Posted tagged ‘grace’

Five Words

November 19, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 19, 2019

                                             

You are never too old to learn! 

We’ve heard those words a boatload of times. Recently, I learned the truth of them in a humbling way. My learned lesson was, in the future, to consider the ramifications of my words before sending them into social media cyber-space.

A friend of mine had told of an accomplishment in his life that few people ever even come close to achieving. When he posted it on social media I made a five word comment that was a bad grasp at humor. Instead, he read it as a negative comment, an insult. 

Five words. 

We have since made amends and I’ve apologized for my insensitivity.

I’m at the age where I don’t screw up that much any more, but, this time, five words cast the shadow of embarrassment over me.

It was a lesson well learned. There’s a lot of talk these days about being careful what you post on social media. The talk, however, is usually being given to middle and high schoolers by adults who look like they would never be that stupid.

And then this 65 year old dinosaur writes five words that, if said in person, may have been viewed as sarcastic humor, but on social media, where there is no hint of voice tone and non-verbals, it felt like a punch.

One of the things I have worked on in recent years has been to think through my blogging thoughts, edit and check for spelling mistakes, and not send out “Words From WW” until I’m satisfied with the flow and conveying of the subject matter. 

Sometimes, however, it isn’t the long read that messes our message up; it’s the few words, the slighting in a comment.

It’s interesting that I can comb back over my life and think of a few other screw-ups or, better said, errors in judgment. 35 years ago I sent a birthday card to someone from my congregation who I had not seen in Sunday worship for a few weeks. My birthday greeting included a perceived jab at her lack of presence on Sundays. I still remember the confrontation in my office that next Sunday with her grandfather. I turned eighty shades of red. In a matter of minutes I had gone from preaching the Sunday sermon to being preached to, and there was more fire and brimstone in the grandfather’s words than my sermon.

Going further back, I can recall the church history professor back in my seminary days (1976-1979) confronting me about the material in a paper I had written. He could have been a lot harder on me, because sections of the paper were simply copied from a book…okay, I’ll say the dreaded word! It was plagiarism! I rewrote the paper and learned a valuable lesson.

More recently…well, about ten years ago!…I said a few words to Carol that were insensitive and hurtful. Our two daughters were with us when it happened, and they had never seen us say angry words towards one another. They were almost as shocked as much as I was embarrassed. It was out of character.

I take some solace in that last statement. That screwups are out of character. I am not a potential “Dr. Phil” episode. What I am is someone who has experienced the grace of God on innumerable moments of my life.

That last statement includes five other words— better words, mind you— that are the beginning of a powerful truth: I am saved by grace…

The Shadow Over Grace

November 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  November 17, 2019

                                       

This morning I’m witnessing an incredible view of Pike’s Peak “peeking” through the low hanging clouds around it. It’s almost as if the mountain has battled to be seen, struggled to rise above and take a breath of air.

The interesting thing for me is that, as I viewed this sight, I was pondering a statement made in a sermon recently. The pastor said that we begin to value righteousness and lose sight of the graciousness. Righteousness, or our leaning towards it, has a way of pushing grace under the clouds. It becomes smothering.

One reason for that is that righteousness, the striving to do what’s right, is much easier to define. What is the right thing to do is often much clearer than the gracious act of caring.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d much rather be around people who do the right thing, the wise thing, than people who do the stupid deed. Followers of Jesus, however, have a way of endearing themselves to his righteousness and relegating his graciousness to the footnotes. Sometimes we forget that one of the reasons Zacchaeus was up in a tree, besides his small stature, was because the people were short on grace. They wanted to see Jesus, but not a despised tax collector. 

Church folk have a tendency to be like that also. The scenario and names of the characters have been changed, but the plot is the same. Someone shows up in Sunday worship who has had sin in their life (Like…that’s not true for some of the frozen chosen!) and the great separation begins. I’ve seen some people, who have committed life-errors, be treated like a swollen joint by the righteous, iced out.

A friend of mine told me of a church he attended that was very accepting and friendly. After a few Sundays he decided he would let his adult Sunday School class know about some of the struggles of his past. The room temperature suddenly dropped to freezing.

Truthfully, it is difficult to balance righteousness and graciousness. Some folk are so excessively gracious they inadvertently cheapen it. Others are so wary about grace they treat it like the family valuables, locked up in a safety deposit box only to be brought out for a moment and then put away for another six months.

And so we have the story of Zacchaeus, who climbs above the inflexibility of the righteous to be able to experience the grace of Jesus…and then a new way of life!

By the time I finished writing these words Pike’s Peak had climbed completely above the clouds, looking freed and beautiful. I wish it was as easy and natural for grace to do the same.

Grace Makes Me Squirm!

July 9, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     July 9, 2019

                                  

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV)

When it comes to foreign languages I’m suspect! Always have been, from two years of Spanish in high school, a flunking quarter of Latin in college, and a “Did Not Pass” in Hebrew one fateful term in seminary. I could blame it on my Kentucky and Southern Ohio roots where English words are pronounced differently or just man up to my weakness.

It drove me to cheat! Yes, that’s right! In Mr. Gerling’s Spanish 1 class at Maysville High School I looked for any way to avoid flunking, so there were a few times where I glanced at someone else’s “examen” (I just used Google to find out the Spanish word for exam! See!)

So when I received a “B” in Spanish the feeling of accomplishment was tainted by my own feelings of guilt. What I received I hadn’t earned. It made me squirm, but, of course, I was not forthcoming with the sharing of that knowledge with my parents. 

There is something about us, about our nature, that makes us uncomfortable about receiving something we haven’t legally earned. I should say “most of us”. The recent college admissions scandal is an example of people who have used their influence and wealth to gain something not earned, and they didn’t seem to feel uncomfortable over the situation until they were discovered.

But I was “squirmed” by my Spanish B! 

I think of that classroom episode when I ponder the grace of God. Cheating on Spanish tests is not the reason I think of grace, but rather that feeling of guilt- Baptist guilt, mind you, the worst kind!- that descended upon me.

What I’ve found is that a lot of followers of Christ are very uncomfortable with grace. It’s like they snuck into the ballpark and suddenly found themselves in the VIP seats. There is that nagging feeling about receiving something that was not earned. 

It makes grace, this amazing gift of God, so uncomfortable to receive. 

Many followers of Jesus resort to one of our foundational societal norms: earning whatever it is we desire to receive. Most of us desire to be loved. Some people go through their whole lives trying to earn their parents’ love. Some spouses try to earn the love of their husband or wife, even though they’ve said marriage vows that say as much. We desire to be loved.

Followers of Christ desire to be loved by God. Some accept his unconditional love and experience the embrace of His grace. From my 36 years of pastoral ministry, however, I will tell you that most Christians are so uncomfortable with the grace of God that they seek to earn it. 

They serve out of obligation. They worship out of duty. They pray out of a sense of  responsibility. They read scripture as if it’s a chore. The spiritual barrier in their lives is the acceptance of God’s grace. They just can’t quite go there. It feels…what’s the word…unearned!

And that’s because that’s what it is! Unearned. It goes against the grain.

There are, mind you, other people who are on the other end of the spectrum. That is, they take the grace of God for granted. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Over the years the people who have embraced the grace of God and lived their lives refreshed by His grace are a small congregation. Many others fluctuate between grace-filled living and trying to earn the love of God. I know, I’m one of them!

I squirm as I admit that, even more than I squirmed when the B showed up on my report card for Spanish 1. 

That Judgmental Evangelical Church!

March 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     March 4, 2019

                      

Carol and I sat back and watched an episode of Criminal Minds last night. We can’t keep up with all the recorded episodes we have on our DVR, thus the episode we watched was from last October.

Without going into the plot too much, a woman is killed and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) team is sent to investigate. In looking at the way the woman has been murdered, investigating who her friends are, and her routines, they summarize that there is some connection between what has happened and the church she attends.

That’s when the term “evangelical” gets used! She was involved in an EVANGELICAL church. The way it’s said you could almost put in parentheses after it “You know…one of those!” as the person turned to the side and spat!

The next scene has the team interviewing the pastor. His character comes off as self-righteous and judgmental. Envision a pastor with a whip! The viewer immediately does not like him and, after all, he’s the pastor of one of those EVANGELICAL churches! You are given the impression that “fun” is a four letter word for him.

Several other indicators are that he and his church are narrow-minded, critical, ready to shun sinners, and legalistic. They probably don’t even drink root beer!

Such is the general public’s, or at least those in the entertainment world, view of evangelicals! I wouldn’t have been as bothered by the episode if they would have just said “church”, but those who produce the show probably don’t understand what evangelical means.

The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word “euangelion”, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, an evangelical church focuses on the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ.

That good news includes the grace of God, forgiveness, love, acceptance, hope, and peace. 

Some evangelicals, rightfully so, have made a mess of evangelicalism! They’ve reversed the mirror of Jesus. Instead of people seeing the image of Christ in his church they see a bunch of people who seem to have been sucking on lemons too long! I’ll be honest! There are a number of people in churches I’ve served who are about as pleasant as hemorrhoids!

It should not be! “Good News” has become religious rhetoric, and grace has been replaced with guilt. 

One of my closest friends in ministry, Rev. Tom Bayes, recently urged me to write a book about “church stuff”. Tom and I, along with our other clergy friend, Rev. Chuck Moore, spent years serving churches in the Lansing, Michigan area and sharing stories over lunches. There was a lot of laughter in the midst of our burger-munching. I think I’ll take him up on his request. The book, however, will revolve around a pastor who laughs, jokes around with the people of his congregation, enjoys life, and exhibits the Joy of life. AND he will be a pastor who firmly holds to the belief that Jesus is “Good News”!

Maybe I’ll even make him…you know…one of those Baptist pastors!

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!

Hide and Slowly Seek!

July 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              July 5, 2018

               

                                          

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith- and this is not from yourselves-it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV)

I played “hide and seek” with my granddaughter a couple of days ago. Corin, who turned three at the end of March, doesn’t quite get the strategy of the game yet, which made it even more fun and funny.

She went to hide as I counted. As soon as I tromped up the steps to the second floor of her family’s house I could hear the giggling. She was hiding underneath the covers of her parents’ bed. Three year olds have a very difficult time not making any movements. The bedspread kept moving like a fan was blowing on it. I slowly made my approach, talking the whole time, until I lifted the covers to a bundle of screams and laughter.

And then she hid again! I went downstairs to count to some random figure. 

“Ready or not here I come!”

Distant giggles.

My heavy feet thundered on each step to indicate my ascent up the stairs. “I wonder where she might be?” She was hiding…under the covers in her parents’ bed…again!

What does a granddad do when his granddaughter makes it so easy to find her? He pretends to not see her, to loudly announce that he’s looking in other rooms and places which causes her to giggle even more.

Slowly I narrow down my search to her special spot, and then I make mention of the lump underneath the bedspread (pause for more giggles) before throwing the covers back to reveal her again. 

Third time…same hiding place!

Fourth time…you guessed it!

Fifth time…yes! Each time I tried my hardest to be blind. I even became more creative in my ability to not see, checking inside toilets, taking a peek inside a lamp shade, and gazing behind a picture hanging on the wall. Each look was announced to the giggler, before discovering her for the fourth time…fifth time in the exact same spot, even the same side of the bed!

That. not occurred to me, is a picture of the  grace and forgiveness of God! He sees our hiding tendencies, our covering up of our secrets, and he still graces us with his forgiveness.

Never once did I say to Corin, “Again! You’re hiding in the same place again! This is getting monotonous!” I searched and found. When we hide our hearts God seeks.

Although God does not enjoy our hiding from him he will always seek us, always forgive us, and always respond to our staying away with grace-filled drawing close…even when we return to the same dark place again and again.

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!