Archive for the ‘Grace’ category

Thanks-Living

November 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 28, 2019

                                

Today is our son’s 36th birthday. Unreal! Oh, and it also happens to be Thanksgiving Day, a day where we offer thanks, become more cognizant of thanking people, and, for many of us, join hands with others around a dinner table and say grace.

As I do a life analysis the immensity of the blessings in my life are overwhelming. It causes me to live my life out of a heart of gratitude. That is, “thanks-living”!

This morning I’m sitting on my Starbucks stool where I have written almost everyone of 1,100 posts. I’m tipping my baristas who know me by name, who know that I almost always get a tall Pike Place coffee, and know which stool I always sit on unless there’s an intruder. They will thank me for my tip, but they won’t quite understand how they bless me by setting the right mood for me to write in. Unless I’m substitute teaching I’m on this stool to start the day, facing out towards Pike’s Peak. That’s right, looking at Pike’s Peak drinking my Pike Place!

I notice that we live in a world— perhaps culture is a better term— where ungrateful people seem to be as common as the rabbit and squirrel populations in our neighborhood. There may be a connection between the level of ungratefulness and the epidemic of entitlement. 

I wish I could do a research project (but since I flunked Sociology 101 my first term of college I would be at a loss as to how to go about it) that could figure out the correlation between entitlement and ungratefulness. That would be interesting! An entitled person might respond that he’s entitled to feel ungrateful.

Back to thanks-living! Each day I’m aware of the grace of God upon me, his compassionate love. 

           Psalm 9:1 says “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” Life is lived out of a heart full of gratitude. 

I realize that who I am today and how I live today has been greatly influenced by those in my past…my parents, both gone to glory…my wife, Carol, who calculates the cost of decisions with careful consternation ( A lot of “C” words in that statement!)…kids and grandkids, who bring the blessing of laughter to my life…and friends and mentors who have walked with me for parts of the journey. 

I see the handprints of James Payson Martin and Chuck Landon, my first two ministry mentors, upon how I practiced pastoring. I can hear the wisdom of my ministry colleagues, Chuck Moore, Tom Bayes, and Mark Sommers, as they advised and encouraged me through the years. I can count myself blessed to have friends like Dave Volitis, Ron McKinney, Ed and Diana Stucky, and Janet Smith, who bring a richness to my life.

Grumpiness is not an adjective that people would use in describing me. I wasn’t even grumpy when I was drinking the 128 ounces of liquid in preparation for my latest colonoscopy. I’m the reflection of my dad, who approached life with optimism, a smile, and a warm greeting. Perhaps that’s also why I’m a proponent for thanks-living.

And now, like tipping my baristas this morning, I seek to live out my thankfulness. It comes out uncomplicated most of the time, like saying “Good morning!” to each student who walks down the hallway at Timberview Middle School; taking Carol to 7-11 for her morning Diet Coke with crushed ice; and chuckling during the verbal exchanges with four year old granddaughter Corin that may cover the subjects of ballerina outfits, bugs, and building blocks all within a five minute time frame.

I’m completely consumed with thankful-living!

The Spilled Eggs of Life

November 24, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 November 24, 2019

 

I’m into that phase of life that includes the word “spilling”. Spilling the shampoo, spilling the garbage, spilling the beans, spilling the gas as I put it in the lawnmower…you get the idea. I could insert another word in there like drop, fumble, miscalculated my grip, etc.

A couple of days ago I had prepared an awesome breakfast— hash browns cooked nice and crispy, bacon, toast— and I was ready to fry the eggs, sunny side up for Carol and over easy for myself. When I took the egg carton out of the refrigerator top shelf I erroneously grazed the side of the carton with the door and lost my grip. The full dozen validated the law of gravity and made a crash landing on the wooden floor. The styrofoam carton popped open as it hit and all twelve were thrown onto the floor. 

I kneeled down, hoping for survivors…well, survivors to cook up, I guess…but every single one of them had been broken. No yolk! (Sorry, bad pun!)

The runny egg whites had splayed across the floor, even splattering back onto the refrigerator door, like they were grasping for life. Carol came to look and she started laughing. I, on the other hand, did not have that initial reaction. After I cursed myself for having bad wide receiver hands, I debated whether breakfast could still be “scraped together.” (Bad pun #2.)

Four eggs, like a used car lot, looked driveable. Sunny side up and over easy were no longer options, but scrambled still worked. 

Carol was still laughing, and she soon brought me to the place of humor. “I wish I could have taken a picture before you cleaned them up,” she said with a chuckle. I was glad I had rushed to erase the evidence.

We’ve all spilled the eggs, in one way or another. That is, we’ve all fumbled situations and put on the coat of embarrassment. There are just some life-spills that you need to discard any thoughts of keeping your dignity and allow yourself to laugh. 

Like the time when I walked through an airport terminal to meet my friend, Artie Powers, and he let me know that I had left my barn door open. Several women who had passed me had smiled at me. I had been thinking that my manhood must have been looking pretty impressive. When I realized the smiles were because of a lowered zipper I turned red…and then laughed!

Sometimes you just have to laugh at the spilled eggs. What a crack up they are! (Bad pun #3)

So I scrambled up the best-looking four, placed them on our plates alongside the bacon, hash browns, and toast, and we feasted. 

My only unanswered question was wondering how those dark specks got into the eggs, because I know I hadn’t peppered mine!

Five Words

November 19, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 19, 2019

                                             

You are never too old to learn! 

We’ve heard those words a boatload of times. Recently, I learned the truth of them in a humbling way. My learned lesson was, in the future, to consider the ramifications of my words before sending them into social media cyber-space.

A friend of mine had told of an accomplishment in his life that few people ever even come close to achieving. When he posted it on social media I made a five word comment that was a bad grasp at humor. Instead, he read it as a negative comment, an insult. 

Five words. 

We have since made amends and I’ve apologized for my insensitivity.

I’m at the age where I don’t screw up that much any more, but, this time, five words cast the shadow of embarrassment over me.

It was a lesson well learned. There’s a lot of talk these days about being careful what you post on social media. The talk, however, is usually being given to middle and high schoolers by adults who look like they would never be that stupid.

And then this 65 year old dinosaur writes five words that, if said in person, may have been viewed as sarcastic humor, but on social media, where there is no hint of voice tone and non-verbals, it felt like a punch.

One of the things I have worked on in recent years has been to think through my blogging thoughts, edit and check for spelling mistakes, and not send out “Words From WW” until I’m satisfied with the flow and conveying of the subject matter. 

Sometimes, however, it isn’t the long read that messes our message up; it’s the few words, the slighting in a comment.

It’s interesting that I can comb back over my life and think of a few other screw-ups or, better said, errors in judgment. 35 years ago I sent a birthday card to someone from my congregation who I had not seen in Sunday worship for a few weeks. My birthday greeting included a perceived jab at her lack of presence on Sundays. I still remember the confrontation in my office that next Sunday with her grandfather. I turned eighty shades of red. In a matter of minutes I had gone from preaching the Sunday sermon to being preached to, and there was more fire and brimstone in the grandfather’s words than my sermon.

Going further back, I can recall the church history professor back in my seminary days (1976-1979) confronting me about the material in a paper I had written. He could have been a lot harder on me, because sections of the paper were simply copied from a book…okay, I’ll say the dreaded word! It was plagiarism! I rewrote the paper and learned a valuable lesson.

More recently…well, about ten years ago!…I said a few words to Carol that were insensitive and hurtful. Our two daughters were with us when it happened, and they had never seen us say angry words towards one another. They were almost as shocked as much as I was embarrassed. It was out of character.

I take some solace in that last statement. That screwups are out of character. I am not a potential “Dr. Phil” episode. What I am is someone who has experienced the grace of God on innumerable moments of my life.

That last statement includes five other words— better words, mind you— that are the beginning of a powerful truth: I am saved by grace…

The Shadow Over Grace

November 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  November 17, 2019

                                       

This morning I’m witnessing an incredible view of Pike’s Peak “peeking” through the low hanging clouds around it. It’s almost as if the mountain has battled to be seen, struggled to rise above and take a breath of air.

The interesting thing for me is that, as I viewed this sight, I was pondering a statement made in a sermon recently. The pastor said that we begin to value righteousness and lose sight of the graciousness. Righteousness, or our leaning towards it, has a way of pushing grace under the clouds. It becomes smothering.

One reason for that is that righteousness, the striving to do what’s right, is much easier to define. What is the right thing to do is often much clearer than the gracious act of caring.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d much rather be around people who do the right thing, the wise thing, than people who do the stupid deed. Followers of Jesus, however, have a way of endearing themselves to his righteousness and relegating his graciousness to the footnotes. Sometimes we forget that one of the reasons Zacchaeus was up in a tree, besides his small stature, was because the people were short on grace. They wanted to see Jesus, but not a despised tax collector. 

Church folk have a tendency to be like that also. The scenario and names of the characters have been changed, but the plot is the same. Someone shows up in Sunday worship who has had sin in their life (Like…that’s not true for some of the frozen chosen!) and the great separation begins. I’ve seen some people, who have committed life-errors, be treated like a swollen joint by the righteous, iced out.

A friend of mine told me of a church he attended that was very accepting and friendly. After a few Sundays he decided he would let his adult Sunday School class know about some of the struggles of his past. The room temperature suddenly dropped to freezing.

Truthfully, it is difficult to balance righteousness and graciousness. Some folk are so excessively gracious they inadvertently cheapen it. Others are so wary about grace they treat it like the family valuables, locked up in a safety deposit box only to be brought out for a moment and then put away for another six months.

And so we have the story of Zacchaeus, who climbs above the inflexibility of the righteous to be able to experience the grace of Jesus…and then a new way of life!

By the time I finished writing these words Pike’s Peak had climbed completely above the clouds, looking freed and beautiful. I wish it was as easy and natural for grace to do the same.

Middle School Speeders and Laggers

November 9, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 9, 2019

                             

I’ve noticed something about middle school students. Most of them have gotten their speed controls confused. They speed when going slow is the wise decision and they go slow when speed is better suited for the moment. 

Somewhere along the line wires got crossed. Rewiring doesn’t seem to be an option now. Instead, teachers monitor the hallway speed zones and take note of slow-moving students taking their time to get back to the math or language arts class. 

For example, I substitute taught in a seventh grade science class yesterday. They were taking a test. Before handing out the three page exam, I emphasized that they should take their time and recheck their answers when they were done. Some listened, others didn’t. Fifteen minutes into test time several students rushed their papers to me like they were trying to be the first to buzz in on Jeopardy. 

On the other hand, I’ve noticed one student who seems to have to go to the restroom every class period. When he goes…to go…his classroom absence more resembles the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. He never seems in a rush to “cross the Jordan” back into the classroom.

At lunchtime several students remind me of Joey Chestnut eating hot dogs at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4th. They throw their lunch items into their mouths without a need to taste what they’re eating. Their objective is to be one of the first ones to get to the GaGa ball pit outside. There should be a mandatory serving of peas and carrots for every middle school lunch. It would act as a dietary speed bump.

On the other hand, rarely will there be a student who is quick to pick up a piece of trash under or on their cafeteria table, especially if it wasn’t put there by him/her. The same student who is quick to grab a Cheeto from someone else’s bag treats a chip bag wrapper like the source for the Bubonic Plague.   

At 2:45 when the final bell rings to signal the end of the school day the scene is similar to a Walmart 5:00 A.M. Black Friday sale. Kids fire up their turbos and battle the hallways in a human sorta’ Dodge-Em Cars. Teachers stay to the sides for their own safety. To cross the hallway during these few moments is a recipe for becoming roadkill.

On the positive side I’ve seen several students in non-academic settings, such as Target or the supermarket or an Air Force Academy basketball game and they are quick to acknowledge me with a greeting. I was glad to see one of them because I couldn’t remember if he had ever returned from his restroom wilderness journey or not. 

In Honor of Marie

October 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 20, 2019

                                     

I first met Marie Lyons…kinda’…at a funeral home in Mason, Michigan, the Ball-Dunn Chapel. I was there for the visitation of Harold Bickert. Harold and his wife, Mildred, were elderly members of Lansing First Baptist Church, but years before they had lived in Mason and attended Mason First Baptist Church. 

I visited with Mildred and talked to her about the funeral service for Harold that would happen the next day. In an adjoining viewing room laid the body of Robert Lyons, Marie’s brother. Mildred knew I had been talking to the pastoral search committee of the Mason church, Marie’s church. She had me go into the viewing room and sign the guest book. The visitation had already concluded and no one was still present. I felt a little awkward, signing the guest book of a departed man I had never met, but Mildred was insistent. She WANTED me to be the next pastor of her former church, and Marie Lyons was on the search committee.

About two months later I became Marie’s pastor for the next fifteen years. She was a source of strength, gentle determination, wise counsel, a listener, and a respecter of everyone’s opinions no matter how opposite they might be from what she believed. She was African-American, in a town that was almost completely Caucasian. She never married, but took on  the responsibility of being the caregiver for her brother, Buddy, who had mental limitations and was also mute. She was a school teacher, loving her elementary students as they learned. 

Marie passed away this week at the age of 86. It is one of those deaths that causes you to weep and rejoice at the same time. A faithful follower of Christ, she looked forward to her march into glory. She did not fear death, but rather saw it as the transitional step into the presence and peace of the Lord. And yet, for her friends near and far, there is a rumbling cry in our spirits. She was so valued, and valued others so, that it hurts to know she has moved on to the place she looked forward to. Quite frankly, there just aren’t that many people around these days who have such strong character and are firmly anchored to the Rock that is Christ.

The last time I saw Marie was in 2015. I had traveled back to Mason to meet with my friend and financial advisor, David Leonard. While in Mason I met with our friend, Janet Smith, and Marie at an ice cream shop in Mason and we talked for about an hour. That was four years ago almost to the day. She was getting thinner as she was traveling through her early 80’s, but she still had that same kind voice that made you feel you were important.

  There are people who you’re around for a long time and they impact your life; and then there are those folk who you’re privileged to know for a season of life that leave their handprint upon you. Marie’s handprint has stayed with me for these past 20 years since we moved from Mason.

As the Mason community remembers and celebrated her life this coming week, I shed a sweetened tear. A saint has joined up with the saints. Like a Fodor’s travel guide, the words of scripture that Marie had memorized about what Glory is and how it looks are now being seen firsthand by this just-arrived friend of Jesus. 

Reading The Last Half of the Story

October 5, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 5, 2019

                      

I’ve finished two weeks of a long-term substitute teaching position for a teacher who works with students who have special needs. It’s a day that, in basketball terminology, would be comparable to a motion offense. All the players are moving…and moving…and moving!

The calmest moments of my teaching day come mid-morning when I read for about 20 minutes to a small group of sixth and seventh grade students. They’ve been reading Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief. 

I picked up the story on page 160, and I entered a world of confusion and cluelessness. That is, trying to figure out what’s going on halfway through a book is about as easy as the prep for a colonoscopy exam. 

Some books are painfully predictable, but Percy Jackson brings in Greek mythology, tour guides turning into monsters at the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, strange dreams, strange characters, and plot twists.

I’m sure that starting at the beginning of the book would clear up much of my confusion, but that option was not available for me. The students had already traveled through those first chapters. 

Two weeks into the reading I’ve been able to figure out why some things are the way they are, but the picture is still cloudy.

Beginning a novel halfway through is comparable to trying to understand people who are halfway through their life journeys. We have a multitude of questions as to why they think the way they do, their lack of emotion or being overly emotional, their addictions and passions, their propensity for making the same mistakes over and over again, their reluctance to talk about their past or their skepticism about the future. 

When we’ve missed the first half of the book we’re confused about the decisions, the unrest, and the attitudes. And let’s be honest! It’s hard for any of us to look at someone’s disrespectful behavior and think to ourselves, “I wonder what happened in his past that brought him to this display of behavior?” 

How someone became so self-centered and arrogant is a question that is usually beyond us. When did Jeffrey Epstein become so arrogant that he felt entitled to any woman he desired? How did he come to that point of committing reprehensible acts whenever he desired? Did his billions end up blinding him to what is moral and right, or did he have those behavior patterns before the billions insulated him?

On the other side- the compassionate side- of the character fence how did Mother Teresa come to the point where her life calling was caring for the “untouchables of” Calcutta? What put her on the path towards mercy? 

As I walk amongst the students, special needs and others, in Timberview Middle School, I try to keep my judgment to a minimum and grace to a maximum. I often shake my head in bewilderment about what I’ve heard or seen. 

On Monday I’ll read another few pages of Percy Jackson. More questions will pop into my head about “what in the world” is happening, but there will be glimpses of understanding. It will be better than the Latin class I took my first term of college. At no time, during that torturous ten week period, did the clouds part for me to the point that I understood! It was all Greek to me…even though it was Latin!