Archive for May, 2017

30
May
17

Why Not the Cross?

the-cross-300x261WIIFM. No. Those are not the call letters of a new radio station on the FM dial.

It is also not a funny way of saying the word for the goal of a baseball pitcher when facing an opposing batter. (Whiff ‘em. Get it??)

WIIFM is a shorthand version of a question that guides many of the creative decisions of people who work in mass marketing.

I am familiar with this secret code lingo because I used to work in that business.

WIIFM stands for: “What’s In It For Me?”

The advice given to an eager young marketer goes something like this: “It’s fine and dandy to stand up and trumpet all the things that make your product the best thing since sliced bread. Your customer doesn’t give two hoots about any of that. The only question they want you to answer is ‘What’s in it for me?’”

And you know what? The folks dispensing that advice are right.

When I am standing there in the middle of Home Depot, I really don’t care how many coats of paint or what kind of paint this barbeque grill has, or why the grate is such a marvelous design, or how many BTU’s it heats up to.

I just want you to tell me how my life will improve by buying this particular grill.

And honestly… if I am using my resources for anything more expensive than a pack of gum, my only question (well, besides “How much does it cost?”) is going to be, “What’s in it for ME?”

WIIFM is a question that works well in the mass marketing profession.

I guess that is why it is SO TEMPTING to try and use it when I am talking to someone about the Christian faith.

It is no secret that the fastest growing segment of the FAITH universe today is the group that checks the box labeled “None of the above” when asked about their religious preference.

Pastors, volunteer leaders, members of religious hierarchies of all stripes are wringing their hands and wracking their brains to figure out how to stem the tide of decline in the mainline church today.

When the first signs of decline began appearing, creative minds began spinning. And it seemed as if the church’s focus was not that different from our market-driven brethren. We tried to understand and respond to the “What’s In It For Me?” question posed by the growing numbers of the None-of-the-Aboves.

We offered rock music, light shows, comfy seating, free coffee, donuts, preferred parking, hand-delivered coffee cups, hip graphics, and video clips, toned-down symbolism, and much more.

And still the decline continued.

Our actions communicate a specific answer to the “What’s in it for me?” question. We seem to say, “Join the church and hear powerful, contemporary music in a comfortable, well-appointed environment, bond with like-minded people, get some motivation and inspiration, see and be seen by your friends, and get a great, rousing start to your week.”

Jesus had a slightly different answer. When he talked to people about following him and they asked, “What’s in it for me?” he said, “A cross. Hardship. Suffering. Ridicule. Rejection. Maybe even death.”

“Oh yeah… and eternal life, too.” (Mark 8:31-38, paraphrased).

In his lifetime, Jesus didn’t “move the needle” a whole lot on the evangelism front. There were a lot of curious bystanders, but not many who heard his recruitment pitch and ran forward saying, “A cross? Really? Where do I sign?”

His numerical results didn’t come until a lot later.

The apostle Paul knew the cross was a “tough sell” in his setting, too. He said, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24, NRSV).

There’s no getting around it; you can’t follow Christ without the cross.

So why not just come out and say it and let God do the rest?

It seemed to work out pretty well before.

Abundant blessings;

23
May
17

The Right Time

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”
Ecclesiastes 3:1, NRSV

TimerContrary to what I am inclined to believe, “right now” is not always the correct answer.

On the other hand, “later” is also not universally acceptable – as some might have you believe.

“When?” is the question in question… as in “When should I do ­­­­_____________?”

When trying to solve a problem, it is no small victory to have tackled and nailed down the “What?” Pat yourself on the back a couple of times for that one.

But don’t overlook the importance of “When?”

Of course some acts come with their own built-in timetable. The time to begin cooking dinner, for example, is: well enough in advance of the desired serving time.

The time to begin your drive to Colorado is set by a combination of several factors, including the prevailing road conditions and the time you would like to arrive.

But there are other “whens” that are a bit harder to pin down. For example:

  • When will I take time to practice the guitar?
  • When will I pull those weeds?
  • When will I call to check in with my son?
  • When will I buy Joan’s birthday present?

These can all happen at any time. Which, sadly, means sometimes they can also happen at NO time.

But of all the “ whens” I struggle with, the one I probably struggle with the most has no built-in timetable or urgency about it. The answer could be “right now.” It could be “later.” It could very well be, “whenever I feel like it.”

The question is: “When will I do my ‘soul work’?” Or to ask it another way “When will I devote priority time and attention to listening to God’s voice and being shaped by God’s guidance and Spirit?”

Each of us has those times when we feel anxious and disconnected from God. In response we engage our “problem-solver” mode and set to work, looking to “fix it” somehow.

In one sense, there is nothing that should be a higher priority, right?

The very idea of saying, “Let’s see… I have to mow the lawn first… reply to some emails… then pick up the dry cleaning; I suppose I could probably squeeze in 10 minutes of ‘soul time’ before I have to leave for the softball game,” is really pretty silly.

But the more I thought about it, the less sense the original question seemed to make.

I mean, how can you really use the word “project” to talk about something as fundamental as becoming what you were designed to be in the first place?

Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that we were each made, “… in the image of God,” right? So then why would I be grunting and straining to try and manufacture something that is already there… that has been there in fact since before the beginning?

It might sound a little Buddhist to some, but maybe the “doing” I should be paying more attention to is more like an “undoing”… the undoing the attention I give to the standards of behavior the culture imposes upon me… the undoing of all of my devotion to the little “g” gods that stand before me… the undoing of my desire to seek the approval of people in my decisions and actions… the undoing of my anxiety to measure up.

And so, if that is true… if I am indeed called to less of a doing and more of an undoing… then the answer to the question “when” is pretty easy:

NOW.

And: CONTINUOUSLY. WITHOUT CEASING.

And: FOREVER.

Today let our project be one of emerging… emerging from under the pile of debris heaped upon us by the events of our lives… and emerging into the bright sunlight of God’s embrace.

Abundant blessings.

 

16
May
17

LISTEN!

SHHHHHH1“God told me to.”

Have you ever heard those four words offered in response to the question, “Why did you do that?”

If you have heard someone say that before, tell me honestly: what were the first thoughts that popped into your head?

Did you think, “Well, good for you! Follow courageously where He leads!”?

Or was your response more along the lines of, “Hmmmm. Interesting. Tell me more.”?

Maybe you even went with something like, “OK then… And did God also reveal the Seventh Sign of the Apocalypse to you personally and tell you to be sure and make yourself a tin-foil hat to protect yourself from solar radiation?”

I have to confess… I have probably reacted by saying all three of those things at some point or other. And the response I gave probably had a lot to do with the identity of the person telling me that God told them to do something.

I suppose when we hear someone say that God told them to do such-and-such we flash back to memories of the mother who heard God tell her to drown her five kids… or the brutal dictators and cult leaders who said they were following God’s direct commandment in committing their own atrocities.

So I can’t help but wonder: what have people thought when they heard ME use that very meaningful, yet also very loaded phrase?

“God told me to” is the essence of my answer when anyone asks why I decided to go into the ministry.

It is usually the answer at the heart of why I might decide to preach on Topic A instead of Topic B on a given Sunday.

I am sure it is the explanation behind those times when I get a sudden, inexplicable urge to pick up the phone and call someone… and then listen as they say, “Wow! It is so weird that you would call just now…” and then listen as they tell me about an event or a dilemma that has arisen recently in their life.

But where do we finally choose to come down on this question; does God communicate directly to us? Or does God not?

And if our answer is “YES,” how do we sift and sort between the random murmurings of an active imagination and The Voice of the Divine?

Personally, I am not sure I have a good answer to that question. My own history is littered with miscalculations on the topic of “the will of God” – in both directions.

But I found something in this morning’s devotion that might shed helpful light. It is from Mother Teresa’s book, My Life for the Poor, written in 1985. She says:

Once I asked my confessor for advice about my vocation. I asked, “How can I know if God is calling me and for what he is calling me?”

            He answered, “You will know by your happiness. If you are happy with the idea that God calls you to serve him and your neighbor, this will be the proof of your vocation. Profound joy of the heart is like a magnet that indicates the path of life. One has to follow it, even though one enters into a way full of difficulties.”

I like that.

I like the fact that her confessor talks about happiness as a signpost for discerning that it is actually God’s voice we are hearing. It affirms the essential notion that God – rather than being the nasty, punitive tyrant some paint God to be – is actually in favor of our happiness.

But I also like the idea here that says our path to happiness can take us through places of great difficulty. The confessor is telling Mother Teresa that HAPPINESS does NOT equal PROBLEMLESSNESS… that it is possible to experience profound joy in life and still encounter adversity.

How easily we forget this…

Yes, God does still speak. Sadly (for me) God does not use billboards, TV commercials or skywriting to communicate his messages.

God speaks most often in the stillness and devoted times of silence when we make LISTENING a priority.

Listen! Did you hear that?

It was God saying, “I love you and want you to be happy.”

 

– Abundant blessings;

02
May
17

May flowers

May flowersThe season we are in right now… here in the early part of May… is one of my favorite times of the year. New life is appearing on trees and in the fields, birds are chirping, and the scorching heat of summer has not yet arrived.

Maybe we could use a little less rain than we’ve had lately, but that goes along with the whole April showers/May flowers thing, I guess.

I also like this time of year because baseball season is well underway. Someone just please let the Royals know the season has started, would you?

But if we shift our focus a bit and think in terms of the story of Jesus and the disciples we see that this is an odd, in-between kind of season.

In one sense it is a happy and joyous time for them. The risen Jesus has appeared to the disciples (except for Thomas who was out picking up the Jimmy John’s order apparently). They all met with Him on top of the mountain in Galilee and received the Great Commission to, “… go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20, NRSV).

Jesus then concluded the meeting by assuring them he would be with them, “… to the end of the age.” 

How cool is THAT!

And yet, in another sense, this is a time of great fearfulness and apprehension for the disciples. Despite the thrill of seeing their Master and friend alive and hearing his final “marching orders” to them, they are still hunkering down in Jerusalem.

We check in and find them still scared to death of the Roman soldiers and Jewish priests who are trying to solve the great Mystery of the Empty Tomb.

At this point on the Christian calendar, the Day of Pentecost has not yet come where Jesus’ followers were filled with the evangelistic fire that ultimately sent them out boldly proclaiming the Good News of the Risen Christ throughout the world.

And so here is the question I have to ask myself today: are there any ways that I find myself resembling those timid disciples? Can I relate to feeling JOY about the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and yet still feel some apprehension about stepping out and doing the whole “making disciples” thing?

I’m afraid the answer is yes… I can relate all too well.

I listen and hear Jesus calling me to continue his work. I nod my head enthusiastically when he speaks. I feel a surge of eagerness about doing my part to help draw people to his life changing, life-giving message. I know the difference my relationship with Jesus has made in my own life and want others to experience the same kind of new life and transformation.

I’m all ready to charge out the door in my Master’s service… and then I hesitate. I get a little self-conscious. I ask myself, “So how do I do that exactly?” “What if people don’t respond well when I talk to them?” “What if I say the wrong thing and actually turn people AWAY FROM Jesus instead of TOWARD him?”

And then I read an article like the one I saw in today’s Kansas City Star that says that the current generation of young adults has more skepticism and suspicion about the church and organized religion than any generation EVER in history!

And so I slowly allow my fears to replace my enthusiasm. Just like those disciples did so long ago.

Today, I will say a prayer for all of us… for all who choose to go by the name “disciple of Jesus Christ.” I will pray that we will again feel the hot breath of the Holy Spirit breathing on us, filling us with power and purpose!

Right now I am going to pray that we turn the tables on our fears and go with boldness to carry the message of His saving purposes for the world… not with the arrogance and sense of superiority that can characterize his followers, but with the joy and humility of one who knows the joy of being lost and then FOUND again!

Maybe you will pray that prayer with me at some point today. And then maybe – if there are enough of us praying it together – we will see a really spectacular kind of May flowers blooming in the world.

 

Abundant blessings to you this day…




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