Archive for the ‘Grace’ category

Taking Personal Irresponsibility

August 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       August 17, 2019

 

Once in a while you’ll hear the words, although they are often uttered by the designated scapegoat. 

“I take full responsibility!”

Responsibility. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot with middle school students. We tell them that they’re responsible for making sure they have all of their supplies, that their valuables are locked up, and that their classwork needs to be completed. It’s a big word for them, and they hear it so much that they begin to believe it’s part of our country’s DNA.

But then what gets emphasized actually comes into play. Something happens that the word goes from an emphasized principle to an actual life experience. As fast as someone can say “Not my fault!”, responsibility gets trumped by excuses.

I’m sure it’s been going on for a long, long time, but I remember a situation in 1997 when a young man killed several people and the defense set forward for it was that he had been influenced by video games. In other words, he did not bear responsibility for his actions. He was found guilty, but it put a seed of thought into people’s minds. That is, we are responsible for our actions and decisions, until they affect us adversely…and then it becomes someone else’s fault- a game company, a dog who munched on our homework, the alarm clock that didn’t work properly, or a certain coach who is so stupid he didn’t recognize talent when it was staring at him right in the face.

“Taking personal irresponsibility” is the mantra for a new generation of teflon excuse-makers who believe blame can never stop with them.

It comes at all levels. It’s the new math! The equation is no longer relevant for a lot of people. “Because of A and B, C happened” is not what the excuse-makers believe is true. “A and B” are disqualified from even coming before C!

For example, since Little Johnny didn’t lock up his $150 pair of sneakers in his assigned locker and left them sitting in the hallway, they were taken. Today’s culture abbreviates that statement to “Little Johnny’s sneakers were taken.”

When responsibility becomes simply a word we talk about, but not practiced we lose our voice. It’s like a person of faith emphasizing his belief in God until he has to live out that faith in a life situation. Then the shallowness of his faith becomes evident.

I’m amazed at the news stories that fill the daily paper or on the nightly news. There are only hints of responsibility, mostly when it’s advantageous to do so. More often than not, sparring matches take place of two or more combatants dodging punches as they throw one back in the other direction.

With that in mind, I take full responsibility for my cholesterol level (Although I could blame it on my taste buds’ infatuation with fried foods). 

I take full responsibility for my lack of academic success when I started college back in 1972 (Although 8:00 classes should be banned…as well as 9:00 classes! Was I REALLY expected to get out of bed in time to attend them? ).

I take full responsibility for walking through an airport unzipped one time (Although I think their should be a warning light attached in some way to warn me of my openness, maybe even a buzzer in my pants!).

I take full responsibility for my lack of video game knowledge (Although the blame should be on my thumbs…all ten of them!).

I take full responsibility for the bad financial decisions I’ve made (Although the advertisements have drawn me into making rash decisions. Consumerism is a temptation of the Deceiver!).

There…I feel much better about taking responsibility…unless most people!

Sermon Feedback…Unplanned!

August 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   August 14, 2019

                              

I spoke to the Simla Saints last Sunday. Simla, Colorado is a sleepy-eyed town of a few hundred folk about 45 minutes east of Colorado Springs. First Baptist Church of Simla is composed of about 20 good natured souls of various ages between 1 and 92 (although the married 92 year olds moved to be with their daughter in a different town too far away). 

They are a congregation that enjoys laughter, potlucks, and after-service cookies.

And most of the time I enjoy being with them. Last Sunday was enjoyable…and then they started asking questions about the sermon!

I spoke about Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus. Both sisters made the same statement to Jesus, but I suggested that their different personalities might have  caused their statements to have different meanings to Jesus. I talked about Martha’s attention to detail and getting the work done, and Mary’s interest in sitting and listening to Jesus.

They were with me! We traveled the sermon journey together, punctuated with laughter and an occasional nodding of the head (with eyes still open).

And then we went to talking about prayer concerns…kinda’!

After a couple of prayer concerns were mentioned one of the women said, “I’ve got a question.” She was looking at me. “It says that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters a couple of times. So why did he wait to go to Bethany?”

“Well, I think he…ahhh…well….ahhh…”

A “Martha” speaks up. “And Pastor Bill, if Martha didn’t do the work how was it going to get done? Fixing a dinner for a group was a lot of work. They didn’t have microwaves back in those days.” I nodded my head in agreement, hoping that she had put a period on the end of her point.

“Good point!”

From the right side of the sanctuary…”And Mary didn’t seem to be that concerned about how the food was going to get on the table. Seems a little irresponsible to me!”

I begin to come to Mary’s defense. “But Mary was focused on Jesus. It seems that she was often sitting at the feet of Jesus.”

Back at me! “And expecting her sister to do all the work!”

“Well…ahhh…I….ahhh….”

“And Lazarus is just sitting there, also. He’s not helping.”

“Well, he did just rise from the dead,” I suggest.

“…and isn’t doing anything! He’s had a four day nap, for crying out loud!”

“Well…ahhh…”

“I’ve got another question,” said the woman who had initiated this unplanned sermon feedback session. “Does Martha believe Jesus can change things, even though her brother has already died?”

“That’s a great question!” 

When a pastor is at a loss as to how to answer a question, affirming the greatness of an asked question is a good go-to.

Back to the “Martha”. “I think Martha gets a bad rap here and Mary seems to be exalted.”

“Great point!”

The unplanned sermon feedback session goes for another five minutes. It’s filled with me saying profound things like, “Well” and “Ahhh” and “Hmmm”.

And then, thankfully, we get back to the clarity of prayer concerns, where there is no debate. The congregation has enjoyed the unplanned. I have a hunch they enjoyed how they made me stammer and look clueless most of all. Maybe next time I’ll ask for the prayer concerns to be mentioned BEFORE the sermon.

The 40 Year Hitch

July 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 28, 2019

                                          

It’s been 40 years since we exchanged vows. Crazy! Doesn’t seem that long! It occurred to Carol and me last night that several of our aunts and uncles attended that wedding ceremony, conducted at Community Presbyterian Church in Clarendon Hills, Illinois on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. We thought they were old! We figured out last night that we’re now OLDER than they were when they listened to a couple of 25 year olds covenant to love one another. Yikes!

We were two different people in many ways. I had deep roots in eastern Kentucky. Think J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy! Carol was “big city suburban”. Both of our fathers had served in the military in very different ways, my dad as a cook in the Navy and her dad as a pilot with the Army Air Corps. Her family was a bit more affluent than mine, but both of our families had a closeness that stays rich in our minds.

Carol had been raised in the Catholic church. I had always been a Baptist, first Southern Baptist and then American Baptist. Growing up Catholic, she had heard about a Baptist seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and she assumed that the students there walked around dressed like Franciscan monks, wearing robes, sandals, and sporting shaved heads. I assumed she liked fried fish since it seemed like all Catholic churches had Friday night fish fries. 

We quickly learned that our assumptions were wrong, and discovered what was right about each of us that seemed to mesh us together in a comfortable relationship of laughter and shared life.

In our first year of marriage we learned about grace and forgiveness. We were like two rookies heading into our first season together. Carol knew that I loved pecan pie and she made one for me, an expression of her love for her new husband. I ate a piece of pie and expressed my gratitude to her. It was very good! Let me emphasize that! It was very good! But then the next day went by and the next day after that. Late meetings and softball doubleheaders kept me from eating the second piece of the pie. About five days later when I finally thought about having another piece, Carol stopped me. Some green stuff has started growing on the pie crust! She was crushed and I experienced what it means to “eat humble pie”. Forgiveness was extended. Forty years later if I have a desire for pecan pie she points me in the direction of the local Village Inn and suggests that I go there and have a piece.

She learned the privileges of being the spouse of a pastor, but, more often than not, she experienced the unjustified expectations of it. People blessed us in so many ways and people brought heartache and frustration to us. She listened to me on numerous occasions as I came home from a church meeting that had been frustrating and left me questioning my calling as a pastor. On the other side, I listened to her deep sighs after being with the three kids all day. I was her chance to talk to an actual adult, her opportunity to tell someone the funny stories of the day and the new sayings our kids would spring on her.

We supported one another as we went through the deaths of each of our parents, never an easy journey. We cried tears of joy as each of our daughters walked down the aisle with their new husbands. We experienced the joy of grandparenthood together. 

When you walk with someone for 40 years you realize that it’s difficult to remember when you weren’t walking together. Roughly two-thirds of our lives have now been spent eating meals at the same table, taking walks around the neighborhood together, and being in love.

In the midst of our journey it occurs to us that the improbableness of our relationship has flowed into the inconceivable thought of not being married to one another.

As I’ve said before, sometimes we don’t think about being blessed when we are in the midst of the blessing. I have been, I am, and, God willing, I will be for a long, long time!

The Messiness of Being Heard

July 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    July 26, 2019

                          

I’m coming to the end of a week of middle school church camp, six days of weirdness, laughter, and tears. Once again, I’ve been in the role of camp pastor. It’s been my privilege and plight for several years now. Call me a “strange-o”, but I enjoy it!

To be given the opportunity to talk to emerging adolescents about what it means to have a walk with Jesus is awesome.

Towards the end of our week we have an hour that is labeled “Messy Games” on the master schedule. There’s a reason why it gets positioned towards the end of the journey. Going back to Young Life youth ministry philosophy, as a youth leader we “earned the right to be heard.”

In middle camp camp philosophy you earn the right to get messy. Shaving cream, egg yolks, chocolate syrup, maple syrup, flour, water balloons and canons…you earn the right to be the target that brings joy and accomplishment to the lives of middle schoolers.

I knew I had been heard for the previous five days when several kids plastered me to the point of being unrecognizable. 

I had talked about faith and they felt free to “foam me up.”

I had talked about showing extravagant love towards Jesus and they felt free enough to lighten my hair up with a few extravagant touches of caramel syrup.

I talked about believing that just a touch of the fringe of Jesus cloak, like the woman longing for healing in Luke 8, can change things…and they felt free to touch me up with streams of chocolate syrup.

Getting “messed up” is the middle school signature upon your acceptance letter. It’s their validation of your ministry and indication that you talked with them not to them.

Saturday morning means that it’s time to load up and head down the mountain, final embraces and goodbyes, the retelling of the funny experiences of the week and tears for what has been. 

I finally got the shaving cream washed out of my shorts last night. My ears have lost the sweetness of the maple syrup, and I know that I’ve been blessed.

Grace Makes Me Squirm!

July 9, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     July 9, 2019

                                  

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV)

When it comes to foreign languages I’m suspect! Always have been, from two years of Spanish in high school, a flunking quarter of Latin in college, and a “Did Not Pass” in Hebrew one fateful term in seminary. I could blame it on my Kentucky and Southern Ohio roots where English words are pronounced differently or just man up to my weakness.

It drove me to cheat! Yes, that’s right! In Mr. Gerling’s Spanish 1 class at Maysville High School I looked for any way to avoid flunking, so there were a few times where I glanced at someone else’s “examen” (I just used Google to find out the Spanish word for exam! See!)

So when I received a “B” in Spanish the feeling of accomplishment was tainted by my own feelings of guilt. What I received I hadn’t earned. It made me squirm, but, of course, I was not forthcoming with the sharing of that knowledge with my parents. 

There is something about us, about our nature, that makes us uncomfortable about receiving something we haven’t legally earned. I should say “most of us”. The recent college admissions scandal is an example of people who have used their influence and wealth to gain something not earned, and they didn’t seem to feel uncomfortable over the situation until they were discovered.

But I was “squirmed” by my Spanish B! 

I think of that classroom episode when I ponder the grace of God. Cheating on Spanish tests is not the reason I think of grace, but rather that feeling of guilt- Baptist guilt, mind you, the worst kind!- that descended upon me.

What I’ve found is that a lot of followers of Christ are very uncomfortable with grace. It’s like they snuck into the ballpark and suddenly found themselves in the VIP seats. There is that nagging feeling about receiving something that was not earned. 

It makes grace, this amazing gift of God, so uncomfortable to receive. 

Many followers of Jesus resort to one of our foundational societal norms: earning whatever it is we desire to receive. Most of us desire to be loved. Some people go through their whole lives trying to earn their parents’ love. Some spouses try to earn the love of their husband or wife, even though they’ve said marriage vows that say as much. We desire to be loved.

Followers of Christ desire to be loved by God. Some accept his unconditional love and experience the embrace of His grace. From my 36 years of pastoral ministry, however, I will tell you that most Christians are so uncomfortable with the grace of God that they seek to earn it. 

They serve out of obligation. They worship out of duty. They pray out of a sense of  responsibility. They read scripture as if it’s a chore. The spiritual barrier in their lives is the acceptance of God’s grace. They just can’t quite go there. It feels…what’s the word…unearned!

And that’s because that’s what it is! Unearned. It goes against the grain.

There are, mind you, other people who are on the other end of the spectrum. That is, they take the grace of God for granted. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Over the years the people who have embraced the grace of God and lived their lives refreshed by His grace are a small congregation. Many others fluctuate between grace-filled living and trying to earn the love of God. I know, I’m one of them!

I squirm as I admit that, even more than I squirmed when the B showed up on my report card for Spanish 1. 

Like…and Other Annoying Words

July 5, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      July 5, 2019

                              

Maybe I’m getting crotchety in my advancing age! Maybe, just maybe, I’m not the only one who gets annoyed by certain things.

It’s like this…I get tired of the word “like”! It…like…gets used too much! I grind my teeth when the word “was” is placed in front of it. “I was like, I’m not sure I can like do that this week, like I don’t know if it will work out.”

Reality TV shows…like…”Teen Mom” have destroyed the easy flow of conversational language. They use “like” more often in 30 minutes than a lifetime of Facebook “likes” for my blogs. 

Two nights ago I was at a Cincinnati Reds baseball game. My sister had purchased tickets that were…like, really, really great seats. Two women sitting in the row behind my brother-in-law talked non-talk in steady streams of meaningless dialogue punctuated frequently with “like”. My brother-in-law thought he was being afflicted with an audio episode of “Days of Our Lives.” He was…like, I can’t stand it!

“Like” gets used as filler space to complete useless information or incomplete sentences. Mrs. Blauvelt, my 7th Grade English teacher back in Williamstown, West Virginia, would have had a hissy fit if we had used “like” back in those more grammatically correct times. She may have “sentenced” us to diagram the sentence, or lack of sentence, we just said. Sentence diagrams were Satan’s tool to make us despise Language Arts!

The two women sitting behind my brother-in-law would have needed three pages of notebook paper to complete one sentence. Both of them seemed to be reluctant to bring a period into the conversation. If the game had gone extra innings my brother-in-law might have gone…like, ballistic on them!

There are other annoying words…like “Gucci”, “extra”, and “adult” that come out in the dialogue of young folk to confuse and isolate old people like me. On those I just shake my head like I know what they’re talking about, and try to make my escape.

I’m annoyed also by folk who can’t complete a sentence without inserting an expletive. Someone who says “I was like” and then transitions immediately to an expletive, I can’t handle. I mean, like, learn how to talk like Mrs. Blauvelt is your teacher!

Like’s reputation has been tarnished by how carelessly it now gets thrown around. It needs to regain its proper place in the English language. We need to return to the days when it was used in statements such as these: “Joan likes you. She wants to know if you like her?” “I like how that outfit looks on you!” “I would like to stay for dinner, if it’s okay?” Each of those statements would bring a smile to Mrs. Blauvelt’s face…and would be easily diagrammed.

In her eyes that would be extra Gucci sic!

Bathroom Humor

July 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      July 2, 2019

                                       

I’m not sure when it became okay, because it was never quite okay with my mom. She was kinda’ proper and well-mannered. I say kinda’ because I can still see her looking my dad in the eye and saying, “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” 

So for me to be comfortable with bathroom humor must have happened away from our home. It may have started in high school while I was hanging out with my friends Dave Hughes and Mike Fairchild. For some reason belching and farting became normal and welcomed. All of us coming from families where such actions were shunned, perhaps we felt freed when we were together to live on the wild side and exercise the fine art of the fart. 

It could have also started as a result of using the outhouse at my grandparents’ farm in Oil Springs, Kentucky. Long before there were port-a-johns there were outhouses. My grandparents’ outhouse was balanced precariously beside the creek that flowed behind their house. No one went swimming in that creek!

So by the time I got to college I had been well-versed in bathroom humor. Bill Schultz at Judson College was known for playing “Bombardier” while he stood on his toilet. Your mind can probably figure out the reason for the name!

Artie Powers used to come into the restroom where I was “sitting”, take paper towels, get them wet, and then throw them over the partition into the stall I was occupying. There was more than one time where he had a direct hit on me, leaving a nice big wet spot on my shirt or pants.

We started creating a new kind of language to fit the crime…er, humor. “SBD’s” stood for “Silent But Deadly”. There were certain people that disguised themselves as conversationalists, but were just biding their time before infecting the scene. We categorized various types of flatulence like the “Squeaker”, “The Blow-out”, “The Great Escape”, “Time Released Capsule”, “Eighth Wonder”, and “Rhythm and Blues”. Marc Didier was known for his “Blue Flame” performed for the Sunday evening restaurant crew at the Ramada Inn across the street from the Judson College campus. All of us who worked there on Sunday nights were college classmates. We were awed by his “talent”!

Bathroom humor is a gift from God. There, I said it! It breaks the stiffness of overly-rigid religious people who seem to believe that Jesus never smiled, laughed, or ate beans. It’s not a part of our fallen nature, but rather a sign of how God created our physical bodies to properly function. Guys I’ve been in bible studies with, on mission teams with, prayed with, and been in deep spiritual conversations with I’ve also laughed with uncontrollably because of a category of bathroom humor. 

My oldest daughter, who teaches third graders, lets her students know at the beginning of the year that flatulence is a natural part of what we do. There are giggles that ripple across the classroom, but it calms the nerves of her new students and their anxiety about their new teacher.

My friend, Ron McKinney, another teacher, has mastered the SBD around me. I always try to stay upwind from him. When he seems to be trying to extend a conversation while standing close to me it’s a sign that the air raid siren is sounding. One year he abstained from eating meat during Lent. The increase consumption of bean dishes made him a potent weapon until the resurrection of Jesus. 

If you asked my family who the best belcher is our youngest daughter, Lizi, would be the unanimous selection. She is amazing in her deep burping proclamation voice. It’s her gift! Our family has come to expect to be amused by it.

Some might read this and frown at the uncouthness of it. BUT (one ’t’) my guess is that most people will smile and chuckle…and maybe wonder exactly what Marc Didier’s “Blue Flame” was?