need to be separated. The sign of maturity is two people who can’t agree but still treat each other with respect, equal regard. Their value as a person is not contingent on whether I can convince him of my opinion.

Perhaps you can agree with all of those, or some of those, but whether you are with me or have a iced flurry creation with totally different mix-ins, I will try to follow my “Flurry Five.”