Heaven’s Admission Fee

Posted April 17, 2014 by William Wolfe
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Death, Faith, Freedom, Grace, Jesus, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 17, 2014

 

                                    

 

Perhaps Michael Bloomberg was saying it “tongue-in-cheek”, but his statement recently about his guaranteed admission into heaven attracted a lot of attention and comment.

The billionaire former New York City mayor thinks God likes him because of his generosity. He’s made a $50 million dollar contribution to help an anti-gun lobby group and fight the NRA.

“I’m telling you, if there is a God,” Bloomberg told reporter Jeremy Peters, “when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

Bloomberg must see admission to heaven as being like going through security at Denver International Airport. There’s the preferred status line…and then there’s the other line that the rest of us are in.

Special reserved seating admission to Glory is now being seen as having a price tag attached…kind of like courtside seating at a Denver Nuggets’ game…but I’m not sure why anyone would want to be that close to this year’s Nuggets team! It would look less painful from a distance…like the upper deck!

Like I said, Bloomberg could very well have made that comment in jest…like saying a White Castle hamburger tasted heavenly! No one would say that with a straight face and a happy gut!

His statement, however, voices the belief of many that heaven’s admission fee…the price of entry…can be paid by us…can be earned. Good works may admit us into an honorable humanitarian club, even get our name on a plaque mounted on the wall of a hallway, but they won’t give us a pass through the gates of paradise.

I know…I know, it doesn’t make sense! Since most of our other systems of praise and recognition operate on the principles of “how much”, “how many”, and “how often”, the gospel is a walk into the unreal.

Jesus died so I might live…we have very few people around who would give up first-class for coach, let alone die so that someone else might live!

It is easier to believe in a sum payment system than the Son of God being crucified. Thus, a former mayor, in many people’s eyes and even his own, looks like a good bet for a heavenly mansion.

From what I know about Scripture, however, I’m afraid he’s going to be disappointed. You can’t put a price tag on the atonement until you realize it’s free.

Then one realizes it’s priceless!

A Revolution

Posted April 16, 2014 by William Wolfe
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Death, Faith, Jesus, love, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                           April 15, 2014

                                        

 

We live in turbulent times where going against the grain is often frowned upon. Just try doing the speed limit on the highway and see the extended middle finger get shown to you by drivers speeding by who have important places to be. Isn’t it interesting that going the speed limit is seen as being radical now.

Revolutions are occurring around the world in nations where governments are teetering on survival. Some of the revolutions are the rise of people against injustice, while others are radical revolutionaries bent on causing destruction.

Jesus was considered a radical by the religious establishment of his day because he questioned what was, and talked about a relationship with the Lord God Jehovah that was intimate and personal. He was seen as a revolutionary, and yet he was exactly on target. A peacemaker is seen as being a troublemaker if society is anchored to war and unrest.

I just finished Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. it’s the biography of the pastor, teacher, writer, and mentor who was executed by Hitler at the end of World War Two, just a few days before the Allied Forces marched into Berlin. At his memorial service on July 27, 1945 Holy Trinity Church in London, Franz Hildebrandt used a quote from Bonhoeffer in his sermon. On his last visit to London he had said, “Why should it always have to be the bad people who make the revolutions?”

What an idea! What a life mission for anyone of us! To ignite a revolution of lovingkindness and service! That describes the early church in Rome. In the midst of a culture that exalted Caesar to being a deity there were the Christ-lovers who cared for those who no one cared about. An epidemic swept through Rome that was leaving five thousand people a day dead. Family members who were sick were abandoned to die alone. Many of them were literally pushed into the streets and banned from entering the home again…to simply suffer and die alone.

And in the midst of that miserable situation a community of Christ-lovers emerged. They were seen as being revolutionaries of lovingkindness. They ignored the danger of the spreading disease and took the sick under their care, attending to their needs. Most of the sick passed away, but they departed life with a sense of peace as opposed to being seen as discarded and rejected.

That early Christian community was taking the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 about caring for those in need as the gospel to be lived out. It was a revolution committed to Christlikeness.

What might the next revolution be? Right in the midst of one’s community? Across a sea to a distant place of suffering? A decision to give as cup of cold water to someone passing by that I don’t know? An invitation to a worship service where Jesus will be proclaimed?

As Bonhoeffer said, “Why should it always have to be the bad people who make the revolutions?”

Bringing The Cross Back Inside

Posted April 10, 2014 by William Wolfe
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Christmas, Community, Death, Faith, Humor, Jesus, love, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                              April 10, 2014

 

                                 

 

Our church has a great sense of humor…usually! Actually, most churches have a great sense of humor…you just may have to dig a little deeper to find it!

Years ago we had a couple of people from our congregation construct a wooden cross and a stand that it could be propped up in. It was heavy…and, forgive the term, a bit on the ugly side. Of course, it is difficult to make a cross look good, I don;t care how many Easter lilies you place around it!

The wood of this cross was rough and rigid. It was the kind of wood that takes the pounding of nails easily without stumbling. In the past few years we’ve moved it up the aisle and back to the rear of the sanctuary. Back and forth it has gone like a person without a home.

At Christmas it has crouched in the back corner so that the attention can be more focused on the fifteen foot Christmas tree in the front and a homemade livestock stall with a rustic wooden crib in the midst of it.

At Thanksgiving it disappears to make room for turkeys and canned goods.

But on Good Friday it trudges back to the front in order to have a dark piece of fabric draped over it and a handful of nails driven deep into its strength. Its meaning and significance has never waned, and yet we’ve never felt totally comfortable with its look of abandonment and sorrow either.

This past September we moved it outside. It has stood behind a fenced area behind out sanctuary, kind of like an oversized first-grader hovering over his classmates in the school picture. It’s been standing there through storms and excessive windblown snow.

Come Saturday, however, it is being moved back inside. We jest about it with statements like “It’s time to bring the cross back in” and “I think the cross has been grounded long enough. Let’s unground it!”

We say it with the lean towards humor, but, on the other hand, the cross makes us antsy and uncertain. Give us a manger scene with a dressed-up plastic baby doll laying in it and we’re fine, but a cross of wood is a remembrance for us of all the bad things God endured because of his love for us. It’s a reminder of our tendency to be wayward people of faith who sometimes are brought back to the reality of our fallible decisions.

This year, however, a number of people in our congregation are asking for the cross. It’s been the forgotten symbol long enough. On Palm Sunday it will be back at the front of the sanctuary. To temper the celebration of the palms it will silently stand at a distance in the foreground…alone…bare…reminding!

I think it will be a good thing to have it there without fabric or flowers to partially cover its frame. I hope we can even keep it inside for a while.

Does God Care About Sports?

Posted March 31, 2014 by William Wolfe
Categories: children, Christianity, Community, Death, Faith, Jesus, love, Parenting, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 31, 2014

 

About a week ago our local newspaper ran two different columns from the sports editors in response to a letter from a young girl who was inquiring about the level of God’s interest in sports.

The writers gave some excellent examples in the affirmative to the question. God does care about sports…just not as much as we do! God does love sports…just not as much as some people who wear spikes on their shoulders, paint their faces black, and wear Raider jerseys.

Sports has an important role in our culture, but sports sometimes becomes our culture. The lines get blurred on what is healthy and what is fanaticism. When lines get blurred the weird and unthinkable starts sneaking in the back door that has been propped open. People start bulking up, but bulking up isn’t good enough! Sometimes steroids and other “Miracle-Gro” hormones get added to the equation to give the athlete an advantage for now…and consequences later.

Sports has replaced the Sunday Worship Service, ironically, as what is worshiped. People will go to a Saturday night service so they can watch the Sunday afternoon Broncos’ game…or just not go to church at all!

Once again, ironically, as a Baptist pastor I must applaud the Mormons. Last weekend the BYU women’s basketball team was playing a Sweet Sixteen game against undefeated Connecticut. The Cougars hung tough, but lost to the undefeated Huskies. But long before that game was played it had been determined that if BYU would not play a game on Sunday, March 30.

Wait a minute! This is the NCAA…March Madness…hoops hysteria!

The Mormons would not let sports shape what they firmly believe in. I find that level of commitment a bit lower in Protestantland and the Catholic culture.

God cares about sports. He cares about people realizing their potential and purpose. Shooting a long jumper with a fluid stroke that more times than not results in the “tickling of the twine” is a gift, but it often gets confused with purpose. God’s purpose for our life…I pray…is more than how well I can flick my wrist in the releasing of a basketball.

God cares about sports and the positives they can teach…the work ethic…the incredible learnings from being part of a team…the friendships…the physical development as a result of getting in shape.

He cares about the opportunities that sports can bring into a world that aches with disappointments and negative diagnoses. If it hadn’t been for sports Michigan State’s Adreian Payne would not have met an eight year old girl named Lacey who had been battling cancer. Sports, namely being a 6’10” center on the Michigan State basketball team, was the avenue that brought him into Lacey’s hospital room at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan.

But it was a little girl’s battling for her life that brought perspective into Adreian’s life.

God cares about sports, and he also cares about whether or not we can keep a healthy perspective on things that are temporal and things that are permanent.

I still love shooting the long jump shot, although my knees seem to be protesting it more and more, but more than that, I love coaching basketball and being used to have a positive impact on young people’s lives.

God cares more about my impact on the younger generation than he does about how sweet the rotation on the basketball looks as I shoot it towards the basket.

The guy who mentored me in coaching, Don Fackler, brought that perspective to me. Don had a sweet outside shot, and if I was guarding him down low he would make me pay by scoring and also sliming me with his perspiration. He sweat more than anybody I knew! But his impact on how I coach now is seen in many ways. I never used the word “discombobulated” until I met Don Fackler.

At his funeral some twelve years ago now the aisles of First United Methodist Church in Mason, Michigan were filled with his former players…young men and women who had been impacted by him. Young men and women who were now raising their own children, or pursuing their college degree, or making a positive impact wherever they now lived.

I think that’s why God cares about sports, and that’s why I also care about sports.

Learning to Vacate

Posted March 27, 2014 by William Wolfe
Categories: Christianity, Community, Faith, Freedom, Humor, Jesus, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W. March 27, 2014

 

This is vacation week. I love vacation…and yet vacation is hard for me at the same time. That’s because it is hard for me to mentally vacate. After all, that is the meaning of vacation…”to vacate.”

Even when I vacate I have a tendency to only physically vacate. It is very, very difficult for me to totally check out. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about this coming Sunday’s message. We return Friday and I preach on Sunday. I’m not the type of person who can throw it together on Saturday with no forethought. The scripture and ponderings concerning it have whispered their way through this week. I don’t really mind that. It is part of the calling.

At least that is how I can justify it. My personality and work style would probably come to the same conclusion if I was a teacher, a lawyer, or a barista. If I was working at Starbucks I would probably be thinking about something related to caffeine. This summer I’ll be taking a month-long study leave. My congregation’s Leadership Team and Diaconate members have told me “to vacate the premises.” They know that I will be too easily pulled into things if I’m around. A study leave is suppose to enable you to leave in order to study. I’ll write a blog post each day, read books that I’ve been staring at on my shelves for so long they have gathered dust, pray, ponder, rest, and, of course…drink coffee.

But for it to have meaning I must vacate. It is not optional. It is just part of it. Part of the experience for me will be “learning to vacate.” How can I “not be present?” Many people are good at that. They can turn it on and off like a light switch. I’m more like a fire pit. The fire may be out, but there is some smoldering that is going on for a long long time.

One of my other “issues” is the guilt of vacating. Will people think less of me as a pastor if I scurry off? Do others think I am taking a long vacation that will be filled with sandy beaches, sun screen, and baseball games? Pastors have this need to be needed. Will my self-worth take a dive if I vacate for a while? Whose bedside can I pray at if I’m not around? Will people be able to function without the pastor on site? I’m convincing myself, although I’m not entirely on board yet, that they will do just fine without me around…that others in our church can say a kind word and utter a soft prayer for strength just like the one who has been ordained.

As you can tell, this whole area of “vacating” is a little uncomfortable for me although I’m looking forward to it. To draw a rough comparison, I had been looking forward to swimming in the ocean on vacation. After arriving at our beachside residence I turned on the TV. The sound of the ocean waves was softly waltzing into our room from outside, but on the TV was a nature film about seals and whales. It was very interesting until the scene appeared of a seal splashing around in the water juist a few feet from shore and an orca suddenly rising from the waves and snatching him in his mouth. Suddenly the excitement of swimming in the ocean was tempered a little bit!

Some things in life are like that. We approach them with excitement, and yet we fear that some teeth may be closing in on us. Once again, it is evident that I’ve got a lot to learn about vacating.

Church Mascots

Posted March 19, 2014 by William Wolfe
Categories: Christianity, Faith, Freedom, Humor, Jesus, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   March 19, 2014

 

                                      

 

March Madness is one of the best times of the year. I am justifiably biased in that opinion, being born ten miles from Lexington, Kentucky and growing up listening to Cawood Ledford broadcasting UK basketball games on the radio.

One of the lesser highlights of March Madness is discovering some new mascots of some of the lesser known universities that get invited to the NCAA tournament. Such as “The Great Danes of University of Albany”, or “The Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina.”

Although not in the tournament, I have a UC- Santa Cruz tee shirt with their mascot on the front, the banana slug. The Banana Slug, also known as Sammy Slug, was voted as the school mascot in 1981 when the institution started offering intercollegiate athletics. The school chancellor supported the sea lion as the mascot, but a student referendum brought the mascot name up for a vote and banana slug won.

Mascots are interesting, but sometimes the history behind the mascot is even more interesting. For instance, the James Madison University “Dukes”, whose mascot is “Duke Dog”, a gray bulldog who wears a cape and crown. The history behind the mascot name, however, is that Samuel Page Duke was the school’s second president…which makes it interesting to be a member of the women’s basketball team…”the Lady Dukes.”

In thinking of mascots, however, it got me pondering the idea of church mascots to mark pivotal points in different congregations’ histories. It might create some March momentum heading towards Easter, the church equivalent of Final Four Weekend.

How about “The 95’s from Grace Lutheran Church?” Or perhaps a more battle-ready name, “The Nailin’ Theses” of GLC!

I like the ring of “The Splittin’ Charismatics of New Wine Fellowship Church!”

Here’s a few others I think would increase attendance:

*The Fighting Deacons from Community of Joy Baptist Church

*The Glutanteers of Faith-Full Gospel Chapel

*Wine and Cheese Fanatics from Unity Tabernacle

*The Truth-Slugs of First Institutional Baptist

*The Three-P’s (not to be confused with “three peat”) of Trinity Presbyterian Church, who are firmly anchored to every Sunday mesage having three points and a poem.

*The Dunkin’ Donuts of Weigh-side Free Methodist

 

Perhaps you can think of others to join the list. Maybe your church should come up with a mascot…”King Jamers” could become “King Jammers”…just think of the possibilities! Churches that now stand lifeless and unnoticed on street corners could suddenly draw attention to themselves as a logo with an intense looking preacher with flames coming out of his backside gets attached to the outside church sign.

New outreach possibilities are now coming to my mind. I’m seeing things now, imagining things.

Some would say I’m too much into March Madness!

 

 

 

Saying Dumb Things

Posted March 18, 2014 by William Wolfe
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Faith, Grace, Humor, Jesus, marriage, Parenting, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    March 18, 2014

 

                                       “Saying Dumb Things”

 

I am a man!

That means that I often don’t think about what I say until the verbage has left my lips. I wonder if James had just said a dumb thing right before he wrote “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” (James 1:19) Had he just made a comment to his wife…if he was married…about the chicken being too dry or the rice not cooked enough?

I notice he addressed the words to a bunch of guys. There were probably some heading that were nodding in agreement as they read it.

I remember one time in college I had a first date with a fine young lady. I was trying to impress her with flattery about her physical features (never a good thing to do on a first date…especially at a Christian college!), so I made the comment that she was lean in some places and not as lean in others. I can still remember saying that dumb thing outside of Volkman Hall on campus. James was not speaking quick enough to my inner hearing. I didn’t hear him saying “Be slow to speak” quick enough. In the Amplified First Date Version that verse says “Better sometimes not to speak at all..especially when talking about physical features!”

Needles to say my date thought I was saying she was lean in the wrong places and not lean also in the wrong places. My hope of a second date was about as possible as Weber State’s running the NCAA basketball tournament table.

We all say dumb things, but really dumb things stay in our memory storage facility for a long time. For me in that situation, that means…40 years now!

Some might say that God led my lips to say such idiotic words in order to guide me to my future wife as a result of closed doors in other directions.

That’s almost as dumb!

Last Sunday in church I told the congregation that Carol ands I were going to vacation, but I didn’t want to say where we were going. My reason was that it was a warm spot with beaches and I didn’t want to look to uppity!

Dumb!

And then in my message I was talking about the teachers of the law questioning the authority of Jesus because he didn’t have the credentials. I equated it to what the church will have to decide on what is important the next time they do a pastoral search. How important are credentials? I was focused on the questioning of Jesus.

The congregation, however, was questioning where i was going on vacation and what I would be doing. They were thinking there was a reason I was talking about the next search for a pastor and not telling them where I would be vacating to!

Wow! James was whispering too slow to me again!

Dumb.

I think dumb words stay with us longer than words of wisdom. One of our young guys was telling me about something I said in a message a few months ago and how it impacted him. I can’t remember the message and the words. Evidently I had a fit of wisdom that invaded lack of forethought comments.

I wish those times would rise back to the surface more often than they do. They are like the cream. Dumb things said are like the sour milk. Open a refrigerator and it’s the sour milk that hits your nose a lot sooner than the cream.

Last week I was coaching a basketball game and I was pretty critical of one of my players. He made a couple of mistakes that cost us baskets in the midst of a tight game. My words defeated his spirit more than awaken his intensity. Yesterday I intentionally found ways to affirm him in the midst of the game…his defensive intensity…his decisions…and his level of play went way up.

Sometimes dumb things said cause damage in ways that are hard to recover from.

Since I’m six weeks shy of sixty I’m a little better at saying things now than I was as a pimply-faced college student…but I still have those moments when things exit my mouth and head directly towards “Trouble!”

Before Carol and I leave on vacation I’ll be able to tell our senior’s Bible study group, appropriately named “The Ageless Wonders”, that we’re going to a resort located on a beach. They will get the word out that the pastor of the past fifteen years is not being interviewed in another town by another church.

Most will be relieved. Perhaps a few will mumble “Shucks!”


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