Archive for the ‘The Church’ category

Jesus and Pizza

September 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  September 19, 2018

                                  

My friends, Ed and Diana Stucky, were telling me about a hike they made to an area in Colorado that has some magnificent red rock formations. They were surprised to find people dressed in attire that made them resemble biblical characters. They discovered that the group was there to film a video clip for their church’s Easter service in a few months. A film crew was getting set up. 

And then there was Jesus! He was eating pizza! Ed thought it was pepperoni pizza! 

There’s something strange, but also refreshing, about seeing Jesus sitting on a rock eating pizza. Kind of like seeing the middle school principal dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle at school on Halloween! It just seems out of character or, more accurately, outside of what we expect.

Jesus holding a slice of thin crust pepperoni pizza made my friends stop and stare…and smile!

My daughter, Kecia, who teaches third grade, is always amused by the disbelief she sees on her students’ faces when she encounters them in non-school settings like Target or at a park. She is associated with their understanding of school so much that they have a hard time believing she can be any other place. 

Jesus and pizza would be like that…unexpected and kinda’ cool!

In Jesus’ time people had rabbi stereotypes and messiah expectations. If I read my Bible correctly, there were a number of times when he did and said the unexpected. Sometimes organized religion is more comfortable with a Jesus that is sanitized and spiritually sterile than the Christ who offers grace and forgiveness for the sinful and unclean. In a way, we expect to see Jesus with a loaf of bread and a glass of water, not pepperoni pizza with a splotch of sauce nestled in his beard.

The refreshing thing about Jesus is that he is not confined by our nearsightedness or restricted to our personal legalism. He operates on the basis of who he is, not on who we decide he is to be.

In our concern over keeping anything with a hint of possible sin to it away from Jesus we’ve created a messiah who is about as exciting or appealing as a drink can of Ensure! Thus a non-dancing Jesus, who rarely laughs, never wears clothing featuring vibrant colors, and consumes food that is void of spiciness and sweetness. 

I’ll take a pizza-eating Jesus. Heck! I’m even okay with a Jesus who also has toppings of sausage and ham!

Blogging For the 955th Time

September 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              September 16, 2018

                                         

Today marks the 955th time I’ve sat down at my laptop and pecked out a blog post. 955! That’s almost a thousand! Okay…it’s 95.5% of a thousand! When I was in high school I longed for 95.5%. I would have considered it perfect if I had ever received a mark that high!

At the rate of my writing I’ll hit “the summit”…I mean my thousand blog post about the end of November. Since I’ve been substitute teaching quite a bit so far this school year (16 out of 22 days) my frequency of posting has dipped…but I receive so much of my writing material from being with the students that it’s a good tradeoff…kinda’ like continuing education!

When I write my 1,000th blog post I’m not sure what I’ll do. In the world of print, newspapers know how many copies they sell and subscribers they have. Authors know how many book copies they’ve sold. I, however, don’t have any idea who reads what I write and who doesn’t. Last week I sent a Facebook birthday greeting to a former college classmate of mine. She replied with a thank you and then said she enjoys reading my blog. 

Didn’t know that! The parent of a player I’ve coached said the same thing to me. I barely know her, but she reads the words I write that often bring chuckles and sometimes even profoundness. 

955 times. 

How did I get into it? The seeds for my blogging sowed back in 1980 when I went to be a part of the staff of First Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan. The church had a weekly newsletter and I began to write a column each week for it. It began a discipline for me where I’d be called upon to create something in writing each week. 

When I went to pastor First Baptist Church in Mason, Michigan the newsletter column habit continued…plus I had to come up with a sermon every Sunday. Some weeks the words flowed out as smoothly as breathing and other weeks the words seemed like elusive air bubbles that I couldn’t quite grasp.

36 years of ministry with the last 31 of those being the senior pastor resulted in the writing of about 1,300 sermons…and now 955 blog posts!

My first blog post was on December 30, 2008. It was entitled “Missing Mary”, and it focused on the fact that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had come up missing in our church’s nativity scene. 

The seed thought for my last post, before today’s, came from the Japanese science fiction movies we used to watch, where the dialogue was about three seconds ahead of the moving of the actor’s lips.

In between those two blogs I’ve written about having coffee with Jesus, psycho parents of young athletes, substitute teaching, growing old, my parents, middle school church camp, friends who have died, being a grandparent, coaching, pastoring, and questions about how churches function. 

People ask me where I get my ideas for my blogs and the answer is…from watching and pondering about life. Not very profound, but that’s it.

How much longer? Who knows? At the rate the world and technology are changing it could be that blogging will be about as relevant as cassette tapes in a couple of years, but until that happens I guess I’ll keep writing about life and the pursuit of it!

Remembering 9/11 and Other Days

September 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 11, 2018

                           

I was part of a foursome playing in a golf benefit tournament for an organization that provides housing and services for homeless families. In fact, we were on a goofy hole where we had to replace our golf ball on the green with a tennis ball and putt it until you hit the flag. And then we received the news!

The plane hitting the World Trade Center wasn’t an accident. It was the first of two planes hitting the twin towers in a terrorist attack. I remember that we made the turn after the ninth hole and went into the clubhouse and watched the news on TV. I can’t remember any of the other golfing events of that day, just that I was there when the events of 9/11 unfolded.

Each one of us has just a few events or moments in life where we can recall what we were doing, who we were talking to, or where we were when an earth-shattering event took place; that is, an occurrence that changed life for us, or changed how we viewed our world. 

And when I say events, I mean in our own lifetime, not in the past centuries before we were alive. For example, as a follower of Jesus the events of his Passion Week…death and resurrection…define who I am now, but it occurred before I was born.

For me, the first event that changed my perspective of life happened when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was a fourth grader at Williamstown Elementary in Williamstown, West Virginia. I walked home and threw myself on my bed and bawled. In my simplified view of politics I was grief-stricken by the fact that someone had WANTED to kill my president. The world wasn’t suppose to be like this. It was my “Come to Jesus” moment with the realization that I lived in the world that lacked harmony and goodwill.

Other assassinations were a part of our nation’s path in the years following that, but my view of the world had already been changed by Lee Harvey Oswald.

In July of 1969 another event happened that was pivotal for me. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I was sitting in the living room of our neighbors’ house in Zanesville, Ohio. He was a Nazarene pastor, and we sat there and watched the fuzzy images on the TV screen. It changed my view of the possible. A moonwalk was something that had been a part of science fiction movies. It put our world closer to the plot of original Lost In Space TV series that seemed unfathomable. To actually have someone walk on the surface of the moon broadened my idea of the possibilities of what people can achieve. 

From the destructiveness of one person to the inventiveness of a team of achievers to the depravity of an organization committed on causing destruction, these are three events in my lifetime so far that stand out as defining moments.

It’s different for each one of us. I’m not sure what someone who has been born since 9/11 would say is a defining moment for him/her. Just think! There a very few students in high school and younger who were alive when 9/11 happened. It is pre-history for them. They live in a  world transformed by 9/11, and yet don’t quite understand how it changed things for them.

There are numerous moments that slightly change us, but only a few that transform us. There are only a few where we can look back and remember what we were doing, where we were, and who we were talking to when “the moment” happened. 

9/11 is one of those for me. I remember and I never will forget.

Why Am I Confused About Nike?

September 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         September 9, 2018

                          

Civil disobedience has been a subject discussed and conversed about amongst followers of Jesus for a long, long time. It’s also at the core of who we are as a nation, going back to the Sons of Liberty and the Boston Tea Party in 1773. 

In 1849 Henry David Thoreau wrote his essay “Civil Disobedience” because of his disgust over slavery and the Mexican-American War. 

In more recent times Martin Luther King’s civil disobedience displayed in non-violent resistance was instrumental in bringing this nation through a time of granting civil rights to African-Americans. Dr. King knew that getting arrested was one of the risks in protesting the segregation laws of the South. In fact, he was arrested 29 times. Some of those were trumped-up charges as a result of his position as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. 

In 1955 Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus because it was designated for a white person. That show of civil disobedience is still referred to as history teaches about the civil rights years. 

So why does Nike’s decision to make Colin Kaepernick it’s point person in the new “Just Do It!” campaign confuse me? 

Listen! I’m non-judgmental about Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem. It came at a time of unrest in our nation. I see both sides of the argument, and whereas I’m not in his corner I’m not in the opposite corner either. It IS possible to be somewhere in the middle, convinced that someone is neither totally right or totally wrong.

My confusion is more with Nike! When a corporation grows a conscience it sounds admirable. When a multi-national corporation grows a conscience it causes me to look a little closer. Is there consistency in how they treat everyone, regardless of nationality, gender, age, or race? And, if there is, great! That’s awesome! And if there isn’t…why the spotty sputtering social conscience? 

Consistency is lacking in Nike’s drive for social justice. For example, as recent as this past June there were major concerns about what Nike and Adidas pay their workers in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Even though the cost of materials to produce a pair of athletic shoes has deceased in the last several years, wages paid to workers has not increased. Only corporate profits have been the beneficiary. Nike has been investigated for its treatment of workers in areas such as demanding its workers labor for long hours. A Nike garment worker in those three countries is 45 to 65% below the so-called “living wage” that would allow a worker to provide the basic needs for his/her family. Nike has filtered funds more into paying athletes and outfitting the Oregon Ducks, who wear nothing but the Nike brand, than they have into paying their workers.

That’s why I’m confused by Nike. They are about as consistent as a pot-holed Michigan street in March! 

5 Stars for My Book From 3 People

September 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 5, 2018

                           

Two weeks ago my cell phone rang around 8:00 in the evening. I was finishing up the rewrite on the sequel book to the first one…that I hadn’t planned on there being a sequel to!

I picked up my phone and saw that the call came from my oldest daughter, Kecia. So I answered, as I have a tendency to do, by speaking Spanish.

“Como esta usted?”

“Huh?” came the high-pitched voice on the other end of the line. It was my ten year old grandson calling on his mom’s phone. Jesse does not speak Spanish yet, at least the way I speak it!

“Is this Jesse?”

“Yes, Granddad!”

“Oh!” (pause) “What’s up, Jess?”

“Well, we just finished Red Hot: New Life in Fleming.”

“You did?”

“Yes, and we really liked it!”

“You did? That’s great!”

I had sent the book draft in an email attachment and each evening right before bedtime Kecia had read a chapter of the book to Jesse and my granddaughter, Reagan. They had read the last chapter that night.

If no publisher picks it up for publication I know at least three of the most important people in my life will have given it “five stars” in their evaluation. (Now they are reading the sequel at bedtime!)

Kecia told me that they had cried when a tragedy had occurred for one of the main families in the book. And she told me that they had enjoyed a certain chapter so much that they read it twice.

Both of the grandkids (Their 3 year old sister isn’t quite into the reading and listening stage yet, although she does get read to every night.) are avid and excellent readers, encouraged by their third grade teacher mom. Their reading level is far above the average for their peers. It’s a byproduct of the fact that they have ended their day with a reading time for as long as they can remember.

So now I wait to hear from the publisher who has the draft. I pitched it to the managing editor of a publisher back in May at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference. He gave me his card and told me to send it to him. Since then we’ve exchanged a few emails and he’s told me it won’t be until around the end of October before they’ll make a decision.

Another publishing house of the “vanity publishing” type wants me to pursue it with them, but a good-sized payment is attached to their contract…that is, I pay them and sometime down the road…in a future life maybe!…I’ll break even! 

My two good friends, both with knowledge and experience in the print industry, continue to encourage me and tell me that it is an excellent book. They have edited both my original draft and then my rewrite…as well, as the sequel. They have been drawn into loving the characters and have come alongside me as plots have been shaped and considered. In certain times in the writing of the book(s) one of them has said something like “What if…?” or “Why did you take the scene in that direction?”

The publishing industry is tough competition these days. Companies are much more selective in what they are pursuing. In this time of 140 character tweets people don’t read like they used to. BUT people will still read a good story!

For now I have at least three people who’ve given me five stars. Actually, my two editing friends would join the three related to me, so I guess I’m at five people! 

Now I’ve started writing Book 3. It seems somewhat strange to write a third book in a series where even the first novel hasn’t been published yet…but I want to see how the story ends!

Clueing In The Almighty

September 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 3, 2018

                               

(The seed thought for this blog post comes from hearing a sermon by Rev. Ed Stucky)

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13-14, NIV)

Sometimes we treat God like he’s the parent of teenagers…and we’re the teenagers! Remember those days? You know, when, in your opinion, your parents were completely clueless!

We believe it’s necessary sometimes to tell God what he doesn’t seem to know. It’s one of the ways we can stay in control, believing that God doesn’t have it all together, a divine being with developing dementia. 

The Bible gives us more examples of people trying to correct God’s poor decisions than people who took him his word. Moses tried to straighten him out at the burning bush. He was sure that God had mistaken him for someone else, kind of like Isaac mistaking Jacob for his brother Esau. 

Ananias felt God needed an update on who Saul (to be renamed Paul a little later!) was and what he had done. Like a royal advisor, he brought necessary intel to the Almighty All-knowing on this man coming to his city. 

If the Scriptures are filled with examples of people doubting God’s directives we can be assured that it’s a recurring story in our faith journeys. When God directs it’s rarely for something that we would naturally do. For instance, he didn’t have to tell me to go to Starbucks this morning and order a cup of Pike Place coffee. He knows that it’s part of my routine. However, if while I’m at Starbucks he nudges me to give a $20 bill to a man who has just walked in I might very well inform him that I only have one “Jackson” left in my wallet. To which he would reply, “So?”

Faith in the Lord is a slippery thing. We talk about it, learn scriptures that convey it, read stories of it’s existence and magnificence…but when the rubber meets the road of our life we challenge Jehovah God’s intelligence and wisdom. It is the evidence of our fallen nature. We’re prone to believe in the wayward guidance of the Deceiver that sounds good rather than the trusted voice of the Deliverer that causes a queasiness in our digestive systems.

Lord, we believe! Help us in our unbelief! 

Going Back To Familiar Places

August 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 26, 2018

                            

In recent weeks I’ve revisited places that had been part of my life from the near or distant past. Some of the spots brought back memories of when I ran around in child-sized jeans, white tee shirts, and Converses…like my old elementary school, Victory Heights, in Winchester, Kentucky, where I attended first and second grade…and Central Baptist Church in that same town where our family frequented three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. 

Other places I revisited brought tears. I drove past the farm where my Papaw and Mamaw Helton lived until about 25 years ago. It now like an ongoing rummage sale, cluttered and in disrepair. grimaced at the loss of what was.

I I traveled up the road to the cemetery where my dad now has been laid to rest beside my mom, and I weeped and smiled and weeped again, thinking of the good times and now the loss.

This past week I substitute taught in the classroom where my friend, Greg Davis, taught. If he was still teaching it would have been his 8th Grade social studies class I would have been instructing that day. Greg passed away not quite two years ago having fought the brain cancer courageously for 6 years. There were a multitude of Fridays when I would have lunch with him in that classroom, talking about the triumphs and the struggles. As I led four classes of eighth graders this past week I was acutely aware of previous conversations I had had in that classroom. 

This morning I return to the church I pastored for 16 years to give the morning message for the congregation’s 60 year anniversary service.  A quarter of my life has been spent in that building leading the congregation. I retired at the end of 2015. Even though I delivered almost 700 sermons in that sanctuary, today will seem strange. It will be the first time, besides the Sunday when I was candidating to be their pastor in June of 1999, that I will deliver a message NOT as their pastor. I’m now “a former!” 

I’ll look forward to seeing folks I haven’t seen in two and a half years. I’ll remember and smile, and maybe even cry.

There are places we’ve been that bring chuckles back to our soul, and places that cause us to remember the pain…and often the most meaningful places of our lives are the ones that have been a mixture of the two extremes.

At my old church I remember the incredible people, the special stories that got written and lives healed, and I also remember the difficult meetings and the individuals who had the spiritual gifts of agitation and annoyance. 

Of course, I can also remember the same chapter titles from my 15 years as pastor of the First Baptist Church back in Mason, Michigan…the saints and the sinners, the blessed and the beasts.

When you live most of your life from a place of grace, love, and hope you see the warts and the warmth. 

Today I’ll look to remember the changed lives and disregard the challenges to the Body’s life. And God will be glorified!