Posted tagged ‘Belief’

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! 

Thinking The Best, Seeing The Worst

December 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 21, 2017

                     

The world is populated with pessimists and optimists, Norman Vincent Peale disciples and Doomsday prophets. I tend towards the optimistic side of the spectrum. When I hear that someone might have committed a misdeed I respond with an optimism towards innocence.

When watching a basketball game, now as a former basketball referee, and a suspicious whistle is blown I respond to the disbelief of those around me with a belief that the one who whistled had a view of the play that no one else had. Sometimes my optimism crosses over into absurdity!

Yesterday the wife of a friend of mine had surgery that was complicated. In fact, the surgeons believe they will need to operate again after she heals up some. My positiveness, and my belief in a God who heals, carries an assuredness that the situation will work out in good ways, that there will be a positive, awe-inspiring conclusion.

Of course, I’m an optimist!

The reaction scale is balanced with pessimists to keep things from resembling Pleasantville.

My initial reaction on the recent sexual revelations of a number of celebrities and elected officials was to not believe. After all, Matt Lauer spent time as a news reporter and anchor at WOWK-TV in Huntington, West Virginia. That was one of the channels I watched while I was growing up in Ironton, Ohio across the river and in the shadow of Huntington. No one who worked at WOWK could have done anything wrong, could they?

I also held out hope for the existence of Santa Claus until I was a teenager. It was a depressing day when I found out he wasn’t coming!

And I tend to believe that all door-to-door vacuum cleaner salespeople have my best interests in mind!

The world needs both optimists and pessimists. Pessimists have a way of irritating me, but I realize that my cheery outlook on life probably makes a few pessimists grind their teeth.

As a long-time pastor my faith congregations went through times of optimistic faith and pessimistic re-evaluating. Each fall as the church council prepared the budget for the coming year one viewpoint or the other would tip the scale. Some years there was a confidence that the year ahead would be blessed and a time of growth…and the financial vision was approached with that in mind. Other years the “downside of lifers” carried more weight and we planned a trimmed down budget.

Notice the terms! Financial vision and budget. They are monikers for the two different perspectives.

It seems 2017 has tilted to be a year of increasing pessimism. It filters through our newspapers each day. It rises to the surface in our conversations. I can even see it emerging in my driving attitude. I’m now prone to verbally insult the guy in the BMW that just cut in front of me. In fact, I’ve developed a pessimistic attitude about BMW’s all around.

Life has hit this optimist hard this year. Things I never thought people could possibly do have been done. The evil side of saints has shown its ugly presence.

I have a fear that I’m crossing over to the dark side of pessimism! God help me!

Leaning Not On Your Own Understanding

July 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             July 20, 2016

                                

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.”   (Proverbs 3:5 from The Message)

Today I helped a group of middle school church campers rappel down a cliffside. For almost all of them this was a first time experience. Actually, it was my first experience also. For about four hours I held a rope and said things like “Awesome! Great job! You can do it! Keep going!”

I asked the question to some of them: What does Proverb 3:5 say?

Trust God…and don’t lean on your own understanding. I learned today that you must not lean forward in fear, but lean back and trust. In essence, we were telling the students to not do what seemed the understandable solution…leaning into the mountain, but rather to lean back and give up control.

A few of the students had a hard time getting past their fears and letting go. For some it took just a little bit of encouragement from the top to get them going…just a small dose of guidance from the top, and belief that they could do it. After the first fifty feet their camp friends down below took up the encouragement.

Another young man came to a point of hesitation, a place between the top and the bottom where he froze and became unmoving. Kent, our lead person, finally rappelled down to him and “unfroze” him. The young man had to be almost pulled along all the way to the bottom. His ego was a bit bruised, but he got to the bottom. Sometimes people need to be pulled along in their spiritual lives, and lives in general. They need a guide who pulls them…an AA sponsor who says the hard things, a coach who won’t let them settle for mediocre effort, a tutor who says “If I have to, I’m going to sit here all day until you get this!”, a pastor who pulls them away from the errors in judgment.

Some people need to be pushed, or in rappelling…pulled! Discomfort is not accepted easily, but sometimes taking people to an uncomfortable place is the needed ingredient for spiritual growth.

A couple of the campers rappelled alongside a friend who was struggling. One young guy, Jacob, knew his friend’s fears were real and inhibiting. Even though he had the ability to rappel down at a much quicker pace, Jacob slowed down to encourage his friend each step of the descent.

Sometimes we need a brother or sister to lean on as we take that next step. What each one of us needs is someone who slows their pace to stay with us. Sometimes we ARE the ones who slow down in order to be with. Last week I officiated at a funeral for a twenty-four year old. I didn’t know the deceased, but I know his dad. Next week I’m going to try to get together with him for a cup of coffee and continued conversation as he rappelled down the mountain of personal loss. He may have some moments in the coming weeks where he “freezes.” I know that I’m probably one of the people that God has placed in his life who needs to help him unfreeze…to continue in the heart wrenching journey of grief.

And it always seems to come back to “trusting and leaning.” Trusting in the Lord with our whole heart…leaning back and experiencing the loving arms of God.

The “Uh” Moments

July 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 18, 2016

                                         

My life has been littered with moments of extreme stupidity. Like when I tried to compliment one young lady I was attending college with. Never make comments about a young lady’s figure on the first date…or second date for that matter. I said something that gave her the impression that she was flat-chested and big in the hips. My intent was to tell her that she was slim in the waist-line and nicely-proportioned in the bust-line!

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

It was one of those moments when the incensed look on her face made me go “Uh!” The date ended quickly after that. In case you’re wondering…and are really slow in perceiving things…there was not a second date!

“Uh moments” are those times when we realize how error-prone, insensitive, or clueless we really are.

I’ve had a lot of those “Uh moments” with God. Times when I doubted his majesty, occasions where I’ve missed his hand in the midst of events, trials when I’ve wandered on my own.

I was thinking about that the other day as I was reading some scripture stories. Scripture is populated with “Uh moments.” For example, Moses stood before God with his excuses about not being qualified to go and speak to Pharaoh. Although “Uh…” is not a word that the stammering Moses uses, it can be easily lip-synched into his mental verbiage at the end of the discussion.

Martha had an “Uh moment” with Jesus when she moaned and groaned to Jesus about her brother.

“Master!” she said, “If you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died!”

Knowing Martha’s opinionated personality, I don’t think those words were said to Jesus with a soft understanding voice. Jesus tells her that he is the resurrection and the life, and that the one who believes in him will live even though he dies.” Martha gives kind of a half-hearted “okay…” to him. They proceed to the tomb of her brother and Jesus tells those around it to remove the stone.

Martha’s housecleaning experience has her then say to Jesus, “By this time there’s a stench! He’s been dead four days!” Like an obnoxious adolescent wanting her parents to get a life, it’s like Martha is saying to Jesus “HHHeellllloooo!” And Jesus looked her in the eye and says, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

And Martha said, “Uhhh…”

Our “Uh moments” come when our doubts are completely doused by a shower of God’s power, like the 450 prophets of Baal being completely embarrassed by the prophet Elijah. Our “Uh moments” also come when we experience a tapestry of God’s artistic touch. This week I’m at a church camp outside of Woodland Park, Colorado. I’m overwhelmed by the view of Pike’s Peak and surrounding forests and peacefulness. I stand on the deck each day and literally say “Uhhh…”

“Uh moments” remind us of our humanity and mortality, and they also nudge us with the assurance of the love of God.

God loves me no matter what, no matter my capacity to doubt him and no matter whether I say the wrong words to the wrong person at the wrong time. He loves me despite myself!

And to that my lower jaw drops open and I resemble Jim Carey in the movie Dumb and Dumber with the one syllable grunt…”Uhhh…”

Jesus Coffee

July 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               July 10, 2016

                                          

We hadn’t connected for a while. I started with the excuses. “I’m sorry, Jesus, that we haven’t gotten together for a while. It’s just been so hectic and busy.” Busyness is always a good “go to” when you haven’t done something or neglected a certain person.

He smiled at me and invited me to sit down in the booth across from him. “How’ve you been?” I asked.

“Oh, you know…the usual…feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, raising the dead…same-o same-o.” We both chuckled a bit. “What’s been taking up so much of your time?”

I stammered through a list of poor excuses for busyness and then I confessed, “I really have no excuses for why I haven’t talked to you for a while. Perhaps what is really going on is that there’s some things in my life, and in the lives of some friends of mine, that are unsettling. A lot of it is my own poor choices, and some of it is…I don’t know…I guess I could call it a kind of cynicism towards life and some people.”

“So you thought if you talked to me you’d have to face up to what’s going on?”

“Pretty much! I’ve very proficient in the gift of avoidance.”

“So tell me why you suggested we get together again?”

“I’m not sure if it was my old Baptist guilt rising up, or realizing that I just needed this…to sit and talk with you. Maybe it’s a combination of a lot of different things…anyway I’m here and I’m glad we can talk over a cup of coffee.”

“I hope you know that I’m always free to chat.”

“I know, I know. I’ve never doubted that, even though lately it seems that I’ve had a tendency to turn away from it.”

“Cynicism tends to make us unsure of just about everything.”

“And I admit I’ve doubted just about anyone and everyone. I’ve doubted the truth of everything…especially, everything they’ve been talking about in church. I’m not sure what to believe anymore.”

“Do you believe in me?”

“You know I do, Jesus.”

“That’s a pretty good start, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but!” I didn’t know what to say after the but. I left it hanging in the air like a bad smell. Jesus looked at me with his penetrating eyes that could see what was in my heart and troubling my mind.

“Excuse me for making an analogy, but you’ve lost sight of the sun because of all the smoke. In other words, you’ve lost sight of me because there is so much of life’s chaos and fallenness that is clouding your vision.”

“Yes! All those things you teach and talk about…love, grace, forgiveness, surrender, faith, being salt and light…we talk about them a lot, a whole lot…but It seems like what I see emerging so often out of my life and the lives of others are things like hate, indifference, bitterness, a lack of forgiveness, trying to be in control, and selfish ambition.”

“You’re right!”

“Jesus, I don’t want to be right! I want to be changed and to see change.”

“And what are you willing to give up for that to happen?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you not see that the out-of-control condition that you’re describing is because there are certain things that you’re allowing to be?”

“I would be lying if I said I can see it, and yet, in my spirit I know the truth of it.”

“Your cynicism is a symptom of the battle that is going on inside you. You want to believe, but believing is risking, and then what if you’re wrong? What if you love unconditionally and then you feel things are as screwed up as they always are? What if loving one another ends up just being a bad joke? What if you surrender and then you discover it’s all just a crock of crap?”

“I hope not!”

“But you see, Bill, your cynicism in many ways is a safe place to be.”

(TO BE CONTINUED)

A Jess Bless!

June 18, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                              June 18, 2015

                                                    

Last night I had the last session of a children’s discipleship class plus two adults. The two adults were there because we talk about baptism in our last session. One of the attenders of the class has been my grandson, Jesse! In earlier sessions we’ve talked about Romans 3:23 and 6:23 and the scriptural principle that all of us fall short. We’ve talked about the impact of the cross of Christ in bridging the gap between us and God that sin created. We talked about forgiveness and grace and other things.

Jesse did a recap for us last night. In these classes I look for whether or not the kids understand and whether they can explain it.

He did!

When I explained baptism he was right with me! Often he would complete my sentences.

“Jesus died-“

“And rose again!”

“All of us have sinned-“

“And fallen short of the glory of God!”

“That’s right, Jesse!”

I asked him why he wanted to be baptized. Sometimes this becomes the stumbling point, as some children can’t verbalize why, but Jesse…”Because I believe in Jesus and I’ve asked him to live in my heart because I love him, and I want people to know that I love him.”

“That’s right, Jesse!”

“And you can’t be a pastor unless you are baptized!”

“Well…not quite! Anyone can be baptized-“

“But you are “called” to be a pastor!”

I sat there with my mouth open. He has a pretty good grasp on things!

It was a Jess Bless time!

Children can bless us more than we can imagine if we let them verbalize it. In the midst of their “ants in the pants” they have the potential to communicate a gem, a truth, a heartfelt belief.

My grandson lost his “chair privileges” one day at school this year because he kept falling out of it with antsyness! Hyper in motion!

But he believes in Jesus, and isn’t afraid to tell you about him!

Fear or Faith-Based Ministry

November 22, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 21, 2013

 

 

    In the group of pastoral colleagues that I meet with for a half-day each month I am always made to think by observations, personal statements, as well as humorous statements. Yesterday was our gathering for November and one of my dear colleagues, Mike Oldham, made a statement about ministries- both pastoral and congregational- that are fear-based, others that are fame-based, and a smaller percentage that are faith-based.

Although it was Mike’s thought it go me thinking about it more as the day went along.  “Fear-based ministry” develops out of a mindset of loss, perhaps even resigned to defeat. It is the church that operates out of a fear of losing people. In the marketplace it reminds me of businesses in communities where Walmart has announced they are coming to town. Over the past couple of decades there has been a number of businesses who just automatically throw in the towel over that developing situation. It’s resigned defeat. Many churches have a similar mindset. The basis for ministry originates out of a fear that people will leave and go somewhere else. In this time it seems that the church is having an identity crisis. We’re often not sure who we are, or what we’re about. The result is that we are often fearful of what we might become.

Pastors fear that being truthful will alienate them from their congregations. Alienate is a nice word for “getting fired.”

Congregations fear that they will grow older and not have younger generations to keep the ministry of the church alive. Sometimes they hire a youth pastor because they think that will solve the problem. Hiring a youth pastor does not solve the problem of fearing the loss of younger people.

A few congregations fear the loss of their pastor. (I stress “few!”) If the pastor leaves for another church, or gets disgusted with the people of the church who don’t bow to him, the congregation is afraid that the “pastor void” will cause chaos. Better to have a pastor who orders people around than not have a pastor that result in disorder. Bottom line! There are a few pastors who might be named Rev. Donald Trump!

Some congregations fear progress! It throws the whole familiar system out of whack. Better to keep things steady and the same than to change. Change creates fear. The motto of such a church is simple: “Fear change!”

It is hard, but so scriptural, for the church to be faith-based. Faith is feared many times. Even though Jesus mentions having faith…a whole lot…we fear it. Stepping out in faith is putting yourself out there. Most of us don’t like to put ourselves out there. We like to stay put.

The faith-based church does not mean it is huge in size. Being faith-based, in fact, has nothing to do with size. Size sometimes suffocates faith that otherwise would emerge. Faith-based is a little too fluid for most people. I mean, what will people think if we follow the leading of the Spirit half-way through a budget year and initiate a new ministry to the poor and disenfranchised?

Let’s be honest! We talk about faith, but we live by fear. It took faith for the Hebrew people to step into the mud path of the Red Sea, but it was fear that made them long for the glory days of slavery back in Egypt. It took faith for Peter to step out of the boat, but fear brought him back to his senses about the laws of nature.

It’s a constant struggle for the people of God to live by faith. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy. The bottle of snake oil would be right behind their back.

Each day I seek to be faithful…and each day I fall short.

But thanks be to God, he hasn’t given up on me yet!