Posted tagged ‘sacrifice’

When Christians, and Their Churches, Disagree

March 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 2, 2019

 

In my 36 years of shepherding flocks (“Pastor” comes from the Latin for Shepherd), I guided congregations through a few briar patches of heated discussions and thorny issues. Sometimes my style fit and sometimes it didn’t. When I was president of the Mason School Board back in Michigan, since again, my style fit and, although we had a few disagreements too work through, we always managed to come through the discussions with a high respect for one another.

As a pastor I remember differences that we had about renovating the sanctuary. Two different churches I pastored over the years had the wood paneling on the sanctuary walls…you know, the paneling that showed up in the basements of homes back in the 50’s and 60’s! Each was gradually brought along to seeing that a change would not offend Jesus…but it took time. We considered switching out pews for chairs in one of the congregations, but one person protested vehemently. Her concern was for one of the senior saints of the congregation, that he might fall over in his chair and hurt himself. We disagreed with her, but did not force the issue. The saint, who lived to the age of 91 was loved by all and anything that might harm him (though we doubted that a chair would increase the chances of injury) became a point that we longer wanted to debate. 

Churches are hot beds for conflict and disagreement. When people are passionate about an issue or situation…and there is passion on both sides…the depth, or lack thereof, in Christian community becomes evident. In that respect the church mirrors the world instead of becoming different from the world. 

Let’s be honest! Too often the church is simply a commercial for the world instead of a repository of the love and grace of God. What I said to a 7th grader student a couple of weeks ago, who was trying to minimize the amount of classwork she had been asked to do, I could also say to a  number of church folk. “So what you’re saying is this is you.” I made an imaginary dot in front of me, and then drew an imaginary large circle around it. “And this is the world, and the world revolves around you. Is that what you’re saying?”

Our churches are dotted every service with people who have that mindset!

True confession: I’ve been that “dot” a few times myself!

Words like “surrender”, “sacrifice”, “servant” echo through the Bible. “Sacrifice” appears 54 times in the New Testament and “servant” gets mentioned 157 times. They are words we say in our liturgies and write in the church covenant, but often get pushed to the side when things are going against our opinion. Sides then get chosen and sometimes all holy hell breaks loose! 

In recent times a few churches have resembled more hell than holiness. Prominent church pastors have gone to war with some of the leaders of their churches. When the pastor of a mega-church gets relieved of his duties it rarely ends well for anyone. When denominations have doctrinal disagreements or differences over contemporary issues, unfortunately, it rarely ends in a good way. The battles make for good news in our drama-addicted culture, but after the heated fog lifts there always seems to be a lot of wounded people laying around. 

Of course, even Jesus couldn’t bring his disciples to 100% agreement! But after he rose from the grave, and the Holy Spirit was poured out, his remaining eleven were able to unite to the point that they changed the world!

All things are possible!

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.

The Sacrifice of Second Helpings

July 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 7, 2017

                               

I just finished reading Herbert Hoover: A Life by Glenn Jeansonne. An excellent book about a man who usually has become the scapegoat for the Great Depression. What I discovered about Hoover, however, is that he helped feed an estimated 83 million people, was responsible for the delivery of nearly 34 metric tons of food, clothing, and medicine to those endangered by famine and pestilence in Europe and Asia, and was known as “The Great Humanitarian.”

One of the ways he provided food to those in Europe who were starving was by convincing Americans to cut down on the portions of food that THEY were eating…even before The United States got involved in World War 1. Hoover convinced Americans to curtail their consumption of sugar, cease eating bacon and white flour, raise home gardens, and…clean their plates! Twenty million Americans signed pledge cards to abide by these guidelines and were given a sticker for their window indicating their vow to conserve.

Clergy were asked to deliver sermons that emphasized the serious nature of conservation. The term “Hooverizing” became the word that was used to describe the emphases of conserving, and Hoover and his wife Lou modeled conservation in their own home.

The nationwide effort helped feed the Allied troops and hungry European children. It was a simple solution: If we commit to eating what we need, not what we want, the excess…the second helpings!…could go to help feed others.

Amazing! American citizens saw and felt the responsibility to help the plight of others by not thinking of themselves first! The sacrifice of second helpings!

I would say such sacrifice today is only seen in pockets of our country. Little anomalies from what is the norm. The anticipated standard is consumption. We strive for more…more money, more free time, more house, more cable channels, more food in the freezer, more peace and quiet, more pairs of shoes. To sacrifice my excess for the helping of the common good is way beyond our philosophies of life. The bumper sticker, seen more and more these days slapped on the back of BMW’s and big boy trucks, that says “The one who dies with the most toys wins!”…that hints at the core of our life purpose. Most of us don’t want to openly admit that but there is truth at its center.

Of course, there is the danger of becoming arrogantly pious in the midst of sacrifice. It’s the perversion of sacrifice that is often seen in the church, a changing of something good into simply another way to judge who is really, really  spiritual and who is not as spiritual.

What would it look like today to see a mass of people sacrifice for the benefit of others? I’m talking about ongoing sacrifice, not just momentary inconvenience. What would it take for people to “buy in” to a cause that is not just a short sprint but a marathon struggle? What national or world crisis needs to happen for “Hooverizing” to re-emerge like a benevolent tsunami wave?

 

The Entitled Church Attender

March 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             March 19, 2017

                              

There is a lot of talk and conversation these days about entitlement…from government programs to children of helicopter parents to job wages and benefits to kids sports. Entitlement could be a defining term for our culture. We hate it and yet we expect it!

Entitlement has entered through the front doors of the church as well! This past week I was listening to the morning host of a Christian music station as he launched into a discussion about finding a new church. One of his co-hosts had invited him to visit her church. The discussion flowed around what he might tell her afterwards if he didn’t enjoy the experience?

There was much laughter and humorous remarks related to the subject. How the host approached the subject left me a bit chilled. His opening was something like this: “Recently my family and I have been looking for a new church and been trying out some different places…”

His tone gave me the impression that changing churches was kind of like deciding on what restaurant we’re going to have lunch at today? How will the service be? Will we feel comfortable? Will we have our needs met? Does the time suit us? Will we like the music? How will we be made to feel special? Will it be easy to get into and out of?

He seemed to indicate that changing churches is no big deal, as difficult as deciding whether or not to get cheese on that burger I’m ordering!

But, of course, it goes with our culture. All those questions place “me” as the focus! After all these years we’re firmly traveling through a period of time where people don’t understand the purpose and mission of the church. The church simply reflects our culture, as opposed to being counter-cultural.

Perhaps the radio host had a good reason for leaving his old church. Maybe there was some doctrinal issue. Perhaps his church had lost its understanding of being the hands and feet of Jesus. Maybe the way it treated women and minorities was out of line with the gospel. Maybe the worship service had become an hour of entertainment.

The way he began the topic, however, made his previous place of fellowship sound like an old sock with a hole in the heel…tossed to the side!

Counter-cultural would have the host say something like this: “My family and I recently began a search for a new church to journey with. It wasn’t that the congregation we had been journeying with was bad or anything, but they didn’t expect anything of us. They didn’t expect us to be willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the gospel, and didn’t expect us to understand and incorporate the idea of servanthood into our lives. So we’re in search of a fellowship that will challenge us to live out of faith in word and deed.”

Wouldn’t that be a twist in our thinking? It would go completely against our culture’s question of “what can I get out of it without putting anything into it?” Of course, we read that idea into some of our hymns and praise songs. “Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed me white as snow.”

We sing the song, say “Thanks Jesus!”, and then stroll out to the church parking lot saying “Where shall we go for lunch?”

Finding The Slide, Losing The Back

May 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        May 22, 2016

                               

Our fourteen month old granddaughter, Corin, is in the midst of that exciting and exhausting stage of discovery where she wants to try or touch everything…but not for very long. Right now her attention span is about as long as a squirrel’s. Sitting still is not in her daily agenda. Sitting still is for old people!

So I made the mistake of helping her discover the play slide in her backyard last night.        Here’s the procedure: Pick Corin up, lean with her forward and place on slide, continue to lean forward as she grabs and my hands with her hands, watch her slide while still in bent position making sure she is safe at bottom.

Repeat!

Repeat!

Repeat!

Repeat!

I was the “ski lift” taking the barefoot skier back to the top. Every time she reached the bottom she pointed back to the top. Obviously, she had heard of the all-day ski pass; one price covers all…or, in this case, one granddad lifts each time.

But this granddad does not have a mechanical back, but rather a sixty-two year old rickety body part that I would compare to the wooden roller coaster at Camden Park in Huntington, West Virginia. It’s still standing, but I wouldn’t trust it.

Let me tell you! A fourteen month old who is being lifted, seated, and supported in sliding down a four foot slide wants to do it forever! She knows…probably…that stopping will mean that Grammy will grab a tissue and wipe her nose, and she hates for her nose to be wiped. She knows that Granddad will keep doing what he is doing until there is a system malfunction. She’s a smart cookie who knows that her granddad isn’t smart enough to say “Enough!”

So this morning “LB” (lower back) is grumbling to me about having to work overtime. “LB” is going to be moaning and groaning, like a teenager asked to do work around the house, all day about how much I love Corin more than him…and he’s right!

Deal with it, LB! Deal with it!