Archive for the ‘Grace’ 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.

Why I Wrote A Book

November 13, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        November 13, 2017

                            

I’ve enjoyed writing in my spare time, and now especially in my retired life time. I’ve progressed just a bit since I flunked English Composition my first quarter in college back in 1972. And now I’ve written a book!

Before you become too dismayed let me say that it hasn’t been published yet! In fact, two special friends who edited the manuscript for me are helping me figure out what publishers  and literary agents to send it to, and what each of those publishers and agents look for. So…it’s done, and yet it’s a long ways from being done!

The book is about a young man who has moved to a new town in West Virginia with his family. His dad is the new pastor of the First Baptist Church (Yes, that sounds familiar!), and the young man is going into ninth grade. New town, new school, and he has bright red hair. Everyone notices him! This young man is an exceptional basketball player, but also a teenager who has great character and humbleness.

And that’s why I wrote the book! In my twenty plus years of coaching and sixteen years of basketball officiating I’ve witnessed a growing trend: athletes who think the world should stop and pay homage to them for making a three point jump shot. There is the stink of arrogance that has filtered into athletics. I long to find the young athletes who have a firm grasp on the reality of life; that athletics is a form of fun and recreation and there are many other things in this life that are much more important.

That list includes such pursuits as treating everyone with respect, showing compassion to the hurting and grace to the fallen, making responsible decisions, and seeking to serve in various ways.

Young athletes need parents who are well-grounded and lead their sons and daughters towards that healthy understanding of what life is all about. Sometimes warped young people are the direct result of having parents who were already twisted in their priorities !

And so I wrote a fictional story about a kid who understood that making a free throw wasn’t as important as his friendship with the seventh grade neighbor boy who had always been made to feel he wasn’t good enough.

I wrote a book about a young man who held the idea of being a team as being more important, win-or-lose, than being the star of a team.

I wrote a book about a new kid in a place of unwritten traditions and practices who lives a life that has been planted with humility and fertilized with grace. I’m hoping that in the future I will meet that young man often and each day, whether it be a court, a field, a stage, or a track.

The Rightness of The Moment, Not The Headline

November 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                November 5, 2017

                          

When Coach Jim Franklin ran like a madman towards the end zone at the end of his Penn State football team’s heartbreaking loss at Michigan State yesterday I, like most people who saw him sprinting, thought he was going to chastise the officials for some perceived blunder. When it turned out he was sprinting to catch some of his players who were heading to the locker room without shaking hands with the Spartan players it was reassuring that in the intensity of the contest someone whose job depends on winning still had the right perspective.

Even though the cameras caught his mad dash it was not something that had been orchestrated. It was simply the right thing to do, the correct decision made at a moment’s notice. The integrity of the decision was amplified considering the game had been interrupted by a weather delay of almost three and a half hours.

How many of us would have lost our cool if we had to wait to catch a delayed flight for three and a half hours? Raise your hand! Both of mine are pointing skyward.

There seem to be a lot of people who are willing to preach what is right in the moment when the cameras are rolling, or the press has a microphone stuck in front of their face, but the list gets a lot shorter of people who are willing to do the right thing in the heat of the moment.

Recently my wife, Carol, was at a high school volleyball game. Liberty High School was playing one of their arch rivals at the opponent’s gym. She heard and observed some actions- or, perhaps inactions- of a group of students of the host school. One young man had made a comment to one of the Liberty players on the court that had explicit sexual connotations to it. The group he was a part of included several young ladies. What Carol noticed was that not one of the female students was willing to do what was right at that moment. No one was willing to confront the young man with inappropriateness of his comment.

Yes, they were just high school students! High school students who have had it drilled into them in recent years about what sexual harassment and bullying is. Sometimes, however, all the knowledge in the world won’t cause someone to do what is right in the moment. Embarrassing someone causes cheap laughter and integrity never seeks to humiliate. It is too respectful for that.

Each one of us gets faced with a multiple of decisions that have two or more solutions. Many of those decisions also have a dividing line. Think a volleyball court with one side being right and the other side wrong. There are clear indications as to which side the ball- the decided on response- is on. None of us make all the right decisions, but over the course of a day, a week, a month it becomes clear who are the people who have integrity and who aren’t. Who are the ones who understand the right decision, the right thing to say, at that moment; and who are the ones who lack character and moral substance.

As a pastor I wish I could say that Christians have it all together, but, alas, I’ve met and seen too many people who confess to following Christ and have no integrity- people who stomp off towards the locker room when they don’t get their way.

Jim Franklin gets paid a lot of money to make right decisions, but they usually have to do with deciding when it’s a good time to blitz the quarterback or do a fake punt. His sprint to the end zone yesterday wasn’t what Penn State had in mind when they paid him to make the right decisions, and yet it was probably the best right decision he made all day.

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!”

Sore Muscles

October 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          October 22, 2017

                                       

I invited my friend, Ron McKinney, to join me yesterday at the health club Carol and I belong to. It was “Bring A Guest Day”, and Ron likes to workout, so he accepted the invitation. I’m “feeling” his friendship today!

I made the suggestion that he show me some weight training lifts that could improve my abs. I still have illusions of developing a “six pack”, or even a “four pack”. At the moment I have a rounded “one pack”!

After my usual thirty minutes on a thread mill, during which he used a step climber that looked like torture, we went down to the weight area. In the weight training I’ve done it has always been the weight machines that I’ve used. Ron, however, likes the stand-alone weights…like we had 45 years ago in high school.

He took me through several types of lifts, from squats to pull-ups, to arm curls, to “standing sit-ups”, to bench presses. He smiled as I grunted and groaned.

This morning I had a hard time lifting my toothbrush! My abs feel like a semi ran over them! My chest is asking for the day off…apart from the rest of my body!

It didn’t help that this was my first day back at the health club in two weeks. Bronchitis had sidelined me for a while. The muscles that Ron made me use, however, had been put on the shelf for quite a while. Quite frankly, they were like those cans of food in the pantry with the expiration date already passed.

Sometimes it seems my spiritual fitness has forgotten muscle groups as well. I get out of prayer-shape to the point where my prayers seem uncoordinated and stuttered. Meditation becomes a foreign practice, and worship feels weird. In the church we talk a lot about renewal (as we hold our Sunday morning donut), but renewal seems far away and like a dream to someone who is spiritually flabby. It’s like trying to go from Point A to Point Z, without having to stop anywhere along the way.

The question for me is will I have the desire and perseverance to get back to some of those lifting exercises Ron showed me tomorrow? Will I build on the knowledge and the routines that were demonstrated for me and develop better muscle tone?

Spiritually, when I get out of sync am I willing to admit my state of casualness and commit to striving towards intimacy with Jesus and a hunger in my spirit? Do I have the willingness to be who God intended for me to be, and to be draw as close as he desires for me to be?

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!

Feeling My Worship Age

September 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              September 27, 2017

                                   

It was a bad sign! In the Sunday announcement sheet under informational items there was that blurb that was probably intended to be a forewarning of what was about to come!

“Ear plugs are available at the Information Booth for anyone who needs them.”

It’s a bad sign when they care about your hearing! When I was pastoring we cared also, but it was for those who had diminished hearing so they borrowed a hearing device that helped amplify the sound of the speaker or music. This was the other direction. This was: “We’re going to turn up the volume so much that you’re going to be thinking you’re standing by a jet engine on steroids! So you might want to put these in your ears!”

I’m 63 and I realize I’m sneaking up on crotchety! I’m becoming like a dear saintly lady from the church I pastored in Mason, Michigan. Grace Ankney was  a great lady who couldn’t hear squat! And she would let the speaker know that by yelling from her third row seat, “I can’t hear you!” I don’t remember what Grace’s spiritual gifts were, but she scored low on hospitality!

And here I was about to shout “I can’t hear myself!” But, of course, I couldn’t hear myself so I didn’t say it.

I realize the church I was attending last Sunday is designed for a younger crowd…soon to be younger deaf crowd…and there are all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. I’m a person of grace who is fairly tolerant about circumstances and situations. I remember the “worship wars” of the 1980’s when that period’s older generation fought hard against the new worship music that was settling upon the hearts of congregations. Our leadership council had several hours of discussion about it. We did planning retreats where we sought to figure out the direction we were going in worship, while being sensitive to those who liked it the way it had been…for fifty years!

I remember one young man from my church asking me if the lady who played the organ could take the parking brake off! On the other side, an older couple left for greener, hymnier, pastures because we had sung a couple of praise songs that had produced clapping, albeit Baptist clapping, which sounds kind of like the light patter of rain on the driveway.

And now I was that couple…longing for a calmer sanctuary of praise music. Just to be fair, the songs we sang last Sunday were all familiar to me. I knew the words to three of them, but since I couldn’t hear my own voice I never sang any of them. It wasn’t that I was being vain. Although people say I have a good voice I’m not infatuated by the sound of it. I just like to know that I can hear the words that I’m speaking or singing!

And now I’m starting to type kind of crotchety!

I’m a “has been” who is still being. This Sunday I’ll travel back out to the little congregation of twenty in a town forty-five minutes from where we live and give the Sunday message. We’ll sing some songs together in a sanctuary with great acoustics, and I’ll get a bag of fresh produce from a couple of farmers who bring in their excess each week. It will be totally different from my experience from last week where we had to park a few hundred yards away. This Sunday at Simla everyone can park right next to the building.

Perhaps that’s who I am now…a participant of a small congregation journeying together in a slow walk. At Simla this Sunday we won’t need ear plugs. Two sixth grade boys will take up the offering. There will be a Sunday bulletin, which we really won’t need because the order of worship is almost always the same. And after church people will grab a cup of weak coffee, a cookie, and stand around talking for a good 20 to 30 minutes.

That’s now where I feel at home, it’s where I sense the closeness of God and the struggles of his saints, and I’m okay with that!