Archive for the ‘Grace’ category

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

December 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   December 9, 2018

NOTE: My friend, Jim Newsome, that I wrote my November 25 blog post about, entitled “Sitting Bedside With Someone Awaiting Glory”, went on to glory on November 30. Jim lived by the title of today’s blog.  

                               

I’m sure you’ve noticed it. People in all walks and occupations of life seem to find it easier to say something negative, critical, or unkind much more than they can speak words of affirmation and positivity. 

Social media has made it easy to be mean spirited. Schools now do presentations to their students about “cyber-bullying”! School counselors now counsel students who have been bullied in text messages and had cell phone videos of them being pranked going viral. 

Recently The Today Show had a feature about celebrities who have been ridiculed because of such things as having their picture taken without makeup on (Julia Roberts), looking too muscular (Serena Williams),  and looking too much toned body-wise a week after giving birth (Jana Kramer). 

Let’s face it! If Jesus suddenly showed up at a wedding reception that was running low on wine and touched a few water glasses there would be people today who would criticize it. One of my old seminary professors, David Augsburger, wrote that when two people meet there is a natural tendency to try for “one-upsmanship”, the longing to feel more superior or important than the other person. With social media that tendency has been amplified. Being mean-spirited seems to be thought of as a way to climb up the pecking order. 

It’s a complicated web of actions and verbiage, all linked to the tendency to want to be seen as being more important than someone else. Today you will see NFL players score a touchdown and strut as if the six points they just scored is on the same plane with discovering a cure for cancer. A defensive backs will break up a pass and glare at the receiver as a non-verbal way of telling him he’s weak and no match for the DB’s skills. 70,000 people will applaud his antics!

Saying something nice about someone or doing something nice for someone raises that  person up…and there are some who are threatened that such an elevation will bring them down a notch.

The thing is…we get reputations! And those reputations are well-deserved. There are people, who when their names are mentioned, bring a smile to my face…and there are other folk whose name brings a taste to my soul like spoiled milk!

A lot of us don’t think about that before we tweet! Spoiling rather than sweetening defines us!

In Appreciation of Great Parents of Young Athletes

November 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           November 12, 2018

                              

One of the main reasons I decided to stop officiating basketball after the 2017 season and 16 years of wearing the stripes was out-of-control parents. Many of them have added to their resume’ and are now not just “helicopter parents”, but also “helicopter fans”!

Irrational and belligerent, abusive and hostile, they bring a dark side to youth athletics. When their son or daughter has an official make a marginal call that goes against their child you would think that the kid just got a reject letter from Harvard!

BUT there are “the others”! That is, there are the parents who are awesome and supportive; the parents who understand that the world does not turn on the basis of a roundball’s rotation; the parents who allow their son or daughter to experience failure and also success and don’t feel like they need to pave the path that only leads to victory.

Parental guidance and encouragement are the vital elements for a kid growing up and trying to figure out life, but they are elements that are too often missing. They are elements that many parents have pushed to the side in favor of outraged entitlement and having a messed-up view of what is really important in life.

The parents of my 8th Grade boys basketball team this year were awesome, and here’s why!

They let the coach coach! Their analysis and evaluation of the game and their son’s play didn’t happen until after the game, if at all! Never once did I have a parent shout instructions to their son from the bleachers. They applauded and encouraged, grimaced and smiled. I’ve heard too many horror stories of coaches being hounded and ridiculed by parents. My parents modeled how things should be!

They understood that we coach student athletes, not athletes who also happen to be students! None of my players had to sit out a week of games because they were academically in trouble. Their son’s grade point average is much more important than his scoring average or how many rebounds he gets in a game.

They modeled maturity! I’ve seen my share of parents who have been asked to leave gymnasiums because of their behavior. Last year the mom of a player from the team we were playing that day sat in the row behind our team bench…in our gym! Her voice was the loudest voice in the gym. If it was Cameron Indoor at Duke and the Blue Demons were playing North Carolina I could understand it, but this was a 7th Grade boys game. I had our security person ask her to move at halftime. She was not pleased! There were plenty of seats behind her team’s bench. The coach, a friend of mine, said to me after the game, “Great! You moved her down behind my bench and then I had to hear her!”

Some parents just don’t get it! And then you see their son or daughter turning into mom or dad!

Here’s the harsh truth! Officials and referees are hanging up their whistles because of parents! And coaches are calling it quits because of parents! 

My parents this year were awesome and that’s why I’ll be back for my 19th season next year…and consider myself blessed to be able to do it!

The Light Shines Into the Hatred

October 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 28, 2018

JESUS: In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

There’s something about hate that gathers headlines. In recent times it seems to be surfacing in violent and venomous ways. Shooting people and hurling angry words make the nightly news and, in this election time, fills up the TV commercial time. 

Extremists seem to be getting bolder in the acting out of their weirdness and prejudices.  And people, otherwise known as your average citizens, aren’t sure of what they can say because it might be taken the wrong way by someone who will attack like a pit bull in return.

Jesus talked about being light in the midst of darkness, and to let light shine that people might know that goodness still lives and that God still reigns. He wasn’t talking about establishing a publicity ministry that spins out nice stories, but rather entering the shadows of the world as called people on a mission for God. 

It’s a bit of a quandary for those of us who follow Jesus. Light should get noticed and yet, in our culture, “getting noticed” often goes hand-in-hand with tooting our own horn, seeking attention, and even arrogance. We’re often stumped by having a humbleness about our walk with Jesus and letting people know how great our acts of kindness are. Is there “too humble” and also a point that is “over the line arrogant?”

To use a different analogy, friends of ours moved to Alaska this summer. As the fall days head towards winter they are noticing “the absence of light” more and more. Of course, as we head towards mid-December that absence will increase each day. There will come a time, perhaps, when they become more accustomed to the darkness than the absence of light. 

Unfortunately, it may be an analogy of our world right now. We’re more accustomed to darkness than aware of the light’s absence. 

Being light does not blind like the high beams of a car. Light is assuring. It’s altering. Our stairway at home has a light that shows how many steps there are still to take before reaching the bottom. More than once I’ve tried to navigate those steps without the aid of a light and, even though it’s a staircase I’ve gone up and down thousands of times, there is still an uncertainty in the darkness. The light, however, never fails me.

If I am a light that shines for Jesus I don’t need to make sure people are noticing. I can just be who he has called me to be, and who he has called me to.

Someone who opens fire at a Jewish synagogue, kills 11 and wounds 6, will get the headlines. It tells of the price of hatred. Being light in the midst of this devastation will mean different things for different people. At worship this morning I’ll raise up Tree of Life Synagogue to pray for. In Pittsburgh there may be other “people of light” who will come alongside the grieving in love and support. 

What I believe as a follower of Jesus is that light will surpass the darkness…sometime  and someday, individually and collectively. When I find it hard to open up the daily newspaper I remind myself that light will ultimately triumph.

Like my friends in Alaska who will be asking the question, “Will we ever see light again?”; the answer is…yes! Don’t get used to living in the darkness! Keep believing that light will come back!

The Church I Don’t Have to Attend to Attend

October 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 21, 2018

 

It’s the reality that unsettles me!

The church is different than it was when I was growing up. Heck! It’s different than when I pastored! 

Not that it didn’t change at all when I was pastoring! I remember the first Sunday back in Mason, Michigan when I used power point slides to go along with my message. A twenty-something person came up to me afterwards and told me that I had a great message and that the slides on the screen had made it even better. And then a sixty-something lady came up to me and said the message was great, but the slides had been a distraction. That was a wake -up moment about generational differences at that time (early 1990’s). The power points continued each Sunday after that and the older lady got used to it!

Carey Nieuwhof said that “the gap between how quickly you change and how quickly things change is called irrelevance!” The contemporary church has rarely had the adjective “innovative” attached to it. 

It’s like the church is still learning the multiplication tables and culture has moved on to algebra. 

And yet, some churches have often rushed to change because what the culture says has occupied the driver’s seat of the mission and Jesus, although still in the vehicle, is just one of the passengers…kinda’ like Grandpa, still well-respected but no longer allowed to drive!

Social media has changed how the church functions. That’s understandable, as long as we don’t build a new garage simply because we came home with a new car. 

In a growing number of churches people no longer have to be physically present at an on-site worship service to be a part of the congregation. Aunt Lucy can now stream the worship service and watch it at home. Social media and technology have now made it possible for people to be a part of a church in a different state across the country.

The importance of having a  sense of “community” has been packed in the trunk. The new clamoring is about “connectedness.” 

Connectedness has been confused with being the twin sister of community! People confuse being connected on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter with being a part of a spiritual community. 

A wise middle school principal, seeing how social media consumes so much of a typical adolescent’s time, takes this approach. 

“You have to manage your social being with being social.”

In other words, our social being has the potential to minimize our ability to be social. 

That being said, there is something about the Body of Christ coming together in a worship setting, taking the bread and the cup of the communion experience and sharing with one another, having someone ask if the church can gather around him and touch him with their hands and prayer. Perhaps those things are antiquated elements of a church that is passing away, but I guess that means I’m ancient!

The Rage of The Ridiculous

October 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    October 20, 2018

                                  

Entitlement detoured leads to rage!

This week a 49 year old man was enraged by the fact that another car was traveling too slow in the left hand lane. He raced around the car, pulled in front, and stopped. The man got out of his car and approached the other vehicle. A man who had been seated in the front passenger seat got out and explained that his daughter, who had been driving, was learning to drive. The 49 year old was upset that she had been driving slow in the fast lane, to which the father replied that she had done nothing wrong.

The 49 year old began to physically assault the father. The daughter, who had taken a picture of the man’s license plate, was then assaulted by the man and his wife!

What put a guy over the edge? His sense of entitlement! He believed he was entitled to drive like a maniac in the left lane and someone else was keeping him from doing that! It probably meant that he would arrive third seconds later at his destination than he felt entitled to!

I discovered this statistic. In 2016 road rage was involved in 10% of the automobile fatalities in Colorado!

Entitlement is the new rage and the new form of snobbishness! It says that what a person wants is more important that what is reasonable and appropriate.

Entitlement is surfacing all over the place in our culture. It’s in the little things and the big situations. Yesterday I needed a bag of Winterizer for the lawn so I went to Lowe’s. There was a space fairly close to the store that I pulled into. When I came back out of the store a woman in her fifties, parked in the first space, was putting her purchases in the back of her vehicle. She had a cart full. After she emptied the cart she pushed it two feet, half onto the rocked area and half still on the parking space. All she needed to do was to push it another ten feet to the front of the store or thirty feet to the cart corral. I wanted to ask her if that was what her mom had taught her? I thought about taking the cart back for her, but that would have been just as insulting since she had already decided to leave it halfway on the curb. 

I know, I know! Such a little thing! But it points to the bigger issue. What helps keep rhythm in our community is not as valued as what a person wants regardless of its impact on others. That lady made it difficult for someone else to park in that spot until the cart was moved, but she didn’t care. It was someone else’s problem!

Entitlement has shoved the importance of “being community” to the side. Community requires mutual respect and concern.

In the book of Acts there’s a description of the early church, a group of Jesus followers who met in the Jerusalem temple courts. Acts 4:32 describes the group this way:

     All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 

An incident that is told in the very next chapter of Acts revealed that “community” can be a very fragile existence when personal gain enters the picture, but for a while the first church, despised and persecuted by many, depended upon its sense of community for its very existence.

Perhaps that sense of needing one another, no matter how we might differ, can be rediscovered before our rage over the ridiculous curses us.

Happy To Do It!

October 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 19, 2018

                                         

I’m mostly a happy person. I smile a lot, and frown mostly at middle school students who are being doofuses!

A few weeks ago my next door neighbor’s father passed away and they traveled from Colorado to California for the funeral. Their lawn needed to be mowed, so I did it! No biggie! When they returned from their trip they expressed their gratitude for taking care of their yard.

I replied. “Happy to do it!” (He edges my sidewalk and driveway a couple of times each summer!)

I didn’t feel like I HAD to do it. I didn’t cringe about spending an extra 30 minutes cutting his grass after I mowed my own yard. I was happy to be a good neighbor in their time of sorrow.

It made me think about Jesus and his acts of service for others. The gospels include a lot of them…healing the blind man, touching the leper, restoring the paralytic, feeding the five thousand, calming the waves, raising the dead, turning water into wine…I could keep going!

In all of Jesus’ miracles, all of his acts of service, I don’t sense that he felt obligated to do any of them. 

Okay! There is the exchange between him and his mom at the wedding in Cana where she seems to be saying to him, “Jesus, do something! They are running out of wine!” Jesus says that his time has not yet come, like “I do this and the cat’s out of the bag, Mom!”

I don’t think that Jesus walked around smiling all the time, but I believe he was happy to serve those in need, those who were afflicted, and those who were seen as being the unimportant and disposable. 

There’s a distinct difference between feeling obligated and feeling blessed to serve. It’s noticeable in most stores and businesses where face-to-face encounters with customers are at the core of the purpose. We notice when an employee goes above and beyond for us, and we also notice when someone who is on the time clock seems like he doesn’t really want to be there and we’re more of a nuisance than a customer in need. Recently Carol and I ate at a restaurant where the hostess/greeter escorted us to a table and then said, “Your server will be…” By the end of the meal it became apparent that the “server” hadn’t read his job description!

I’ve visited churches where the attitude of the members has been “I’m here for 60 minutes and then I’m out of here!” and I’ve visited churches where the attitude has been “Can I help you find where the coffee is, the nursery is located, or be of service in some other way?” 

Jesus was happy to serve, to restore broken lives, and care for those who needed a shepherd. 

Today perhaps I’ll be allowed to serve someone who is in a tough spot and I’ll be happy to do it!

Negative Feast or Negative Fast

October 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 14, 2018

                          

Years ago an amazing woman named Jeannie Dohner came to our church and talked about “The Negative Fast”. Jeannie had dealt with cancer on two different occasions and in the midst of our struggles she had noticed how negative her viewpoint had become about many things that were really blessings. During that second bout with cancer God impressed upon her the idea of “fasting” from the negative. She would not say that the negative fast cured her, but it did set her mind and attitude in a better direction. 

There are plenty of people in this world who feast on the negative. They can see the bad in anything and anyone. They would have found something to gripe about when Jesus fed the 5,000! They get tired of days that are sunny and 72 degrees. Everything in the world is too expensive, even items in the free pile!

Negative people consume our energy; they dent our zest for life. I’m not sure how they got that way. Perhaps some of life’s problems and struggles pounded them for so long that they could no longer see anything positive. Maybe they’re a spitting image of either their mom or their dad! That is, their negativity is a learned behavior. They may even complain about how negative their dad was!

In our political climate there is a buffet of negativity. How many of us have grown tired of the negative political ads that paint one candidate as being the incarnation of evil and the other candidate as the new messiah? Don’t you just want to grind your teeth when one of those TV ads comes on? 

And yet those ads are effective in changing people’s minds! That’s why there’s a never-ending flow of them! “Negative Nellie” wins more times than “Positive Peter”.

Which points to a sad truth! That we are more effected or influenced by the negative than we are by the positive! We tend to believe negative news more than upbeat stories. 

What if we took a fast from the negative this coming week? What would that do for us? What would that do for the people around us? Perhaps, just perhaps, it might even cause the naysayers to stutter on their thoughts.

Maybe, just maybe.