Posted tagged ‘Moses’

Suggested Stop Signs

July 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 July 24, 2017

                                   

I’ve noticed it more and more…like a bad body rash that keeps spreading! It’s called “The Suggested Stop”!

A “suggested stop” happens when a driver approaches a stop sign and slows and goes! There is not a stop in the process, because…it is only a “suggested stop.”

Stop signs have not changed with the times. They are as old-fashioned as they’ve always been. No modernization, or fancy new lettering. Not even a more up-to-date word or saying like “Easy” or “Have a nice day!” Not even an image like a smiley face! Just the same old four lettered word with a flaming red background as always.

STOP!

What has gotten lost in the Master Drive instruction somewhere is that STOP usually has a reason attached to it, like some possible negative repercussions if someone decides not to stop.

I noticed it this past year at a four-way stop close to the middle school a half mile from our house. At 7:15 in the morning it is a busy intersection. The crossing guard, a sweet lady that I’ve known for years, has considered wrapping herself in bubble wrap and developing waistline bumpers as she escorts students across the street with her STOP sign raised high for people to see. And yet she has very few days where she doesn’t have to deal with drivers from the “suggested stop” school of thought!

This morning as I headed towards my first cup of coffee at Starbucks I came to another four-way stop. As I slowed a BMW on the right approached the STOP sign, reduced his speed from 30 to 25, and then turned left in front of me while holding a cigarette out the window and sporting NASCAR sunglasses.

I’ve thought a lot about suggested stoppers and have decided that the whole idea fits with our culture of entitlement. People feel entitled to drive the way they want, to not take road signs literally. Kind of like those stone tablets that Moses carried down! You know the ones I’m talking about…The Ten Suggestions!

We simply live in a world where it is to your advantage…more than that, for your well-being and health…to follow the instructions and obey the signs. We seem to do that only when it’s convenient, like when the gas gauge has a red “E” on it. Very few of us see that and say to ourselves, “Oh, that’s just a suggestion to stop at a gas station and get some fuel!” Those who believe such logic are called “walkers” and “hitchhikers”!

With all the sophisticated new car technology perhaps the auto industry could put in some kind of automatic stopping device that reacts when the vehicle approaches a STOP sign. If a car can now be parked without the driver having his hands on the steering wheel surely an automatic stop technology can be invented for new cars!

Of course, if that happens the 1982 Chevette will blow right past you!

The “Uh” Moments

July 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 18, 2016

                                         

My life has been littered with moments of extreme stupidity. Like when I tried to compliment one young lady I was attending college with. Never make comments about a young lady’s figure on the first date…or second date for that matter. I said something that gave her the impression that she was flat-chested and big in the hips. My intent was to tell her that she was slim in the waist-line and nicely-proportioned in the bust-line!

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

It was one of those moments when the incensed look on her face made me go “Uh!” The date ended quickly after that. In case you’re wondering…and are really slow in perceiving things…there was not a second date!

“Uh moments” are those times when we realize how error-prone, insensitive, or clueless we really are.

I’ve had a lot of those “Uh moments” with God. Times when I doubted his majesty, occasions where I’ve missed his hand in the midst of events, trials when I’ve wandered on my own.

I was thinking about that the other day as I was reading some scripture stories. Scripture is populated with “Uh moments.” For example, Moses stood before God with his excuses about not being qualified to go and speak to Pharaoh. Although “Uh…” is not a word that the stammering Moses uses, it can be easily lip-synched into his mental verbiage at the end of the discussion.

Martha had an “Uh moment” with Jesus when she moaned and groaned to Jesus about her brother.

“Master!” she said, “If you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died!”

Knowing Martha’s opinionated personality, I don’t think those words were said to Jesus with a soft understanding voice. Jesus tells her that he is the resurrection and the life, and that the one who believes in him will live even though he dies.” Martha gives kind of a half-hearted “okay…” to him. They proceed to the tomb of her brother and Jesus tells those around it to remove the stone.

Martha’s housecleaning experience has her then say to Jesus, “By this time there’s a stench! He’s been dead four days!” Like an obnoxious adolescent wanting her parents to get a life, it’s like Martha is saying to Jesus “HHHeellllloooo!” And Jesus looked her in the eye and says, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

And Martha said, “Uhhh…”

Our “Uh moments” come when our doubts are completely doused by a shower of God’s power, like the 450 prophets of Baal being completely embarrassed by the prophet Elijah. Our “Uh moments” also come when we experience a tapestry of God’s artistic touch. This week I’m at a church camp outside of Woodland Park, Colorado. I’m overwhelmed by the view of Pike’s Peak and surrounding forests and peacefulness. I stand on the deck each day and literally say “Uhhh…”

“Uh moments” remind us of our humanity and mortality, and they also nudge us with the assurance of the love of God.

God loves me no matter what, no matter my capacity to doubt him and no matter whether I say the wrong words to the wrong person at the wrong time. He loves me despite myself!

And to that my lower jaw drops open and I resemble Jim Carey in the movie Dumb and Dumber with the one syllable grunt…”Uhhh…”

Drawing Close to Death

March 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              March 18, 2016

                                      

The Passion Week of Jesus is about to begin. In many ways it’s an unsettling time. One day Jesus gets paraded through town with cheers and singing, and a few days later he gets paraded towards a hill of death with jeers and mocking. It is a lonely week, a week of being deserted, betrayed, and tortured.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday experiences are solemn and reflective…and avoided! Many of us are ready to get to the celebration of Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus’ tomb was open and the body was no longer there, and by-pass the days of suffering and death.We often even see this in our funeral services. The tendency is to rush by the grieving and embrace the rejoicing. If the departed had a close walk with God people sometimes feel guilty about being sad, about mourning the loss of a loved one. “Well, he’s with the Lord now, so we shouldn’t be sad!”

Yes, he is with the Lord, but he is no longer with us in the same way he has always been with us, and for that I’m grieving. Ben Dickerson, a good friend and ministry colleague of mine, passed away suddenly a few years ago. Ben was man of prayer and depth, a mentor and confidant. His death set me back. I struggled with the nonsensical nature of it.

I could not get to the celebration! Hear me on that! I could not get to the celebration. I was still dealing with the Good Friday grief! Just as cancer patients deal with the loss of health, and anxiety about the future moves into the room that has been occupied by future hopes and aspirations, I must deal with the closeness of death in my life.

Perhaps it seems silly, but I’ve grieved the loss of every one of our five cats: Tickles, Prince Charming Kisses, Duke, Katie Katie CoCo Puffs, and Princess Mailbu. Don’t mock me! My daughters named them all. Even as I write this I’m getting a little teary-eyed thinking about them.

Death is hard, and important to draw close to. When Moses died Deuteronomy 34:8 says “The people of Israel wept for Moses in the Plains of Moab for thirty days. then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.”

Thirty days! In our culture it is more likely that the memorial service can’t be scheduled for thirty days due to schedule complications.

There is a time for celebration, but there is also a time for grieving and remembrance. Death precedes eternal life…profoundly!

Good Friday needed to occur for a rolled away stone to signal that something significant had just happened.

Our culture has a hard time dealing with death. The pull is to just move past it and get on with life.

And so Good Friday services that bring us to scenes of Golgotha will be slightly attended, unless the pilgrim comes from a traditional that mandates attendance; and Resurrection Sunday will see pancake breakfasts, and balloons, and chocolate crosses…and crowded sanctuaries.

My belief…you don’t have to accept it if you don’t want to…my belief is that we can not fully appreciate and understand the incredible news of the resurrection unless we draw close to the death of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Reading Leviticus With Attention Deficit Disorder

February 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 26, 2016

                      “Reading Leviticus With Attention Deficit Disorder”

I’ve often thought I was ADD! Fidgety…restless…hard to stay focused. In seminary I would have to read my systematic theology books out loud to try to stay on track…and assist me in the understanding of what was being written about.

And now I’m about to finish reading through the book of Leviticus. It is an exercise in “literary rowing.” I’m like one of those oarsman who is trying to stay focused on the number of strokes he and his team are executing each minute. Row…row…row! The finish line is 3000 meters ahead…row…row…row!

Except I’m in Leviticus…”If someone has a swelling, he shall…if someone has a rash, he shall…if someone has a white spot, he shall…if someone has a skin disease, he shall…”

By the tenth skin condition I begin to itch! By the end of the second chapter about skin conditions and uncleanness I’m finding it difficult to continue with the literary rowing.

And then a couple of chapters later we get into sex! Actually, unlawful sexual relations. Read Leviticus 18. It’s a little disturbing to have to be told that you aren’t to have sex with your aunt…or your dad’s other wife.

Leviticus reads like one of those Apple product’s terms of agreement files that seem to go on forever. You know the ones I’m talking about…and at the end you’re to clip on the box that says you have read and agree to the terms. Who reads that stuff?

Leviticus is similar, but with the added spiritual element that convicts you to stay the course.

Why did God have to be so specific? Why was he so repetitious in his explanation of the expectations of his holy people, and what was not acceptable?

Two things occur to me! One is that the Israelites had a tendency to be ADD in their conduct. They seemed to be prone to forget what they were to be about and what they were to abstain from. They had short memories and shorter attention spans. Better explain it over and over again so they could finally hear it.

And second, the community of God’s people needed to be holy. Uncleanness, in any form, was to be atoned for or cast out. A community couldn’t be close to God and be marginal in how it was living.

Today I’ll finish the book! I’m sure God will say a few things he has already said once again just so that I will hear it. After Leviticus I’m going to go back and pick up one of my seminary systematic theology books and start reading to myself again…and nap!

Moses and Joshua Renewal

March 30, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      March 30, 2015

                                       

If I typed the letters “M” and “J” on this page many of you who are reading this would instantly think of Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. It’s the end of March…March Madness…basketball frenzy time…Spartans in the Final Four (My excitement is showing!).

But since I’m a pastor who has “been through it” more times than I can count “MJ” also has another meaning for me…especially since we just went through a Renewal Weekend at our church.

“MJ” is short for “Moses and Joshua.” If the church is to experience renewal it needs to be a “Moses and Joshua Renewal.” Moses was in the final part of his journey. Joshua was in the first half of his. For that time in the history of the Israelites…from wandering in the desert to crossing into the Promised Land…it took both men to bring the people along in the journey. It took the elder and the younger walking together to figure things out.

I firmly believe that renewal amongst the people of God is a multi-generational event. Back in the 1980’s a multitude of churches bought into the idea that growth was tied to attracting people who look like you. Racially, economic class, theological beliefs, and such! The last twenty years has resulted in a new twist on the church growth idea: churches growing because they are focused on one or two generations. Elders worship with elders. Youngers worship with youngers.

Here’s the thing! Moses needed Joshua’s energy, strength, and courage; and Joshua needed Moses’ wisdom, experience, and depth.

Some might raise the point that the generation that exited Egypt, wandered in the desert, tested the patience of God, and questioned their leadership had to pass away before the Promised Land could be reached. That’s spot on, but think about those years of wandering. How often did those of Moses’ generation share their experiences, their mistakes, their “If I could do it over again” moments? There is a recent song by the group “Mercy Me” entitled “Dear Younger Me.” It tells of someone sharing with a younger version of the desire to talk about past errors in order to help prevent the younger person from doing the same.

Church renewal is everyone on the journey together, not just those you like or don’t get on your nerves. What would have happened if Joshua would have decided that Moses was too archaic and traditional to stay with him, so he departed “to start a new ministry?” What would have happened if Moses would have decided he wanted to put down roots in the desert and told Joshua if he wanted to go any further that was his choice? Leave him out of it!

One thing that needs to be understood: Leaders are called to lead. Seldom are leaders called to leave.

Leaving is a contemporary version of satisfying the self. It’s the statement that our culture has bought into that says “It’s all about me!”, but simply clothes in a spiritual sweater.

What would happen if the people of God committed themselves to Moses and Joshua renewal?

Another MJ moment!

Pastoring Kids and Adults At The Same Time

March 16, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                           March 16, 2015

        

Our church seems to have a new challenge each week. One week it’s trying to put enough buckets in classrooms to catch the drips coming from the ceiling, which, by the way, is underneath the new roof installed less than two years ago. Two weeks ago it was a financial crisis after a heavy snow Sunday left the offering plate starving for attention.

We’ve had a leaky baptistry, dark dangerous parking lots, a copier on hospice care, burst pipes, a clogged sewer line, dysfunctional families, families dealing with cancer…healed and terminal, inconsistent volunteers, and “confidential meetings.”

Welcome to the church that isn’t small, but not quite medium-sized. We’re kind of like my pants size. I’m not quite 34, but almost swim in a size 36…and try to find size 35? When I do the style looks like something Austin Powers would wear in one of his movies!

One of of the main challenges I have as a pastor these days is pastoring kids…and adults at the same time. Our church includes families of different sizes and configurations, faith backgrounds and no faith backgrounds, single parent families, blended families, shared families, and multi-generational families. We have families that are in and out…and in…and out. I’m reminded of the Benedictine Sisters at a retreat center outside of the city. They are together each and every day, and, as a result, have a certain rhythm to their community life. Establishing rhythm in today’s church is about as easy as figuring out the federal tax forms.

So often as a pastor I identify with Moses trying to lead a bunch of people who keep remembering the golden years of Egyptian slavery.

The longer I pastor the more confident I am in the fact that I don’t know very much. I become more and more sure that I’m halfway between clueless and understanding with the needle ready to flip to either side on a moment’s notice.

I don’t know much, but it makes me consider what the standards are that I must base my pastoring on.

1) Everyone has value! I don’t have to agree with someone’s position or even their actions, but I must see each person as being one of God’s created. The Body of Christ is made up of numerous parts and personalities. A nose smells things differently than an eye…yes, I know an eye does not smell, but neither does a nose see. One should compliment the other, not be in competition or conflict with the other.

  2) Everyone is on a journey! Some of us just move faster than others. Some of us get distracted along the way by family situations, faith crises, the silence of God, the hyperness of life, and the differences in value systems. It’s like being on a road trip and coming upon traffic that is backed up. Suddenly our pace and our itinerary get altered and we get frustrated. I’ve been known to talk in unkind ways to the cars in front of me that are in the same situation as I am. The thing is we’re all going the same direction, just not at the speed I’m used to. Faith journeys are like that. We want to go at our own pace that is not controlled by others.

3) Happiness is not the goal of the church! Sharing the good news, teaching people about the Christian life, and coming alongside people in their walk with the Lord…those are the goals. We substitute happiness for the joy of the Lord. I admit that I get tired of dealing with issues that people have, and when that happens I have a tendency to yield to what will bring happiness in the short term at the expense of joy for the long journey.

4) Disciple, Coach, Mentor! Recognizing that people are at different places in their faith, as a pastor I must remember that some people are to be discipled. That means there needs to be more supervision and direction, more teaching and structure. Disciples are in the making regardless of age, but most of the children in church are in the disciple phase. The foundational beliefs are still being established in their lives. A good percentage of adults are in the coaching phase. That means they need to be instructed and guided as they are walking with the Lord. There is still uncertainty that needs to be addressed, confusion that needs direction. Finally, there are some adults in the faith community who need a mentor, someone that they can go to for clarification as to how to proceed, or someone to share their frustrations and victories with. A mentor is someone who walks alongside. To put it in a different venue, a disciple sits in the front seat and is told how to drive a car as the driver demonstrates; a coach sits in the front passenger seat and directs the person as he is driving the car…in an empty parking lot, and then a street with minimal traffic, and finally a highway with heavy traffic; and a mentor sits in the back seat and watches as the driver handles the driving. Pastoring is changing hats according to who it is I’m talking to.

A church with multiple generations, all dependent on one another…all occupying the same boat…is a challenge. It reminds me of the disciples that Jesus led. They were challenging! The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus pulled his hair out, but I wonder if that was an option he considered.

And yet, that group of men ended up changing the world!

Adult Bullies In Pastor Bodies

February 21, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 21, 2014

 

Earlier this week I wrote a blog about “Adult Bullies in Churches”. It got more views, clicks, hits, or whatever you want to call it then any other blog post I’ve had except one. One of the comments about it was from someone who wondered about pastors and churches that are bullies. I promised that I would pursue the suggestion. Since I’ve been a pastor for just shy of thirty-five years it is right in my backyard. I’ll try not to be threatened by it, but also offer a balanced view of the situation.

Quite honestly, I think there have been, and are, pastors that bully. Most of the time the bullying is veiled behind an appearance of spirituality. The pastor conveys the idea that he/she is closer to God because he/she is more into the Word of God, and spends more time meditating about the ways of the Lord. People who question the pastor’s leadings and motives are often subjected to scorn and ridicule “in the name of Jesus.” 

When a pastor communicates by words and actions that he is closer to the Lord than anyone else a power play in is the works. When a pastor keeps promoting his vision that the Lord has given him…that, ironically, needs to be funded by the congregation, beware of the pleas that question how committed the people of the Body are.

I remember the words of an American Baptist pastor from Michigan, Jack Harris, spoken many years ago. Jack who served churches for a span of time just shy of Methuselah, said that the pastor was the sheep dog. Jesus was the shepherd. The pastor is entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the congregation headed in the direction of the Good Shepherd, not trying to be the Good Shepherd.

Some are uncomfortable with such a picture. They think a sheep dog has a little bullying in his actions, but the sheep dog is always about keeping the herd safe and headed in the direction they should be headed. Sometimes that requires a little more barking, but it is never to make the barker look more important than anyone else.

There are also pastors who firmly believe that they have been empowered with the authority to do anything. They view themselves as being like Moses, who was up on the mountain with the Lord receiving some divine words, and then had to return to the chaos of people dancing around a golden calf. I think it is easy for pastors to take on the “Moses Mentality” that the people they lead are prone to screwing up their lives. Thus, they need a strong voice that doesn’t put up with any nonsense and indicates it is either the pastor’s way or the highway. If such an ultimatum doesn’t work the pastor will sometimes even bring Satan into the equation. In other words, it is either his way or he’s going to hand them over to the Dark Side.

Accusing people of being of the world is a favorite bullying tactic. Sometimes I get discouraged by those who choose to follow other pursuits and interests instead of being at church on a consistent basis on Sunday morning. The temptation to focus on the lack of commitment gets especially strong around June and July.

A last thought! A pastor has been called to lead, but the leading must mirror the Philippians 2 passage about Jesus, who “being in very nature God (Not us! Don’t think that I’m saying we’re God, or God-like, but rather with a leaning sometimes towards being “Godly!”), did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:6-7) Being a pastor is more about serving than it is about getting one’s way. A pastor gets the privilege of administering the communion elements, baptizing a new believer, talking to someone about a major life decision, conducting the union of two people coming together in the covenant relationship of marriage, saying the final words as a follower of Jesus is lowered into the ground, sitting with a heart-broken family who has lost a special person. If a pastor’s base grows out of bullying and intimidation it leads to a fracturing of everything else, including the devastating fracturing of people’s lives.

Being like Jesus will always be more about a basin of water and a towel than a charge up a hill.