Posted tagged ‘scripture’

Verily, Verily!

November 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        November 25, 2017

                                              

“Not in my house! Not in my house!” bellowed the basketball player to the camera after blocking the shot of an opponent.

“That’s how you do it! That’s how you do it!” screams the wide receiver who has just made a touchdown catch.

“Go back to Michigan! Go back to Michigan!” trash talks the Ohio State defensive tackle after he has sacked the quarterback.

I’ve noticed a growing trend in college and professional sports. Players have to repeat themselves as they trash an opponent, or immediately after making a good play. Saying a statement once isn’t enough. Saying it twice let’s the audience know that the player thinks he is all that! Saying it three times in a row means he believes he should be on ESPN Sportscenter that night.

In each situation, however, the focus of the repetitive language is the player. It is an indication of the arrogance of athleticism. In the old days before trash talking became “a thing” we used to get psyched for a game, pumped up, and motivated to win. There was no strutting for the cameras…maybe because there usually weren’t any cameras! Nowadays making a great play isn’t enough. There is the verbiage and performance that follows the play that seeks to convince the viewer that the player is the next football messiah.

Jesus was a bit different. In the Gospel of John he often began a statement with the words “Verily, verily…” (King James Version) or “Truly, truly…” (RSV). It was an indication that what he was about to say was the truth. Saying verily twice indicated that what was about to be said was important for the listener to hear. In John 5:24 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

In the Upper Room Jesus said, “When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (John 13:21) And then when Peter felt that he had to profess his devotion, Jesus said “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:38)

When Jesus repeated himself it was to state a spiritual truth, or to foretell what was to come. It wasn’t to boast, but rather to guide.

Today and tomorrow as athletes bluster in front of the cameras I think I will speak back to them and say “So? So?” In fact, their performance is just “so-so” when compared to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. After all, scripture tells us that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and tongue confess.

That is something to proclaim loudly and often!

Congregational Flossing

June 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 5, 2016

                             

My son-in-law, Dr. Michael Terveen, is a dentist. He and my daughter, Lizi, moved to Colorado Springs back in November, and Mike now operates a dental practice in the midst of the city. Flossing is a big emphasis in our family. In recent years I’ve been much better about flossing than I used to be. Perhaps it’s been the fear of losing my teeth and looking like a real Goober, or the fact that the rolls of floss are available in just about every room of our house, but whatever the reason or reasons I floss…often!

As a result, my check-ups where they take the x-rays and then rub that wintergreen tasting stuff on my teeth have been much more positive experiences. It’s like the final exam of a philosophy class where you aren’t quite sure you understood the meaning behind all of those deep run-on sentences that require a nap in the middle, but then your exam comes back with a solid “B!”

Flossing is that practice that doesn’t seem to have any immediate benefit (unless those annoying remnants of the corn on the cob need to get vacated), but results in long-term dental health.

Churches need to floss more!

What?

There are certain disciplines, certain practices, that churches should be about no matter what the budget says, how many people want to do it, or how mundane it may seem…like flossing!

Here’s my thinking!

  1. Prayer Flossing– Every church has those few people who are intimately engaged in prayer. Meetings are opened with prayer, almost like an elementary classroom saying the Pledge of Allegiance as a school day begins. Every worship service includes a couple of prayers. The real flossing with prayer, however, happens in those other settings and encounters of each day. Getting a church congregation to believe in the importance of prayer is equivalent to getting a five year old to believe that cooked broccoli is good for him. He will look at you with an expression that says it is all a conspiracy theory to get little boys to eat disgusting food. Floss with prayer deliberately, several times a day, and have it reach those hidden pockets of life that often get ignored.
  2. Scriptural Education and Understanding- I admit that there are certain books in the Bible that I dread reading. Listen! When I have to munch on a few chapters of Job’s friends rambling on and on and on I want to just say “Get on with it!” No matter now many times I read the book of Revelation it’s still weird! But most churches don’t do much in the area of teaching the background, the purpose, and the history of the Bible. The thing is…we are rooted in scripture. Flossing with scripture helps in alleviating the need for a root canal later on. As followers of Jesus become less familiar with what he taught the risk of spiritual decay heightens.
  3. Community Connectedness- As my son-in-law tells me, floss those areas that you can’t even see. The church needs the discipline of “flossing” in those areas, those lives, that they don’t see on Sunday mornings. Reach those people, and those places in the community that need the loving touch of the hands and feet of Jesus. Too often a congregation, especially the leaders of a congregation, take the view “None of THOSE people come here on Sunday.” The wording is important for it voices two entrenched beliefs: THEM and US, and we will care about you when you come here. Perhaps the church needs to be more like Mother Teresa and live by the belief that everyone is loved by God, even though we have a hard time seeing them. Floss outside the walls.
  4. Have Fun!- My son-in-law gave me a sucker on the way out of his office from my last appointment. Sugar-free, mind you, and in some weird way…good for your teeth, but still a sucker to slowly lick on the way home. A moment of fun after getting drilled! Churches need to floss with fun. Follow me on this! Usually when I eat beef or chicken there is one gap between two of my back upper teeth that meat gets trapped in. I feel the discomfort. I’m not such a flossing addict that I carry it around with me to use at restaurants, so after a restaurant meal I just have to live with the discomfort until I get home. Flossing at that point is a welcome event. It takes the pressure off. I compare a church having fun with that. Since I retired from pastoring last December I have intentionally kept my distance from the congregation I pastored for the past sixteen years, but last Friday night I joined nine others for an hour of recreational volleyball in the church gym. Let me make the point that it is extremely non-competitive volleyball, more along the lines of standing in one place volleyball and once in a while hitting it. But it was fun fellowship. There was much laughter and light-hearted razzing. How often do people leave church frustrated or disengaged with what they were just a part of? Floss with fun to take away some of the discomfort of life.
  5. See the Picture!- Let me close with this! At my first appointment Dr. Terveen used some nifty dental camera to take pictures of my teeth. Then he showed me the pictures and explained to me a few things that were going on in my “community of teeth.” It was disturbingly revealing. I couldn’t see the decay that was progressing, but it was there. That’s kind of like the lives of most of the people who show up in worship on Sunday. Most of the damage in their lives can’t be seen, and most will be reluctant to reveal any of it. Floss with love, floss with care, floss as if their health depends upon it…because it does!

Talking To An Ass

March 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 10, 2016

                                        

This morning I read the story of Balaam in Numbers 22-24. Let’s be honest! It’s a weird story!  Balaam had a reputation. Those he blessed were blessed, and those he cursed were cursed. As this story goes, Balak, king of Moab, wants Balaam to come and curse the Israelites.

Balaam inquires of the Lord, who tells him “No go!”

But then Balak sends a more distinguished group of emissaries to ask Balaam once again to come and curse the Israelites. This time God says “Okay!”

Balaam saddles up his donkey to head on the journey to where Balak is, but God gets angry (Numbers 22:21) and his angel appears in the road with a sword ready to kill Balaam. The donkey veers to the side, and, in so doing, saves Balaam’s life.

This happens three times, and each time Balaam beat his ass! What he can’t see, his donkey sees clearly.

After the third time, and the third beating, the scripture says that God gave speech to the donkey (Numbers 22:28).

And then Balaam starts talking to the ass!

Over the years I’ve talked on a daily basis to the cats we’ve had as pets. I’m also prone to talk to the drivers of cars that cut in front of me even though my windows are closed. In each of those situations, however, I don’t expect dialogue with the one I’m talking to.

With Balaam the story never hints that he is surprised that his trusted means of transportation is having a heated conversation with him. It’s a story with two asses, one by nature, and the other as a result of actions and bone-headed decisions.

It’s Mr. Ed before his time!

And then God opens Balaam’s eyes to see what his trusted donkey had been seeing, and Balaam realizes, pardon the phrase, that his ass had saved his ass!

Like I said, it’s a weird story, but there are a lot of things that each one of us do that also don’t make sense!

What Would Jesus…Text?

January 14, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 13, 2016

                              

I’m not high tech, even though I have devices that give people the illusion that I am. My cell phone gets used more for playing “Words With Friends” than it does for actually talking to people. That’s about as high tech as I get.

But I do seem to be texting more these last few months. Yesterday I was texting back and forth with a young man who asked me if I was familiar with the Thomas a’ Kempis book The Imitation of Christ. Today a text was received about a prayer concern. A few days ago my sister sent me a text with a picture of my dad holding a fruitcake that she had made for him. Every once in a while I get a “scripture text” text.

My brain gets thinking about Jesus in our day and what he would do and not do in various situations. So, obviously, I began wondering about what Jesus would text? Would he “LOL” often?

Perhaps he’d text Levi, the tax collector, with a simple “Dinner?” message. Before Martha could get to him about her brother, Lazarus, he could work his fingers on the keypad with a calming “He will rise again!”

I envision Jesus keeping his message simple, but powerful. In the midst of a stressed-out day I can hear the ping of the message coming in and seeing the words on the screen, “Peace be with you!”

When I’m feeling worthless and full of doubt I’m sure he would send me the words “Blessed are you!”

    When the world is not making sense, and there is heartache and tragedy he would most assuredly text me “Praying for me!” I’ve sent those words many times to others as they’ve wrestled with life situations. Admittedly I’ve sometimes said them because I had nothing else that I could say; and sadly, I’ve sometimes sent them without the commitment to do what I say. I know, however, that Jesus would stand behind those few words and kneel in the depth of them.

For those times when I start towards disconnection he’d would text me that John 15 reminder, “Abide in me!” And for the times when the crashing waves of life are towering over me, the words would come: “Have faith!”

     What would Jesus text? Simple, life-changing, foundational words that would convey glimpses of the sacred way.

Pastor As Visitor

September 3, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    September 3, 2012

I finished the first week of a two week study leave yesterday. One of the weird things about being on a study leave is that I’m supposed to keep my distance from my congregation. My spiritual shepherds have told me that, and I’ve tried to adhere to it as much as I can, but it’s difficult. (Although I’m sitting in my office at church as I write this since it’s Labor Day and the building is quiet today.)

Yesterday I went to the early service of a large Presbyterian church here in town. One of the things I look to do on the few Sundays I’m not worshiping in my congregation is to worship in other churches, to be able to receive, as well as evaluate, from other pastors and bodies of believers. Since I pastor a small congregation I have to always keep in mind that mega-church life is not who we are, or who we will be. But in the midst of that realization that things in Jerusalem are different than things in Nazareth there are hints of the same story being written.

Ninety-five percent of small church pastors would probably tell you that they would like to pastor a mega-church. I think the percentage of mega-church pastors who would like to pastor a mega-church might be somewhat less than that. As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…but cows on both sides leave dung!

I slipped into the next to last row…like a typical Baptist…and surveyed the congregation. The early service at this church was a mostly senior crowd- the kind that will stampede Village Inn for breakfast right after church. The choir was magnificent…a hundred strong! They were accompanied by a piano, bass guitar, trumpet, trombone, and percussion. During the service they led the congregation in the singing of four praise choruses and two hymns. On one of the praise choruses they managed to get the congregation to join in clapping in rhythm for almost twenty seconds before hands once again dropped and the choir left it alone.

It was a familiar scene.

The Senior Pastor did the children’s story. Being a senior crowd he had about a dozen kids up front for it out of the eight hundred or so present. Once again, it was a familiar scene. He had one young boy who was always on the verge of breaking out of the corral, ready to take center stage. The pastor, being a pretty perceptive guy, was always one step ahead of him. It taught me something. There are some children’s stories I do where it seems like I’ve got the rope on the steer, but am being dragged behind trying to get control.

One of the associate pastors read the gospel reading for the morning and in referring to Jesus going out into the desert for forty days misread Mark 1:13. He switched two words that gave it a much different meaning. “He (Jesus) was with the wild angels, and animals attended him.”

Since the scripture was being projected on the front walls people snickered a little bit at his mistake.

It was  a familiar scene. It brought back memories of when I was a seminary student on staff at a large Presbyterian church in the Chicago area. One Sunday I was assisting in the worship service and mixed up two things during the prayer time. “And we celebrate with Kathy Smith on the death of her mother!”

If you want to get people’s attention just majorly screw up!

The Senior Pastor had an excellent message talking about John the Baptist. The service was being streamed into a few retirement facilities around the area, plus, for some reason, a place in Minnesota. About two-thirds of the way through the message the cell phone of the eighty year old lady sitting three feet away from me started ringing in her purse. She reacted quickly, picking up her purse, unzipping it, sorting through a multitude of items inside until she found the cell phone. But instead of hitting mute, or turning it off, she proceeded to answer it and have a two minute conversation. After an uncomfortable two minutes- during which time I missed the pastor’s second sermon point- she finally said, “Well, Mabel, I’m in church…”

It was a familiar scene.

What I took away from the experience was a great message (what I heard) from the pastor, a well-crafted order of worship, a congregation that is serving the city in significant ways, and a time to reflect, renew, and receive.

Every church, small and large, has it’s warts and it’s beauty marks. Jesus doesn’t look for perfection in performance, but rather authenticity in our yearning for the presence of God.