Monday, September 17, 2012

Road Tested

My wife and I just bought a new car.  Well, new to us, at least.  That was some of the debate, in fact, during the whole “joyous” car buying process: Should we buy new or used?  There are advantages to both, of course, and as this isn’t a car-advice column I won’t get into that side of things too much.  So, for me, I admit that perhaps the biggest non-quantifiable factor I kept coming back to was, “How would the car do on long road trip?” 
Perhaps this is some erroneous thinking on my part, but I’m always worried about how my car will do on the ‘long trip’.  My thinking is that if a car breaks down close to home, I’ll be okay.  Sure, I’ll get frustrated, I’ll reach for my wallet, but in the end I know I will be fine.  After all, around home I have friends or family that can help me out.  Perhaps give me a ride, or loan me a car if I need it.  I have the mechanic that I know and trust to go to first, before I need to go anywhere else.  Around home, I have the resources I trust to get me through whatever my car problem might be.
            But on the road, well, that’s another issue entirely.  If my car breaks down when I’m far from home, suddenly I’m much more nervous.  I don’t have the family or friends to rely on, at least not in the same way.  I can’t ask too many people to drive hundreds of miles just for a lift.  And as for that trusted mechanic, he’s a ridiculously expensive tow-truck trip away.  I’m in trouble out on the road, which really is my big fear.  Again, right or not, this was my thinking, and it helped make my car buying decision.
            Since then, I’ve been thinking.  This feels to me more and more akin to how I feel about my faith as well.  Do you ever feel the same way?  My faith doesn’t worry me in the normal, day-to-day routines of my life.  When I go about a regular day: school, work, home, there is nothing that makes me think, “Oh, I hope my faith will hold up to all of this.”  I’m ready for everything, or at least so I think.  And if something were to put a bump into my path: I get a project at work that is a little more than I can handle.  Some stress at home affects my relationship with my kids.  In those times I know I have the resources around me to call on for help.  Family and friends, a local church perhaps, they’re all quickly at my disposal for just such a fix and overhaul.
However, it’s when I get out of my routine, when I go on the hard, long trips in my life that suddenly I begin to wonder if my faith will hold up.  When my road ahead suddenly has a long-term medical issue that is far beyond routine, I question if my faith is strong enough to hold up, and not break down along the way.  Or maybe I hit what I think is just a little financial pothole, only it turns out to be something much worse.  It’s a job loss that now means I’m on a long, scary road that I haven’t been on before and with no exit in sight.  Those routine check-ups I should have been doing, but have been skipping, suddenly worry me.  Time in prayer, growing closer in my walk with God, those things that would really give me assurance on my now tough road ahead.  Now I’m asking, “Did I do it enough to know that my faith is strong and ready?”  Is my faith read for a long hard trip, one that I might not even known I was about to take?
            These are the tough questions we should ask when it comes to our faith, but I feel that we rarely do.  Which is so ironic.  When you think about how much thought and energy I went into just to buy a car, shouldn’t I put the same energy and foresight into something far more necessary and important to my everyday life?
            How is your faith?  Ready for the long haul?  Ready to be road-tested?  And, if not, what can you do to be prepared for your next road trip?  It may be time for a tune-up.  Sure it will take time, but better now than after you’re already stranded on the road!

Don't go to church, Be the Church!

Bill Walles

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why I Love the Church

           Heard this one before?  “I love Jesus, but I just don’t like His Church.”  Or maybe this one: “Dear Jesus, save me from your followers.”  Now, I have to admit that second one is kind of clever, albeit awfully troubling.  It is also emblematic of an increasingly trendy idea, and one that I hear expressed more and more all the time.  There seems to be a great number of people who say they love Jesus, who think that what He said and what He stood for were great.  However, when it comes to the Church that claims His name so many years later, they want nothing to do with it.
Now, to be fair, I can appreciate where this comes from.  Let’s not kid ourselves, the church has done a number of things over the years that have been pretty unlovable (the Crusades come to mind.)  But it’s not just our past that’s the problem.  As nearly anyone with a news feed on their Facebook page can tell you, as a global church we still do a few too many things that are awfully unlovable today.  Hence the trend, and what has become one of the greatest challenges to face modern Christians.
So I’m here to say that, in spite of our past mistakes as a church, I want to buck the trend.  More than that, I want to boldly come out against it and say that I still love the church.  I realize that I may be in the minority on this.  I think even amongst those who would still call themselves Christians there’s less of a desire to admit you’re part of a church community, let alone claim a real love for it.  But not me.  I love the church.  In fact, in a weird sort of way, I think it is the flaws of the church that help remind me why I love it.
One of the biggest mistakes a church can make is when they start acting like a Cathedral for the Saints when nothing could be further from the truth.  The church has always been at its best when we remembered what we had originally been called to be: A hospital for sinners.  When you read the Bible and look at who Jesus called to be part of his original group of followers, the “original church,” they were all sinners.  People whose résumés were littered mistakes.  Résumés that didn’t improve all that much even after following Jesus, since they continued to make mistake after mistake.  But that was the point.  Perfect people didn’t need Jesus.  Only the ones with flaws and faults.  The ones who made mistakes and knew it.  People like the original followers.  People like me.
That’s my church, and why I love it.  It’s also why I hope people who want nothing to do with the church give it a second chance.  Maybe even a third, and a fourth after that.  Because no church will ever be perfect. In fact, the best ones will usually be far from it.  But if you’re looking for a welcoming group of imperfect people, the church is a perfect place for you.  As it turns out, Jesus designed it that way from the beginning.

Don't go to church, Be the Church! 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A New Year

Well, it’s that time of year.  The time to look back on the New Year’s resolutions you made a few short days ago, and see how many of them you’ve kept.  It’s an annual ritual, is it not?  In fact, it is the breaking of the New Year’s resolutions that seems to get more attention than the resolutions themselves.  There’s almost a perverse glee in the fact that it is a rare occurrence when someone is able to keep their resolution all the way through February.

So, I wanted to go a slightly different way with this ritual and instead, encourage you to try again.  If you’ve fallen short of a resolution, or didn’t even make one because you feel they’re just impossible to keep, try it.  And if/when you fall short try it again.  To whatever daunting resolution may lie before, with whatever negative history you may have with it, give it a chance, give it your all, and give it your best.  Especially if you’ve already been unable to keep at it this year.  Consider this your permission to try new, with a clean slate.

The word we use in the church for this is Grace, and it’s a wonderful and powerful word.  Grace means forgiveness.  Grace means hope.  Grace means, when you fall short, when you miss the mark, you are still loved.  It is the central theme of the Christian faith – Grace, and it is one we need to hear every year.  You see, the whole reason Jesus came into this world was because people like you and me kept failing.  We kept falling short of perfect, we kept messing up on our goals, our resolutions, on everything.  And so Jesus came to give all of us grace.  To say, you don’t have to be perfect.  You just have to be forgiven.

It’s a powerful message to hear, and one that we desperately need to hear again and again.  So, in your life, I encourage you to know and hear grace.  If that’s related to something like a New Years resolution, then fantastic.  Don’t beat yourself up about failing, know grace instead.  Know that there’s nothing stopping you from trying again.  And perhaps that will lead to something far greater.  Perhaps knowing grace in something as small as a New Years resolution will help you know that Jesus offers a grace far greater, and far more life changing to you every single day.  No matter where you are in life, no matter how short you think you’ve come, there is grace and forgiveness for you.   With good news like that, can anything be so bad?  And with that, I hope you all have a very, Happy New Year!

Bill Walles

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wants and Needs

It’s been a little while since the passing of Steve Jobs, and the cultural impact of his work is still being discussed and lauded.  I’ll have to admit, I’m one of those who think his impact on our modern society has been about as big as anybody’s.  I’m typing this article from my MacBook, and will send it off using my iPhone.  But those two things are just indicative of something that, whether you loved Jobs’ inventions or not, sure dominates a big part of our world: The new essentials.
We seem to live in a time where there are more and more essential things that we need in life.  I suppose we’ve always needed a few essentials in life, no matter the era.  But, without knowing what it was really like, of course, I imagine the list of essentials was smaller in previous times.  Food, clothing, ad shelter, seems to have been pushed aside by a list that now includes: Cars, cell phones, TV’s, computers, not to mention a whole list of non-electronic “essentials”.
And there’s the rub.  We see so many things as essential in our life today.  Be it a vacation, or sports tickets, or the latest iGadget, most of us have become accustomed to seeing what should probably be considered luxuries as essentials.  We can’t work without the internet, and everything hooked up to it.  We can’t relax without getting far out of town, and all the toys we need to bring with us.  That’s one of the things that has been so hard about this economic downturn over the last several years.  We’ve all had to cut back, we’ve all had to do with less.  But, if we’re being honest, it’s been harder because we’ve really felt like we’ve had to cut back on the thing we need, not just the things we want.
So, debating the merits of seeing “wants” as “needs” is probably an idea for another day.  But what really got me thinking was, in a time where our list of essentials has grown and grown, I wonder if we’ve decide to lose one thing off that list – Jesus.  One of the things meant to mark Christians in a positive way, was that we are to live life everyday with Jesus.  That not a day should go by where we don’t acknowledge our full dependence on Him.  Again, this may be different than how Christians are often seen and known, but I wish that would change back to this.  If you’re a Jesus follower, what’s on your list of essentials to make it through the day?  And would anybody around you be able to guess that Jesus is on that list?  If not, maybe it’s time to make a change, for the better.

Don’t go to church, Be the Church
Bill Walles

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"Family" church

So I was thinking about the good, and bad, of thinking about church as a family.  I saw another church book talking about this dynamic, and immediately called to mind a struggle I see far too often.  Maybe that doesn't strike you as an issue, but as the head (Father, ha, get it) of a Church it's something I've really struggled with.  Because I have a great family.  And I think of family as incredibly positive thing.  If I'm going to call something family-friendly, or use family as an adjective to describe something, it's going to conjure up great images for me.  Unless it's used to talk about a church.  In which case I kind of cringe.
Why?  Well, really because of only one thing.  The only way you can join a family is by getting married into it, or by being born/adopted into it.  Right?  That's the reality.  To truly be family, that's how we see it.  Sure, occasionally you feel part of a family without one of those two connections.  But how often do those connections last?  Does that family feel really stay?  I've been very close to a number of families over the years, but the ones I call my family are still my born/adopted/married clan.  Which is fine, I don't mind that all.  But what does that mean when we call our church a family?
It's a great question, and one I'd be curious as to your thoughts on as well.  After all, I've been at a lot of churches that felt like a family.  And, therefore, they were equally both great, and frustrating.  Because if you were part of the "family" you felt welcome and included and like you were home.  But I've talked to too many people that came to a church that was a "family" and they never felt welcome.  They never felt like they belonged.  And most stopped trying to join it after too short a time.  The family was too hard to join, and so they never did.  And who knows if they ever risked trying to join another family.
So, the church felt great to those who already belonged.  But it wasn't so great for those outside of the family.  What to do?  Do you try to keep the family feel at your church and just make sure that everyone feels welcome?  Do you not worry about church feeling like a family, and worry more about it feeling like a church?  Tough questions, and ones I don't know the answers too.  But, it sure got me thinking this week.

Don't go to church, Be the Church


Monday, August 15, 2011

Pet Peeve

Alright, I know it's not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but I just saw one of my pet peeves.  On Facebook, no less.  Shocking, I know, who would ever be annoyed by something they see on the internet?  But anyway, it was a little ad that bugged me.  Now, I don't mind the Facebook ads.  If you've seen "The Social Network" I definitely side with Eduardo on this one, and not Sean.  But this ad got to me.  Clearly reading my likes and posts etc. the ad was "Get to know Christ - Become a Pastor".
Now, I'm all for both of those things.  I really do want people to get to know Christ.  I'm starting a new church because I really, really want to reach people who don't already know Christ.  And, I'm a big fan of becoming a Pastor.  My Dad was a Pastor, My Father-in-law was a Pastor.  I'm a Pastor.  I hope at least one of my kids becomes a Pastor (any bets on who you think it will be?)  But it really bugs me when those two things are linked as such.  Get to know Christ by becoming a Pastor?  Honestly, I would caution against that.
Because being a Pastor is awesome, it's fulfilling, and it's wonderful - most days :).  But it is a job.  And what I've found is that a lot of people, particularly new Christians, get really saddened/turned off by the "job" aspect of being a Pastor.  It's not all Spiritual.  And, again, I'm at a good place with that.  I actually love the job aspect of ministry.  God made jobs, He thinks they're important, and so I would think this job is even more important than most.  But it's still hard.  Business decisions are sometimes just that.  Conflict over mission and direction happen.  Staff choices need to be made.  Ministry is a Business, and the Pastor is usually the lead for that Business.  And it often takes pretty mature Christians to be able to see the Spiritual forest thru the business trees on that one.  I wish that weren't always the case, but the longer I've been around this (most of my life, I suppose) the more I see it.
So, get to know Christ.  I think that's a great thing.  And, if you ever feel called to be a Pastor, I'd love to talk to you about that.  But don't think that the one should directly lead to the other.  There are lots of great ways to get to know Jesus.  Becoming a Pastor to do it may not be the best way.
But when it's the right thing for you. . . It doesn't get any better :)

Don't go to church, Be the Church


Monday, August 1, 2011

Praying for Politicians

So, I don't know about you guys, but I have been crabby lately.  I try to be a well informed guy, watch the news, read up on things in the world, etc.  But the dealing with our national debt and debt-limit crisis has been really tough to watch.  I know I've yelled at the TV a lot, and I've agreed with Jon Stewart a lot.  And, in general I've been breaking one of my personal rules.  And that's to simply pray for my politicians.  If you're a Christian, I'd be curious as to where you stand on the issue of prayer for politicians.  For me, I try to practice what I preach, and this is to simply pray for all my elected officials.  And not to pray to change their mind, not to pray that they might agree with me more.  But simply to pray for their health, their safety, and their work.
I know most of us have pretty tough jobs, tougher than most on the outside would realize.  But being a politician today is really tough.  And, perhaps I'm naive, but I really believe that the vast majority of politicians get into the "biz" in order to serve others.  However now, perhaps more than ever, that's a tall request.  It seems that as soon as you get into office at least half of your constituency immediately is angry that you're there.  Not just disappointed, but angry.  And the half that isn't angry (yet) wants to see you fix all the things that were done wrong by the previous guy/gal or they'll get angry.  In the meantime, you have to immediately begin raising a ridiculous amount of money if you ever want a chance of being elected to your position again.
And in the midst of this, there's a huge pool of Christians throwing out to God a whole host of prayers about you.  And I want to include myself in that mix.  But, because of the nature of their jobs, and I think because of the nature of mine, I hope my prayer is heartfelt and simple.  I want to offer a prayer of care, love, and kindness.  No agenda, no politics.  Just prayer.  And, part of my hope is that if I'm doing this in my prayer life, I might be a little more gracious and loving in my day-to-day life and thoughts and conversations about said politicians.  That's where I've been failing lately.  My words about some politicians recently has not matched how I want to pray for those politicians.  Granted, these have been extraordinary times in the political world, but really, isn't it always an extraordinary time?  Isn't there always a crisis?  Isn't there always a time to choose kindness and civility in our words and in our prayers?
Anyway, as I'm writing this it's likely that our current political crisis is nearly over.  And in the aftermath, we'll talk about winners and losers, and who we'll never vote for again.  And, if you're a Christian, I hope you lift your leaders up in prayer.  Not with an agenda, not with malice, or with an attitude.  Just because some men and women spent a great deal of time at one of the hardest jobs in our world today.  And they need our prayer for it.

Don't go to church, Be the Church