July - August 2017

By Don Walter
From his column A Minute With Don

minute-with-don-07-17_article.jpgMost societies develop codes of conduct that uniquely define them. Rules and behaviors in local communities may become ingrained and reflect normal conduct to those who practice them. However, to outsiders, such observances may appear quirky or humorous. I encountered such behavior during a trip with my wife, Kathy.

Following lunch at a pizza place, we noticed three establishments across the street. On the corner was a pawn shop with the sign “We Buy Anything.” Next door was a “dispensary” for a natural product which, I am told, when smoked or otherwise ingested produces altered states of perception. On the other side of this facility was a gas station.

The gas station is only of interest because in this particular state it is illegal to pump one’s own fuel, since someone decided it poses a public health threat. Also, if you purchase a chocolate candy bar in that station, you’ll also pay a “sin tax,” because someone apparently determined chocolate is an evil thing, and consumers should be discouraged from enjoying it.

I soon learned we were in a state with limited restrictions on those who believe it is important to carry concealed weapons. In fact, one of the few restrictions for carrying a weapon applies to those who, for medicinal reasons, are granted permission to use particular quantities of the natural product sold at the dispensary. I can’t explain why the restriction doesn’t also apply to chocolate eaters. Who knows but what some soul hopped up on chocolate might decide to go crazy with a Glock!

We humans are always establishing rules that allow us to live together in structured arrangements designed to make life more stable and tolerable. We tax, fine, incarcerate, and generally seek to coerce persons into behavior that we believe to be in the best interest of ourselves and neighbors. Persons from the outside may meander into our communities, oblivious to our rules, and wonder what drove us to create some of these standards. Generally, they make sense. At other times—not so much.

Persons from the outside may meander into our communities, oblivious to our rules, and wonder what drove us to create some of our standards.

And lest church folk become smug regarding this topic, we should consider our own propensity to create even more demanding and unique behavioral systems. Over several months of travel, I have experienced a variety of encounters that illustrate this.

At one church, I watched as numbers on the video screen counted down to the moment of worship. Given the ambiance of the sanctuary, I was pretty sure acolytes and a robed choir would not be entering when the numbers rolled to zero. I was right. Worship commenced with a loud drum roll and a call of “Ya’ll stand up!” If candles were lit in this church, they would be of the pyrotechnic variety. The “bouncy” nature of the congregation soon made it apparent that many had stopped by the foyer coffee shop for espressos.

At first, I was uncomfortable, but then I looked at the family next to me. A young mother and father with their primary-age son and daughter were worshiping the Lord. I knew what I was seeing was an answer to generations of prayers, because those beside me were my daughter and her family. Long before any of them were born, their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had prayed they’d come to know and serve Jesus. This observation quickly eliminated my minor discomfort with the style of worship that differed from my own preference.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about our trip to the state with the dispensaries and gun-toting citizens. I have to admit the surroundings were beautiful, and nearly everyone we encountered was friendly. In fact, the two times I purchased gas, I was impressed by those who served us. One was an older gentleman who took the time to fill our tank and washed our windshield. Neither Kathy nor I could remember the last time that happened.

My reflections have reminded me of a verse from my youth: “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (I Sam. 16:7b). Our world changes rapidly from news cycle to news cycle, and we sometimes have trouble adjusting to it. This can result in us becoming trapped by outsider impressions that limit our acceptance of and openness to others and their differences. When this happens, we can miss the meaning and richness of God’s presence that may be lying just below the surface.

What does God want to show us in that new situation or experience? It might just be an answer to generations of prayers hidden beneath an initial sense of discomfort with unfamiliar circumstances. Based on the record of scripture, it won’t be the first time He encouraged a servant to look a little deeper and observe His hand at work.

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.

Subscribe to eNews!