Archive for the ‘Pastor’ category

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. 

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?

Yelping The Church

July 1, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 30, 2019

 

My wife is a “yelpster”! She uses Yelp to see what people have said about restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions, and businesses. On vacation we choose the eating establishment on the basis of what the Yelp reviews tell us. Sometimes we’ve been thankful for what the review has said and we’ve experienced. Other times we’ve wondered if the reviewer was at a different restaurant than the one we went to.

It’s amazing how one customer can talk about a restaurant in such glowing terms and another person can give a review that makes it less appealing than the school cafeteria. One gives it five stars and the other one star. Amazing the difference!

I noticed that people can now give church reviews on Yelp. The Bible refers to the followers of Jesus being “the salt of the earth”, but a person needs to take the Yelp church reviews with a grain of salt. One review talks about how friendly and welcoming a church is and that they have coffee and snacks available. Another talks about the biblical application to everyday living that the sermon emphasized. Still another talked about how great the music was, almost like being at a concert.

OR there were reviews that criticized the music, trashed the sermon, made fun of the pastor, lambasted the greeters for not greeting. And these were reviews of the same churches where reviewers had experienced almost divine encounters. 

Yelp is the new proclaimer! So when you invite your new neighbors to come to Sunday worship with you they may very well say that they will talk it over and get back to you…and then bring your church up on Yelp for the decision. (Church strategy: Have its members flood Yelp with great reviews!)

Here’s the thing! Yelp is all about the customer…where she can get the best service, where the best steak is served, where a trustworthy mechanic is located…it’s all about the buyer, the customer. How many times can I write that word…customer?

The church is all about the Christ. For many of us our “custom” has been to worship on Sunday morning as a part of a congregation where the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and worshiped. That’s our custom, but we aren’t customers.

It’s a sign of how the proclamation of the gospel has been altered when we get the idea that we’re looking for the best deal, the best music, the greatest preacher.

I get murmurings and open admissions from so many people- followers of Jesus, mind you- who talk about swapping churches, changing churches, trying a different church, as if they are changing their bed linens. There’s no connecting commitment, no sense of being a part of a spiritual community. In fact, “community” is seen more and more as existing in other places and other groups- the school they teach at, their softball team, the Starbucks they hang out at, the folks they watch the football game with. 

Perhaps Yelp is just another analyzing method for showing what the church no longer is. 

Crazy Youth Sports Parents

June 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     June 20, 2019

                              

They just don’t get it!

Parents of kids and youth who are playing sports, they just don’t quite understand the purpose of and their role in it.

When I say “they”, it’s like saying that one bad apple destroys the barrel. Most parents sit in the bleachers and offer appropriate applaud and encouragement. Others focus on their cell phones as the games go on. 

But…there’s the few who are like a bad case of flatulence. They smell up the whole area.

A few days ago a fight broke out at a baseball game played by 7 year olds in Lakewood, Colorado. The fight was between the adults, not the kids. The fracas erupted when there was disagreement about a few of the umpire’s calls. The umpire happened to be 13! He was umpiring because no one else wanted to do it. Like a lamb foolishly wandering into a den of wolves, he did it! 

I have experience with out-of-control parents. I officiated basketball for 16 years. Most of my games were at the high school level. The last few years before I hung up the whistle I also did small college games. 

But I also did my share of youth games on Saturday and Sunday afternoons involving teams as young as 3rd grade. It’s part of the journey of an official, doing games at different levels to get more experience. 

I can tell you this! I despised doing youth games because…because of the parents…and a few coaches. Sometimes the coach happened to be a former belligerent parent who decided he could do better, and get more of a hearing, if he was on the bench. 

I remember a 6th grade boys game I was refereeing where a mom was shouting to her son, “Kill him! Kill him!” She sat underneath one of the baskets within a couple of feet of where her son was doing battle on the low post. I stopped the game and told her that she would need to move to the side of the court where chairs were situated. She was adamant that she had paid her admission fee and that she could sit there. I let her know that the game would not resume until she moved, and we waited. After a couple of minutes she huffed and puffed her way to the side. 

And I swore I would never officiate another youth basketball game for the organization that ran that tournament! They were negligent in making sure there was adequate site management people that could be called upon to handle situations such as that one. My pay for doing that game? $18! Most high school officials don’t do youth games for the compensation. They do it for the game experience and to practice the mechanics of officiating. 

They also do it because there’s a shortage of officials and they want to help out. And guess why there’s a shortage of officials? Because of crazy out-of-control parents who think a baseball game between 7 year old boys is a life and death situation. 

I don’t remember it being that way when I was growing up. I don’t even remember parents being there. What I remember is running for a 60 yard touchdown for the Williamstown, West Virginia Little Travelers “B” football team when I was 12 against Vienna, West Virginia. I can remember when I was 11 lacing a pitch for a line drive headed for the third baseline, seeing Mick Mullinix leap, and snatch it out of the air. I remember winning the Wood County 50 yard dash for 8 year olds. I remember, as a ten year old, stealing the basketball from Mike Flowers, who was about two feet taller than me, and making a layup…my only basket the whole season in the Williamstown Saturday morning league at the high school. 

Funny, how I can remember the details of each of those happenings, but I can’t remember any of those memories involving yelling parents who were still trying to relive their childhoods!

I wonder what some 7 year olds in Lakewood will remember about their growing up days in a few years?

I Wish I Would Have…

June 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 15, 2019

                                      

A friend of mine made a wise statement today as we waited together in the Calgary airport. His dad had died at the age of 62 after sustaining a brain injury in a fall. My friend, a month into his 65th year, says he does not want to live his life out of the whine that says “I wish I would have…”

This past week was the third mission work trip I’ve been on with him. He’s vey much about helping people by using the skills and knowledge he has gained over the years, and he has become passionate about that pursuit.

That is awesome! It’s also probably not the norm. My estimate is that there are more people who live with the outlook that says “I wish I would have…” than there are people who say “I’m blessed to be able to…” There’s more people who preside in the land of regrets than living their lives for a reason.

“I wish I would have budgeted better.”

“I wish I would have studied more when I was in school.”

“I wish I would have spent more time with my kids.”

“I wish I would have valued rest as much as I did my work.”

“I wish I would have thought about the consequences before I committed the stupidity.”

The list is long and torturous, the tears tragic and wet. Oh that there would be more people to understand why in the world they are here!

When you meet someone who comes to that understanding of purpose-filled and healthy living it impresses you. It makes you ponder what would happen if there was ever a whole village of people who lived with that outlook? 

Or even a whole block that adopted that mindset! Wouldn’t that be something? They’d probably send a national news team to cover it.

Or even a church that seeks to live out the gospel, however that may look, more than padding its stats and increasing its numbers.

Instead we’re pummeled with stories of regret and sadness that make us wonder what is wrong with people? 

Maybe this life of purpose, living for a reason, maybe it could just start…with me!

In The Midst Of The Blessing

June 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 13, 2019

                              

Our lives are filled with waiting. We wait to go through security at the airport. We wait to see the doctor. We wait to leave and we wait for others to arrive. 

We also have those situations in life where we are waiting for something to begin. We wait for the movie to start and we wait for the light to turn green. We wait for the new baby to arrive and we wait, years later, for that baby to walk down the aisle with his new bride.

Sometimes in life, however, we may be waiting for something that we are already in the midst of. 

Blessings are like that. I hear people talk about looking for a blessing, or praying for a blessing. The implications are that the blessings are always in the future or haven’t happened yet. But what if we’re in the midst of the blessing? What if we’ve been walking on the bridge of blessings that connected the before with the after?

Do we consider that God has answered our prayers to be blessed already and we’re in it? Blessings are too often seen as “not yet happening”.

I write this from a beautiful church camp location in British Columbia. Five other men and I are here this week doing work projects for friends of ours who are the camp directors. As our projects have progressed and come to completion we’ve been prone to stepping back and looking at what has been done.

Like blessings, however, the tasks were being accomplished as we were in the middle of them. Completion is just another phase of the journey.

Recognizing that blessings are happening in the present, in the moment, is a perspective that evades many people’s understanding. There is the danger of always looking to the future for the gold pot at the end of the rainbow and never rejoicing in the peace of the present. 

Oh, that there would be more people who sense the touch of God’s hand upon their lives right now, this moment, today! Oh, that there would be more people who have the awareness of God’s guidance and love now, not the warped sense of reality that thinks the blessings are always on the other side of the fence.

What a tragedy it is when someone is waiting to be blessed and he misses the fact that it commenced a while ago!

Dear Body!

June 9, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  June 8, 2019

                                            

Dear Body,

You were asked to do more today than you are accustomed to. After all, climbing scaffolding and ladders, doing demolition work on a deck, and painting that required you to twist more times than Chubby Checker are things that you have not been asked to participate in.

But since you’re hanging around with five other men several years younger than you…and you’re on a mission work trip with them to British Columbia…and you’re the one who organized it then you felt the obligation…dare I say the pressure…to go beyond! 

You’ll be feeling the effects tomorrow, but at least tomorrow is Sunday so you can be an example to the others and REST!

Don’t worry! Aleve is in the suitcase. There’s more than one that have your name on them.

Remember that you’re 65! Not 25, not even a  number that begins with 5. The reason you feel the way you do is because you’re an old body that still lives under the illusion that you’re young. You know, jumping out of the gym, running like lightning, showing agility.

Guess what? Those days have passed and they aren’t coming back. 

Back. There’s another sore point, or should I say sore area. Lower back and upper back. They’re doing a tug-of-war to determine who hurts more.

Don’t worry! In less than an hour you can tell the guys that you’re going to go to your room and…read! You don’t have to tell them how much you’re going to read, just that you’re going to read. One paragraph in and you can feel free to drift off and dream about Biofreeze and full body massages.

Here’s the thing. You’re doing what you have wanted to do: Be used by God. That’s what you did today. You were used by God to help out dear people who run a camp for children who need some rays of hope in their lives. 

So it’s okay to hurt, to groan, and to feel your age. God thinks you’re pretty special…and old.