Posted tagged ‘belief system’

Doctrinecheck

January 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            January 7, 2018

                                            

Spellcheck has saved me a few times over the years. My fingers have hit the wrong letter keys so many times it’s embarrassing. There have been those few times when I spelled correctly, but inappropriately. One time I hit the ‘u’ instead of the ‘i” and changed my name from Bill Wolfe to Bull Wolfe. People thought I had a new nickname, and that’s no bull!

It was doubly embarrassing when “Bill shot” had two letters wrongly hit. I was one letter off to the left both times, so people were dumbfounded by why I had said “Bull shit” in the midst of a writing.

Most of the time, however, spellcheck has cleaned up my messes, so to speak.

I’m wondering if some Christian entrepreneur might consider developing “Doctrinecheck”, a program that would be able to correct theological error before it gets put out there, a program that rewords bad beliefs with scriptural truth.

There would be a decent market for such a product. People have become increasingly illiterate in their reading of, use of, and understanding of scripture. There’s a tendency to replace correct doctrine with what sounds good. That’s kind of like buying a piece of swampland in Florida because you’ve always wanted to live in that state. Good intentions, bad execution!

“Doctrinecheck” could straighten out all the bad theology associated with the after life. Our belief system has been influenced more by movies like Ghost , Heaven Can Wait, and It’s A Wonderful Life! than scripture.

Of course, there are those certain areas of doctrine that require some latitude. Whether someone is pre-millennial, post-millennial, or a-millennial would have to be taken into consideration. Perhaps “Doctrinecheck” would have to include links to certain categories when those “preferences” appear.

This could work! All the fluffy theology could get sorted out, the legalistic paranoia could get eased a bit, and people could understand what Jesus taught…again! And that’s no bill…er, bull!

What Would You Sell Your Convictions For?

August 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 29, 2016

                         

I was born in eastern Kentucky…Winchester, to be exact…so the story that came out last week about vote-selling in several eastern Kentucky counties isn’t that surprising to me. There’s a certain desperation in the lives of impoverished people that makes the exercising of our right to vote a lower priority than surviving another week.

In case you missed it, there have been several convictions of people who have bought votes in various Kentucky elections for $25 to $50 a vote. But Kentucky isn’t the only state that has had to deal with vote-selling. In West Virginia a county sheriff would show up at people’s homes and tell them who to vote for. Evidently, having the gun-toting sheriff show up at your home was motivation enough for people. In Tennessee one candidate would buy a vote for a pint of whiskey.

As our American history gets further away from the stories of those who sacrificed everything for freedom it could be that what was once important will not be viewed as valuable. After all, stealing elections is not that hard in counties where only twenty to thirty percent of registered voters vote. The indifference towards casting a voter’s ballot is a troubling trend.

There are some threads of connection between vote-selling and faith-selling. Just as the freedom to vote is at the core of our democracy the Lordship of Christ is at the core of who we are as Christians. It is the “why” of our faith! As people become less knowledgeable about the Bible it is also the “why” that gets glazed over.

“What I get out of it” becomes a more important question than “why do I believe this?” Self-interests trumps sacrifice. Having convictions is never because of convenience. Convictions, faith convictions that is, are because of our belief in a cause that we know is necessary to fall in line behind. The cause becomes our defining point. It’s the first domino and everything falls in line behind it.

How important is it to me? Just as their are American citizens who sell their vote for a pint of whiskey there are church-going Christians who stay true to their convictions until a better offer comes their way. At that point what they really value is no longer hidden behind their backs…and they don’t feel bad about it!

 

Believing In What I Like!

May 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             May 29, 2016

                                    

“The Apostles’ Creed” came into its fullest and complete form about thirteen hundred years ago. It has been the church’s statement of faith ever since…kind of!

The statement begins with the words “I believe in…” (I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son…)

In recent times, especially in American culture…in the church and in general…what is believed has taken a tumble. What is believed resonates with personal choice. With the beginning words of the Apostles’ Creed in mind, today’s statement of belief could very well begin with the words “I believe in what I like, and I don’t believe in what I don’t like.” 

Like a six year old staring with a turned up lip at a serving of spinach on his plate, we are prone to judge something as unlikeable. We lump the “unlikeable” together if they are even remotely connected to what it is we really don’t like. For example, if Chris Tomlin comes out with a new worship song that resembles a hymn there will be some people who won’t like it because…follow the flow here!…Chris Tomlin usually composes praise and worship music, and the person doesn’t like praise and worship music.

At both Trump and Clinton political rallies protestors have tried to disrupt the proceedings because they don’t like the candidates. Freedom of speech has been demoted to the back backseat with Grandma in importance, compared to what people like!

“Likes”, a very small word, has taken on prominence, as well as become confusing. Every day on Facebook I’m faced with responding to someone’s post by clicking “Like.” A young lady I know just got hired on for a new teaching position, so I gave her a thumbs up and clicked “Like.” But a little while later someone else mentions that his brother just passed away. I want to come alongside him as he journeys through this, so I once again click “Like.” I was confused by the whole thing. Clicking “Like” sounded like I was delighted by his loss, when I was really just trying to be supportive.

“I believe in what I like” is fickle. It’s like a girlfriend you had in sixth grade, totally awesome and soon to be replaced! I used to like knee-high athletic socks to go with my extremely short athletic shorts. Now I look at those pictures and chuckle, as well as try to keep them hidden from family and friends!

Try this on for size! If a person doesn’t have a solid belief system, he/she is like the Sunday newspaper left outside to be blown one way or another by the wind. When I say “belief system”, I’m not just talking about Christian convictions, but rather life convictions…life beliefs that anchor me from being carried away by today’s biggest “like.”

For example, do we believe, regardless of our disagreement about a political candidate’s stand on health care, military might, Social Security, or education…do we believe in democracy? Do we believe in freedom of speech, or just when someone is saying something that we like?

Do we believe in freedom for all, or just for those who we agree with, or we like?

Do we believe in the grace of God, or do we believe in limited grace, dependent on if we think someone deserves it…or we like the person?

What are the beliefs that we hold that are non-negotiable, that we will always hold on to regardless of the winds of circumstances? Carol and I are two months away from celebrating our 37th anniversary, and there are things we don’t like about one another! What!!!!

I don’t like it when she picks a crouton off my salad, but I don’t slap her hand. She doesn’t like it when I use a piece of dental floss multiple times, but she doesn’t slap me in the face. Our love for one another anchors us even when we’re not always on the same page. In the next election we may even cancel each other’s vote out!

But our love for one another has become like that old oak in the park that is strong, rooted, and consistent. It may sport some scars from the storms of the years, but it’s solid and dependable.

Perhaps that’s a good picture of where our culture and our churches are right now. That too often we resemble sixth grade romances instead of 37 year old marriages!

The Fifth Grade Congregation

April 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 22, 2016

                            

I substitute taught in a fifth grade class this week. It was really an awesome experience, and I’m not just whistling Dixie! I found myself liking these kids! They didn’t try to tell me that their teacher gives them an hour for recess, or lead me down the wrong stairway, or shoot spit wads at me with their luncheon drinking straws…as some of us did a few decades ago to our substitute! (Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned!)

I also found myself connecting dots! A fifth grade class is a lot like a typical congregation.

First of all, there was “the system”. Every church has a system, sometimes written down in documents, but most of the time unwritten but known by the members. When someone veers away from “the system” there is much consternation. Special meetings get called. Phone calls get made. Side conversations become more frequent. In many churches “the system” is sacred!

In the midst of the fifth grade math class that was dealing with something called “line plots” I foolishly veered away from “the system.” It was as if a dark family secret just got revealed on Jerry Springer. There were a couple of gasps, several confused looks, but then one “rescuer” brought me back under control before I drifted too far into math curriculum heresy.

Close call!

Systems are important to help the congregation know there will be order in the midst of the journey. It’s kind of like serving the salad and main dish before you can get to the dessert. There’s an accepted order, a process for getting things done, and…processes that “we don’t do around here!” As a pastor there were a few times I didn’t follow the system, didn’t follow the order, and those were the most gut-wrenching, stressful times of ministry.

Clarification! There are times to go outside the system, but the “trailblazer” better have a well thought out plan before that path gets taken. If the congregational road has become a rut it is a sign that the system has become a detriment to movement.

The school system I was a part of this week included “parts” of math, science, and literature. Since it was a state testing day I didn’t get to have a part on “social studies.” Each part had its advocates and opponents. That is, there were those who were excited and focused, and those who just wanted to get through it. The purpose behind all the parts was for them to work together to provide a well-rounded education.

In any congregation there are also a number of parts in the system. There is worship, education/discipleship, fellowship, missions, serving ministries, and a number of other parts. People get excited in and invested in different parts, and, just as in the fifth grade classroom, there are other parts that they just want to get through. The passion comes out as the focus comes to the part they are excited about. The disinterest surfaces when the other parts are emphasized. I remember a man from a congregation I pastored who would get up and walk out when praise music was being sung, but sing with passion when a hymn was happening. Interestingly enough, in my experience there were very few people who loved praise music but had a disdain towards hymns. They were the much more flexible group when it came to the “music sub-parts” of the worship part.

In part two of “The Fifth Grade Classroom” I’ll focus on “personalities and pecking orders”.

Reaching and Reality

April 16, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 16, 2016

                                        

  

      I remember my seminary days of studying theology, talking about it in non-personal ways, and writing papers about it that connected with my mind, but not my soul. A minister friend of mine recently referred to that period of our lives as “reaching for our theology.” That is, we reached for books on library shelves and wrote various statements in essays that were a mixture of what someone else believed and what we thought we believed. In those days, we were not adverse to do some name-dropping in these papers of theology. If a quote from Moltmann’s The Crucified God could be nonchalantly inserted into the pages we would go for it…whether we understood the run-on sentences or believed the doctrine.

Like flying in a plane at 35,000 feet and describing what Kansas is, our words were often “reaches’ for a grade, and not heartfelt beliefs. I confess…I was often in that place of reaching.

And then many of us upon graduation took positions on church ministry staffs and we soon discovered that there is a difference between “reaching” and reality. What we seemed to be able to stay a safe distance from- the actual experiencing of our statement of beliefs- suddenly moved into where we lived.

We went from explaining grace to having to live out grace in our ministries. We went from “reaching preaching” to “preaching from our life experiences.” In many ways it was good, but in some ways it was to uncomfortably close to home.

John Piper is a well-known author and, until 2013, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. I have several of his books in my personal library, including Desiring God and Future Grace (I just name-dropped, didn’t I?). In 2010 Piper took an eight month leave from his position for what he called “a reality check from the Holy Spirit.” He sensed that he had a growing disconnect between what he wrote about and who he was.

A reality check from the Holy Spirit! Many times in my years of ministry I sensed the Holy Spirit nudging my life. Sometimes I faced up to it, and other times…I just kept flying over Kansas!

One of the most difficult elements of ministry is connecting what we believe with why we believe it. It’s the knowledge getting married to the intimate, the distant God that we realize is close at hand, the words of God now being experienced with the breath of God.

In my “reaching days” I could quote from Moltmann’s  Theology of Hope, but the reality of ministry is standing by the bed of a hospice patient and talking to him about the hope of the resurrection and what it means for each one of us.

There is a difference between preaching on forgiveness and being forgiving to the person who has purposely told a lie about you that has resulted in deep emotional pain.

I had many excellent professors back in my seminary days. One that I will always be indebted to was a theology professor named Tom Finger, not because I took pages and pages of notes in his classes, but rather because he kept asking me the hard questions:

“Why do you believe what you believe?” “

“What does that mean to you and for your life?”

“What difference does it make?”

He took me from flying over Kansas to having my feet in the dirt. People like that are God’s uncomfortable blessings upon our lives, because they help us figure out life. We see their handprints upon us as we gradually transform from “reaching preaching” to “preaching from our reality.”

What DO I Believe???

September 25, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  September 24, 2013

 

 

      I’m beginning a new sermon series in a couple of weeks entitled “What I Believe..and Why I Believe It.”

It’s caused me to pause and ask myself the question, “What DO I believe?”

Most of us can spout off what we don’t believe, but saying what we do believe makes us pause and consider. For instance, I no longer believe in the tooth fairy, Transformers, or fries being French. I don’t believe that the Pope walks on water, or water baptism saves you. I don’t believe there is a special section, Boardwalk if you will, for Baptists in heaven. I don’t believe that anyone knows the time or the day that Jesus is coming back, or that a worship service should last a certain amount of time and be done.

What I do believe is that the gospel is the most incredible gift that God could ever gift us, and that the gospel makes all the difference in the world.

I believe that grace is awesome, but often not believed in.

I believe that God believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself!

I believe that God has purpose for my life, even when some of my days seem purposeless.

I believe in the church, even though so many of God’s people have given up on it.

 

Those are a few things I believe. Now I’m taking it to the next step: why do I believe it? One of my seminary professors, Dr. Tom Finger, at Northern Baptist Seminary outside of Chicago, would always ask us that? He pressed us to get past our “Sunday School answers” and ask ourselves why we believed what we believed. I hated it at the time, but thirty-four years after seminary I think of him as being the professor who shaped my belief system more than anyone else.

What DO I believe?

In losing my mom recently it has caused me to think deeper. It’s not that I’m more cerebral, it’s that I’m more introspective…perhaps even quieter.

My cynical side sees our culture believing in a lot of fluff with no substance. Some people think Starbucks is the basis for theological belief. More espresso shots means deeper revelations. I saw a deeply meaningful commercial the other night about important relationships that ended up being sponsored by a beer company. Not that I have anything against beer..except that I hate the taste and college students think it’s a mandatory part of university life…but it seems to be the source for what the “good life” is about these days.

I believe we settle for shallow belief. We settle for beliefs that don’t require pondering.

What DO I believe? It seems that my belief list is getting shorter, while my ‘uncertain list” is getting longer. But the beliefs that have stuck have made me stronger, more grounded…and that’s what I truly believe.