Believing A Small Church Is Worth the Effort

Posted October 15, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Community, Faith, Jesus, love, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            October 15, 2017

 

Yesterday twenty five people descended on an aging church building in a town of five hundred people to be a help. Bill Hale, nine days my junior but years ahead of me in wisdom and craftsmanship, developed the idea along with our area denominational staff person, Mike Oldham.

The idea was to invite a few churches and individuals to come to Simla, a small town on Highway 24 that you would have no reason to go to if you weren’t heading someplace past it, and provide some labor for a few hours that would allow the church to get a few needed projects completed.

The First Baptist Church of Simla is a congregation of about twenty dear people. Bill Hale, Ed Stucky, and myself have been sharing pulpit responsibilities there for the last year and a half or so. They do not have a pastor, although they do have a parsonage right next door to the church.

The group of servers came from Pueblo, Greeley, Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Texas, and, of course, Simla! They ranged in age from four to seventy-four. One man, who owns a company in Colorado Springs, brought his “bucket truck” that allowed limbs and branches from the trees in front of the church that are about as old as sarcasm to be cut back. The carpet in the sanctuary was shampooed, the church sign was touched up with paint. There was painting done to the outside of the building after a power washing was done, and the wood frames of the stained glass windows got a needed fixing up. Sidewalks got edged, weeds got pulled, and the lawn got mowed and trimmed. Massive efforts that meant so much to the people of the church.

What I’ve learned from Simla is that small churches are worth the effort. For me Simla has become my home church. Most Sundays when I’m not speaking there I still travel the forty-five minutes east of Colorado Springs to worship with the “salt of Simla.” Small churches have a purpose. It may not revolve around budgets, staff, and packing the sanctuary, but they have a purpose. The Simla Saints have started doing community ministry efforts with the United Methodist Church a block down the street. They’ve even had discussions about how the three churches in town might have occasional worship services together, interchanging the pastors as the speakers. This past summer they made a good-sized contribution for the beginning expenses of a missionary family who had already been commissioned  by the American Baptist Churches to go to Chiapas, Mexico, but were trying to raise the last few thousand dollars that were needed as seed money. The Simla Saints gave the contribution and also started supporting the missionary family on a monthly basis.

They will never be a mega-church. They wouldn’t know how to handle that. The town of Simla has shrunk by two-thirds in the last twenty years. Mega-churches rarely happen in villages of diminishing size located between here and nowhere. Every week, however, fifteen to twenty people gather in the sanctuary of this church. They don’t whine about their size. Size does not effect the purpose or change the mission. Their purpose is to be Light in a community that struggles to keep on going.

Too many churches are trying to be great! Churches already have the greatest story to share. Sometimes it seems a congregation is trying to be greater than the story!

Simla is a love story of hope that tells of God’s love story. Call me simple, but when I retired from the ministry that’s what I was looking for…and it causes me to keep on keeping on!

What Character Qualities Will I Teach My Players?

Posted October 11, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, Christianity, coaching, Community, Freedom, Grandchildren, love, Parenting, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              October 11, 2017

                    

Last night I met with four other men who I will be coaching alongside this coming high school basketball season. During the course of the evening we talked about offenses and defenses, practice plans, try-outs, and schedule, but we spent the most time talking about what the foundational characteristics were that we looked to teach our players. More than just teach, to model for our players!

Twenty years from now when I meet a former player for a cup of coffee what is that I hope to see his life rooted in? What will I be overjoyed about as I talk to someone who has turned 35?

There are a lot of coaches who have been entrusted with opportunities to speak into the lives of their young athletes…who are simply scoundrels! Being a high school basketball official for years I’ve seen how their teams have often taken on their personalities…bad attitudes, sour disposition, arrogant, prone to temper tantrums.

So the men I’ll be working with are committed to emphasizing the development of character in our young players. Last night we talked about four foundations:

            Integrity

            Selfless

            Reliable

            Gracious

All four go against the flow of our culture. “Integrity” seldom makes the headlines. Scandals and conspiracies draw larger audiences.

“Selfless” gets applauded, and yet we live in a time of entitlement. During a recent sports season I had a couple of players who had missed significant practice time because of injuries. When it came to preparing for the last game of the season both of them wanted to be the running backs again. In practice I positioned one of the players at Offensive Tackle. He didn’t like it. After a few plays he asked to be subbed out because he needed to do some more stretching. The other boy kept, who had missed the previous three games, kept asking me “When am I going to run the ball?” Both of them had exhibited actions and attitudes that communicated that they did not understand concept of team. The result was they caused more trouble than they were worth. As I begin this new basketball season the character quality of “selfless” will be the first foundation I emphasize.

“Reliable” is a word that we used to take for granted. An employee was expected to be at work…and working! My son, who is a chef, often talks about his frustrations with workers who just didn’t show up for work. The effect of such an absence puts more pressure and work on those who are there. There’s a lot of people who float in and out of our lives who can not be relied upon. “Dr. Phil” makes a living out of telling life stories of people who aren’t reliable, and the ripple effect of such.

“Gracious” goes to one of my favorite words…grace! I’ve encountered a lot of players who stepped out of line when grace was being handed out. They criticize and demean their teammates. Wouldn’t it be awesome to play on a team where there is a recognition of everyone trying their hardest, committed to a team effort, and recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and needs the grace of their teammates? Grace, on an athletic team, means picking someone up off the ground instead of making them want to sink into the ground.

So this basketball season we’ll seek to lead our teams to victories, but we will also seek to lead them on a path towards being young men of character.

I’ve been out of high school for…Good Lord!…45 years now, but I still remember the people I went to school with who were jerks. Perhaps they’ve changed since 1972, but since I now live five states away I don’t know. My impression was etched in my memory a long time ago. I will strive to take my players on a journey this season that will help lead them towards young men of exceptional character.

And then when we sit at table in Starbucks in 2037 sipping some medium roast together I’ll attempt to hold back tears of gratitude over who this young man has become!

The Incredibleness of Carlsbad Bats

Posted October 8, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, creation, Jesus, love, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    October 8, 2017

                             

Carol and I visited Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico yesterday. Since we now have our National Parks’ Senior Passes we’re on a mission to check off the parks in the coming years. As we checked in at Carlsbad yesterday the ranger asked to see my ID. Obviously, she couldn’t believe I looked old enough to have a Senior Pass…or something like that!

We explored the caverns for about three hours. Incredible! Mammoth Caves in Kentucky is another national park that we need to visit, but I wonder if Mammoth is kind of like going skiing in Michigan after you have first skied in Colorado?

And then we stayed around for the “bat show”. Each evening around dusk the Brazilian free-tailed bats exit the caverns and take flight for a night of finding moths and other bugs to feed on. One of the park rangers tells the hundreds of people gathered in the “bat amphitheater” located by the entrance to the caverns what is about to happen, gives some interesting information about the bats, and, if the bats haven’t exited yet, answers questions.

And then it happens! Without any alarms or horns sounding the bats begin emerging from the cavern entrance…and it is incredible. Bats use sonar to guide them. As they exit the cave they use a swirling motion, almost like a tornado, to exit and head off into the sky. the number of bats that call the caverns home is as much as 1.2 million. When they exit the cavern it is an event that goes on for 30-40 minutes. The quieter the crowd the closer they will come to the people sitting there. Carol and I stayed until the end. By then most of the audience had cleared out, and we noticed that the bats got closer and closer to where we were sitting by the end.

They were quiet…kind of! When we cupped our hands behind our ears we could hear the faint sound of their wings flapping, and little squeaks. Mostly, their presence was announced by a scent in the air that was a bit nose-wrinkling.

It is encounters such as this that causes me to praise the Creator. The care and concern that God had for…bats, for how they live, how they survive, how they help the environment. It reminds me of Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:26-27 about God carrying for the birds of the air. God’s hands of care seeks to take away some of the worries of life that bring chaos of our day.

Teaching 7th Graders To Say “May I?”

Posted October 5, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, coaching, Community, Freedom, Humor, Parenting, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 5, 2017

                                    

The past few weeks have found me in several different middle school classrooms teaching in a substitution role the subjects of science, social studies, health, and physical education. I’ve taught lessons on the digestive system, sea sponges, insects, and the Hammurabi Code.

I’ve also been teaching seventh graders how to say “May I…?”

Seventh graders are infatuated with the words “Can I?” It comes as naturally out of their mouths in interactions with teachers, parents, and coaches as breathing. For many middle school boys the words “May I” are as unused as the showers in the boys locker room. And so my contribution to their education is to lead them onto the straight and mannerly road called “May I?”

It goes something like this!

“Mr. Wolfe, can I go to the restroom?”

“Listen, Sam! You’re in seventh grade. I don’t know where you fell off the tracks in your life education, but by seventh grade you should be able to go to the restroom.” Sam looks at me with confusion radiating from his face.

“So…can I?”

“”Well, let’s talk about what will happen if you don’t go to the restroom. We just talked about it in class. Remember…the digestive system…what goes in must come out! So if you don’t go to the restroom there could be some unpleasant consequences.”

“Okay!” He starts to exit.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“To the restroom.”

“Did I give you permission?”

“You said I could.”

“I said you had the ability to go, but that’s different than permission.”

A whisper comes from the side of him. I faintly hear the words, “Say may I!”

The point of our discussion suddenly hits the light switch in Sam’s mind. “Ohhh…may I go to the restroom?”

“Yes, you may!” Three other students who have been listening snicker in the background. As my days of being saturated with seventh graders have continued the number of students who have revised their “Can I” language to “May I” continues to mount. They may not be able to remember what “cilia” and “flagella” are, or what the Code of Hammurabi is all about, what they MAY very well learn to say “May I?”

Missing God

Posted September 30, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Faith, Freedom, Jesus, love, marriage, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 30, 2017

                                             

Carol and I were driving home from a wedding recently and she said to me, “I think that’s the first wedding I’ve been to where God was never mentioned.”

“You’re right! No prayers, no blessings, nothing with any spiritual meaning to it!”

Of course, why invite the presence of God if he isn’t a part of your life? Seems a bit contradictory to do that! At least this couple was being authentic in their ceremony. How many other marriage ceremonies have been spiritual in appearance, but the One who created love goes missing afterwards?

I don’t want to create a whole divine conspiracy on the basis of God not being invited to one marriage ceremony I attend, but I think we’d be idiots to think that the importance of the Almighty has not taken a dip! In many lives he’s segregated from the daily routines and opportunities. He’s like Uncle Fred who never gets invited to family gatherings any more because no one feels comfortable around him.

Instead of God being at the center of our lives many of us now look for how he might fit into our lives. He’s like that weird puzzle piece that needs to go somewhere, but I’ll put it to the side until most of the rest of my puzzled life gets put together.

The secular wedding ceremony was like a wake up call for me. In what areas of my life do I relegate God to the luggage rack, attached to the top of the vehicle of my life but strapped to a place where I can’t hear him?

In what ways am I “faking it” with my Jesus journey?

In what ways is the church faking it? In what ways is the church hindering the relevance of the spiritual faith of its people?

Those are all tough questions which are being asked by less and less people the more God goes missing.

Years ago one of the young ladies on my basketball team responded to a directive I gave to the team before the season started. I had told them that if any of them had boyfriends that they were to put them on the back burner for the next three months. This delightful young lady (who is now in law school) looked at me and said, “Coach, boyfriends are like a pocketbook. They’re just an accessory!” We still laugh at that storyline years later!

But, you know something! God has become an accessory for many of us, and has been easily shoved to the back burner!

Cheaters Never Prosper…Kinda’!

Posted September 29, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: children, coaching, Community, Freedom, Nation, Parenting, Pastor, Story, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            September 29, 2017

                               

This week’s news about a number of college basketball assistant coaches being indicted for bribery and other forms of corruption after a two year FBI investigation rocked the sports world. Four assistant coaches at four NCAA Division 1 institutions were arrested for taking bribes. The shoe company, Adidas, is also involved in the corruption schemes that were made public, as are a couple of financial advisors. In all, ten different people were indicted.

The investigation revealed that athletes were being paid to, first of all, sign with a certain financial advisor, and second, to sign with certain colleges that have contracts with Adidas. The family of one high school junior was demanding a certain payoff for their son to sign with University of Louisville. A couple of other parents of two Auburn players were also receiving payments as a way to get the players to sign with a certain financial advisor.

The whole story stinks of entitlement, greed, and a total lack of ethical behavior. The FBI also hinted that there may be more indictments coming. That prompts the question, “How wide spread is this pattern of seeking to gain advantages and wealth by not following the rules?”

One of the principles we were taught was that cheaters never prosper. Well, obviously they prosper at least for a season! The purity of college athletics has long sense disappeared. Now, however, the smell has filtered down into the high school ranks. Even high school coaches are getting involved in the odor of sports’ underbelly.

There’s enough blame to go around. Parents push their kids into club sports to the point that a  number of athletes are burned out by the time they are high school juniors, and others robe themselves with a thick layer of entitlement. College coaches know that their job is based on how many wins they chalk up and, therefore, many are willing to edge outside of the legal lines to gain a few more victories. College athletes want to be paid to sacrifice their bodies and hours to being a part of that success. Receiving a full ride scholarship to that university no longer seems to be enough for a number of players. Others steroid up in order to be more dominating, and still others practice academic fraud in order to stay eligible.

Sports is turning into a pastime for cheaters, because cheaters kinda’ prosper! We would be naive to think that this scenario started just recently. I was raised in Bluegrass Country, listening to Kentucky basketball on radio in my growing up days. Although it was shortly before I was born, the history of Kentucky basketball still has the distant scar of the 1952-53 point-shaving scandal. UK’s basketball season was canceled that year due to the scandal in which four players were implicated.

Sports has worn expensive suits with stains for a long, long time! Hopefully, the recent evidences of what has spilled out from it will cause people to steer back towards doing what is right and what is good, but I’m sure there will also be other people who will simply seek to be sneakier in their addiction to prosperous cheating.

Feeling My Worship Age

Posted September 27, 2017 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Community, Faith, Freedom, Grace, Humor, Jesus, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              September 27, 2017

                                   

It was a bad sign! In the Sunday announcement sheet under informational items there was that blurb that was probably intended to be a forewarning of what was about to come!

“Ear plugs are available at the Information Booth for anyone who needs them.”

It’s a bad sign when they care about your hearing! When I was pastoring we cared also, but it was for those who had diminished hearing so they borrowed a hearing device that helped amplify the sound of the speaker or music. This was the other direction. This was: “We’re going to turn up the volume so much that you’re going to be thinking you’re standing by a jet engine on steroids! So you might want to put these in your ears!”

I’m 63 and I realize I’m sneaking up on crotchety! I’m becoming like a dear saintly lady from the church I pastored in Mason, Michigan. Grace Ankney was  a great lady who couldn’t hear squat! And she would let the speaker know that by yelling from her third row seat, “I can’t hear you!” I don’t remember what Grace’s spiritual gifts were, but she scored low on hospitality!

And here I was about to shout “I can’t hear myself!” But, of course, I couldn’t hear myself so I didn’t say it.

I realize the church I was attending last Sunday is designed for a younger crowd…soon to be younger deaf crowd…and there are all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. I’m a person of grace who is fairly tolerant about circumstances and situations. I remember the “worship wars” of the 1980’s when that period’s older generation fought hard against the new worship music that was settling upon the hearts of congregations. Our leadership council had several hours of discussion about it. We did planning retreats where we sought to figure out the direction we were going in worship, while being sensitive to those who liked it the way it had been…for fifty years!

I remember one young man from my church asking me if the lady who played the organ could take the parking brake off! On the other side, an older couple left for greener, hymnier, pastures because we had sung a couple of praise songs that had produced clapping, albeit Baptist clapping, which sounds kind of like the light patter of rain on the driveway.

And now I was that couple…longing for a calmer sanctuary of praise music. Just to be fair, the songs we sang last Sunday were all familiar to me. I knew the words to three of them, but since I couldn’t hear my own voice I never sang any of them. It wasn’t that I was being vain. Although people say I have a good voice I’m not infatuated by the sound of it. I just like to know that I can hear the words that I’m speaking or singing!

And now I’m starting to type kind of crotchety!

I’m a “has been” who is still being. This Sunday I’ll travel back out to the little congregation of twenty in a town forty-five minutes from where we live and give the Sunday message. We’ll sing some songs together in a sanctuary with great acoustics, and I’ll get a bag of fresh produce from a couple of farmers who bring in their excess each week. It will be totally different from my experience from last week where we had to park a few hundred yards away. This Sunday at Simla everyone can park right next to the building.

Perhaps that’s who I am now…a participant of a small congregation journeying together in a slow walk. At Simla this Sunday we won’t need ear plugs. Two sixth grade boys will take up the offering. There will be a Sunday bulletin, which we really won’t need because the order of worship is almost always the same. And after church people will grab a cup of weak coffee, a cookie, and stand around talking for a good 20 to 30 minutes.

That’s now where I feel at home, it’s where I sense the closeness of God and the struggles of his saints, and I’m okay with that!