Archive for the ‘Prayer’ category

Generic Christianity

November 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           November 17, 2017

                                         

Starbucks is decorating their stores with Christmas…err, Holiday gifts and ornaments. Although they have a dark roast coffee called “Christmas Blend”, as far as I can tell it is the only reference to the name we place on December 25. They use words and terms like “joy”, “peace”, and “give good” to point to the festive holiday time without saying Christmas.

Starbucks keeps it generic in order to be more appealing…and raise the profit margin. I don’t fault them for this. Although I enjoy my coffee I don’t see it as a spiritual experience to sit on a stool in a Starbucks for an hour…as I’m doing now!

Christianity and the Christian church, on the other hand, should stand for something solid and transformative. The Christian faith is decorated with words like “redemption”, “transformation”, “grace”, and “forgiveness”. They are pillars built on the sacrifice of Christ.

It seems that churches are in danger of becoming generic in their presentation, their terminology, and their beliefs. I’m not talking about churchy terms like benediction, narthex, Eucharist, and sacraments. No, I’m going in a different direction…kinda’! Instead of mirroring Christ, the church too often mirrors culture. Instead of counter-cultural we mostly go with the flow. Instead of transforming we have been mostly transformed…by the NFL, The Bachelor, and CNN and Fox News.

There are encouraging signs, however! The relief efforts of various churches and faith organizations in recent months to help those affected by flooding and hurricanes has been awesome. It reconnects with the early Christians in Rome who would minister to those dying of smallpox. The epidemic that killed as much as a third of the population in AD 165 spared no family. Even the emperor, Marcus Aurelius, succumbed to it. Families would push their sick out of the house and into the street to die alone. Followers of Jesus, however, remembered their Savior touching lepers and healing the sick, and so they willingly became infected with the disease in order to show love and compassion to those who were dying. John Ortberg, in his book Who Is This Man? (page 38) refers to sociologist Rodney Stark who argues that one of the primary reasons for the spread of the Christian faith was because of the way Jesus followers responded to sick people. Comforting the afflicted gets us back to our roots.

Generic Christianity sets up a buffet table of doctrinal sample and avoid…like the prime rib of beef and the peas and carrots. This looks good for me and that has no place on my plate. Generic faith gets customized for my taste. Prayer may have a prominent place but grace gets avoided; worship is appetizing but confession is about as appealing as week-old fruit salad.

Authentic Christianity is life-changing and, perhaps, that’s why it gets avoided. It requires our surrender, our yielding.

When Your Daughter Turns 36

November 8, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             November 8, 2017

                                  

Today is the birthday of my oldest daughter, Kecia Corin (Wolfe) Hodges. She hit the three followed by the six this morning at 1:21 a.m. Being considerate of her pastor dad, she waited until early that Sunday morning back in 1981 to join her parents. I went to church that day bleary-eyed but on Cloud Nine!

Thirty-six years later she parents three amazing kids who have enormous amounts of energy, teaches fourth graders, and keeps her husband organized.

Kecia has always had a creative side to her. When she was ten she went on a mission trip with me to Keams Canyon, Arizona. We had a great week, but the two of us left a day before everyone else on our team, heading back to Michigan so that I could be there for Sunday morning worship. I’ll always remember her entertaining herself in the long, long, long car ride back making a McDonald’s Happy Meal out of paper, crayons, and a pair of scissors. She was detailed to the point of making individual french fries and inserting them in the made-to-order container. That creativity has also blessed several hundred fourth grade students over the years. Even though teaching has become more challenging in recent years due to dysfunctional families, helicopter parents, and prima donna students, she is passionate about it. Her guiding question is “how can I help my students be fully engaged in learning what needs to be taught?”

Kecia is a great mom. Make no mistake about it, she rules the house! Not like a dictator, but rather as a shepherd leading the flock in the journey that includes stumbles, celebrations, problems to solve, and new adventures to tackle.

And today she begins to tip the age scale towards forty and less towards thirty! Ironically, in my mind she’s still more like twenty-five. Her mind is youthful. She’s more optimistic about life than pessimistic about people. Even though her classroom gets several challenging students each year the frustrations of teaching have not hardened her to the purpose or hazed over the mission.

She’s a great daughter! Carol and I feel that she deeply respects and loves us. She trusts our wisdom and suggestions. We are thrilled by every encounter we have with her.

Thirty-six years ago when she arrived in this world there was a Code Blue that went out. She had swallowed some fluid in the birthing process, and we remember her being treated on the infant table over in the corner of the birthing room. Carol and I held hands and uttered a prayer. This was our firstborn who was teetering on the rim between life and death.

And then we heard the lungs give a cry, and tears flowed from our eyes a few feet away. God gifted her to us and he has used her these past thirty-six years to bless the lives of numerous people.

In fact, I’m tearing up again! Happy Birthday, Kecia!

The Fog of The Moment

October 31, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             October 31, 2017

                               

This morning our area was greeted with a dusting of snow, twenty-six degrees, and fog. It’s one of those mornings that a person is tempted to fall back into bed to the clarity of being covered with warm blankets.

Most of us, however, don’t have the option of doing that. There are places to go, appointments to keep, and work details to get accomplished. The fog is just one of those things we’ll have to brave this morning. The fog changes how we approach the beginning of our day. Those who refuse to believe that often end up off the side of the road, or crashed into the rear bumper of the car in front of them. And there are plenty of people who are like that…careless, and idiotic!

What about the fog of the moment in our life? What about when things aren’t clear as to where the road is leading, when the next step may lead to a person’s life spinning out of control? What about when a decision that needs to be made is as clear as Mud Creek?

The wise person is one who understands that life must sometimes move ahead slowly, cautiously, preceded with and followed by prayer. The fool is the one who rushes ahead regardless of the situation and circumstances. Solomon’s words to the wise in Proverbs 12:15 say, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice…” Our world is well-populated with people who think their way is right, regardless of the fog of the moment!

But the wise listen to advice, they listen to possible solutions to the uncertainty in front of them, and they proceed slowly. Yes, there is some fog in the midst of our journey of faith. Abram had faith even though he did not know where it was the Lord was leading him, but let’s be honest! For most of us the chaos of our lives results from our reckless rushing into the fog.

The fool trusts his own understanding, but the wise trusts in the leadings of the Lord.

There’s another learning from the fog of the moment that needs to be said. The effects of foolishness often crash up into the ways of the wise. It isn’t fair, but it’s the ripple effect of a fallen creation…that the stupidity of others causes pain in the lives of those who are going the right way. I fully expect that the news of our area this morning will include stories of multiple car crashes, and that the accident was ignited by the carelessness of one. Following Jesus and living wisely does not mean trials will pass you by. The trial may have just rammed you in the rear!

Sore Muscles

October 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          October 22, 2017

                                       

I invited my friend, Ron McKinney, to join me yesterday at the health club Carol and I belong to. It was “Bring A Guest Day”, and Ron likes to workout, so he accepted the invitation. I’m “feeling” his friendship today!

I made the suggestion that he show me some weight training lifts that could improve my abs. I still have illusions of developing a “six pack”, or even a “four pack”. At the moment I have a rounded “one pack”!

After my usual thirty minutes on a thread mill, during which he used a step climber that looked like torture, we went down to the weight area. In the weight training I’ve done it has always been the weight machines that I’ve used. Ron, however, likes the stand-alone weights…like we had 45 years ago in high school.

He took me through several types of lifts, from squats to pull-ups, to arm curls, to “standing sit-ups”, to bench presses. He smiled as I grunted and groaned.

This morning I had a hard time lifting my toothbrush! My abs feel like a semi ran over them! My chest is asking for the day off…apart from the rest of my body!

It didn’t help that this was my first day back at the health club in two weeks. Bronchitis had sidelined me for a while. The muscles that Ron made me use, however, had been put on the shelf for quite a while. Quite frankly, they were like those cans of food in the pantry with the expiration date already passed.

Sometimes it seems my spiritual fitness has forgotten muscle groups as well. I get out of prayer-shape to the point where my prayers seem uncoordinated and stuttered. Meditation becomes a foreign practice, and worship feels weird. In the church we talk a lot about renewal (as we hold our Sunday morning donut), but renewal seems far away and like a dream to someone who is spiritually flabby. It’s like trying to go from Point A to Point Z, without having to stop anywhere along the way.

The question for me is will I have the desire and perseverance to get back to some of those lifting exercises Ron showed me tomorrow? Will I build on the knowledge and the routines that were demonstrated for me and develop better muscle tone?

Spiritually, when I get out of sync am I willing to admit my state of casualness and commit to striving towards intimacy with Jesus and a hunger in my spirit? Do I have the willingness to be who God intended for me to be, and to be draw as close as he desires for me to be?

Missing God

September 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 30, 2017

                                             

Carol and I were driving home from a wedding recently and she said to me, “I think that’s the first wedding I’ve been to where God was never mentioned.”

“You’re right! No prayers, no blessings, nothing with any spiritual meaning to it!”

Of course, why invite the presence of God if he isn’t a part of your life? Seems a bit contradictory to do that! At least this couple was being authentic in their ceremony. How many other marriage ceremonies have been spiritual in appearance, but the One who created love goes missing afterwards?

I don’t want to create a whole divine conspiracy on the basis of God not being invited to one marriage ceremony I attend, but I think we’d be idiots to think that the importance of the Almighty has not taken a dip! In many lives he’s segregated from the daily routines and opportunities. He’s like Uncle Fred who never gets invited to family gatherings any more because no one feels comfortable around him.

Instead of God being at the center of our lives many of us now look for how he might fit into our lives. He’s like that weird puzzle piece that needs to go somewhere, but I’ll put it to the side until most of the rest of my puzzled life gets put together.

The secular wedding ceremony was like a wake up call for me. In what areas of my life do I relegate God to the luggage rack, attached to the top of the vehicle of my life but strapped to a place where I can’t hear him?

In what ways am I “faking it” with my Jesus journey?

In what ways is the church faking it? In what ways is the church hindering the relevance of the spiritual faith of its people?

Those are all tough questions which are being asked by less and less people the more God goes missing.

Years ago one of the young ladies on my basketball team responded to a directive I gave to the team before the season started. I had told them that if any of them had boyfriends that they were to put them on the back burner for the next three months. This delightful young lady (who is now in law school) looked at me and said, “Coach, boyfriends are like a pocketbook. They’re just an accessory!” We still laugh at that storyline years later!

But, you know something! God has become an accessory for many of us, and has been easily shoved to the back burner!

When You Feel Spiritually Indifferent

September 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  September 24, 2017

                                

But I’m a pastor!

That’s usually my reaction to having an honest admittance of being at a point of spiritual stagnation. Pastors are suppose to have the glow of Moses, the wisdom of Solomon, and the spiritual chanting of the monastic desert fathers. Instead of profanity every other word we’re suppose to punctuate our language with spiritual language like “Yes, Glory!” and “Praise his name!”

So what should I do when I’m in a place of indifference? Deny it? Hope it’s like a bunion that’s on my foot that no one will see and will just go away…someday…maybe…I hope so?

I’m indifferent about a lot of things…stewed tomatoes…professional basketball, even though I’m a basketball coach and still lace the sneakers up at age 63!…Walmart…Nebraska…generic cereal…there’s a lot of places, events, and items that I am totally indifferent about. Translated: I could care less! But my relationship with the Majestic is different. I care, I love, I serve, and yet there are those times when I just want to be left alone and be spiritually irresponsible!

I’m about to slap myself into some sense!

Most of David’s songs and laments to the Lord in the book of Psalms deal with his plea for God to not turn his back on him.

“How long, Lord? Will you forgive me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

“My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.” (Psalm 27:8-9)

It’s sobering to realize that God might be saying words with similar ideas towards me. How long will I disregard his presence? How long will I ignore his importance?

As I ponder the wandering a number of solutions come to mind. Reading scripture more, or memorizing the Word; a spiritual retreat; sitting down with Oswald Chambers; getting into a weekly bible study; finding a mentor or spiritual counselor…there’s a whole book of possibilities, but getting past the apathy is the highest hurdle to jump over. The other possibilities will help me in the staying on course.

I know I’m not the only one who deals with this, and yet I think I am the only one. I’m not alone and yet I feel like I’m all alone. People who have never been passionate about God don’t understand what I’m saying, and those who have been passionate and then lukewarm like a glass of day old Coke left on the kitchen counter have a sense of where I am.

I’m heading to church in a few minutes to listen and to hear, to investigate and ponder. Indifference is not like dry erase markings on a white board. It can’t be suddenly erased in a moment, but must be gradually smoothed away to uncover the spring of spiritual water.

Desiring Quiet In A Noisy Culture

August 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          August 30, 2017

 

It has been a week of noise. There has been the noise of storms and floods, of roads crumbling and lives blasted. There has also been the usual political noise that seems to drown out the calm voice of reason. In my neighborhood, this morning was invaded by the noise of sirens, never a good sign in the forty-five minutes leading up to the beginning of a new school day. A noisy motorcycle sped by me this morning. Judging by the speed it was evidently on its way to a very important appointment.

In an hour I will be leading several classes of kindergarteners in physical education classes for the day. What do you think the noise level will be in those educational opportunities?

It’s ironic that we get frustrated with noise and yet many of us are uncomfortable without it. As I sit at Starbucks right now sipping my Pike Place brew while writing this I have my earbuds in listening to my song playlist from Spotify. I use noise to drown out noise! I desire quiet, but I’m not sure I’m ready for it!

My thoughts on a quiet place may have pushed their way to the front of my mind due to the fact that Carol and I hosted the three “energetic and talkative” grandkids this past weekend.

9, 6, and 2

And always needing something to do!

Noise is the subtle voice of a contemporary evil. In Mark 1:25 Jesus tells the demon that is speaking to be quiet and come out of the man he is residing in. A little while later he tells nature itself to be quiet.

Perhaps Jesus needs to speak to the noise in our lives that shouts over top of the calmness! I look at my day and I realize that quiet moments may only come in bathroom breaks, and I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing!