Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Does It Snow in Heaven…and Other Questions

April 27, 2015

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

April 22, 2015

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!

Deacon Emeritus Laurence Wolfe

April 13, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      April 13, 2015

                                           

I sat beside my dad in worship yesterday at Beulah Baptist Church in Proctorville, Ohio. It’s the church he’s been a part of for the past several years after moving up-river from Ironton, Ohio. The pastor of Beulah asked Dad to give the closing prayer for the service, and he referred to him as Deacon Emeritus.

I was surprised because Dad had never said anything about it. In fact, my first thought was that Pastor Rob was recognizing Dad’s age, but wasn’t really serious about the title…kind of like calling our Regional Executive Minister the Baptist Pope. A fitting title, but not one he is going to put on his business card.

Later on that day I asked my dad about it just to make sure I heard the pastor correctly. Yes, he said, he had been given that distinction a few months before that. I wanted to say, “And you never said anything to me about it?”, but it occurred to me that my dad never would.

You see, titles and awards have never been what his life is about. He has never put much stock in things you can hang on the wall behind your desk. Humbleness doesn’t dwell on accomplishments. It doesn’t go with “bragadocious!”

Sometimes, as sons and daughters, we fail to observe our parents long enough to be able to identify their qualities and characteristics. We’re absorbed in our own lives and what we’re doing too much to take a look. Perhaps we still see our parents as those supervisory figures who don’t really have lives of their own. They’ve just always been Mom and Dad!

And then a pastor refers to your Pops as “Deacon Emeritus” and you go “Huh?”

There is not a plaque on his wall to let visitors to his apartment know. The church didn’t give him a name tag for visitors to know that he is highly-valued. He is still content to be who he has been and who he is and who he will always be until Glory calls.

A person of wisdom who thinks before he speaks.

A storyteller of family history…and just as the Israelites tell the Passover story over and over again, my dad retells the family stories that I never get tired of hearing.

A person of convictions. He still believes that certain things aren’t right, no matter what public opinion says, but he has never forced his beliefs on someone else.

An organizer…chaos does not set well with him. My oldest daughter inherited this from my dad…he folds his clothes a certain way and everything is to be in place. I did not receive that gene in my list of passed on traits!

A person of the Word. His Bible is a bit tattered…but it’s organized tattering!

A person who is personal. I’ve noticed this week at his new senior apartment complex that people come to him to talk just as he initiates conversation with anyone who might be sitting in a front porch rocking chair. One night I noticed there were two people sitting in rocking chairs when I dropped him off at his building. I watched as I slowly drove away. He stopped to talk to them. I proceeded to the end of the parking lot and made the turn to come back towards the exit. He was still engaged in conversation and the two rockers seemed to be enjoying the moments just as much as him.

A person of integrity, which means he lives life with consistency and truth, but recognizes and admits the errors of his humanness.

A great-grandfather who my granddaughter gravitated to, even though she has spent less than two weeks with him in her first four years of life. A grandfather that my three kids love dearly even though they all live five states away.

A great dad!

So, even though he would never say so, and never say it is so, there is not a more qualified person to be designated “Deacon Emeritus”, and, without a doubt, will never bring up the subject again!

Telling Stories and Telling The Story

April 10, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              April 10, 2015

                                   

Yesterday my dad, my sister, and I went to the cemetery where my mom is buried. As we drove the hour and a half our conversation was story-filled. Dad told stories about my Uncle Milliard that had us laughing our heads off. Stories about my grandfather, Papaw Helton, were leg-slappers!

I could hear my aunts and uncles voices, saying things with their eastern Kentucky accents that are hard to imitate, although we continue to try.

Telling the stories…of my Papaw going to the chiropractor…of the very short time period my Uncle Milliard owned a Dairy Queen and knowing he was at the end of his rope when one evening he hollered out at the long line of people waiting “Doesn’t anybody eat at home any more?”…of my Uncle junior pinching my leg as we sat on the front porch swing…of my Mamaw Helton going out and just as natural as honey on a biscuit wringing the neck of a chicken, the first step in dinner preparation.

Telling the stories. We told stories to the cemetery and from the cemetery, and even at the cemetery as we paused at each grave marker of family members buried there. I was amazed to realize that my Mamaw Helton has been gone to glory for 37 years now. I was reminded of my Great Aunt Lizzie who lived to be 99 and took art classes at the local community college when she was 96. I gazed upon the military marker of my Uncle Dean and discovered that Dean was his middle name and Silas was his first name. My parents almost named me Silas, but they went for the “Dean” instead, inserted in between “William” and “Wolfe.”

Story-telling in the days of social media is a forgotten art.

It made me think about telling the story, the story of God, the story of people’s faith journeys. I hate to say it, but so often the story of God gets robbed of its impact. As I sit here and think about the stories of the Bible I’m awed.

Think of it! Jonah getting swallowed by a big fish…Paul having a viper wrapped around his arm, but charming it like a Barnum and Bailey Circus performer…the big fish stories of Jesus…Moses bringing a plague of frogs on the Egyptians.

The story of God is a totally amazing journey of faith that never gets old. My dad tells us some stories over and over again, but they never get old.

Same with the story in the Word. I read them over and over again and they never get old. Elijah’s foot speed…the Israelites walking around Jericho and blowing trumpets…Doubting Thomas…Fleecing Judas…Compulsive Peter.

As I look at my preaching on Sunday mornings I will try to keep the sacredness of the Story in mind, the specialness of the Story in my telling, and the source of the Story in my spirit.

We All Have Issues!

April 9, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            April 9, 2015

                                           

     Whenever I’m home I sleep with my “blankie.” Unless I’m flying to another city I don’t go to sleep at night without an increasingly frayed piece of warm fuzzys that relaxes my tensed-up body. It’s been that way for the past thirty-five years. It was Carol’s before we got married. Sometime soon after we walked down the aisle together I stole her blanket in a gradual non-violent way. She now sleeps under an electric blanket, sheet, and comforter. I don’t. Just give me my blanket and I’m a happy camper.

That’s just one of my issues. I have others! Whenever we have popcorn or peanuts as we watch TV in the evening I have to have a soft drink. Popcorn just naturally goes with a Pepsi. It’s like PB and J, like a marriage made in the snack aisle.

I’m typing this post with two left fingers and one right. That’s how I’ve always typed. I don’t understand…it’s just how it is! I’ve just got typing issues.

As a friend of mine used to say, “You’ve got issues!”

I do, but as a pastor I’ve come to realize that everyone has issues. Some are more pronounced than others, more visible or more destructive, more emotional or more mentally challenging.

There is a tendency to focus on the issues that are apparent in other people instead of owning up to the weirdness of our own life. For example, if I strolled through the mall wearing knee high black socks with my Hush Puppies, a pair of khaki shorts, and white buttoned down shirt, people would look at me and cross over to the other side of the corridor. My fashion issue would be out there…readily visible…leaving shaking heads and wide-open eyes in its wake.

But what if I have an eating disorder, or a racial bias, or can’t stand people with white hair? Those issues are often hidden. The issues of my heart can fool a lot of people. What I do when no one is looking frequently reveals my issues and distorted views of life.

Perhaps we need an “IA” group…Issues Anonymous.

“Hi! I’m Bill, and I have issues!”

“Hi Bill!”

Probably wouldn’t work! Perhaps…however we could come to a point where each one of us recognizes we are issue-filled before we pass the box of issue tissues. What better place for that to be than the church where people can be loved with grace and understanding!

Many of you put the brakes on with that last statement!

Let’s face it! We encounter people in our churches that seem to have their act together, their lives in perfect harmony, and their relationship with God an earthly expression of heavenly bliss. To admit that we’ve got issues is threatening. We hesitate to reveal that to the saints.

But…you see…all those people with nicely combed hair and straightened ties, looking like the Ward and June Cleavers of the 21st century…they’ve got issues too!

In fact, being people with issues helps us identify more closely with the characters of the Bible. Just think about it! Jacob was honorable until it wasn’t to his advantage and then he lied like a dog to get blessed. Jonah asked the city of Nineveh to repent and then pouted about the fact that they did. David couldn’t stop looking at a bathing woman, and then couldn’t stop thinking about her. Peter exhibited compulsive behavior and would speak before he thought.

We all have issues…just like the people we meet in scripture.

And we are all promised grace that is extended regardless of what our issue is.

Just as we all have issues I’m sure there are people in the fellowship of the fallen who have issues with how easily God forgives…and that’s their issue!

Hurrying From the Tomb To Uncertainty

April 8, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 7, 2015

                                 

On Easter Sunday I preached on the first eight verses of Mark 16 about the three women who  encountered the young man dressed in white inside the empty tomb of Jesus. They fled the tomb afraid, and yet they had to be asking the question, “What now?”

They believed Jesus had lived and then been crucified. They expected the tomb to still be occupied by him, not by a guy in white telling them to not be afraid.

What now?

The rest of Mark 16, which was not a part of the earliest manuscripts, tries to bring some clarity to that question, but I think Mark 16:8 is a very relevant question for many people today who follow Jesus, or are trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Too often we try to explain away all the mystery of the Christian faith, as if that will draw more people to our crucified Lord. You can’t explain “death to life”. It just is, because he said that’s how it was to be.

I’m sure there were a number of people who left our church after the worship celebration on Sunday wondering…what now? If I believe that Christ conquered death, what now? What does that mean to me and for me?

What does that mean for the church? What happens after Easter Sunday?

The neglect news is…not much! Some might answer the Final Four championship game. Others start counting down the days until summer vacation, or…the really, really negative…April 15th income tax return deadline day.

But let me take the high road. What happens after Easter Sunday? People start talking about things being different, about hope in the midst of uncertainty, and about perhaps…just perhaps…life suddenly having a purpose that is not tied tightly to a paycheck or the Sports section of the newspaper.

The women ran away uncertain of what had just happened, but knowing that the heartaches of the darkest day of their lives, uncomfortably close in their memories, would be soothed and replaced by the mysterious hope of something different, something incredibly unexpected.

They had “what now” questions, but ones with growing optimism instead of bitter pessimism.

It disturbs me, and yet challenges me, that too many people are asking “what now” about the place of their faith and are greeted by pat answers from pastors and churches that lead them to surrender their hunger for the Mystery.

Perhaps pilgrims in the midst of the journey once in a while should consider answering “I don’t know, but let’s walk together and see if we can find out.”

Moses and Joshua Renewal

March 30, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      March 30, 2015

                                       

If I typed the letters “M” and “J” on this page many of you who are reading this would instantly think of Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. It’s the end of March…March Madness…basketball frenzy time…Spartans in the Final Four (My excitement is showing!).

But since I’m a pastor who has “been through it” more times than I can count “MJ” also has another meaning for me…especially since we just went through a Renewal Weekend at our church.

“MJ” is short for “Moses and Joshua.” If the church is to experience renewal it needs to be a “Moses and Joshua Renewal.” Moses was in the final part of his journey. Joshua was in the first half of his. For that time in the history of the Israelites…from wandering in the desert to crossing into the Promised Land…it took both men to bring the people along in the journey. It took the elder and the younger walking together to figure things out.

I firmly believe that renewal amongst the people of God is a multi-generational event. Back in the 1980’s a multitude of churches bought into the idea that growth was tied to attracting people who look like you. Racially, economic class, theological beliefs, and such! The last twenty years has resulted in a new twist on the church growth idea: churches growing because they are focused on one or two generations. Elders worship with elders. Youngers worship with youngers.

Here’s the thing! Moses needed Joshua’s energy, strength, and courage; and Joshua needed Moses’ wisdom, experience, and depth.

Some might raise the point that the generation that exited Egypt, wandered in the desert, tested the patience of God, and questioned their leadership had to pass away before the Promised Land could be reached. That’s spot on, but think about those years of wandering. How often did those of Moses’ generation share their experiences, their mistakes, their “If I could do it over again” moments? There is a recent song by the group “Mercy Me” entitled “Dear Younger Me.” It tells of someone sharing with a younger version of the desire to talk about past errors in order to help prevent the younger person from doing the same.

Church renewal is everyone on the journey together, not just those you like or don’t get on your nerves. What would have happened if Joshua would have decided that Moses was too archaic and traditional to stay with him, so he departed “to start a new ministry?” What would have happened if Moses would have decided he wanted to put down roots in the desert and told Joshua if he wanted to go any further that was his choice? Leave him out of it!

One thing that needs to be understood: Leaders are called to lead. Seldom are leaders called to leave.

Leaving is a contemporary version of satisfying the self. It’s the statement that our culture has bought into that says “It’s all about me!”, but simply clothes in a spiritual sweater.

What would happen if the people of God committed themselves to Moses and Joshua renewal?

Another MJ moment!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 113 other followers