Posted tagged ‘Beliefs’

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!

Being the Listening Church

February 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             February 5, 2017

                                    

In the New Testament letter of James he writes, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19, NIV) The church has, quite often, stuttered its way into deafness. Our loudness has clouded our hearing!

It’s a balance beam position to be in. On one hand the church is called to be the prophetic voice of God, speaking of hope and singing of God’s unwavering promises. And yet, like someone with a box of chocolates, the church has a hard time understanding that there is still a need for moderation, and we blabber all over ourselves.

Give a preacher a pulpit and he will build a church around it! What begins as divine opportunity escalates into an enterprise that we mistake for a movement!

It occurs to me that there are plenty of people willing to talk; even an overabundance of congregations willing to condemn and mandate…no matter their theological leanings. I’m just wondering if the church has lost its capacity to listen? The concern seems to be that if we aren’t speaking we aren’t saying anything, but perhaps if the church recovered its ability to hear that would speak volumes.

In a time of polarized populations, who is committed to keeping their ears unplugged? In a time of verbal venom who will, as James said, “be quick to listen?”

There are people that I avoid conversation with because they seem to be more interested in sharing lengthy diatribes than they are in whether or not I might have a thought. In admitting that I’m also confessing where many of us have holed-up! We reside in the shadows of quiet avoidance, fearful of expressing our beliefs and what it is that we really value.

Can the church regain its ministry of listening? To do so it must recommit itself to the urgency of mutual respect. Can the gathered saints sometimes agree to disagree?

My friend, Greg Davis, who passed away less than four months ago at the age of 41, would often get into political conversations with a woman named Terri Inloes, the librarian at the middle school he taught at. They disagreed more often than they agreed, but they always listened to one another, and they always discussed their views based on a foundation built with mutual respect. Terri recalls the specialness of those conversations and how they deepened their friendship with one another. It is a life story that the church needs to hear and understand.

Honestly, I’ve seen more examples of the contrariness of church people than the potential for peacemaking…and that’s just in reference to how people from the same church treat each other! Being listeners is a hard thing to be for people who are set on destruction!

My recent three weeks of teaching seventh grade social studies revealed a number of things to me. One of those that applies to this area of listening is this: Listening is a commitment, and there are those who refuse to listen because their lips get in the way of their ears!

 

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.”

Does God Care About Sports?

March 31, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 31, 2014

 

About a week ago our local newspaper ran two different columns from the sports editors in response to a letter from a young girl who was inquiring about the level of God’s interest in sports.

The writers gave some excellent examples in the affirmative to the question. God does care about sports…just not as much as we do! God does love sports…just not as much as some people who wear spikes on their shoulders, paint their faces black, and wear Raider jerseys.

Sports has an important role in our culture, but sports sometimes becomes our culture. The lines get blurred on what is healthy and what is fanaticism. When lines get blurred the weird and unthinkable starts sneaking in the back door that has been propped open. People start bulking up, but bulking up isn’t good enough! Sometimes steroids and other “Miracle-Gro” hormones get added to the equation to give the athlete an advantage for now…and consequences later.

Sports has replaced the Sunday Worship Service, ironically, as what is worshiped. People will go to a Saturday night service so they can watch the Sunday afternoon Broncos’ game…or just not go to church at all!

Once again, ironically, as a Baptist pastor I must applaud the Mormons. Last weekend the BYU women’s basketball team was playing a Sweet Sixteen game against undefeated Connecticut. The Cougars hung tough, but lost to the undefeated Huskies. But long before that game was played it had been determined that if BYU would not play a game on Sunday, March 30.

Wait a minute! This is the NCAA…March Madness…hoops hysteria!

The Mormons would not let sports shape what they firmly believe in. I find that level of commitment a bit lower in Protestantland and the Catholic culture.

God cares about sports. He cares about people realizing their potential and purpose. Shooting a long jumper with a fluid stroke that more times than not results in the “tickling of the twine” is a gift, but it often gets confused with purpose. God’s purpose for our life…I pray…is more than how well I can flick my wrist in the releasing of a basketball.

God cares about sports and the positives they can teach…the work ethic…the incredible learnings from being part of a team…the friendships…the physical development as a result of getting in shape.

He cares about the opportunities that sports can bring into a world that aches with disappointments and negative diagnoses. If it hadn’t been for sports Michigan State’s Adreian Payne would not have met an eight year old girl named Lacey who had been battling cancer. Sports, namely being a 6’10” center on the Michigan State basketball team, was the avenue that brought him into Lacey’s hospital room at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan.

But it was a little girl’s battling for her life that brought perspective into Adreian’s life.

God cares about sports, and he also cares about whether or not we can keep a healthy perspective on things that are temporal and things that are permanent.

I still love shooting the long jump shot, although my knees seem to be protesting it more and more, but more than that, I love coaching basketball and being used to have a positive impact on young people’s lives.

God cares more about my impact on the younger generation than he does about how sweet the rotation on the basketball looks as I shoot it towards the basket.

The guy who mentored me in coaching, Don Fackler, brought that perspective to me. Don had a sweet outside shot, and if I was guarding him down low he would make me pay by scoring and also sliming me with his perspiration. He sweat more than anybody I knew! But his impact on how I coach now is seen in many ways. I never used the word “discombobulated” until I met Don Fackler.

At his funeral some twelve years ago now the aisles of First United Methodist Church in Mason, Michigan were filled with his former players…young men and women who had been impacted by him. Young men and women who were now raising their own children, or pursuing their college degree, or making a positive impact wherever they now lived.

I think that’s why God cares about sports, and that’s why I also care about sports.

Pool Hall Faith Conversations

November 12, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       November 12, 2013

 

 

      Last night about sixty people from six different churches from our community met on the second floor of a brewery restaurant to talk about faith questions. Pool tables adorned our meeting area, although we all withheld the urge to “break ‘em!”

We talked about four questions that dealt with our understandings of worship, how we experience Jesus, what would we do if we didn’t have church, and thoughts about the growing population of people who classify themselves as “nones”- people who have exited the church as a place to experience God.

Lutherans stood alongside Methodists, who stood next to Presbyterians, who rubbed elbows with Mennonites, who smiled at Baptists. Each question began with two of the pastors giving brief thoughts on it, and then the people went at it in smaller groups. Each new question was preceded with a reshuffling of the humanity present based on what kind of shoe they were wearing, where they lived, how they licked their ice cream cone…etc.

I stood with my Sprite next to a colleague with his wine and we talked about faith. No one got upset, or tried to make others “come over to the truth.” All of us realized that none of us have all the answers, and the one who thinks he has all the answers is the one to beware of.

We listened with our ears, disagreed without coming to blows, and pondered questions about our faith that we too often don’t think about.

There was a hint of “Baptist suspicion” in a few that I met. When I see some things that have been done by Baptists (Westboro Baptist), however, I understand the hesitancy. In one of my answers to a question I mentioned the need for the church to promote an environment where questions can be asked that don’t necessarily have answers. A young man came up to me afterwards and told me he was taken back by the comment. I asked why, and he said from his experience with a Baptist church in his past questions weren’t welcomed.

People hung around after the eighty-minute session had ended and continued talking. Carol and I left an hour later, glad we had been a part of it.

Although I have no intentions of exiting the American Baptist Churches, I do find it rewarding to enter into faith conversations with my brothers and sisters of other churches. I think it is more threatening to our faith journeys to discourage dialogue than it is to discuss our beliefs.

Many might disagree with me…but that’s okay! I have never promoted the idea that I have all of the answers.

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.