Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Manger Implications

November 26, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  November 26, 2015


Last night a group of us were decorating the church sanctuary for Christmas. Wreaths, Christmas tree, and nativity sets. Our church has about four different nativity sets which get positioned in different spots around the room.

As we decorated and started to place the manger scenes we discovered that a couple of the sets were incomplete. In one box Mary came up missing! She had fled the scene! In another there were twin baby Jesus’s! A third set had a Mary and Joseph who were dwarfed by Goliath-sized magi.

I was game to place the different manger scenes as they appeared, but was outvoted by the rest of the decorators. What a perfect time to make people think about the implications of the birth scene of Jesus by putting out the manger scenes as we had them.

A single parent manger scene with only Joseph! What would that have looked like for Jesus? For one thing he wouldn’t have had siblings, but, more than that, Mary seems to have been the nurturer in scripture. By the time Jesus was gathering his disciples Joseph has been gone for a long time. It can easily be said that Mary was second in importance to the Christ-child as part of the nativity scene cast.

Twin Jesus’s! That would have blown everyone’s minds! I can’t even comprehend the gospel story with twin messiahs.

The more I think about it the more I’m glad I was outvoted. There seems to be enough “messing with people’s theology” going on these days!

In our own minds we’re prone to re-create the story. The gospel has had people deleting from it for years. Just as Catholics perhaps over-emphasize the role of Mary, many Protestants aren’t sure what to do with her. She gives birth and then in our theology comes up missing after that.

Twin Jesus’s! Many of us live our Christianity based on that: one Jesus for Calvary and the other Jesus to convince us that life will be comfortable and worry-free if we simply believe in him.

Giant magi and “little people Mary and Joseph!” An appropriate and relevant picture to describe how prominent our faith journey is compared to other elements of our life.

Incomplete manger scenes are disturbing for many reasons!

Running…to God

November 25, 2015

WORD FROM W.W.                                                                         November 24, 2015


A long-time friend of mine who recently lost her sister to cancer wrote a post on her Facebook page that resonated with me. She said, “Because of all your sincere prayers on my behalf my anger (that is a bit extreme) at God is gone. I was disappointed the Lord did not heal my sister on this earth. I am choosing to run to Him, not from him.”

     What is the direction of our run when we are in pain? It is easy to run from the God who didn’t answer our heartfelt prayer in the way we desired. Distance from God is a natural reaction to disappointment with God.

My own running has been punctuated by sprints away from God and slow crawls back to him. My running away in disappointment has sometimes been the result of God not going along with my desire for my enemy to suffer, or the absence of an angelic choir to sing about how my answer to a hotly debated problem is right.

Sometimes my running away comes from the unfairness of life, sometimes it happens because I don’t want to be fair with God.

My friend’s reference to running to him is using the lane with few footprints in it. David chose to run in this lane quite often, but, as we know, he also had his races of retreat.

What is the direction of our run? When the content of our prayers is dominated by the wants of our life we can expect that there will be a running from the Giver of grace. When our prayer is focused on our relationship with the Father running to him will often be our response.

If I am secure in my belief that what God wants for me is wholeness, not hurt, I will be slowly running to him.

We have a way of putting “what if’s” in our theological outcomes. Another friend of mine from years ago lost his daughter in an accident recently. I can not understand his grief, and, therefore, how he is journeying through the loss of life. Knowing the depth of his spiritual journey I’ve got a feeling it resembles someone swimming laps in a pool…the swimming away is followed closely by a swim to…and then a swim away!

My choice to run to God seems much less complicated than his.

This is Thanksgiving Week. A time to run to God and recognize that he is caring, concerned, loving, and kind. In a world with daily terrorist threats and warnings I’m choosing to be in the shadow of his wing…the cleft of the rock…rather than the isolation of my disappointment.

Weathered Dreams

November 17, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          November 16, 2015


We’re in the midst of a mid-November blizzard. Schools closed, roads closed, people stranded…all those signs that point to the wisdom of staying home. The wind is blowing like there’s no tomorrow. Snow drifts greeted me when I opened the garage door this morning.

Glad I got the lawn mowed yesterday!

This morning I looked out the window in our dining room to our back yard. On our wood fence in the back there is a sign that has been there for a number of years, almost like a picture frame, that says “Dream!”

It reminds us to envision, to imagine, to think the impossible.

But the strong winds and blizzard cold has loosened one of the nails that has been holding the “Dream” in place. Today it swings back and forth on the fence board with uncertainty, as if it has been abandoned. It conveys the mixed message of falling dreams, almost like someone imagining the “not yet” being pulled back down to reality.

Jesus was a dreamer! He preached about the Jubilee year of renewal, release, and redemption; encouraged kids to come to him; envisioned his death and resurrection, talked about healed people and exorcised demons. Of course, he did more than talk! He made what people thought were crazy ideas into realities.

Sometimes we’re guilty of raising up people of faith who have given up on their dreams. The dream sign is swinging back and forth in the winds of church life. The wisdom of how to raise up people of faith is tempered by the pull back into congregational conformity.

“God has given me a vision for helping people in the midst of addiction!”

     “God has placed a dream within my spirit to start a ministry where a team of people offers free vehicle inspections to senior folk.”

     “God has not allowed me a good night’s sleep because of a dream he has given me to mentor kids in reading at the local elementary school.”

     “God has given me a vision to make mittens for kids at the mission we support in British Columbia.”

Dreams come in all sizes and shapes, places and people. I’m convinced a big part of God’s masterpiece gets conveyed through the dreams of his followers. Sometimes they make perfect sense and sometimes, on the surface, they are lacking in common sense. How does the church keep dreams from falling? How do those of us who have been followers of Jesus for a long ways support the new directions of the younger generation?

It takes a bit of faith to see that lemonade comes from lemons. It takes an abundance of hands to be the under-support of a person’s dream that seeks to rise.

When the blizzard passes I’ll go out into out back yard and pound the nail back in place on our “Dream” sign. Or perhaps I’ll take the sign off from where it is and raise it up another six inches!

The Students Who Mentor You

November 16, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      November 16, 2015


In recent weeks I’ve come to realize a few things about being the adult. Sometimes the younger ones we’re raising up, teaching, discipling, are teaching and mentoring you…the adult, the teacher, the pastor…perhaps more than you’re impacting them.

About a month ago, when I was in Chicago, I had dinner with a young lady who was in the youth group I directed more than thirty-five years ago. I still refer to Cyndi as a young lady even though she is now in her mid-fifties! When we met for dinner we had not seen each other for about ten years, but it was like we had seen each other the day before. A three hour conversation ensued. It was delightful to talk about the past, the present, and the future; to hear what God has done in her life and the lives of her family, to hear of a special mission project that her ninth grade son has initiated that has taken off.

And in the midst of it I realized that Cyndi, and her friends Laura, Sue, George, Wave, and others had raised me up as a youth minister. They showed grace to me when I was trying to figure out how to communicate scriptural truth to adolescents. They gave me the freedom to laugh at myself for my moments of cluelessness. They stood beside me in times of lacking confidence, and showed me that there are different ways of looking at a relationship with Jesus besides the Baptist mindset, the only view I had ever experienced.

And perhaps most amazing, and deeply moving, was to hear that Cyndi had become a follower of Christ at a Young Life Camp in Colorado I took a van load of students to the summer I was on staff at her church. For some reason I hadn’t been aware of that. And now 37 years later I was blessed to discover the rest of her story.

The students we mentor often becomes the students who mentor us.

Last week another of my former youth groups students, Deb Simpson Aldridge, went home to be with the Lord. She battled cancer, and cancer finally won, but her victory was assured even in the midst of death because of her faith in Christ. Deb was part of the first youth group I directed at First Baptist Church in Marseilles, Illinois. I had just graduated from Judson College in Elgin, Illinois, was going to start seminary that next fall, and was hired by the church to be the summer youth director. I had never had a youth position before…operated out of the experience of cluelessness! Deb and her sister Connie were two high school students in the youth group who accepted me right away. At my less-than-stellar bible study gatherings they would voice their thoughts and help me to keep going. There is nothing quite as disconcerting than to lead a group of students who sit there and look at you like you are speaking a foreign language. Deb would share something, or, in a loving sisterly way, tell Connie that what she just said was ridiculous.

Deb had a dry wit and humor that made our gatherings or road trips in the van experiences of laughter-laced fellowship. Anything I planned or suggested she would support. Think of it! A young guy right our of college with no experience could have been trampled to a ministry death by a youth group that saw him as an outsider to be neglected, but this youth group raised me up to proceed forward for a forty years of ministry. They could have killed me, but inside they mentored me.

Deb’s passing made me realize the effect she had on my life and my ministry.

Cyndi, Deb, Connie, Steve Landon, Shirl Streukens, Jon Daniels, the Epps Twins, Phil Girard, Jon Girard, Amy Anderson, Keri Anderson, John Chora, Brad Johnson, Tiffany Chora,Tony Lamouria…the list of student mentors for my life is long and deep.

A big part of how I see ministry…especially youth ministry…has been chiseled into my person by their hands.

And I am very, very blessed!

Laurence Hubert: A story of redemption and grace

November 10, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   November 9, 2015


I never knew my dad’s dad. He was killed in a mining accident when my dad was in his early teen years. When you don’t know someone you miss out on part of the family story. You forget that there was family history before you ever were!

A little more of the family past was revealed to me by my dad when I was visiting him back in Ohio about a month ago. I hadn’t really thought about why my dad had been named “Laurence Hubert Wolfe”. He just was…that’s all! I never knew him by any other name and didn’t question it. It’s like breathing…we don’t think about it just is. For all I knew,

But there is a wonderful story of redemption and grace behind my dad’s first and middle names. His father, Silas Dean Wolfe, had a tendency to drink too much. Alcohol was destroying his life one shot at a time. He was losing his grip on things. My dad never said that my grandfather was an alcoholic, but he had one foot stepping into that problem.

When it seemed that he was a lost cause two Baptist ministers came into his life and walked with him through the struggles. They stayed beside him in the midst of the temptations, and lifted him out of the depths. The names of the two Baptist ministers were “Laurence” and “Hubert.” The impact of their tough love and restorative grace was so profound that my father bears their names as his names.

For many of us, our names are passed down from one generation to the next. My two names comes from a great uncle and my Uncle Dean. Some of us are “Juniors” or “the third!” But my dad’s name…Oh, my! His name is a constant reminder that the depths of a person’s life can still be ascended from. His name reminds him of where his dad had fallen and how he had risen again. His name reminds him of people who come into our loves as messengers of redemption, stand beside the broken, and never leave us!

The Grace Tree

November 6, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   November 5, 2015


In our front yard there is a tree that could have played the part of the Christmas tree in “Charlie Brown’s Christmas.” If there was ever a homely looking tree it is our front yard pine tree. People look at it and shake their head in pity.

Over the years I’ve thought about plant euthanasia. Every week I mow around the warped branches I get a vision of a chain saw and a chipper.

But I’ve held off on what most others would say is the expected. Each year of the sixteen years we’ve lived in our home I’ve thought that the tree would straighten out its ways…but it hasn’t. Each year resonates with hope for some resemblance to a tree in a painting, but it keeps looking like tree that has had a stroke.

I call it my “Grace Tree.” Every time I look at it I think of grace. It gives me the opportunity to extend grace when chopping is the logical solution.

Each one of us needs a “Grace Tree” in our life…an illogical decision that goes against what the textbook says.

I see myself in that tree! God has the axe and he decides to put it down and pour a pitcher of water into the soil instead. He decides to nurture and love instead of chop down and mow over. Grace sees the beauty where there is no attractiveness. God sees my warts and calls them marks of maturity.

My neighbors stare at my Grace Tree with hope that I will come to my senses. It looks more like Jack’s beanstalk that rises to the sky, but no width in its branches. But I hold off! My grace tree is a theological statement to me personally every time I look at it.

This is the grace of God for me!

Whose Next?: The Responsibility of Supporting The Next Called Ones”

October 30, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                                  October 29, 2015

Our money preaches our priorities. It clearly conveys what we feel is important and what is an add-on. It conveys our dedication to comfortableness and reluctance to commitment.

As I approach retirement from being a pastor…a paid pastor that is…I’ve been doing more and more thinking about money. Carol and I are looking at what we can expect, and not expect, once my position at our church ends.

But I’ve also been thinking about my responsibility to support the next generation of “God’s called.” I’ve been blessed to see several people I’ve known as their pastor or their coach enter into some form of full-time ministry. I believe I have a responsibility to affirm and encourage their calling through words of blessing, prayerful support, and financial backing. It’s the punctuation mark to their blessing, to be affirmed in these ways instead of comments like “Hope it works out for you!”

     That conviction I have was affirmed today as Carol and I met a young man named Tony LaMouria, his charming wife Elisabeth, and their four boys…nine years old down to seven months.

Carol and I have known Tony since he appeared one cold, sleet/rain Sunday morning at our church in Mason, Michigan, riding a bicycle. That ride into our midst began a new chapter in his faith journey that was marked by disappointment, confusion, acceptance, and unconditional love.

There’s so much to “the Tony Story” that I won’t mention, but one thing that I will mention is how one family in the church, the Andersons , took Tony into their home, gradually brought him to the point where he became the new little brother to their two older daughters, and modeled for him a love that is blended with wisdom, firmness, and encouragement. The Andersons felt a deep responsibility to support this high school kid with a charming smile and a confusing past. They were entering the period in their lives called “the empty nest”, and now they believed God had called them to parent another who wasn’t even theirs.

That family that supported him was part of a new foundation in Tony’s life. The other was our church that took him in, came alongside his new family in the “congregational parenting” of him, and applauded him in his accomplishments.

Today as Carol and I talked with him and Elisabeth he told us of their calling to be a part of a mission organization that sends pastors to churches, mostly rural or small towns, who don’t have the financial resources to support a pastor. There are thousands of churches like that around our country. In our conversation Tony shared how important our church in Mason was to him at that time in is life when he was trying to figure out if he had purpose and value. As he said to us today, if he had gone to a large church he would have gotten lost in the crowd, but our church loved him and embraced him. Now, years later, he sees the value in small churches, and is looking to serve in one of them.

That means I have a responsibility to continue the blessing, to come alongside him, to help him to keep the pursuit.

What blessing! What a responsibility! What a privilege!


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