Of NASCAR and Windmills

October 31, 2014

So, in the past 5 days I have been in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, back to West Virginia and home to Pennsylvania, only to leave the next morning for West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and finally Omaha, Nebraska. I am currently sitting in my daughter Alissa’s office at St. Matthews Lutheran Church in Omaha. Can I tell you a little bit of what I have seen and been up to?

In Virginia I went to see my first NASCAR race. Are there really that many rednecks on the planet? Seriously, when they talk about “loud” well… I had no idea. Imagine sitting one foot from the person beside you, yelling as loud as you can to them and have them hear NOTHING of what you have said. Did I mention… NOTHING?! Thankfully there are protective hearing devices that can be rented lest I would be reading lips for the rest of my life. Oh and in case anyone cares – and I’m told some people do – Dale Jr. won.

From Eastern Ohio to the western boundaries of Nebraska is rather, shall I say… FLAT. If you were to build a carpenter’s level that was 10 miles in length and place it anywhere in the area just mentioned (with the possible exception of a few bumps in the ground in western Iowa), well, let me just say that the “bubble would be in the center.” I drove across Iowa with little need to place my hands on the steering wheel.

Did you know that there are literally thousands if not tens of thousands of wind mills dotting the landscape in Illinois and Iowa? At one point Ellen and I drove for 10-15 miles with a steady stream of wind gulping giants filling the farm land beside us. I know that some think they are monstrosities that destroy the serenity and beauty of the countryside. Honestly, I sort of like them. They are plodding, slow moving and majestic. I was also told that they occupy land that had previous been less valuable to farmers because of its location on the top of “hills”… a somewhat inexact use of the term. One thing is sure, they don’t use irreplaceable, invaluable resources (for the most part).

So, here’s my question of the day. What do The Hollies (a British Rock band from the 1960’s and early 70’s), Mickey Rooney, and Omaha Nebraska have in common? Wait for it… wait for it… They all have Boys Town in common. Do you know of Boys Town? It is an orphanage or reform school (of sorts) in Omaha that was started in 1917 by a Catholic Priest named Father Flanagan. A movie by the same title was done in 1938 starring Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracey. It was a fictitious accounting of the early days of Boys Town. The motto for the orphanage: “He’s not heavy mister, he’s my brother.” In case you didn’t know it, a song by an altered title (He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother) was inspired by Boys Town and became a hit record for the Hollies in 1969… and for Neil Diamond in 1970.

It is almost exactly 1000 miles from my driveway to Alissa’s house… or two fairly long days in the car. She has been here for a year now. If I had known how hard it was going to be to have my children move away, I would have never had… uh… well… okay, maybe not. But it’s hard. When they first shoot out of the womb and are covered in gook and slime… well no one’s thoughts turn to what will come in 20+ years. But it does come. For those of you with little ones, seriously… treasure the time because it will pass all too quickly. I know… you just read that sentence and didn’t pay any attention! Please hear me… it will pass WAY TOO FAST! Do not take the time or the opportunities for granted.

Well, enough of that…

So, where is the “religious” stuff you ask? Where are the brilliantly inspired words that normally come from the keyboard of this author? Hey, I’m on vacation. Do I have to be “religious” all the time?!

Have a blessed week.

Self-esteem

October 23, 2014

You know what? I’m pretty great! I mean I’m good… really good. There are things I can do that few people on the planet can do. It feels good to be me. I’m sure as you look at me you probably feel the same way about me that I do. You probably want to even be me. Yeah, it’s really fulfilling to be as excellent as I am. What? Oh, did I say that out loud? Did I put that into print? Yowza! Uh… just kidding… yeah… didn’t really mean that… don’t really think that… um…

Sadly, the truth for too many of us is just the opposite of what I wrote above. We don’t feel good about ourselves at all. We wonder if there is anything we can do or any abilities that we have that cause us to be worth the skin that we lug around. Our thoughts are filled with, “I’m too heavy; I’m too skinny; I want curly hair; I want straight hair; I’m too tall; I’m too short; I wish I were more organized; I wish I was less obsessive; I wish I had accomplished ___________, then I would feel like less of a failure, etc.…” And maybe the one that haunts us all: “If people really knew me… if they knew my inmost thoughts… they would not like me at all. Heck, I don’t even like me, so how could they?”

I’m not really sure why we are plagued with feelings of self loathing in our culture. I suspect it has something to do with prosperity (though not entirely), i.e., prosperity begets more prosperity. There is always something out there that we can have that we don’t have now. That may also translate to who we are as people. “I can always (and should) be better than I am. I can never be content with who I am because there are always people paraded before me who are so great. And since I’m not getting better and different, then I am a failure at being me.” I also wonder, for those who are not “cursed” with prosperity, I suspect there is little time for self reflection and “navel gazing,” i.e., “Woe is me.”

I cannot solve this dilemma for you any more than I can solve it for myself but I have two observations. First, if we can work toward the place where we recognize that the world is not about us, we will likely be better off. The truth is the universe and all of the planets and stars do not revolve around our lives. I know right?! When we are in the midst of self hatred it’s hard to remember that there are actually things going on in the Cosmos that are probably way more important and worthy of consideration than our issues. And it’s possible – just possible – that God might be a part of that.

Second, you were formed by God before the creation of the world, with the gifts that you have. And yes, you… even you… have gifts and abilities that far exceed many around you. I don’t know about you, but I know for me it’s not a good place to be when I am complaining to God about how He created me. Just sayin…

Please understand that I know many of these issues in our lives are way more complex than I have portrayed here. For some who have been told their whole lives that they are less than adequate… well, it is a huge mountain to overcome. And simple platitudes from me or anyone else only make things worse on some level. And honestly, I am sorry and frankly somewhat angry toward those who have made you feel bad about yourself. But I would encourage you, as best you are able, to be reminded on occasion that you are deeply loved by God. So much so that He suffered and died for you. NO!!! Don’t do that! Don’t dismiss what I just said with a simple, “Yeah, I know.” GOD LOVES YOU AND DIED FOR YOU… GOD LOVES YOU AND DIED FOR YOU… GOD LOVES YOU AND DIED FOR YOU. Stop listening to those other voices in your past.

You are blessed to be loved by God. Revel in that for a while.

The Church

October 14, 2014

Spoiler alert! Many will not find this very encouraging.

As many of you know we have a preschool here at Mt. Vernon Church that has existed for many, many years. Even as I write this I can hear the children playing outside of my office window. At the end of each school year we have a graduation ceremony for the students who will be advancing to kindergarten in the fall. Each of the children stands before all the accumulated guests including their parents and sometimes grandparents while the teacher introduces them and tells some of their qualities and accomplishments from the previous year. Things like: “This is Karen. She is a nice girl who makes friends quickly. She likes to color…” This past spring one of the little boys was being introduced and at the end of his accolades the teacher said, “…and he wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up.” Naturally there was a good natured chuckle from the adults. I was standing in the back of the room and here is what I wanted to do and say. I wanted to raise my hand and say, “I already am!” Do you know what I mean? When I look at the values and morals of our culture… I realize I am WAY out of step. I’m not complaining mind you but I do find it very disconcerting.

I have similar thoughts when I think of The Church in our country. Depending on who’s counting there are 4000-7000 churches closing in the United States each year. And 1500 ministers permanently leave the church EVERY MONTH!  http://djchuang.com/2010/churches-closing-and-pastors-leaving/ That’s 18,000 a year, kids! Don’t get me wrong, there are a few churches that are going great guns, but they are, by and large, a huge exception. And there are churches opening on every block these days… but they are again almost without exception being attended by folks who have left other churches. The point being there are few “new believers” being spawned despite what the intention might be.

So, what does all of this mean for us dinosaurs? It’s interesting to note that a little over 100 years ago England was the #1 exporter of missionaries in the world. I am told that England and most of Europe is now a spiritual wasteland. In 100 years! That is a blip on the radar screen of history! If I were to ask you what you think might be the status of The Church in the USA in 100 years I wonder what you might say? You might begin with, “If there is a USA in 100 years!?”… and then maybe some dire predictions regarding the Faith. Or maybe not. You could be one of those people who follow the “snake oil salesmen” who see revival around every corner. Good luck with that. I am not a prophet. And I don’t think I’m a quitter. But I am a realist. And I do know something about the history of The Church as it has risen and fallen in various cultures through the centuries. What is happening to us is by no means unprecedented. As a matter of fact it is more the norm.

The Good News is this… The Church is flourishing in other parts of the world! Africa, South America, Korea… and some speculate that there may be more Christians in China than any country in the world. It just so happens that The Church is “underground” so it’s hard to quantify.

There may be reasons for anxiety as we watch the demise of our society and our culture. And I for sure am greatly concerned about the world my children will live in when they are my age. But there is no reason to be concerned about The Church. Do you remember this quote from Jesus?

Matthew 16:18

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

No doubt “The Church” will look very different in the future. And what we have known in the past will likely disappear. But I’m confident that it’s in good “Hands.” Aren’t you?

 

The Great Commission

October 1, 2014

I attended Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary north of Boston, MA from 1980-1983. While there I had a professor of Missions named J. Christy Wilson. Dr. Wilson had been a missionary for years in… I believe… Pakistan. It might have been another Middle Eastern country… I’m not sure. Anyway, he was an amazing man of prayer.

Gordon Conwell had a student/faculty/staff directory that we called the “facebook.” Obviously this was long before Al Gore invented the internet and even longer before the current use of the term “facebook.” In our book were over 700 people along with a picture and personal information for everyone on campus. In January of my first year I had Dr Wilson for a missions class and I had heard that he prayed through the facebook every week… consequently he knew everyone at the school by name. Or at least that was the rumor.

As part of our class Dr. Wilson invited all 150 of us over to his home in ½ hour increments to meet with a number of missionaries. I arrived at my designated time along with Ellen and my son David who was 3 at the time. I was a little nervous. Like I said, I had been told that he would know my name but since our class was very large and I had never actually spoken to him I wasn’t really sure. I rang the doorbell. When he came to the door I said, “Hello, Dr. Wilson, my name is Bill Little…” Before I could say anything else he said “Yes, Bill and how are Ellen and David today?” I was stunned. Not only did he know and pray for all 700 people on campus, he knew and prayed for their spouses and children as well! I have said on numerous occasions over the years that if I can’t be like Jesus, I want to be like J. Christy Wilson.

I remember him challenging us in class in a way that I had never heard before. We were studying Matthew 28 which is often referred to as “The Great Commission.” It comprises some of the last words of Jesus and is a challenge to his followers to spread the Gospel to the entire world.

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

What Dr. Wilson said to us was this: “It’s not a question of whether you are called to Missions. You are clearly called according to Matthew 28. It’s really a question of ‘are you called to stay home.’”

I remember a few students being angry with him over this. I think they didn’t like being challenged on their future plans. Frankly, it’s comfortable to envision being called to a church someplace, maybe near home, and doing the “pastor thing.” Well at least it’s comforting until one actually does it. But that’s a story for another time. That being said… his words don’t just apply to seminary students. They apply to all who call themselves Christians. What is God calling you to do in regard to making disciples of all people? “God is not calling me to anything” is not a legitimate answer… at least not for Believers. How is the Kingdom of God “furthered” because of what you do? How are you using the gifts with which God has equipped you?

I could be wrong but I think we are headed into a time when Christians will need to stand up and be counted. Our country continues to grow more and more hostile toward the Faith each and every day. A time will come when claiming to be a follower of Jesus will be frowned upon if it is not here already. Are we called to be comfortable “believers”? Or are we called to minister in the Name of Jesus so that all might hear? I can only hope that if and when the time comes to stand against persecution… I will not falter.