Posted tagged ‘Baptist guilt’

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. 

Cold Companion

June 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           June 27, 2017

                                               

I despise colds, the head and chest kind! I think I would rather have a colonoscopy than a head cold! I’ll get my wish in a month when I get laid out on a table in a less than flattering way after drinking a gallon of some concoction that was created by a doctor who was mad at the world.

This year had been punctuated with colds and bronchitis. I’ve “worn” a cold this year more than I wore my new varsity letter jacket after I received it at the beginning of my junior year of high school. It would be ninety degrees outside and I would sport my orange varsity “I” jacket of Ironton High School. In a similar way I’ve had a cold clinging to me for a while now.

I’ve heard of the remedies. Take more vitamin C. Check! Drink more water. Check! Get more rest. Check! Wash your hands a lot. Check! Use an inhaler. Check! Pray more. Check! Repent of my sins. Check…I think! Maybe there’s one that I keep forgetting about!

I’ve heard the reasons that do nothing to bring comfort, like “You’re getting older!” and  it’s twin brother “You’re not getting any younger!” There’s the Dr. Oz friends who offer the wise advice that adds nothing, “You need to take better care of yourself!”

My Baptist upbringing still looks at a cold as some kind of divine retribution for my wayward inconsiderate actions. The other day it occurred to me that perhaps my present cold is because I consistently forgot to put the toilet seat back down after assuming the standing position in front of it.

I missed church a few weeks ago. Perhaps the sniffles descended because my singing praises didn’t ascend that Sunday!

Baptist guilt tends to connect illnesses with transgressions!

My physician saw me a couple of weeks ago and greeted me with the words, “Here again?” That’s just a few letters different than “You again?” He had a disturbed expression on his face, like a school principal seeing a problem student for the umpteenth time! Trust me! At $40 per office visit I’m a little disturbed whenever I have to see him as well!

I’ve also used various medications. NyQuil could be better referred to as “My Quil!” I’ve resorted to drinking! A bottle of Woodford Reserve Kentucky bourbon is hidden in the back of one of our cabinets. It goes back to one of my grandmother’s cough remedies…bourbon, honey, and a squirt of lemon! But, once again, being Baptist there is a hint of guilt associated with each shot poured. I even find myself trying to be quiet in the kitchen as I’m preparing the remedy, even though Carol knows I’m doing it. I feel like the little kid who used to sneak sips of RC Cola from a bottle in my grandparent’s storage room. And so I pour the bourbon and then quickly hide it away in the lower cabinet behind the steam iron and excess water bottles.

I bought the family-size bag of cough drops at Walgreen’s…for me!

It’s just a little irritating, like the girl you broke up with back in high school who keeps trying to hang around you. You try to be nice and get her interested in your best friend, but she seems to gravitate to you.

That’s this year and this cold with me! It’s like teenage acne that disappears in one spot and then emerges close by the next day. Right now my nose looks like a war zone!

The only good thing about having a cold and/or bronchitis is that my physician gives me the cough medicine that makes you happy! It’s like having a restaurant manager apologize for how your steak was cooked and giving you your meal free, plus dessert! Yes, it’s kind of like that with a dazed look added on to it!

The way this year has gone whenever this cold decides to take its leave I’ll stand at our front door and yell to the waiting room of future sniffles and say, “Next!”

Baptist Mom Guilt and God-Leadings

May 17, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 17, 2016

                            “Baptist Mom Guilt and God-Leadings”

Last week my cell phone rang at 5:55 A.M. It was Amy, the lady who assigns substitute teaching positions. Usually the automated call comes at 5:45, so I had drifted back to sleep, thinking that there would not be an assignment for the day.

When the phone rang I answered and, with a hint of desperation, Amy’s voice greeted me with a “Good morning!”, and asked me if I was available to teach a third grade class that day. I had just been through a two-day first grade gauntlet, so I said that I would pass. Her voice carried subdued disappointment in it as she said good-bye.

I laid back down and then I felt led to call her back and say I would do it. She was overjoyed, as well as relieved, and I prepared for a day of corralling third graders.

Later on that day it hit me! It wasn’t a leading from the Lord that had caused me to call her back. It was “Baptist Mom Guilt!” BMG!

If you’ve been raised Baptist, especially independent or Southern Baptist, or Catholic, or one of a few other church backgrounds, it is very likely you know what I’m talking about. Baptist Mom Guilt is that loud inner voice that tells you to do something that you have no intention of doing.

Christians speak quite often about being led by the Lord or led by the Holy Spirit. For me, it is often difficult to differentiate the voice of God from the voice of my mom in decisions that are made.

For instance, even though it has been several years, this was a meal-time dialogue with my mom:

“Bill, do you want more squash casserole?”

“No, I think I’ve had enough, Mom.”

“There is just a little bit left.”

“No, I’m okay.”

“Just enough to dirty the dishwater!”

“No, thank you.”

“There are children around the world who are hungry, but you want me to just throw this last bite of casserole away?”

“I’m just full, Mom.”

“So you didn’t like the squash casserole?”

“It was great, Mom.”

“If it was great then have this last bite.”

“Okay! Okay! I’ll take it.”

I loved my mom. She was an awesome woman, who is now whispering in the ear of God, seeing if he would like that last bite of the heavenly squash casserole. (Not really, but I can envision her standing in Glory with a serving spoon in her hand.) She knew how to get my siblings and me to do things…Baptist Mom Guilt!

And the thing is…there are a number of times each day when I hear her voice as I’m making a decision. Since I’m not substitute teaching this morning I’ll probably go home and “be led” to vacuum the family room, and do a load of laundry. I’ll hear the inner voice saying, “Why are you relaxing? Don’t just sit there. Do something!”

There are some Sundays where Baptist Mom Guilt drives me to church. Some mornings BMG causes me to withstand the temptation to wear the same pair of underwear for two days in a row. It also makes me clean my dinner plate, brush my teeth, and pick up my socks.

So how do I know that I’m being led by the Holy Spirit, as the Book of Acts so often describes what happened in events of the lives of the apostles, and how do I know it’s Baptist Mom Guilt?

I think I’ve figured out a few things…maybe! If what I’m being lead to do alleviates feeling bad about myself it is probably a moment of BMG. If what I’m being led to do helps someone draw closer to God, or experience the unconditional love of God it has a great possibility of being a God-leading. If the leading begins with the words “I ought to…” it is probably Baptist Mom Guilt raising its parental head. If it is a leading that is framed in a thought that says, “I don’t quite understand this, but…”, it could very well be the leading of the Holy Spirit.

If it is a leading that results from a Sunday morning plea that says, “If we don’t get more volunteers, we can’t…”, beware! If it is a leading from someone’s heart cry that says, “I’m looking for a few people to join me on a new ministry journey of…”, listen closely!

I’m still figuring out this whole discernment thing! The good thing is that I’ve come to grips with how Mom still speaks to me. I remember the conversations of love being expressed, the two-layered coconut birthday cakes made, sitting between her and Dad in church, and I weigh those pictures and memories against the bite of squash casserole left in the dish…and it’s all good! It’s all good!

Failure To Lunch

March 2, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                              March 2, 2015

                                                  

I’m trying to slow down! Yes, I talked about that last week…and here goes again! If I repeat myself often enough perhaps i’ll start hearing what I’m writing.

I had my moments last week where I remembered my words and fasted from going fast. I sat and pondered at times, did not speed on the ice-covered roads that covered our area, went to bed at decent hours, and even took in a movie with my wife (McFarland).

But there were the other times! I slowed down enough that a cold caught me.

Here’s my challenge this week. Sometimes fasting from going fast isn’t the answers to all the ills and problems. Another challenge for me this week is not just slowing down, it’s also to not pile the plate high with the week’s buffet of things that need to be done.

The excuse that I so often use is that they need to be done! If I don’t do them they won’t get done! As a pastor it’s easy to get whirlpooled into that trap. Every congregation has people within it who think the pastor has all the time in the world and are very free to assign him something else to do. And most pastors are not good at saying no. It’s the Baptist guilt element rising to the surface, that tells us that we can never do enough for Jesus. Baptist pastors have a hard time with those verses in the Bible where Jesus goes off by himself and takes some time to ponder. We can’t relate!

Last week I had one day that was loaded with this, that, and the other…little of which had any eternal value connected to it…and at about 3:00 I realized I had failed to lunch. Perhaps it was the three month old cookie that I consumed at 10:00 that made me forget, but regardless…lunch came and went and I ne’er noticed!

The tyranny of the urgent will always attempt to keep us from caring for our soul!

One good thing that happened last week was a gathering on Wednesday of a pastor’s group that I highly value. We intentionally take time to be still, reflect, pray, and share. It’s called a “Together in Ministry” group, or TIM group, and it causes me to value the sharing with the saints.

Now I come to another week of possibilities and problems, people in need and people in peril. How will I journey through this week? Reflectively? With eyes seeking glimpses of Him? How will I journey through this week with those who I love the most? With the third grandchild due to emerge into this world any day now will I be able to fast from going fast look enough to celebrate a new gift, a new grace?

I’ll let you know…in a while!