Archive for the ‘Jesus’ category

The Perseverance of Integrity

April 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 24, 2018

                           

“…because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

Yesterday I was talking to a man who I’ve known for a number of years, coached with, and felt honored that he refers to me as his friend. He recently had resigned his head coaching position, and it is still a painful time for him. His wins-losses record had not been stellar, and the decision to resign came after his administration had voiced their disgruntlement.

After we had talked for some time I looked at him and I said, “Coach, I have the greatest respect for you, always have! In the midst of adversity your integrity has persevered. You could have done things outside of the rules and perhaps, because of that, won a few more games, but you chose the way of integrity.”

He thanked me. My heart went out to him, because the coaching ranks has lost one of the people you want your kids to be influenced by. Sometimes, however, integrity must persevere through rough waters. It’s in the midst of the rolling waves that many people lose their way and become uprooted from the positive values and morals that get preached, but then forgotten.

We all make judgment errors and fall short. The difference is that many people choose the way that is suspect as their main life route instead of a momentary mistaken by-pass.

Its interesting that I have even more respect now for my hurting friend. He took the hits but stayed the course. He is one of the good guys in the sports world that we know is heavily populated with people who sacrifice integrity in order to worship the god of winning.

Bias Training

April 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 19, 2018

                                   

What are we to make of the Philadelphia Starbucks’ racial bias situation? Unfortunately, it is a played-out story that mirrors the racial distrust and, dare I say, hatred in our nation.

Next week the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice opens in Montgomery, Alabama. A recent 60 minutes edition highlighted this new memorial. The new memorial remembers the thousands and thousands of African-Americans who were tortured and lynched. Some of the pictures from the past elicit tears of sorrow for the brutality and tears of shame for the callous hatred in our past. Some of the lynchings show crowds of people gathered in their Sunday best as if they were going to a community picnic. In the background, however, you see a hanged black man still dangling from the gallows. Lynchings, or the threat of lynchings, were one of the ways that African-Americans “were kept in line.” It didn’t take anything but an accusation to have someone strung up. At the memorial are the stories of so many, and what brought about their being lynched: One man who failed to address a police officer as “Mister; another who had knocked on the door of a house where a white woman lived…the stories bring anger to us about what was

But that is also a part of who we are! The reality of our checkered past still stains our hands in the present.

Back in the 1960’s and 70’s banks would “redline” certain neighborhoods that were where mostly non-whites lived. “Redlining” meant that financial institutions would either avoid offering financial services, like home mortgage loans, or charge higher rates to those who lived in those areas. Often middle-class African-Americans were charged higher rates than lower-class whites.

We could also go back to the 19th century and talk about sinophobia, the broad hostility towards Chinese immigrants. Corporations towards the end of the 19th century had policies prohibiting the employment of anyone Chinese. Newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst started using the phrase “yellow peril” to indicate the threat of Chinese immigrants to the white laborers.

Bias is a part of who we are. It’s stitched into the fabric of our history! There’s a bit of resemblance in each one of us of Archie Bunker!

When 175,000 Starbucks employees take racial bias training on May 29th perhaps the rest of us could be invited to it as well. Bias is in each one of us just as much as the blood that runs through our veins. I recognize that I have my biases. They may or may not be towards a certain race of people and my perception of that person that I’m looking at. I may also have biases towards people from certain organizations, churches, high schools, hair color and/or style, clothing attire, accent, or age group.

The stain of our fallen creation continues with us in our confusion and blurring of what is wise judgment and what is unjust bias. Unfortunately, none of us get it right all the time. That’s not an excuse, it’s a challenge!

Would Jesus Be On The Teachers’ Side?

April 17, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         April 17, 2018

                          

Since West Virginia public school teachers rallied at their state capital and exited their classrooms for almost two weeks, there has been a stream of teachers in other states that have followed West Virginia’s lead.

Having served on the school board and as the president of that school board, plus having a sister, brother-in-law, niece, and daughter who are either retired teachers or currently teaching, plus married to a lady who got her degree in deaf education and still works with special needs students, plus being a coach and a substitute teacher myself (Did you follow all of those plusses?), I’ve had to look at public education from different perspectives.

Being a pastor I also have a habit of contemplating how Jesus might view an issue or converse with a certain individual? Would he care? Would he offer wisdom? Would be simply be present to listen? Would he be swayed by the majority opinion?

Scripture gives us stories of Jesus interacting with children. Matthew 19:13-15 tells the story of children being brought to him “…to place his hands on them and to pray for them.” The disciples had their priorities messed up and started rebuking those who were bringing the kids to Jesus. Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

That brief story communicates a few things about Jesus and those who impact and instruct our kids. Like foundational arithmetic the rest of the problems rely on the beginning beliefs.

Start with those of the present who would play the roles of the disciples! Jesus’ discomfort- perhaps too nice a term!- with the disciples was their interference in allowing the connection between the children and the Teacher. They minimized the importance of the little folk, taking on the attitude that Jesus’ time was better spent with the older generation.

Drawing the story into the present, it seems that those who make decisions about education that involve everything but the face-to-face contact between teacher and his/her students have a responsibility to not place obstacles in the way.

If you’re wondering who that might be the answer is ALL OF US! Government that sees the challenges of our schools but treats the situation as if you can treat a broken arm with a butterfly bandaid…state boards of education that are more enamored with state testing scores than classroom educational discoveries…school boards that have to make tough decisions…parents who send their kids to school each morning after a donut breakfast and a packed lunch of Cheeto’s and Oreo Cookies, and then blame their child’s poor performance on incompetent teachers…teachers who have lost the passion for leading young minds in the discovery of new learnings…and the communities that continually vote down school bond issues because they have bought into the myth that teachers are overpaid and the schools have all the funds they need.

In regards to the disciples, all of us have the DNA within us to be educational rebukers!

Would Jesus be on the teachers’ side? He would be on the side of those who are committed to their purpose, impassioned with the importance of their calling. Like the children who were brought to him he values those who “place their hands of influence on them”. He values the opportunities that are weaved into the relationships between the teacher and her students. When Jesus placed his hands on the children it was the indication of his blessing of them. He values teachers who are blessings on the lives of their students. Most of us can recall who some of those “blessings” were when we were in our school years. (We can also probably remember a few teachers whose classes we “persevered” through!

Would Jesus be on the teacher’s side? He would be on the side of those who understand that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I might interpret that in two ways: That messing with the raising up of our kids is upsetting to Jesus, the Teacher; and secondly, that the education of our children needs to have a long-term view. Teachers are shaping, not enabling, the minds of our future leaders and influencers.

There is a saying that we’re all familiar with…”you get what you pay for!” Perhaps there should be another saying that rises above that: You reap the blessings of what you’re willing to sow!”

Growing My Hair Back

April 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     April 12, 2018

                               

The question has repeated itself countless times since March 4.

“Did you shave your head for St. Baldrick’s Day?” St. Baldrick’s is a day in March when money is raised to help find a cure for childhood cancer. People get their heads shaved at this worthy event.

“No!” I reply.  “I lost a bet to one of my freshman basketball players.”

“Oh!”

I won’t go into the details of the unfortunate bet, just a summary. I had made a wager with one of the boys on my basketball team who was atrocious at shooting free throws. I promised that I would shave my head if he shot 90%  from the free throw line for the season. I lost! He was 2 for 2 for the whole season! (You can go to the archives of “WordsfromWW.com” and read the story entitled “My Last Day With Hair…For A While”, which I posted on March 4) 

So now the hair on my head is growing back…slowly! I’ve gone through stages. The first stage was called “Sluggo”, after the character in the old Nancy comic strip. Little specks of hair dotted the top of my head, like pepper spilled on the kitchen table. Okay, spilled SALT and pepper!

The next stage had me taking on the look of a human pin cushion. I didn’t have to worry about bedhead, but I did have to watch out for short sharp objects accidentally being pushed into my scalp.

And now this week I’ve entered into the realm of the porcupine. My hair is at that growing back point where people look at you and wonder if you’re possibly an escaped felon on the lam. No one on the front of GQ magazine has hair like this. Come to think of it, no one on the front of AARP magazine has hair like this either. I am in the hair equivalent of the wilderness desert where Jesus spent forty days roaming around.

The next stage I’m afraid may be called “crabgrass” and my wife will try to run the spreader quietly past me dispersing it’s “Weed-B-Gon”. This may be the stage where I break open the tube of Brylcream that my sister shipped to me. It had been my dad’s. Maybe the slicked back look would make it look better! Ahhh…no!

I’m just hoping that I’m sporting enough of a head of hair a month from now when I go to a writer’s conference in Estes Park, Colorado. I’ve got appointments with a few literary agents, and I’m hoping to get interest in the book I just recently completed. I need to have grown past the crabgrass stage into looking presentable and publishable!

One thing I’ve learned from all this is to qualify the wagers I make with my basketball players better, and to choose a player who will get fouled a lot during the season. Three of my players who shot 64% of all of our team’s free throws had a combined free throw shooting percentage of 46%. Next year I’ll pick one of those kind of players who won’t avoid contact like it’s the bubonic plague.

And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll actually get my head shaved next March for St. Baldrick’s!

Static Church Cling

April 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       April 9, 2018

                                      

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:42, 44-46)

A few days ago I pulled one of my tee shirts out of the dresser, put it on, and started another day. It felt a bit different, tighter maybe, but I attributed the snug feeling to the two servings of lasagna I had eaten the night before. I often associate tight clothes with the previous night’s dinner entree’…not the oversized bowl of ice cream!

A few hours later I went to change clothes to go to basketball practice. When I took the tee shirt off I discovered one of my handkerchiefs attached to the inside of the shirt. Static cling had drawn it to its hidden position while in the dryer. The crackling of the static electricity still present sounded as I unconnected it. I felt a bit silly, but at least the hanky wasn’t hanging out behind my shirt like a piece of toilet paper!

The first church in Jerusalem could be said to have static church cling… in a good way. They hung together, developed a deeper level of fellowship, and relied on each other for love, life, and support.

The description of who they were began with the verb “devoted”, and then three times in three verses the adverb “together” is used. They clung together! The health of the Body of Christ depended upon the connectedness of its parts.

With static cling in our clothes there are certain products that we use to reduce the “togetherness” of our clothes.  There are fabric sheets and other antistatic agents that lessen the chance that a handkerchief is going to be sticking to the seat of your pants.

Our culture, in many ways, is an antistatic church clinging agent. People are busy, and busyness is an effective reducer of people connecting with one another. On the other hand, to have a church fellowship meet together more often…just because!…is not the path to deeper bonding either. Church busyness is simply cultural busyness spiritualized. There needs to be purpose behind the clinging.

Two of the draws of social media are its superficial solution for the need for relationships and its availability when the person wants it.

Our culture lends itself to relationships that are superficial and meaningless. Church culture usually mirrors that. The most meaningful relationships in these uncertain times seem to come about because of causes that seek justice and correction, but, once again, they are mostly short-lived and lack relational depth.

The decline of churches can be attributed to a number of factors. Perhaps one of the ways of renewal will lead us through the rediscovering of our devoted purpose and the re-clinging of our belief that the gospel guides us to personal transformation and also transformation together.

The Few Seconds Visitor

March 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    March 28, 2018

                                     

I had lunch last week with a friend of mine who needed to vent some…and laugh! He had just spent the previous thirty minutes with someone who had stopped by his office and asked the question:

“Got a few seconds?”

Being someone who is responsible for a workload that is enough for two people, as well as being a nice guy, he said yes. The few seconds extended past a few minutes and into one long rant. It took a few minutes to bring him back down to the humor involved in just being human, but a long lunch later he was ready to return to work.

I remember those days of having an unscheduled visitor stop by the church office and, with a smile on his/her face, ask me that question. One man who was a representative of a mission organization would cause me to grind my teeth as I struggled with the spiritual dilemma fueled by my deeply-rooted Baptist guilt of telling him I was unavailable. That internal wrestling match had come as a result of several experiences with this man of God, and several of those “Got a few seconds” pop-ins!

People who ask for a few seconds usually have no concept of time. In their minds time is infinite. A few seconds could mean a decade in the vastness of time.

In my 36 years of pastoring the only productive meetings I had with someone who asked me if I had a few seconds was when another staff person approached me. Since we were working in the same building it meant that there was something vitally important for me to hear. Otherwise, the person who would stop by, like I was a Starbucks coffee stop, would produce anger, frustration, and cost me a half-day. The half-day cost would be because of how difficult it would be to shift my mind back to one of the other tasks I had to get accomplished that day. After the unannounced visitor left I was still dealing with the frustration of what had just been talked about.

If it was the week leading up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday I could expect someone to grab my ear for a while. It, of course, was “something that just couldn’t wait!”

“The Few Seconds Visitor” was usually a single-issue person, thinking that the whole church was also disgruntled about the same thing. He/She often saw himself/herself as being the mouthpiece for a larger contingent, like an elected senator speaking for the voters.

In ministry the pop-in person usually has an issue that could and should be handled by a committee or staff person, but the visitor doesn’t like how the team or staff person is handling it. Forget about process and rules of procedure! If he can bend the ear of the pastor/director/principal/administrator for a while to get his way then so be it!

If Jesus had been stopped by someone who wanted just a few seconds of his time he would have said “Get behind me, Satan!”, or perhaps he would have performed an exorcism of the one-issue demon the person was afflicted with.

Let me get to wisdom! The wise person is one who identifies the few people who he trusts, and who, when asked, tell him the truth and advise him on the decisions to be made. The wise person is the one who seeks to receive “a few seconds” of thoughts from people such as that. The wise person knows he needs those trusted few who he can filter situations, assumptions, ideas, and perceptions through. He needs those few people who can lead him to the right decision through clarifying questions.

My youngest daughter would often come to me with a request of something she wanted me to buy her. As she reached her high school years, when her requests seemed to grow in the size of their price tags, I would ask her the question, “Is this a want or a need?” She hated that question because it put things into perspective.

The person who wants just a few seconds of your time is usually someone who has a want not a need. The healthy organization, and effective leader, is one that is able to separate personal wants from organizational needs, personal agendas from organizational priorities, and personal rants from absolute truth.

Thanks for taking a few seconds to read this!

The Pursuit of Happiness

March 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 21, 2018

                           

National Geographic did a feature article in their 2017 November issue about happiness. What are the happiest places around the world, and what raises their level of happiness? Are there common threads between them?

Although evaluating happiness is similar to deciding what success means and how it looks, the article brought out three strands of happiness that when weaved together brought the prospects of leading a happy life to a much higher level.

The strands are pleasure, purpose, and pride. 

Pleasure is a term that gets boxed in with our personal assumptions as soon as we say the word. The hints of my Baptist upbringing immediately insert the word “guilty” in front of it. Pleasure, however, is defined as “the feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment.” We use it in a remark after serving another person in some way. When the person responds with a word of thanks the reply is often “It’s my pleasure!”

Pleasure, then, has as many categories as amazon.com. However, pleasure as a part of the pursuit of happiness is connected in some way to the community around us, the people we share life with, and a sense of harmony. Pleasure that is simply self-serving leads not to happiness but to a sense of detachment from the very vehicle that drives us towards happiness.

Purpose as a part of the happiness pursuit, in my opinion, is re-emerging. For a long, long time in the American culture we bought into the idea that more was better, that happiness was at the end of the rainbow that included a massive bank account, summer home on the lake, and Oil of Olay bubble baths (I’m not sure why that one popped up into my mind!).

Purpose means that I’m a part of something bigger than myself, that what I am about today matters not only for this moment, but for the days to come. It’s the teacher who understands and believes that what he/she imparts to the students today is important for who they will be in the tomorrows to come.

As a follower of Jesus I link purpose with the two greatest commandments that Jesus teaches in Matthew 22…”to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind…and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Purpose in my life is seen in how I love God and love others. My life needs to be geared in those two ways and, as a result, it will fuel my pursuit of happiness.

Pride is the feeling of satisfaction in a person, group, community, and culture over achievements and shared values. Once again, it is far less about me and far more about the others on the journey with me. Parents say they are proud of their children not for what the parent has done, but rather what the child has achieved or attempted.

National pride rises as Olympic athletes go all out for the glory of the country. Community pride increases as it pulls together to address a major crisis or catastrophe.

The pursuit of happiness is like our local Thanksgiving Day 5K Turkey Trot. It’s 3,000 plus people of different sizes, ages, and abilities running (or walking) together from the start to the finish. Although some people finish quickly and many others finish slowly, the goal of everyone is to finish…and to enjoy the experience! Some people dress up like turkeys or even pilgrims and take on an amusing look in the pursuit. Others are more serious about the pace. Whatever one’s approach the post-race gathering in the parking lot around long tables of fruit, granola bars, juice, and bottles of water is a community celebration of the pursuit. Massage therapists give rubdowns, ice packs soothe aching calves, and friends jabber about the journey. There’s a sense of accomplishment…a feeling of happy satisfaction, purpose, and pride.

I don’t want to give the impression that a the pursuit of happiness can be summed up by a 5K road race, but it is, in my opinion, the perfect pictorial metaphor for how that pursuit can be understood. So, grab some hands around you and pursue it…together!