Posted tagged ‘Christ’

Generic Christianity

November 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           November 17, 2017

                                         

Starbucks is decorating their stores with Christmas…err, Holiday gifts and ornaments. Although they have a dark roast coffee called “Christmas Blend”, as far as I can tell it is the only reference to the name we place on December 25. They use words and terms like “joy”, “peace”, and “give good” to point to the festive holiday time without saying Christmas.

Starbucks keeps it generic in order to be more appealing…and raise the profit margin. I don’t fault them for this. Although I enjoy my coffee I don’t see it as a spiritual experience to sit on a stool in a Starbucks for an hour…as I’m doing now!

Christianity and the Christian church, on the other hand, should stand for something solid and transformative. The Christian faith is decorated with words like “redemption”, “transformation”, “grace”, and “forgiveness”. They are pillars built on the sacrifice of Christ.

It seems that churches are in danger of becoming generic in their presentation, their terminology, and their beliefs. I’m not talking about churchy terms like benediction, narthex, Eucharist, and sacraments. No, I’m going in a different direction…kinda’! Instead of mirroring Christ, the church too often mirrors culture. Instead of counter-cultural we mostly go with the flow. Instead of transforming we have been mostly transformed…by the NFL, The Bachelor, and CNN and Fox News.

There are encouraging signs, however! The relief efforts of various churches and faith organizations in recent months to help those affected by flooding and hurricanes has been awesome. It reconnects with the early Christians in Rome who would minister to those dying of smallpox. The epidemic that killed as much as a third of the population in AD 165 spared no family. Even the emperor, Marcus Aurelius, succumbed to it. Families would push their sick out of the house and into the street to die alone. Followers of Jesus, however, remembered their Savior touching lepers and healing the sick, and so they willingly became infected with the disease in order to show love and compassion to those who were dying. John Ortberg, in his book Who Is This Man? (page 38) refers to sociologist Rodney Stark who argues that one of the primary reasons for the spread of the Christian faith was because of the way Jesus followers responded to sick people. Comforting the afflicted gets us back to our roots.

Generic Christianity sets up a buffet table of doctrinal sample and avoid…like the prime rib of beef and the peas and carrots. This looks good for me and that has no place on my plate. Generic faith gets customized for my taste. Prayer may have a prominent place but grace gets avoided; worship is appetizing but confession is about as appealing as week-old fruit salad.

Authentic Christianity is life-changing and, perhaps, that’s why it gets avoided. It requires our surrender, our yielding.

Coffee With Jesus…Fourth Cup

July 16, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        July 15, 2014

 

                             

 

I look at Jesus for a second before returning my focus to the refilled cup in front of me. “It feels funny to be drinking coffee in front of the Son of Man while you remain caffeine free.”

“I don’t mind. I’m not a big coffee drinker. Probably goes back to the brief time I spent drinking Egyptian coffee. That brew could put hair on the Holy Ghost!”

“Does the Holy Spirit have hair?”

“It was simply an expression of exaggeration, Bill. I have been known to think big.”

“I guess so.”

“Think of the feeding of the 5,000. Why twelve baskets of leftovers…ever ask yourself that question?”

“Because of the twelves tribes of Israel?”

“Some think that, but I simply wanted to over-do it because the people, to begin with, couldn’t imagine God supplying their needs…let alone having stuff leftover.”

“So…back to this joy thing we were talking about…you asked me why I desired a joyous soul?”

“Yes, I believe I did say something like that.”

“I guess I struggling to find an answer. Is it because that’s what we were always taught in Sunday School…you know the song, “The joy of the Lord is my strength…”

“Yes, I’m familiar with it. Although when your congregation sings it my teeth chatter.”

“Why so?”

“They are a little rhythm impaired on the clapping.

“Jesus, we’re Baptists. Anything resembling dancing or music with a beat, we’re a little off…like a toddler trying to walk.”

“Let me ask you this. Do you think having a joyous soul is like eating fruits and vegetables- something that you’re told to to because it’s healthy?”

“No…I don’t think so.”

“So…going back to the question…why do you desire a joyous soul?”

“I was just asking you to help me figure that out. You’re the know-it-all at this table.”

“You’re the one who can begin to discover the answer.”

“I think…I think it was part of God’s design in our creation. I think he wants me to live out of a soul that is joyous. Even though I often wonder why he allows certain things to occur and other things to not be I don’t believe he desires for us to live out of a bitter or sorrowful soul.”

“Is it something you have to convince yourself of each day? In other words, it isn’t natural for you to know that your soul is joyous?”

“That’s a tough question, but “yes”, I think I have to convince myself each day. Perhaps it’s because the cynicism of the world has invaded my soul and weakened it to my desire for the things of God.”

“Fallenness leaves bruises, cuts, and wounds.”

“That’s for sure.”

“There’s another song that comes to mind…and your congregation actually sings it well. Some of the words include “Then sings my soul…how great thou art!”

“Yes, that’s a great hymn that seems to draw in the whole of me.”

“Perhaps, like music, desiring a joyous soul is comparable to finding that new song that your “whole” self can sing.”

“Does this mean learning to play the guitar?”

“No…no! I’m using music only as an analogy. It’s about what causes your soul to sing.”

“A topic for another cup?”

“Yes. You sip, I’ll observe.”

TO BE CONTINUED

Coffee With Jesus

July 9, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    July 9, 2014

 

                                       

 

   The steam rose from the mug of coffee and disappeared in the air. I sat facing him and wondering how our conversation would flow.

“I was surprised you would meet me here, Lord.”

“You can call me Jesus. I don’t mind. In fact, I think I prefer it.”

“Oh…well…okay…Jesus. That sounds a little strange, but I’ll try to get used to it.”

“Would you prefer that I call you Bill…or Subject?”

“Subject?”

“The other end of the spectrum from Lord.”

“Bill is fine.”

“So Bill, what’s going on in your life?”

“A lot…church work…our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary coming up…grandkids…just a lot of stuff.”

“How is it with your soul?”

“What…my soul…that’s a hard question to answer. It would be easier to start with something simpler, like whether or not I think the Reds will make the playoffs in baseball this season?”

“Something that doesn’t dig as deep?”

“Something less painful.”

“Is talking about your soul a painful topic to explore?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I’m a pastor. Like the song, it is always suppose to be well with my soul.”

“But it isn’t.”

“No. Sometimes it’s like steam rising from the cup, inviting and comforting; but other times there is no steam left. The lukewarmness penetrates to my bones.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Jesus, you know. Why do I even have to tell you?”

“So you can discover what you are afraid to say.”

“That much of my life feels like a playground merry-go-round…that is always moving but never going anywhere.”

“That’s a powerful image. What is the picture that you wish your life would show?”

“I don’t know. It’s easier to describe how it is than what it should be.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Didn’t you just ask me that question thirty seconds ago?”

“And you started to answer it.”

“I guess it goes back to this cup of coffee. I’ve always had my coffee with cream and sugar. I add enough of each to the point that I miss the essence of what gets poured in the mug first…the coffee. I’m guessing that my soul gets disguised with other “stuff’ to the point that I don’t know how it is with it.”

“Wearing disguises protects us from what we’re afraid to find.”

 

                               TO BE CONTINUED

Bringing The Cross Back Inside

April 10, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                              April 10, 2014

 

                                 

 

Our church has a great sense of humor…usually! Actually, most churches have a great sense of humor…you just may have to dig a little deeper to find it!

Years ago we had a couple of people from our congregation construct a wooden cross and a stand that it could be propped up in. It was heavy…and, forgive the term, a bit on the ugly side. Of course, it is difficult to make a cross look good, I don;t care how many Easter lilies you place around it!

The wood of this cross was rough and rigid. It was the kind of wood that takes the pounding of nails easily without stumbling. In the past few years we’ve moved it up the aisle and back to the rear of the sanctuary. Back and forth it has gone like a person without a home.

At Christmas it has crouched in the back corner so that the attention can be more focused on the fifteen foot Christmas tree in the front and a homemade livestock stall with a rustic wooden crib in the midst of it.

At Thanksgiving it disappears to make room for turkeys and canned goods.

But on Good Friday it trudges back to the front in order to have a dark piece of fabric draped over it and a handful of nails driven deep into its strength. Its meaning and significance has never waned, and yet we’ve never felt totally comfortable with its look of abandonment and sorrow either.

This past September we moved it outside. It has stood behind a fenced area behind out sanctuary, kind of like an oversized first-grader hovering over his classmates in the school picture. It’s been standing there through storms and excessive windblown snow.

Come Saturday, however, it is being moved back inside. We jest about it with statements like “It’s time to bring the cross back in” and “I think the cross has been grounded long enough. Let’s unground it!”

We say it with the lean towards humor, but, on the other hand, the cross makes us antsy and uncertain. Give us a manger scene with a dressed-up plastic baby doll laying in it and we’re fine, but a cross of wood is a remembrance for us of all the bad things God endured because of his love for us. It’s a reminder of our tendency to be wayward people of faith who sometimes are brought back to the reality of our fallible decisions.

This year, however, a number of people in our congregation are asking for the cross. It’s been the forgotten symbol long enough. On Palm Sunday it will be back at the front of the sanctuary. To temper the celebration of the palms it will silently stand at a distance in the foreground…alone…bare…reminding!

I think it will be a good thing to have it there without fabric or flowers to partially cover its frame. I hope we can even keep it inside for a while.

Moving the Cross Outside

December 5, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 4, 2013

 

                                  

 

In our decorating of the sanctuary for the Advent season we needed to move some things around. There needed to be space for a place where Christmas cookies and coffee urns were available, and a few Christmas trees that were promoting the theme of our children’s Christmas program.

In the back of our sanctuary there is a eight foot tall heavy wooden cross that has it’s own handcrafted stand. We use it during the season of Lent and move it to the front of the sanctuary. For those who are wondering, there is another cross mounted on the wall at the front of the chancel area.

So this year we moved the cross outside. It is propped up beside a utility shed, looking lonely and forgotten as we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child.

The symbolism of the events has not gone unnoticed by me, although our congregation does not think the cross is an irrelevant relic.

I do, however, believe that we would rather push the Cross of Christ to the side because it makes us too uncomfortable. If you read the history of crucifixions you will discover how brutal they were. The Romans of Jesus‘ day were known for their brutality.

I feel more at peace when I look at a manger surrounded by hay and farm animals than I do with an execution scene complete with the gambling of the executioners to win the robe of one of those men who is hanging above them.

As followers of Jesus we must understand that “the way” goes through the Cross.