Explaining Jerk-hood

Posted May 28, 2015 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Freedom, Grace, Humor, Jesus, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                May 28, 2015

                                          

Jerk. A four letter word that I find myself saying more frequently these days. The way I use it almost never is connected to some kind of meat, like chicken or beef, but is, however, almost always related to a meathead!

Jerk-hood for many people is not a sickness. It’s a persistent condition, like bad breath or B.O. It travels around with them like a dust storm announcing Pig Pen’s presence.

The “Big Boy” truck that weaves in and out of traffic like he’s a Duke of Hazzard…the forty-something man who charges out of the grocery door without regard for the pregnant lady coming in with two pre-schoolers in tow…any of the Real Housewives of Anywhere, USA…jerk-hood is gaining new members more rapidly than gray hairs on my head!

It’s puzzling to me! Why do more and more people act like “Biff Tannen” from Back to the Future. Do they realize it? Oblivious?

It’s interesting that jerk-hood stands out like a sore thumb compared to sainthood! Saints don’t go around wearing their good deeds and compassionate hearts on their sleeves. Jerks stand out like a leisure suit at a GQ Fashion Show!

So what’s going? Is this a phase, a momentary trend? For one we’re more and more self-focused. We’ve even given it a name…”selfies!” We’re very much about ourselves. We’ve bought into it, and now believe it. It’s blurred the lines of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. We’re not as sure these days.

Jerk-hood has even entered our churches. Most of the time we wrap it in Christ-like language, but it’s still there. Some weeks a person has to look real, real deep to find any fruit of the Spirit in the congregation. Part of Joel’s Osteen’s popularity has been the blurring of theology. It’s mixed up even more than a DQ Blizzard, spinning together some God talk with mostly self-talk. The message sounds appealing…and it makes me happy…which is what it’s all about! Jerks for Jesus…has a certain ring to it!

What Jesus said is a little disturbing to the jerk clan. He said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24) Those words might not sell well to the sixty-something woman who just displayed her middle finger for me to see as she turned in front of me.

Lives are based on the mountain of momentary decisions that display our true selves. What is right, what is Christ-like, what is encouraging and positively impactful…often get buried in the last chapter of a person’s unwritten life of destructive behavior and disturbing words.

Some might miss this point, but it really is the evidence of the evil one’s intense interest in each of our lives. If I can have a few “f bombs” thrown my way it can take me off my commitment to to random acts of kindness. If the hamburger I order at Wendy’s looks like it was put together by my four year old granddaughter it will take me into those darker moments of bitterness and disgust that will cause me to treat someone or several people with disdain and no value.

It’s a hard thing, and a spreading fog of fallen humanity, and I recognize that my membership card for jerk-hood gets displayed quite often.

Thank God that he even loves jerks as much as the saints!

 

Apple Juice and Glazed Communion

Posted May 25, 2015 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Faith, Grace, Humor, Jesus, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                May 25, 2015

                                     

There were always a few yawns when the men arrived for the 7:30 Saturday Men’s Bible Study group. Ten guys sat around the table, each slurping their first cup of coffee of the day. This was an important part of each man’s weekly schedule. It was where they unloaded, laughed deeply, and uninhibitedly questioned life.

Confidentiality was a valued element of this group. Struggles stayed here. Frustrations didn’t get retold to spouses and girlfriends.

“My brother is considering leaving his wife!” groaned Jimmy.

“Why’s that, Jimmy?”

“He thinks she’s having an on-line affair with some guy that she knew back in high school.”

“Is he assuming, or does he know for sure?”

“I think he’s assuming, but their marriage has been as rocky as Pike’s Peak for some time now. What do I tell him? I can’t condone his walking out on her, but I see the hurt in his eyes every time we talk about it.”

A wise octogenarian named Clarence stroked his silver beard and slowly began to speak. “Jimmy, tell your brother to not do anything…not make any decision for a month. We will commit as a group to pray daily for him, and even more than him, his wife for the coming thirty days. Someone once said that “decisions made in haste lead to a bad taste.”

“I think that someone was you, Clarence,” pointed out another elder of the group named Fred.

Jimmy looked around the table and said “I really appreciate it, fellas’!”

The youngest member of the group, a twenty-something named Matt, spoke up. “A good friend of mine from high school just found out he has advanced cancer.”

Moans and grimaces around the table displayed the group empathy for Matt. Most of them had friends who battled cancer- some won, some lost.

“Have you talked to him, Matt?” asked Steve, a balding forty year old.

“Yes, he’s pretty scared! I told him that we’d be praying for him. He’s not a follower of Jesus, but this has given me some opportunity to talk to him about life and death, hope and faith.”

Steve voiced the group’s commitment to pray for him, and for Matt as he walked alongside his friend.

“This group means a lot to me!” The voice was that of a recently-retired businessman named Daniel, and it was filled with emotion. “I look forward to this every week. Most weeks it’s my highlight. Talking to you guys, especially when I’m dealing with no news from my son from Africa.” Daniel’s youngest son, Nate, was in the midst of a nine-month deployment to a troubled part of Africa.

Clarence, who was sitting next to Daniel, put his hand on his shoulder for a few moments. “We’re in this together, Daniel!”

There was a sacred silence around the table. For a few moments no one stirred or even took a sip of coffee. They sat as a brotherhood.

“Do you know what we should do?” Steve suddenly asked.

“Take a trip to Hawaii and you pick up the tab?” suggested Randy, who was the comedian of the group.

“No…we should share communion together.”

“It’s not the first Sunday of the month, Steve!”

“I don’t think the scriptures say anything about first Sunday communion. That’s just something we created for some reason. No…it seems like it says something in the Bible about having communion whenever to come together…or something like that.”

“That’s not blasphemous, is it?” asked Matt.

“What?”

“To have communion when it’s not even in the sanctuary?”

“Jesus had it in the upper room, Matt.”

Randy spoke up again. “But there’s no grape juice! And you know without a doubt that there’s no wine in this church!”

“Can we pray over water and ask God to change it into wine?”

“Or why can’t we just use apple juice?” suggested Jimmy. Sometimes a question got asked in this group that no one had an answer for. Each man pondered.

“We can,” Clarence affirmed.

“Are you sure, Clarence? Do you think the pope would say it’s okay?”

Randy lightened the moment. “Unless I missed the memo, I don’t think this group turned Catholic.”

“We can…and we will share communion. Do we have a donut left?”

“One glazed!”

“Cut it up in ten pieces. Someone get some of those kid’s size paper cups for the juice and let’s do it.”

There was a hustle of activity as different guys got the substitute elements and prepared the table. Clarence led them through it. The glazed donut had a holy taste to it, not on the tongue, but rather to the soul. After sipping the apple juice Clarence led them in a prayer for Jimmy’s brother and sister-in-law, Matt’s friend with cancer, and for each other. They held hands firmly and with commitment and prayed like the King of Kings himself was sitting at the table with them.

“You don’t think Pastor Bob will be upset by this, do you?” asked Randy.

“Yes, he will be!” responded Steve.

“Really?”

“Yes, he will be upset that he wasn’t here to be a part of this!”

Randy summed it up. “You snooze, you lose!”

 

What I Would Have Told 2015 Graduates If Someone Had Invited Me

Posted May 20, 2015 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Community, Freedom, Humor, Parenting, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                             May 19, 2015

            

You can’t trust mail delivery these days! I did not receive my invitations from various high schools and colleges to give their commencement address to the different graduating classes.

None! I even looked in the phone book to see if there is another Rev. William D, Wolfe in the Colorado Springs area, and there isn’t…but can you really trust the phone book these days?

So now I’m left with all these thoughts and suggestions that are still being thrown around in my head that need to come out like twice-laundered clothes! Here’s what I wish I could have said.

Discern what it is you want from what it is you need! Our culture has screwed you up! Ask yourself the question, “What can I live without?” and “What is essential for my life?” A new, or even used, BMW is not essential for your existence. The latte from Starbucks on your way to your new entry-level employment position is not essential. Money set aside to pay your utility bill probably is an essential…unless you have lots of blankets! Need a microwave for the new apartment you are moving into? Go to the Goodwill store and pick one up for $10!

Most things that get advertised as being able to bring happiness into your life will miss miserably! Don’t get sucker-punched by the hidden left hook reality! What really brings happiness is rarely advertised. It doesn’t need to be. For instance, a spring rain shower that brings a freshness to the air is a momentary delight that can’t be bought. Drinking a boatload of beer with a group of young adults gets portrayed as a happy time, but it never shows the staggering half-conscious product of the occasion.

Don’t make your mom keep doing your laundry! Cut the apron strings and take some responsibility. For that matter, don’t expect your parents to keep forking over money to you like they still owe you a weekly allowance. If you could make it to the podium to receive your diploma you are able to do most of the things that you’ve always took your granted that your mom and dad would do.

You aren’t entitled! Get over it! Entitlement is an illusion created by a reality TV generation. the days of equal playing time are over. You aren’t entitled to almost anything…pay raises, big screen TV, a seat at the table, going 70 in a 45, going through the “15 Items Or Less” line with 20 different things…just get over it! Little League is a distant memory for you. Even that diploma doesn’t entitle you to anything…except maybe student loans. I recently read an article about the long-time baseball coach at the University of Texas who was asked about the biggest difference between players he coached at the beginning of his career and the players he coached towards the end. His response…”entitlement!” Players think they are entitled to things these days without putting in the hard work. Colleges are upgrading facilities to a point that players now expect the finest.

It’s not all about you! Seek to serve incredibly more than being served. Know that being an American gives you the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life…whether close at hand or in a distant place…that most in the world can not do. Most people in the world are just trying to survive. You aren’t a survivor! You are simply fortunate! Identity one way this world will be a better place because of you, not in spite of you! Get over yourself!

Perhaps my commencement address would be a bit harsh. But I’d be willing to give it for free! Hey! eBay paid Hillary $315,000 for a 20 minute speech! I’m cheap! I go against the popular notion that you can’t get something for nothing! I’d even pay for my own dinner since many believe there is no free meal!

Waiting for the calls from…Harvard, Texas Tech…Judson University…Ironton High School…any high school…Academy Endeavor 5th Grade Graduation…Kindercare day care promotion Friday…home for the aged…anywhere!

The Worship of Excellence

Posted May 18, 2015 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Pastor, Prayer, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 18, 2015

                                  

Our church strives to do things the best we can in worship of our Lord, but I could write a book on the number of times when we have fallen short of excellence. Here’s a few examples:

-We are a Baptist church that has had a baptistry that kept leaking…bad! One baptism Sunday there was hardly enough water in it to qualify the person to be a Methodist, let alone a Baptist. One memorable Christmas Eve we baptized people in the inflatable pool of my grandkids that was shaped to look like a whale…including the tail! Joe, one of the people being baptized, and I still joke about him getting baptized in the belly of a whale.

-One Easter Sunday we had the wrong video shown. Instead of a nice beautiful melody that made the resurrection sound celebrate (which it is!) we had a video of heavy metal music that I’m pretty sure mentioned Satan and demon worship a few times. Awkward!

-A couple of people have done special music who missed more notes than hit them.

-People still remember my “oops” slip in a sermon when I referenced giving out “Lady Godiva” chocolates. Red face!

-I’ve led the reciting of The Lord’s Prayer a couple of times and I gone blank on the words. When the pastor stops midway through the prayer the silence becomes like a wave moving though the congregation.

In many ways we are a Lake Wobegon congregation!

We strive for our best, but often miss excellence.

And yet, I’m okay with that. People put their hearts and souls into using the gifts God has given them, and if that falls short of a concert hall experience…that’s okay.

Our culture…and especially church culture…worships excellence. It worships the seamless flow of worship where “dead time” is almost non-existent, and people can marvel at the precision, the timing, the carefully manuscripted event.

There is a difference between a worship experience and the worship of excellence. The first is about an encounter with God that stirs the soul. The second is a production that is a delight to the senses. One is spirit-moving and the other is foot-stomping. One gives us the feeling that God is seeing the condition of our heart and the other is a taste treat for our eyes.

The worship of excellence is like a glass of evening wine that is satisfying for a few moments with our feet propped up as we sit in the recliner. A worship experience is “new wine” that quenches the thirst of my soul.

We worship excellence. The difficulty is that the worship of excellence is prone to have grace evicted. Sometimes church culture is a mirror image of a professional football stadium crowd who break out into the booing of their team that is falling short of excellence in a contest. Very rarely is anyone on the field giving less than their best effort, but pro football fans have a tendency to check their forgiveness at the door…or after the third beer!

Worshiping excellence leads us to critical spirits where less than perfection is not tolerated. The worship of excellence does not allow students and interns who are still trying to figure out and be perfect. Worshipping excellence is about keeping score like Olympic gymnastics judges.

Worshipping excellence becomes deaf to prophetic voices. The words of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel would not gain a hearing in a gathering of excellence worshippers.

There are those who have been gifted by God in the leading of people into a worship experience that will be remembered as being excellent…and we thank God for those he has so incredibly gifted. A gifted worship leader will always lead people to God, not to an experience.

In my office are several “drawings” from my grandkids. They will never be in an art studio, pinned to a wall with quality lighting on them to bring out the vibrancy of the colors, but they are works of art that bring delight to a grandfather’s heart…more meaning to me than a Rembrandt, and even more understandable than a Picasso.

Sometimes we encounter a display of love, such as that, and we respond “Excellent!”

The Hardest Part of Ministry

Posted May 11, 2015 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Death, Faith, Grace, Jesus, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     May 11, 2015

                                     

Two weeks ago three of us from our church- my wife Carol, a woman named Kathy, and myself- went to check on a lady who hadn’t been at worship that morning…which was out of character. After finding the hidden key that Kathy knew about, we discovered her body in the house. Even though it was a difficult thing to discover, we were glad that we were the ones to discover her passing instead of her daughters.

The next Sunday afternoon we had a gathering in our sanctuary to celebrate her life. Eulogies and letters were read that honored her. The service was a mixture of laughter and tears. Death is a peculiar subject for Christians. Our faith is rooted in a death experience- the death of Jesus on the cross, and then the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The words “death”, “dead”, and “dying” are used over eight hundred times in the Bible. Death is unavoidable for each one of us, but it’s also unavoidable as you read the story of God’s people and Jesus’ followers.

And yet the hardest part of ministry is dealing with death. It’s as certain as birth, but difficult to rub elbows with. As a pastor I talk quite often about life after death, the promise of eternal life…that comes after death! We firmly believe in that promise, and yet struggle with the death part.

People say I do an exceptional job officiating at funerals, and yet I dread them with a passion. I prepare people for Glory, and yet I struggle with the releasing of the loved one. Almost all of the funerals I conduct I know the departed one deeply. I remember where they would sit each week in worship, their uniqueness, and stories that stay with me. The lady who just passed on to Glory made her own birthday cards for people, and they were always special and unique. I asked for a show of hands at her funeral of all those who had ever received a card from her. the show of hands were more numerous than the dandelions on the church’s front lawn. Those are the moments that are special.

The pastor, however, must lead the people in the journey of grief afterwards. Last week the Senior Bible Study I lead had it’s first gathering since the funeral. The dear departed woman was a part of the group. We studied the Word that morning, as we always do, but we also found comfort in being together in the midst of loss. Even as we sat in our tabled circle that day we journeyed together in our grief.

The pastor leads, but the pastor also struggles…with emotions, emptiness, adjusting to the change. The promise of Glory is a soothing embrace in the numbness of loss.

Dealing with death is the hardest part of ministry, and yet we convey the message of hope that is linked to it. Goodbyes are painful, but the certainty of their arrivals are comforting. My ministry had been blessed by preaching about eternity, and yet my ministry is burdened by the heaviness of death.

What a odd combination!

Does It Snow in Heaven…and Other Questions

Posted April 27, 2015 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, Humor, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   April 27, 2015

                             

I’m sitting in my usual Monday morning Starbuck’s seat looking out at Pike’s Peak…except I can’t see Pike’s Peak this morning because it is an overcast day, and there are flakes of snow coming down. Let me write that again. There are snow flakes coming down!!! It’s April 27! I’m going to petition God that there should be no snowfall after April 15!

We’ve had so much snow this winter that I’m starting to wonder if the Lord finds pleasure in it. I know snowboarders do! I’ve got a guy at church who actually gets all giddy at the possibility of a blizzard because he loves getting the snowblower out.

It makes me wonder if it snows in heaven? I can’t use “at the higher altitudes” as a reason for whether it does or not.

It’s one of a number of questions that I never ask anyone around me out of fear of the looks I’ll receive. A lot of my questions actually dance through my mind in this Starbuck’s seat around the end of my first cup of dark roast. By then I am neatly dangerous!

Imagine a safety umbrella above my head as I ask the following brain drains.

-Why doesn’t Old Navy make men’s jeans in size 35? I’m dealing with waist discrimination! If I spend a month at the Golden Corral buffet bar I could easily solve it. Conspiracy theory! Old Navy and Golden Corral plotting together…especially targeting me!

    -Is there something I’m missing? Are sagging pants sexy? I just don’t get it! Of course, if I wear size 36 without a belt I could be sagging as well. Are sagging pants on a sixty year old man sexy or a sign of dementia? Just asking…while I still remember!

    -Why is my vertical leap now about two inches?

    -Why does high fiber cereal always have to look like rabbit droppings and taste like grass clippings? Is it to convince us that we are eating something that is healthy for us?

    -Why do I still listen to the flight attendant give the pre-flight instructions? I’ve heard it a hundred times. Is it my Southern Baptist growing up years rising to the surface and shoveling guilt into my thoughts…or is it in case I’ve missed something during the previous times I’ve heard it?

    -What are all the recent stories about various police officers shooting citizens, and other citizens rioting in protest telling us about our culture? This is not a slam on law enforcement, but rather a question that pertains to the rise of violence in our society. Video games…professional athletes beating up people…school shootings…crowded prisons…Two A.M. bar fights…will we ever be able to honestly admit that we have a problem…and will we ever, ever, ever be able to say that it is related to a diminished regard for life itself?

    -Why does hair grow in my ears like weeds gone crazy?

    -Why does the dog in the yard behind our house bark at all hours, and why can I hear it as clearly as a car alarm going off but his owners not seem to be able to?

    -Why does a middle school boys’ locker room rival an overflowing rollaway dumpster in odor? 

    -Why are so many Christians as excited about their faith as I am about eating whole hominy?

I have other questions that take journeys through my mind every day. Questions that, for the most part, have no answers, but rather remain as puzzles in my head like a boatload of Rubik’s Cubes.

I’ll stop here! I’ve got to get a refill!

The Saints Who Go Before Us

Posted April 22, 2015 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, Community, Death, Faith, Grace, Parenting, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

Tags: , , , , , , ,

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                            April 22, 2015

                                         

We have been blessed in so many ways and by so many people…and so often we don’t immediately recognize it.

Today it hit me…in an unusual way!

Today is the 96th birthday of a woman who I always saw as being a person of compassion, gentleness, and faith. Her name is Ruth Kennedy.

Now…you need to understand something! I haven’t seen Ruth in close to twenty years. I was taken back by the fact that she has a Facebook page…and is now one of my Facebook friends, although in my birthday greeting to you today I couldn’t bring myself to calling her Ruth. She has always been Mrs. Kennedy to me!

Her oldest daughter, Cindy, was a good friend of mine in high school, and several of us hung out quite often at the Kennedy mansion in Ironton, Ohio, between the flood wall and North Second Street. The Wolfe’s and Kennedy’s were  a part of the same church, and our youth group as close-knit.

Mrs. Kennedy would welcome us into her home, and then…this is important!…give us space! She would go to another part of the house and let our group of friends laugh and converse together.

She was faithful! She would sit with her husband Jim on the Vernon Street side of the sanctuary each Sunday for worship at First Baptist Church. Ruth was not a hit-and-miss attender. She was consistent and friendly and warm.

And now years later it hits me how blessed I was to have her in my life during those high school and college years.

We talk about the saints that go before us, but sometimes we are blind to the saints that are with us! And then years later…in an unexpected Facebook post you catch sight of how special someone in your past was to you.

Mrs. Kennedy was just one of many saints who affirmed my call to ministry in 1979 when I was ordained. I can see some of the other faces…Pastor Gale Baldridge, Pastor Jerry Heslinga, Bill and Sue Ball, Paul Hughes, Glenn Fairchild, Ralph and Phyllis Carrico, Ramona McCollister, Dale Clark, Betty Douglas, Rev. Earl Dale…the list could stretch on to the horizon! Some have gone on to Glory…some were like “church moms” to me…and some were encouragers. All had a part in shaping me and causing me to press on!

Happy birthday, Ruth…I mean, Mrs. Kennedy!


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