Archive for the ‘Jesus’ category

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?

Light Sensitivity

December 28, 2020

When I stagger into the bathroom in the morning and hit the light switch, my eyes squint at the transition from darkness to light. A few seconds later, however, my sight has adjusted and I rejoice that I can take a shower without having to search to find the bottle of body wash.

Light sometimes stuns us like deer in headlights, but most of the time it’s a revealer– a revelation, if you will– of what is and what is in front of you.

My wife noticed a post on social media from someone who was complaining about Christmas lights being displayed this year in the midst of the dark days of the pandemic. The person’s half-cocked point was that the lights were showing a lack of sensitivity for those who have struggled this past year. In other words, darkness needs to be commemorated with more darkness. Instead of light being a signal of hope, this person saw it as insulting to those who were suffering.

It’s interesting that light has a different purpose and meaning in each of the major religions– Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It’s always portrayed in a positive sense. In Christianity Jesus is referred to by John as “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). Jesus referred to himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12). In Judaism, the presence of the Lord was seen in the pillar of fire that guided the Hebrews as they left Egypt. Its purpose is to give them light to show them the way. David wrote, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1) The menorah, the lamp stand, is a symbol for the Jewish people. And in Islam the mosque lamp symbolized divine light.

Light, in other words, has a positive place in the faiths of the world. Instead of a sign of insensitivity, it’s a symbol in its various forms for hope, community, and peace. Perhaps the person who complained was in the midst of a personal dark night, a cavern of loss. Or, maybe it’s someone who has a tendency to complain, kinda like the teetotaler who complained about Jesus turning the water into wine. Some people find fault in any situation.

I recognize the dark days that many people are living in. Financial constraints, separation from loved ones, and concern about being infected with the virus are just a few of the heavy burdens that have been weighing folks down.

I also recognize the optimism of light, especially since the longest night of the year is only a week in our rearview mirrors. A gathering in our city on December 21, known as “The Longest Night”, remembers the struggles of the homeless, and they light candles to symbolize the meaning of the event.

Power outages are not welcome events. People and work crews scramble when power outages darken a city. The first thing affected people go for is a flashlight, a candle, or a fire in a fireplace. Light is not to be hidden, but is to shine. As Jesus tells us, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

A Light (Or Strand) in the Darkness

December 24, 2020

On Monday, Carol called for me to come outside and see The Christmas Star, as it’s referred to– Jupiter and Saturn in line with each other, something that won’t happen again for about 800 years (which is about the time that all of the styrofoam trash will breakdown).

I stared up at a speck of a star and tried to contain my excitement. A telescope would have raised my enthusiasm, but Apple has not yet figured out how to put one of those in my iPhone. I mean, to be able to see Saturn’s rings would have been pretty cool, but my progressive eyeglass lens would not enable my vision to make that happen.

The next night the two of us decided to go for a car ride and view the Christmas lights in the neighborhoods around us. Carol had found some kind of email or web site that told where the most awesome displays were and we headed toward one of the street addresses a couple miles away. When we turned onto the drive we were greeted by a long line of cars waiting, as if it was rush hour L.A. traffic. Up ahead (way up ahead) we could see the flashing lights of the front yard production of one of the residents. The lights moved in time with the music that played, as opposed to the cars that moved-not! After a few minutes of staying in the same distant spot we turned around and left. Neighborhood light productions draw ooh’s and aah’s from mesmerized crowds. The two of us, however, were simply searching for some light displays that conveyed peace and hope.

Traveling down a few more streets unclogged with waiting vehicles brought us that sense of contentment. There were simple displays that echoed the hope of the season, and then we returned to our own house where an unimpressive strand of lights goes along the top of our garage and front porch. Believe me, there is not a traffic jam on our street, except for the neighbors a couple of houses down who have too many vehicles and no place to put them but the street.

Our “light experiences” made me think about the birth narratives and also some of the beginning words of the Gospel of John. The birth of Jesus was anything but a production. It was unattended, except for sheltering livestock and distant visitors who made not have been there for a long, long time. No symphony provided background music for the song of angels. Like this week’s Christmas Star, it was unimpressive unless you had a way of seeing what it really was. John testified to its significance: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

It was a single light in a dark time, a single light that did not command the attention of the crowds. That light, that single light was the most significant light. As John writes, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1:4)

Tonight I think I’ll stand in front of our house, looking at our strand of lights bought at a summer garage sale and give thanks to the Creator for His hand in the simplicity of life and how His peace so often comes to us in the ordinary moments

Car Wash Timing

December 20, 2020

Galatians 4:4-6

 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[c] Father.”

Carol and I decided to take our CRV to the car wash yesterday. We had received an email from the business that had just opened, offering a free wash. Since the CRV was resembling a middle-school boy who hadn’t showered in a month, we thought the timing was right on. What a surprise to arrive at the place and find out that it was their grand opening and that we could keep the digital coupon we had received for another time. Yesterday the wash was on the house.

Remarkably, there was only one other car in front of us that was about to take the turn into the drive-thru wash. A minute later we pulled onto the conveyor belt, put the car in neutral, and gave control of the work to the brushes, sprayers, soapers, and dryers. The cleaning was thorough and now I’m tempted to park the CRV in the garage for the next month.

As I reflected on the words of Paul in Galatians about “right timing”, that car wash journey made me think of the importance of patience and allowing things to happen when they’re suppose to, not when we want them to. I know what you’re thinking. “A car wash? Come on, Bill!”

Well, there’s a reason why the automatic blowers come last in the car wash, and why the brushes come after the soap has been applied. Need I go on?

Patience is in shorter supply than toilet paper these days. I’m reminded of the absence of patience whenever I drive that now clean CRV anywhere. The other day a vehicle behind me in the merge lane on Powers Boulevard whipped around me as I’m driving in the merge lane- a solid white line to my left- gaining speed to merge. The other driver threw safe driving out the window like a used hamburger wrapper in order to gain at least five seconds in his journey.

The idea of God waiting until the time had fully come was not received well by many people in pre-Jesus days. There had been revolts, invasions, Roman soldiers inhabiting Jewish cities, oppression, and still no messiah. How long would God wait until he merged his planned birth into the mainstream? How many would decide to take things into their own hands, kinda like Saul and the burnt offering in 1 Samuel 13. He’s confronted by Samuel and offers the excuse of impatience.

1 Samuel 13:11-13 Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash,  I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said.

We have a nasty habit of thinking the timing is right when it’s beneficial for us, but when we have to wait the gum-chomping and jaw-tightening quickens. As far as I know, the Almighty does not chew gum and exercises the patience and perseverance of the champion in a staring contest.

Perhaps that should also be a word of encouragement for many of us. Remember that child that has wandered away like a prodigal kid, or the suffering relationship that has been in need of healing for a very, long time? Maybe you’re about to have all the grime washed away and God is about to blow you away with the timing of his intervention. Just let the merge lane run its course!

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.

The Blessing of Moments

November 1, 2020

“So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” (James 1:16-17, The Message) 

A student in the special needs class at school sees me in the hallway and calls my name. I call back to him and we come together and touch elbows. I give him a “You look awesome, baby!” compliment and he grins so wide I can see all his of teeth.

I play peek-a-boo with our 1-year-old grandson, each peek punctuated with his smile and a dancing, wobbling, walking combo away from me.

I catch the last few moments of the Michigan State victory over Michigan and chuckle. One Green-and-White man’s blessing is another maize-and-blue’s curse!

I walk by Ralph’s house, our 84-year-old neighbor up the street on the corner. We talk about what is and what was, and bring laughter to each other.

They are the moments of life that too often never get considered as the blessings, special seconds that fill in the gaps as we move from one obligation to another. We have this habit of equating blessings with significance in size…promotions, prizes, and prestige. The blessing of a greeting or a peek-a-boo moment gets skipped over as we focus on the headline events of our lives.

The uncertainty of our times makes our sightings of the blessed moments even more important. They are the scattered glitter in a fabric of shadows. See them as you travel through each day…the missing front tooth in the grandkid’s smile, the Far Side cartoon that you’ve chuckled at a dozen times already, the young child who stops in front of your house and salutes the flag that flies from your front porch. Look for the moments that bring melody to your life. 

Here’s the thing! When I realize how numerous my blessings in the moments are I’m overwhelmed by…by…I guess I could simply say, my blessedness!

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.

Saying Please to God

October 25, 2020

A dear friend of mine was telling a story to children at church on a Sunday morning. The point he was striving to make was that we don’t always get what we pray for because God knows what we need. My friend had talked about how he had prayed for a red Corvette, but never received the answer to his prayer.

As often happens with Sunday morning children’s stories, his tale of past personal episodes was slightly derailed by the side point of a six-year-old boy who felt led to explain the error of my friend’s ways. To six-year-olds the solution often seems as obvious as the nose on your face. He tried to soften the harshness of the answer with the gentler word “maybe” as the beginning of his counseling advice.

“Maybe you should have said please!”

Red Corvettes are just a “please” away. There’s a simplicity in a please, and yet if the granting of our prayer concerns was dependent upon our politeness in the words of our prayer our streets might be backed up with red Corvettes and other speed-driven vehicles. No one uttered a prayer with a please and asked for a Yugo (the car that was made in Yugoslavia and resembled Fred Flintstone’s stone-age vehicle).

Perhaps reverence in our conversations with God would connect the depth and intimacy of our prayers more. A prayer request, in some ways, should seem more than asking if the dinner bowl of mashed potatoes would be passed…please! And yet, in other ways, it should be similar to that in the naturalness of the relationship.

God, our Father, desires to hear the longings and aching of our heart. He’s okay with a please attached to it, but is touched by the pleas.

All of us have our wants that we think will bring completeness to our lives, but some of those wants dilute our desire to connect with the Giver. There are times when God gives us something that we didn’t even ask for- no please even required!- but don’t be expecting a red Corvette to roll into your driveway!

The Joyride of Faith

October 10, 2020

I was watching a story yesterday about the Howdy Ice Cream Shop in Dallas, Texas. It was inspirational in so many ways, especially how the owner, Tom Landis, has employed people with special needs to staff his stores.

During his TV interview with Hoda and Jenna on NBC’s Today Show, he made this statement: “It’s been faith on a joyride searching for hope!” Man, I love that!

The shop had been struggling during the pandemic. Landis came to the crossroads point where he said, “God, I can’t do this!”, and he received the whispered reply, “You’re right! YOU can’t do this!” Word filtered through the community about the struggles of the shop that has given a number of people with special needs the opportunities to work and learn about running a small business. Soon donations that topped $100,000 came into the business from the community and people who had heard about Howdy Ice Cream.

On the Today Show, Marcus Lemonis surprised Landis and Howdy’s vice-president, Coleman Jones, with a $50,000 grant.

As Landis said, “It’s been faith on a joyride searching for hope!” Wow! So often we view faith as an extra topping on top of a basic life sundae instead of being crucial to the foundation. It’s seen as being a step of desperation in the struggle to bring things back into balance.

I’m envisioning faith being in the passenger seat of a convertible Corvette, sporting a pair of sunglasses and allowing the breeze to blow through its hair. Instead of lights flashing to signal an emergency, it heads in the direction of the brightness.

That may sound like strange imagery for something we usually talk about in intangible terms. We tend to keep faith in a fog to protect its identity and shape.

Tom Landis has seen it as the vehicle to move forward, and in heading forward he has discovered a busload of people hoping someone would believe in them. As he once said, “Too often we see them as people with disabilities, instead of people with abilities.”

It makes me want to hop in my car and drive to Dallas for some Dr. Pepper Chocolate Chip ice cream.