The Christmas Sunday Quandary

Posted December 10, 2016 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Christmas, Community, Faith, Freedom, Grace, Grandchildren, Jesus, love, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 10, 2016

                              

It seems to be a topic of leadership team conversations at a number of churches across the country. What happens if Christmas Day lands on a Sunday? Does a church still have its Sunday morning worship service…or not?

In a 2005 survey about ten percent of churches said they would not have worship on Christmas Day. My guess is that you could probably triple that percent for 2016. Most of those who are having services readily admit that attenders will have more pew room to spread out in, as numbers will be substantially down. Many churches who are having services are scaling down for it… shortening the time frame, eliminating children’s groups and/or childcare, minimizing the number of people responsible for various elements of the service.

Almost every church that is more liturgical in style is continuing as usual. The make-up of most of the churches that are not meeting on Christmas Day are composed of congregations comprised with a high number of young adults; or churches that would be characterized as non-denominational evangelical.

In an increasing number of congregations the heavy emphasis on Christmas Eve services is the main reason for not meeting on Christmas Day. Mega-churches close to where we live are having five services during that day, with the first one beginning at 11 A.M and the last one at 7 P.M. It’s a marathon event for the church staff, thus no services on Sunday.

On Sunday many of their attenders will frequent a different establishment. Starbucks! It’s open on Christmas Day! Or they will be in front of the TV watching NFL games. They’re still playing!

Such a worship quandary doesn’t appear on the church council very often. The last time it happened was 2011. The next time after this year will be 2022, and then 2033! Besides the heavy Christmas Eve emphasis the main reason for canceling Sunday services is the word “family.” Family seems to trump Jesus! I’m not saying “humbug” to an emphasis on family, but it seems almost like going to the hospital before the birth of a new baby, waiting with expectancy, and then leaving before the new arrival comes! After all, Christmas Day is in celebration of Jesus’ coming; Christmas Eve is about Mary going into labor.

Perhaps Christmas Day worship should be an even higher priority this year as we go through a time of national disunity, and a time when peace seems to be fleeting. The birth of Jesus is the trumpeting of new hope, and God’s saving grace.

This will be my first Christmas as a retired pastor, a has-been! The first time in the past 38 Christmas Eves when I have not been involved in a Christmas Eve Candlelight service, and the first time I will be given the choice of being of the congregation as opposed to leading the congregation. I can sleep in on Christmas morning…or until my bladder wakes up! I can sit by the fireplace and drink egg nog and wait for the grandkids to come over. I can turn the TV on and watch a worship service that is well produced…or I can show up with some of the saints and sing of new life, new hope, and “God is with us!”

Wondering about My Wife’s Birthday Gift

Posted December 8, 2016 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christmas, Grace, Grandchildren, Humor, love, marriage, Parenting, Story, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 8, 2016

                                

Today is my wife Carol’s birthday. I won’t tell you how many candles are on the cake for fear of having to duck some thrown object. It doesn’t matter though, because she’s young for her age!

At our age, however, figuring out what to get her for her birthday has become an ongoing annual challenge. I could buy her lingerie, but wouldn’t that be a little self-centered. Perhaps I should buy her lingerie for my birthday! (File that idea away until May!)

You can only have so many spatulas!

Gift cards are a cop-out for a spouse!

Any utensil whose purpose is even remotely related to cleaning is grounds for an appearance on “Doctor Phil!”

Any device or gift certificate that is a plug for exercising most likely will be taken the wrong way. After all, our YMCA membership is already so high that we wonder if we’re simply making their mortgage payment.

So you see, it isn’t easy! The chances of landing in hot water are better than President-elect Trump ticking off somebody new today.

So I’ve decided to do a few things that are a little off the birthday gift grid. This morning I’ll take her to a doctor’s appointment since the roads are a bit slippery. She asked me to, and we’ll get to spend some lovely anxious moments trying not to get hit by commuters who are running late getting to work.

This afternoon I’ll offer a foot massage to her. She never refuses a foot massage!

Maybe I’ll offer to fix her lunch…or take her out to lunch! I’ve got a McDonald’s gift card that I haven’t used! Just kidding! We need to use the Arby’s coupons before they expire!

Early evening will find us on a date at Stetson Elementary being entertained by our grandson’s third grade class in his school’s choir concert. That also means that Carol will be able to see all three grandkids…perhaps the greatest present!

And then we’ll all go out to dinner together and talk about life, third grade and kindergarten adventures, the number of days until Christmas, and the first snowfall. And that will be the capper! Because family will always be the best birthday gift for Carol!

I’ll wait until the end of the day to give her the new spatula!

Worship Visitor

Posted December 5, 2016 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Christmas, Community, Faith, Grace, Jesus, love, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 5, 2016

                                         

Deacon John raised his voice. “Lord, we know you love us, and now we ask that you would guide us in these coming days. Lord, if it be your will, please give us a sign of encouragement! We’re few in number, but massive in hope. We praise you and thank you! In Jesus name! Amen!”

The scattered few echoed his closing word as they sat back down in the pews ready to hear the Word of God for that day. Friendship Bible Church had existed on the street corner in the small rural village for close to a hundred and fifty years, but it had been dying a slow death for the last fifty. The town had decreased, as had the church’s effective ministry in the community. Young people had been raised in the church, grown up, gone off the college or to serve in the military, and never returned.

But there was hope in the midst of the gathered twenty!

The guest speaker introduced herself. She had served as a medical missionary at a hospital in India, and was back in the area for a few months telling her stories of mission work.

“There was a little boy who arrived at the hospital one afternoon…alone…bloodied…and frightened. My nurses asked him questions trying to find out his name, where he had come from, and what had happened to him? All he would tell them was that his name was Bontha and that he had been beaten by someone. He was bleeding profusely from a deep cut on his arm. We suspected that the “someone” was related to him and he did not want to say who it was. We treated him, stitched up the cut, cleaned him up, prayed with him, and asked him how we could contact his family. He kept telling us no, he did not want his family to know. One of the nurses left him for a few moments to go get him something to eat. When she came back he was gone. We searched and searched but could not find him, and Bontha never came back.”

“Years later I was doing my rounds through the pediatric ward one afternoon and a young man came up to me. He said, “Dr. Jan!” I looked at him, not recognizing who he was. “My name is Bontha!” Suddenly I could see the little boy appearing through the young man’s face. He showed me his arm. “You stitched up my arm when I came here bleeding.”

“My Lord! Bontha, I will always remember that day.” The questions started flowing out of me. “How are you? What happened to you that day? Where did you go? What are you doing now?”

He smiled at me and said that when he left the hospital he did not know what to do and where to go. His father had been in a drunken rage and had beaten him fiercely. When his father stumbled for a moment he escaped from the house and ran away, but as he was jumping over a fence he caught his arm on a piece of metal sticking out of the top of it and tore the skin open. He knew that our hospital was close and people had talked about “the Jesus Doctor” who worked there, so he ran as quick as he could, blood flowing from his body, and made it to the hospital. When he left our hospital he knew of a little church a couple miles away where a man named Pastor John was, and so he went there and told him what had happened. Pastor John went to Botha’s home and confronted Bontha’s father, brought him to a point of complete remorse and repentance, and told him that despite the abuse he had inflicted on his son that God  still loved him. Pastor John took Bontha in for the next month until he believed Botha’s father was ready to have him back. In that time he shared the story of the gospel with both Bontha and his father, and how the son of God was beaten even though he had done no wrong. Both father and son accepted Jesus.”

There were “Amens” wrong most of the people. They were caught up in the story.

“But the story doesn’t end there,” continued Doctor Jan. “For you see when Bontha reappeared that day he told me he was a student in medical school. He was in training to become a doctor. He told me that his experience that dark day when he was so young left a lasting impression upon him. Every time he looked at his arm and saw the scar from that day he remembered the loving care of my nurses and my words of concern for him. It changed his life, and Pastor John, the pastor of a church about the size of this one, took him in and told him of the love of God.”

“I wept as I heard his words! It was a story of misery turned to hope, a life rescued from abuse and changed to promise. Just a couple of years ago Dr. Bontha joined my staff at the hospital. He is now the primary doctor in the pediatric ward. When the Lord tells me that my work is done there he will take my place as the head of staff.”

“And it all began when a frightened little boy showed up one afternoon.” The missionary lady looked around the sanctuary. She saw tears running down the cheeks of some of the saints. There were moments of awed silence. “You never know what is going to happen when you ask the Lord to use you.”

The worship service closed with a time of heartfelt prayer of several people. They sang the hymn “I Love To Tell The Story” with loud committed voices in praise of their calling. Deacon John gave the closing prayer and people began conversing.

And then the front wooden door of the sanctuary creaked as it opened and a young boy that no one recognized wearing tattered clothing came through the door. It was at that moment that everyone knew that God had answered Deacon John’s prayer for a sign!

Remembering My Wolfe and Helton Christmas Traditions

Posted December 4, 2016 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christmas, Community, Grandchildren, Humor, love, marriage, Parenting, Story, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              December 4, 2016

     For me Christmas is more about the comfort of traditions, customs our family have practiced for years and years.

Growing up as a son of two Kentucky parents there were certain things we did that still bring a warmth to my spirit. Christmas Day was always spent at our grandparents. My Granny Wolfe and Great Aunt Lizzie lived in a two-story home outside of Paintsville. They always had a batch of sugar cookies available, even though they were both diabetics. We’d share gifts with them in their living room, and at least one of them would look at her gift-wrapped present and say “It’s too pretty to open!” My dad’s two siblings lived in Alabama and the D.C. area, so our visit was usually all the family that Granny and Aunt Lizzie had for Christmas. They were two wonderful women! Every Christmas I look at least one of my gifts and say “It’s too pretty to open!”

Towards noon we would pile into the car and drive to the farm in Oil Springs, about twenty minutes away, and converge with the Helton Clan. It was a much different atmosphere than at Granny Wolfe’s, because usually five of the six Helton offspring were there with their kids. Only my Uncle Doc (John) would be missing. He lived in California.

The Helton Christmas had certain traditions that no one messed with. One of them was that the men and boys gathered around the large dining room table and ate their meal first. The women served them! After the men were done, they retired to the front porch to smoke their pipes, cigars, and cigarettes, and the women and girls then sat down and ate their Christmas dinner. This tradition has not continued in my family!

After the meal there would be conversation and laughter. I’d roam around the back of the house sneaking peppermint stick candies and chocolate-covered cream drops. They were much more preferable to a young boy than the fruitcake that was another Christmas tradition. After a while the family would gather in the living room to open presents. My Mamaw and Papaw Helton were always the center of attention for these gatherings. They occupied two seats on the couch with twenty people as their audience. Almost every gift each of them received had some kind of garment within it, but also cash or a check. Every Christmas they would discreetly pocket the money into either a shirt or apron pocket and pretend that there had not been anything in the gift but a shirt or sweater. My Papaw kept a calculator in his head that was doing a running tally. He knew when he had enough for a new steer or hog…or both! When a new livestock purchase had been achieved we all knew it because he would look up and smile without saying a word!

Around 6:00 we’d pack into the car and head back home to either Winchester, Kentucky, Williamstown, West Virginia, or Ironton, Ohio. The car would be loaded with my Aunt Cynthia’s peanut butter fudge and my Aunt Irene’s Chex Mix. Unfortunately, there would also be a fruitcake somewhere in the trunk! Mom would fall asleep in the front seat on the way home and delight all three of us in the back with her bobblehead-flopping from side to side as the car turned in different directions.

Our own family had opened gifts on Christmas Eve. I don’t remember many of those presents besides an Erector Set, a Dennis the Menace doll, and a Matchbox carrying case filled with cars, but what each of us kids knew without question was that one of our gifts would contain underwear and socks. To be more specific, Towncraft underwear and socks from J.C. Penny’s! Since joining the ranks of grown-ups I’ve felt the freedom to buy my underwear in different brands and at different business establishments, but…I still buy my black dress socks at Penny’s.

Those were good days! The memories of them still sing in my mind. Uncles telling stories…my Papaw saying “Lord…..have mercy!”, aunts chuckling in the kitchen, and cousins scooting between adults like hyper ants on a mission.

Good days…great days! My wife Carol and I have meshed some of her traditions and some of my traditions into “our traditions.” We’d also added a few, like socks in empty cereal boxes and Christmas Eve services at church.

But besides the tradition of men eating first, one other tradition that has not carried forward is…the fruitcake!

The Diary of a Middle School PE Teacher

Posted December 3, 2016 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, coaching, Humor, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           December 3, 2016

                                

MONDAY

Dear Diary,

This is archery week for the physical education classes! It is one of the weeks during the year when I have a “safe word” that I share with the other teachers. That is, I fear the temptation to take one of the bows and arrows and use it in a way that would cause me to end up on the nightly news…nation-wide!…might overtake my common sense. So I have a safe word to say to the other teachers around me that will keep me out of jail, and a future career as an incarcerated librarian!

My lunch today was a PB and honey sandwich on multi-grain bread, complimented with a side of carrot sticks.

My second period class of 8th Graders arrived already overdosed on “annoying.” Thank God they are not in one of the archery classes! The assignment for their class was to run/walk for 30 minutes around the track. It’s amazing how students who have taken “annoying steroids” slow down when they are asked to run/walk for 30 minutes. Some of them made 4 laps! That’s a mile in a half-hour! That’s like a slow record!

I shot free throws with a sixth grader before one of our classes began. I made 23 in a row. He looked at me like I was a much older version of Steph Curry. How long would his amazement last?

TUESDAY

My first two classes of 8th graders were retesting a few strengthening exercises, like pull-ups, doing a plank, and something called a “wall sit” where they sit against a wall as if there is a chair underneath them. Some of them were done doing all three exercises in ten minutes. Did I say that the longer it takes someone the better? On the other hand, one young lady did a wall sit for a solid hour. I had to go and inform her math teacher that she would be late because she was still sitting. It’s amazing how some students will push themselves, while others are much more proficient at pushing the patience of the teacher!

Archery safe word: Big Bro!

No one died in archery today. The only wounds were to the pride of a number of students who couldn’t shoot it into the ocean!

My lunch today was a PB and honey sandwich on multi-grain bread, complimented with a side of carrot sticks.

My sixth grade buddy told a few others about my free throw shooting, so I had a little flock of his classmates watching me shoot free throws before class. I only made 16 in a row today, but they were still amazed. It is much easier to amaze sixth graders than it is eighth graders!

A seventh grade girl came to me before class wearing cowboy boots. “Do you think I can run in these today?” I gave her the “Are you serious?” look.

WEDNESDAY

Hump Day in a week where the temperature has continued to dip. My first two 8th grade classes were scheduled to go outside for some “jump rope conditioning”. I was all set, but then they started whining about the fact that with the wind chill the temperature was six degrees. I reminded them of all the games that had been played over the years at “The Frozen Tundra” in Green Bay. When a few of the students asked me where in Colorado Green Bay is located I knew it was a lost cause.

Brain Light Bulb On! Single digit wind chill days are a good threat in the curing of annoying students. Think of it as being like weather-related Castor Oil!

My lunch today was a PB and honey sandwich on multi-grain bread, complimented with a side of carrot sticks.

The boy’s locker room smells like a Port-a-Potty! I walk through it several times a day to wake myself up! It is a multi-sensory experience!

THURSDAY

Two new sixth grade students came into my classes today. They looked like they were being led to their execution. I calmed them down and had everyone say hi to them. Being a new student in school on December 1 is a hard road to walk. They stick out like a sore thumb, because everyone else has their official P.E. shirt and shorts on…and they don’t. We hooked each one of them up with a couple of students who have the gift of acceptance and hospitality. These are students who did not heap “annoying” on to their plates when they went through the character traits buffet line.

The last day of archery and no one died! Safe word once again is “Big Bro!”

My lunch today was a PB and honey sandwich on multi-grain bread, complimented with a side of carrot sticks.

The sixth grade boy, who was amazed on Monday by my free throw shooting, came up to me and said, “Coach, I wore this for you!” He had a “Steph Curry” jersey on underneath his official P.E. shirt. I was flattered and then made 30 in a row before class started.

In my role as P.E. teacher I look to bring in other academic disciplines…such as geography! Today I had the sixth grade classes line up in order of where they were born…close to Colorado Springs at one end of the line and extending out from there according to distance away. When I got to the end of the line and two students born in North Dakota were on the other side of the student who was born in Hawaii we had a little geography lesson. “I know that North Dakota seems like it’s a world away, but Hawaii is about half an ocean further!”

At the end of the day we took down the archery range and breathed a sigh of relief!

FRIDAY

Last day of the week! Six classes of endurance to reach the finish line! A day of dodgeball and keeping control of the chaos. There is something about sixth graders on Fridays! They start popping like popcorn, energy and excitement springing to the surface. They are prone to lose all perspective, like inmates in the prison yard who might start rioting at any moment. One boy throws a volleyball at another student’s head, another student kicks a soccer ball into an a group of classmates that are just standing there. Ice packs are ready for distribution. Fridays are the best reason for there to be a 4-day school week!

My lunch today was a PB and honey sandwich on multi-grain bread, complimented with a side of carrot sticks!

The afternoon’s highlight was a young lady in one the seventh grade classes who nailed a few of the boys in dodgeball with pinpoint accuracy. By the end of the class period boys were running from her as she approached the line with one of the dodgeballs. Awesome!

At 3:00 I checked out! It was a good week, and I was looking forward to a Saturday lunch that did not include peanut butter, honey, and carrot sticks!

Discovering Purpose in Abundant Opportunities

Posted November 27, 2016 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, coaching, Jesus, love, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 27, 2016

                      

I was looking for my shaving kit yesterday. I looked all around our bathroom and couldn’t find it. I started fretting that I had left it at the school I had officiated a basketball game at the day before…and then I found it! Sitting on the bathroom counter in plain sight of God and everyone!

That seems to happen to me more frequently in these “senior discount years!” Last month I was looking for my car keys…and then I figured out that I was holding them in my left hand! It is at those times that I self-identify myself as an idiot.

I had a recent conversation with someone about purpose. More specifically “life purpose.” The person was in a time of his life when the opportunities were numerous. In that state of blessedness there laid the problem. He had TOO MANY opportunities. He was an ADD opportunist, not being able to focus on one or two things because of all the others. In so doing he was watering down the potential effect of his life purpose.

Sometimes people are grieved by the lack of opportunities, but sometimes people are blinded by the multitude of possibilities.

In the conversation with my friend there were glimpses of discovery. He was beginning to feel the unrest within him. A couple of opportunities that would be rewarding in the short-term would also keep him from focusing on a couple of areas that had deeper and longer-lasting blessings. Focusing on recreational opportunities in the present would most assuredly have relational consequences in the future. Situations that brought recognition in a certain setting were requiring more and more time, which were resulting in a tug-of-war with his life calling.

He was experiencing what I experience when I sit in my home study surrounded by my library of about 2,000 books. I’ve got so many books to read that I find it hard to read them! Weird and true!

For most of us it takes a majority of a lifetime to hone in on our purpose, our life calling. We are lured to new opportunities like flies on honey. We are seduced by the unimportant while the things that are life-impacting become obscured.

In my life opportunities have been abundant. If my life was DVR’ed and I could go back to the beginning of some of my episodes I’d do a few things differently. I wouldn’t let pastoring a church take me away from family as many evenings as it did. I would have told my kids that I loved them more than I did. I would have spent less time developing church programs and more time growing disciples. And I would have spent more time living my faith instead of sermonizing about it.

On the other hand, as I look at my life I see my life purpose, like a trail in the woods, has become easy to see. There are more things that I am at peace with than areas where I am conflicted. It’s taken a few decades to stay on the path, but in the midst of abundant opportunities I have a clear sense of direction. It doesn’t mean that I have arrived, but it does mean that I’m on course.

I encouraged my friend to focus on those areas that emphasize relationships, and to pursue what he is passionate about. Those things that promote rewards and instant gratification need more scrutiny.

It’s different for every person, but the constant is that every person has a purpose that needs to be discovered and pursued. Like false messiahs there will be many to follow, but few that are worth it! Like my shaving kit quite often our life purpose is right there in front of us. We just need to see it!

Story Toes

Posted November 23, 2016 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Grandchildren, Humor, love, Parenting, Story, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 23, 2016

                                             

I sat down on the couch to survey the crew. The crew consisted of our three grandkids: eight year old Jesse involved in a game of Super Mario Brothers; Corin (Rennie) scampering around the room as fast as a 20 month old body can go; and five year old Reagan whose attention was focused on the fact that her grandfather thought he was going to relax for a couple of minutes.

“Tell me a story, Granddad!”, she demanded as she plopped down on the couch beside me and draped her feet over my lap. “Tell me a story using my toes!”

A few weeks ago I was telling a story to her and Jesse from the same couch seat and I grabbed their feet as a visual aid to help me tell it. She giggled and giggled as I told the made up story about little piggies.

And Reagan never forgets! Her enjoyment in something translates into it becoming a tradition…thus two feet staring up at me with their multi-colored striped outfits!

“What story should I tell you? How about a story about a little worm named Squiggly?”

“Yes! Tell me a story about Squiggly!” Her toes wiggled in anticipation.

“Once upon a time there was a worm named Squiggly who decided he was a big enough worm to leave his Mommy Worm and crawl around by himself.”
“And did he have brothers and sisters?” Reagan likes to know all the details in any story I tell that I happen to be making up on the fly!

“Yes, he had many brothers and sisters, but he was the oldest worm child, so all of his worm siblings were still at home with Mommy Worm. So Squiggly said goodbye to his mom, they wrapped themselves around each other in one final worm hug, and off he went crawling through the dirt to discover what was on the other side of the mud patch.

“His mom probably missed him.”

“I’m sure she did. Your mom would miss you if you moved away, wouldn’t she?”

“I’m only five, Granddad!”, she informed me as she did the eye roll thing.

“Yes, I know…well, anyway, back to the story! Squiggly slowly crawled away, whistling his favorite worm song, “Way Up High In An Apple Tree.” He was all wiggly with excitement about the new places he was going to discover.”

“He probably misses his mommy.”

“Probably! After he had crawled across the mud patch and into the weed forest on the other side he got to thinking to himself, “I’d better find some place to sleep before nightfall.” He thought about the warmth of his mommy and remembered that he had left his worm blanket back at home. He got to thinking about the chilly darkness that would soon be upon him with no mom or snug covering to keep him warm.”

“He didn’t plan very well.”

“So he looked all around and around and finally…finally…he found a nice place that looked like it would be cozy and warm and almost like home.”

“Where was it?”
“It was right between two toes of a little girl named Reagan.” I burrowed one of my fingers between two of her toes and she squealed with tickling laughter. “Yes, it was right between two little toes,” I explained as she quivered with giggling. She pulled her feet off of my lap and hopped down to the floor. Her sister stared at her with a smile on her face.

About the time I took my next breath she was back on the couch, settling her feet into their place across my lap once again.

“And then what, Granddad?” For Reagan “story toes” have many chapters and episodes…and giggles!