Posted tagged ‘Christianity’

In Honor of Marie

October 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 20, 2019


I first met Marie Lyons…kinda’…at a funeral home in Mason, Michigan, the Ball-Dunn Chapel. I was there for the visitation of Harold Bickert. Harold and his wife, Mildred, were elderly members of Lansing First Baptist Church, but years before they had lived in Mason and attended Mason First Baptist Church. 

I visited with Mildred and talked to her about the funeral service for Harold that would happen the next day. In an adjoining viewing room laid the body of Robert Lyons, Marie’s brother. Mildred knew I had been talking to the pastoral search committee of the Mason church, Marie’s church. She had me go into the viewing room and sign the guest book. The visitation had already concluded and no one was still present. I felt a little awkward, signing the guest book of a departed man I had never met, but Mildred was insistent. She WANTED me to be the next pastor of her former church, and Marie Lyons was on the search committee.

About two months later I became Marie’s pastor for the next fifteen years. She was a source of strength, gentle determination, wise counsel, a listener, and a respecter of everyone’s opinions no matter how opposite they might be from what she believed. She was African-American, in a town that was almost completely Caucasian. She never married, but took on  the responsibility of being the caregiver for her brother, Buddy, who had mental limitations and was also mute. She was a school teacher, loving her elementary students as they learned. 

Marie passed away this week at the age of 86. It is one of those deaths that causes you to weep and rejoice at the same time. A faithful follower of Christ, she looked forward to her march into glory. She did not fear death, but rather saw it as the transitional step into the presence and peace of the Lord. And yet, for her friends near and far, there is a rumbling cry in our spirits. She was so valued, and valued others so, that it hurts to know she has moved on to the place she looked forward to. Quite frankly, there just aren’t that many people around these days who have such strong character and are firmly anchored to the Rock that is Christ.

The last time I saw Marie was in 2015. I had traveled back to Mason to meet with my friend and financial advisor, David Leonard. While in Mason I met with our friend, Janet Smith, and Marie at an ice cream shop in Mason and we talked for about an hour. That was four years ago almost to the day. She was getting thinner as she was traveling through her early 80’s, but she still had that same kind voice that made you feel you were important.

  There are people who you’re around for a long time and they impact your life; and then there are those folk who you’re privileged to know for a season of life that leave their handprint upon you. Marie’s handprint has stayed with me for these past 20 years since we moved from Mason.

As the Mason community remembers and celebrated her life this coming week, I shed a sweetened tear. A saint has joined up with the saints. Like a Fodor’s travel guide, the words of scripture that Marie had memorized about what Glory is and how it looks are now being seen firsthand by this just-arrived friend of Jesus. 

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.

Irrelevant Busyness

April 18, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    April 18, 2012

Every church at some time, now or later…or both/and…struggles with irrelevance. It is not that the church is irrelevant, it is rather that some of the things the church does are irrelevant. To borrow an example that Jesus used, it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to get a church to stop doing a ministry or a program that it has always done!

If church programming was like a person’s plate going through a buffet line, or more appropriately a potluck dinner, it would be multi-layered. There would be “fruit jello outreach programs” on top of “fried chicken committee meetings” laying beside men’s early morning prayer pastries that are squashed on top of mashed potato women’s missionary circle meetings.

We layer our ministries like food gluttons who seem to think we can’t get enough, more is better! We create churchgoing obesity.

A few years ago I remember a friend of mine saying he didn’t want to be a Christian. When I asked why, he responded that he didn’t want to end up like his Christian neighbor who always seemed to be going to church for this meeting or that group. My friend had gotten the impression that being a follower of Christ seemed to carry with it implication that he would always be pulling into the church parking lot.

It prompts me to ask the question “What is relevant?”; and the second question “What are we doing simply because we have always done it?”

I’m leading a team of people from our regional group of American Baptist Churches that is addressing those very questions. We’re dealing with the challenge of figuring out what is really important, and what isn’t important but we don’t know what else to do!

Crucial questions for our region, but even more crucial for each congregation. There are some things that churches do that our culture looks at and just shakes it’s head in bewilderment of the waste of time they see in it.

Our culture has a longing for intimacy, a desire to explore the mystery of the Holy, and a hunger for relevance, but also sees the value of time. If a church function doesn’t help them in deepening relationships with God and one another, or lead them in the serving and life-impacting of others, it will be seen as irrelevant. If it no longer has a purpose or a function, its following will be in danger of being based on guilt rather than purpose.

In essence, the church must continually ask the question “Why?” Most of the time, that question is much more important than “how”, “what”, “where”, or “when?”

A Hunger for New Heroes

April 10, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    April 9, 2012

Bubba Watson’s victory in The Master’s golf tournament was impressive. What was even more heartwarming was the media’s telling of his story. Comments in TV rooms around the country could be summed up with “Nice guys finish first!”

In recent times there seems to be a hunger in our culture for heroes. We want to know that there are still good, law-abiding, morally strong, balanced people who we can look up to. It’s gratifying to know that someone like Bubba Watson, and his wife, Angie (who is 6’4”) had just adopted a one month ago boy two weeks before the Master’s. We tend to pull for a guy who just recently experienced the death of his father. It’s satisfying to hear that after winning the Master’s, Bubba said “I’m like to first thank Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.”

The ironic thing is that at the same time we look for heroes we also seem to seek to find the narrow openings in the armor. Witness the recent experience with Tim Tebow. It was un-nerving to a lot of people to see Tebow “tebowing”. It was irritating to a lot of folks to see him give such visible expression to his faith. There were a lot of people who scrutinized deeper then an FBI investigation. There was intense examination for inconsistencies.

My cynical side mutters that there are probably a number of folk who would rather their daughters bring home a Saints “bounty hunter” instead of a humble quarterback, who knows that there is more to life than a few years in professional football.

And Bubba Watson knows that there is more to life then sporting a new green jacket. This coming weekend is another tournament and a new challenge. His hero status will probably diminish..except in the growing stature of his new adopted baby boy.

We like new heroes, but we seem lacking in the grace to keep them there. They quickly fade, but also rapidly fall. For every “man after God’s own heart” there is a King David whose view of reality and what is right gets distorted by his power or position.

The positive result of that is that each of us has Psalm 51 that we can speak.

“Create in a me a pure heart, O Lord!”