Posted tagged ‘forgiveness’

Jesus and Pizza

September 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  September 19, 2018

                                  

My friends, Ed and Diana Stucky, were telling me about a hike they made to an area in Colorado that has some magnificent red rock formations. They were surprised to find people dressed in attire that made them resemble biblical characters. They discovered that the group was there to film a video clip for their church’s Easter service in a few months. A film crew was getting set up. 

And then there was Jesus! He was eating pizza! Ed thought it was pepperoni pizza! 

There’s something strange, but also refreshing, about seeing Jesus sitting on a rock eating pizza. Kind of like seeing the middle school principal dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle at school on Halloween! It just seems out of character or, more accurately, outside of what we expect.

Jesus holding a slice of thin crust pepperoni pizza made my friends stop and stare…and smile!

My daughter, Kecia, who teaches third grade, is always amused by the disbelief she sees on her students’ faces when she encounters them in non-school settings like Target or at a park. She is associated with their understanding of school so much that they have a hard time believing she can be any other place. 

Jesus and pizza would be like that…unexpected and kinda’ cool!

In Jesus’ time people had rabbi stereotypes and messiah expectations. If I read my Bible correctly, there were a number of times when he did and said the unexpected. Sometimes organized religion is more comfortable with a Jesus that is sanitized and spiritually sterile than the Christ who offers grace and forgiveness for the sinful and unclean. In a way, we expect to see Jesus with a loaf of bread and a glass of water, not pepperoni pizza with a splotch of sauce nestled in his beard.

The refreshing thing about Jesus is that he is not confined by our nearsightedness or restricted to our personal legalism. He operates on the basis of who he is, not on who we decide he is to be.

In our concern over keeping anything with a hint of possible sin to it away from Jesus we’ve created a messiah who is about as exciting or appealing as a drink can of Ensure! Thus a non-dancing Jesus, who rarely laughs, never wears clothing featuring vibrant colors, and consumes food that is void of spiciness and sweetness. 

I’ll take a pizza-eating Jesus. Heck! I’m even okay with a Jesus who also has toppings of sausage and ham!

Praying From the Past To the Future

May 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 1, 2018

                        

“Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge!” (Matthew 6:13, The Message)

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One!” (Matthew 6:13, NIV)

When I pray I have a habit of praying about the “not yet” right away!

“Lord, give me strength to get through a day of teaching sixth grade language arts!”

“Lord, help me to deal with that person when I have to see him next week!”

My prayer life has been dominated by situations and events that are in my future path. I noticed, however, when Jesus taught his followers how to pray and gave them a modeling prayer to help them understand he talked about the past and the present before he got to the future.

He suggests that we pray about our present needs and our past failures. The present is about the simple and uncomplicated…”bread!”…the essential for now!

The past is about the moments that haunt us, the ill spoken words, and the inaction in those situations where a response was needed. As a Baptist I don’t enter a confessional booth and reveal my transgressions to a priest, and yet that may be a missing element of my faith journey. It becomes too easy to race blindly into the future! When we don’t deal with our past it clouds the clarity of the future.

There are wounds in our memories that haven’t received the treatment of grace and forgiveness. The peripheral vision of our faith walk is lacking because of the blurring of our past. I think Jesus is leading us to get a grip on our past in preparation for our future. Many of us “avoid” the past as if it never happened. My understanding of how God will lead me from here, however, is influenced by the trail of my steps behind me.

This is true for churches, also! If a congregation hasn’t dealt with its past- how it mistreated a staff member, how judgmental it was towards a family dealing with a relational failure, or demeaning it he’d been towards women- it will most assuredly mis-step into its future.

And so Jesus advises us to deal with our history as we pave the path in front of us.

Editing My Life

January 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 12, 2018

                                             

Ed and Diana Stucky are great friends. Simply awesome people, humble and caring, empathetic and honest. In recent months they’ve been editing the book that I’ve written. Diana looks for better flow of sentences, corrects my punctuation, suggests ideas for how to develop characters and the plot. Ed reads the story, looking for flow and consistency. Being the adult curriculum editor at Cook Communications, he’s pretty darned good at it.

And these are two friends that I’ve been blessed with!

I’m now writing the sequel, even though I have no idea whether the first book…and those after…will ever be published. And Diana continues to check my work and help me chart the journey of the story ahead.

I’ve had a multiple of “redo’s” in this experience, taking a conversation that was written and rewriting it to make a stronger point. The redo’s are usually the result of conversations with E&D that cause me to rethink and backtrack for another go at it.

If the book ever gets published it will be because of two great editors who have made it a better read, a story that keeps the attention of the reader and even, in a couple of places, brings them to tears.

I was thinking about that this week in terms of my life. How would I like my life to be edited? Where would I like a few “redo’s” to happen?  In what conversations would I choose to change a few words?

I’m sure everyone thinks about it! We look at our screw-ups and wish we could turn the clock back for another go at it. We dream of our lives having a DVR button that we could use to replay a moment…and replay a moment…and replay a moment…until we get it perfect. Think of the movie Groundhog Day!

When one of the basketball teams I coach loses a game I replay certain situations as I lay in bed that night. I think of what should have been, a horrendous call by one of the officials, missed free throws and layups, and I edit the game in my mind to bring about a different end result.

If I could edit my life I could look a lot better in the eyes of those who know me, massively awesome!

But such a redo would diminish the thoughtlessness of our words and cruelty of our actions. In other words, when I screw up it is usually because I made a personal choice to follow my own selfish desires irregardless of the impact it has had on others. When I choose a direction that is not in line with what God hopes it is the revealer of the waywardness of my heart. To be able to edit my life would make me look better than I am.

Like Ed and Diana have been for my writing, God volunteers to be the editor of our lives. His grace and forgiveness in reality are his formula for a redo. When I cringe over a decision I have made he offers grace and forgiveness that tells me I can give it another try. Jesus’ death on the cross was the sign of God’s commitment to forget what was and love us in the redo’s. Paul wrote these words in his letter to the Romans: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8)

He edits out the errors through his Son’s atoning sacrifice. Amen!

The Church That Mutually Submits

September 12, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          September 12, 2016

                               

Churches can be incredible places of grace…and churches can be intolerable places of ungodly treatment. I’ve seen both. We dream of the first and too often experience the latter. It’s been that way since….ohhh, say the first century!

The Corinthians could be a reality TV show. Lawsuits, disorder, self-centeredness, strong personalities, dysfunctional church life…they could make a ten year run on Bravo! And most of the seven churches in the early chapters of Revelation…talk about issues!

Churches are comprised of people with issues, otherwise known as imperfect people, who are incapable of perfection. Every church has problems! Every church has warts!

The difference is when a church recognizes that and brings grace into the midst of the fellowship. Grace paves the way for dialogue, forgiveness, and reconciliation. A church that is committed to grace values the principle of mutual submission. That is, each person in the Body of Believers desires to be serve the others. Personal agendas get thrown into the trunk as people in the Body value one another more than they value their own wants.

Here’s the thing! People don’t trust mutual submission. They are afraid of being burned, and afraid that wrong decisions will be made if everyone is treated with equal regard. They are afraid of pushy people pushing their wants, and loud people drowning out those with soft voices. It is easier to be suspicious rather than servant-minded.

The dynamics of the Kingdom of God are written in a different book than the one most of us are living by. Mutual submission means that we recognize that we need each other, we have a deep love and respect for each other, and that we value each other. When “a wart” surfaces in the life of the church the members of the fellowship respond with words of commitment like “We will work it out together!” Judgment and demeaning decisions get thrown into the trunk with the personal agendas and everyone gets a firmer grasp of the hands of others as a storm of conflict is faced. There is a bond that will not let go. People say things like “What’s it going to take to bring our relationships back to the trusting level? Let’s work on it together.”

The dilemma for the church is that she puts up with people that no other organization would tolerate. Our commitment to grace shows in how we love those who believe in grace but never practice it. That takes us back to the reality of the truth that depresses us, that we all have issues and we all need the grace of God. Woe is we!

The reality of our fallen nature, of being people with issues, will not, however, deter me from  believing the church is to be that place of mutual submission and grace! Even though some of the behavior I see or hear about makes me grind my teeth I haven’t given up on the fellowship of Christ-followers yet!

 

Church Life

August 3, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 3, 2016

                                           

“He touched me….oh, he touched me! And oh, the joy that floods my soul! Something happened, and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.”

The congregation closed the song with several heart-felt “amens” from the twelve gathered souls for Sunday worship. Most of them smiled in the warmth of the words, the truth of their meaning.

I told them the Mark 5 story of the woman who had a feminine hygiene problem for twelve years and had been “ritually unclean.” She came to where Jesus was and risked a touch of the edge of his garment. She just wanted to be clean. She was emotionally distraught, felt spiritually unworthy, and had been afflicted for so long that she had become almost invisible to people. The story was retold to ears that were listening and heads that were nodding in agreement.

“People may not be ostracized for the same reasons today, but you know, we have a way in the church of making people feel like outcasts and minimizing certain ones because of this, that, or the other. My guess is that most of us have been made to feel like we don’t matter at one time or another.”

“And the thing is…when we’re gathered as the Body of Christ, that’s where we should always feel loved, accepted, and valued.”

They were with me as we journeyed this story. Their church had been larger at one time, but things happened. People moved away because of jobs, kids grew up and went off to college and didn’t come back, and some of the saints had passed on to the next life. Those were all journeys that were a part of life, the things that just happened. It was the other losses that kept wounding the few faithful. Words that had been said in the heat of the moment, unforgiving spirits and non-repentant hearts, power plays and personality conflicts. All those things that people expected in other places, but cut more deeply when they were a part of the community of the King.

But sometimes a church needs to go deep in the valley to see the sacredness of the fellowship. Pain sometimes makes the good days more cherished.

“How might we touch one another today as the Body of Christ? Who in our community is like the woman who just longs for a touch of hope, a touch of healing? Who might we invite to join us in this sanctuary of brokenness as we seek to be a place of hope?”

The words were being felt in the midst of the congregation’s soul.

“How might the words to that song that we sang be experienced in our lives, and the lives of those around us?”

“Amen.”

It wasn’t the end of a sermon, but rather the transition to reflection and action. Prayer concerns were shared. One person shared a deep concern that was weighing upon her. We stopped to pray, but before we prayed we gathered around her, laid hands upon her weary shoulders and touched her with care. Tears streamed from her eyes and ran down her cheeks on a path towards healing.

There was a wholeness that was coming back to her, and in that wholeness was also a sense of wholeness in the midst of “the gathered.”

Church life can often be the death of us, but sometimes a church near-death experience is their resuscitation to a new life and a deeper hope.

Getting Hungry Again

May 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 20, 2016

                                      

Excuse me for being blunt, but stomach viruses suck! They are a nauseating form of “unloading.” I’ve been the “Baptist priest” a few times over the years for people going through 12-step programs, and the fifth step is a time of confession. It’s the unloading of all the “stuff” that they’ve done.

Stomach viruses are the unloading of all the stuff that has accumulated. Unfortunately for me I had a large dinner just a few hours before the virus raised its ugly head. It will be a while before I can look at stuffed baked potatoes again!

I won’t go into details about my kneeling positions for a day, but let’s just say the refrigerator was safe from me invading it for a whole day. I got a lot lighter in a short amount of time. It was not pretty! I was not pretty!

Yesterday afternoon I started getting hungry again. Last night was my first meal in two days: wood plank salmon cooked on the grill, with asparagus and white rice.

Today I’m reflecting on the experience…not the porcelain throne kneeling moments, but rather the similarities between unloading all the stuff in our life and coming back to a point of being spiritually hungry.

We have that tendency, that habit, of filling our lives with “the stuff” of the world…the craving for more money, the lust for more power and prestige, for things that aren’t beneficial, for moments of escape from reality that distort our view of that reality. And then we have, what I call a “Come To Jesus Moment”, where sometimes by our own choice, but, more often than not, because of someone else’s pressure, we come clean. It’s an excruciating experience that we feel ashamed about as we throw up all the deception and garbage that we’ve been hiding.

And yet it is a freeing experience as well! Confession is good for the soul, and yet we rarely come to it of our own volition. It’s like a colonoscopy that we dread like crazy, but after having it experience a peace of mind that everything is okay. (My wife has one next week, so I thought I would just thrown that example in there.)

And then…there is the point where we reach “hunger” again. The grace of God and forgiveness of God wrapped in the love of the saints brings us to that point in the journey where we seek to stay on the path…to go deeper…to experience a drawing close to the Holy. It’s a special time, unobstructed by what I’ve allowed to block the way. Words from the Word take on special meaning. Prayer becomes a time of listening and less of talking. Worship becomes more intimate, less noisy, and not defined by a church bulletin.

It’s a place we want to stay at, and yet we know we won’t. In the midst of the hunger we know that there will be some of those other urges that gradually creep in. Hopefully we will learn from what we have just been through and be wiser because of it. Hopefully the hunger for spiritual nourishment will guide our coming days, that the kneeling we will be doing will be more about surrendered worship and less about remorse.

And so we journey freer…for now…comforted by the fact that the grace of God goes with us, and his peace is upon us.

Stomach viruses still suck, but at least it made me think!

What Do You Say To High School Students Who May Have Heard It All?

June 24, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                             June 24, 2015

       

In about ten days I’ll head to camp…church camp, that is! Church camp for about six and a half days with high school students. High school students, many of whom have heard it all…or believe they have!

So what do I say to them that won’t cause a rolling of eyes or the closing of eyelids? What do I say to them that is truth without the hint of parental guilt? What do I say to them that will encourage them to the futures and purposes that God has for their lives?

I’ve been pondering and praying these questions for a while, but even more since a young lady I had coached passed away about three weeks ago. Just two years out of high school she lost some of her sense of purpose. Her death has caused me to ponder a tremendous amount each day.

So I’ve tried to come up with things that need to be said to a young man or woman who has sixty to seventy years of life ahead of them. Here’s what I’ve got so far…and I would love to get your ideas and suggestions!

    1) Know that the world is broken…and so are you! We live in the midst of fallenness. Remember that when people, systems, and mindsets try to convince you of their perfection. Part of maturing is coming to grips with the fact that you will never have it all together. Don’t use that as an excuse, but rather as a clarifier of your environment and your life. Wholeness can come only after there is an admission that a person has some cracks in their life.

2) Accept forgiveness and be forgiving! Know that everyone makes mistakes…and you will too! Be willing to let it go- your mistakes and the errors of others that affect you- and move on!

3) Embrace your purpose! Discover it and pursue it with passion because it is this purpose that God will use to bring glory to him and some form of healing to the world. Your purpose doesn’t have to be something that is headline-grabbing, although it may be noticed when you least expect it!

4) Identify who it is who will “go to the wall” for you! “Go to the wall” means they would be willing to lay down their life for you. Know that your list will be very short, but also take note of who you wouldn’t put on that list. Who are the people who would jump on a plane and fly across the country at a moment’s notice because you need them? Would you be on their list?

5) Seek joy more than the pursuit of happiness! Joy doesn’t leave; happiness is a temporary feeling. Put another way…happiness is a seasonal visitor, but joy is a resident. Incorporate practices in your life that keep you in the stream of joy.

6) Know without a shadow of a doubt that God loves you unconditionally! Most of what happens in our lives is conditional, but nothing you do or don’t do will negate the love that God has for you. The doubts you experience in regards to that are simply deceiver-driven or self-imposed.

7) Embrace a Community of Faith! A church or gathering of Christ-followers needs to be intimately connected to your life. They need you and you need them! Don’t try to go on a spiritual journey by yourself. You’ll fall and there will be no one to pick you back up! Going to church camp one week a year is not a fulfillment of your spiritual nutrition and need!

8) Identify a mentor and walk with him/her! Joshua had Moses, Timothy had Paul. Who is it in your life that already has the wisdom and experience with the potholes of the journey? Who can steer you in the right direction, but will also be there to encourage you after you’ve screwed up?

9) Just because everybody is doing it doesn’t make it right! As my grandfather used to say, “If everybody else jumps off a cliff, are you going to jump off, also?” Sometimes my answer was yes…and I fell hard! Don’t buy into everything that our culture says is the way or the truth, or where life is! If you do you’ll end up either disillusioned or dysfunctional!

I’ll stop at 9! Perhaps I’ll add to the list later…maybe you’ll help me! But make it fast! Camp starts in ten days!

Oh…I’ll add this one for the parents! 10) Clean your room!