Archive for April 2013

Coffee Follower

April 29, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                April 29, 2013

 

It started when I was in seminary. One semester I made the foolish decision to sign up for Hebrew. I knew how to say “Shalom” and “Kosher” already, but thought I would be more spiritual if I could say a complete sentence in the Hebrew language. Hebrew agreed with me about as much as a late night taco pack from Jack-In-The-Box. In the midst of trying to figure out how the weird looking letters I started going out to a 24 hour restaurant near campus with two of my classmates, Steve Wamberg and Steve Shafer. We studied our Hebrew flash cards and drank coffee.

The coffee stayed with me, but the Hebrew didn’t.

The coffee began slowly…cream, sugar, and a little coffee with it. I was an Folgers follower, which is kind of like being a Chicago Cub’s fan…the flavorful moments are few and far between, but the person doesn’t know any better. Folgers was it!

I followed Folgers for a number of years, accumulating coffee mugs to wrap around the product. Once in a while there would be a cup of Maxwell House thrown in, but not often.

Then I discovered Nescafe Instant coffee, and my commitment to Folgers was compromised.  There was something about putting those glimmering coffee crystals into my mug and seeing them disappear, unlike the unsightly coffee grounds, as the hot water filled the cup. Nescafe was the bomb!

But bombs don’t last! My caffeinated spirit soon was enticed by Gevalia, which offered a free coffeemaker when you became a new customer. I was drawn in like a Black Friday slobbering shopaholic waiting outside of Best Buy for a half-price blu ray player.

Gevalia may have forced me to grow as a coffee follower more than anything else, because a new shipment was coming to my office every two months. If I didn’t drink it fast enough I was going to have to build a coffee warehouse for my excess. Sometimes commitment comes because we’re forced to go to a deeper level of consumption.

Drinking coffee became a natural part of me, a part of my routine. Saturday nights as I put the finishing touches on the Sunday sermon, I would go through the McDonald’s drive-thru and get two large coffees…two creams and two sugars in each. If McDonald’s would have had a power outage I’m sure the Sundaty sermon would have been adversely effected. It was a sermon prep superstition- two large coffees from McDonald’s. Like the opening prayer in worship, McDonald’s coffee was required for the routine.

After a few years we moved to Colorado Springs and I was introduced to an actual coffeehouse called Pike’s Perk. I started paying close to two bucks for a large coffee, but every tenth cup was free! What a deal! When I didn’t think I could drink any more coffee I discovered that I had another coffee gear that I could crank my fluid intake to. The quicker I consumed the daily featured medium roast the faster I could get to my earthly reward of a freebie! Pike’s Perk took me to a new level of different types of coffee. My coffee education deepened. I learned about Kona and Blue Mountain. I couldn’t believe that I had let myself settle for Folgers all those years. I was now devout, experienced, someone who could tell the difference between bad coffee and heavenly brew.

But then I discovered Starbucks! To begin with it seemed that Starbucks was too bitter, too strong. I reacted against it, like an environmentalist protesting off-shore drilling. Then someone gave me a Starbucks gift card. Like a free ticket to a Dave Matthews Band concert, it had to be used. Saturday night McDonald’s became a distant memory, like a percolator.

I started using my GPS to find Starbucks in unfamiliar cities I happened to be passing through. Once I jumped over a fence to get to a Starbucks in Prince George, British Columbia.

I look at my journey from late night pretender to consuming follower. I’m reading Onward by Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, about how the coffee giant fought for its life without losing its soul. I’m sure it will bring some new kind of sustenance to my java journey. Perhaps I’ll be able to get back to the root of the different blends.

Who knows what the next step of my pilgrimage will be! I look at all the old mugs in my office that remind me of my past.

It’s interesting how coffee has infiltrated all of my life. It has enabled me to write sermons, keep me awake in the midst of dull conversations, given me something to hold on to as I drive to an appointment in Denver. What would I do without coffee?

STOP! Now I want you to ponder what I have just written, but replace coffee with Jesus. I am a Jesus follower, who happens to like coffee. I confess that I did jump over a fence in Prince George, but please know that I would climb a mountain for Jesus.

Sometimes there are things that we allow to take priority in my life. Interests become obsessions. Likes become imbalanced behavior. A liquid substance becomes a requirement.

I strive after a Jesus who is in love with me. Hard to believe, I know! Coffee stains and all, he still allows me to be identified as a follower.

Experiencing Grace On the Way To See Grace

April 28, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 April 28, 2013

My first words were actually “Oh, crap!”

The flashing lights came on as the Highway Patrol car was approaching me going the other direction. I was heading to my great niece Gracie’s soccer game.

On my way to see Grace!”

I pulled over to the side of the river road and waited. The Highway Patrol female trooper came up to my passenger side window. I already had my driver’s license in my hand ready to grovel and look financially destitute.

Did you see those wild turkeys heading up the hillside there?”

Huh? I was expecting “License and registration please.”

No, I didn’t see them.”

Yes, several of them”, she added, turning towards the roadside slope to our right. I glanced up the hill and caught sight of the bird moving higher.

Got an idea of the speed limit on this stretch of road?”

Here it comes.

Yes. It’s fifty-five, and I believe I was doing sixty-five.”

True confession is good for the soul. For some reason it made my sin seem more plausible, more normal.

Sixty-seven.”

Oh!”

Do you have many problems with speeding?”

No,” I thought, “it comes natural.” Instead of saying that however I started in on the disclaimers.

Not usually, but I’m driving my dad’s Buick that has a little more get-up-and-go than my car.”

What do you drive?”

A Civic.”

Oh!”

And then I added “Hybrid!” to further explain my unfamiliarity with a vehicle that actually has engine power.

Colorado. I’ve got a brother that lives in Colorado.”

Really! Where at?” This speeding violation is taking an interesting turn in the conversation.

West of Colorado Springs. He says he can step out his front door and see Pike’s Peak.”

Woodland Park?”

I believe that’s it!”

I’m thinking, “Will this take $25 off my traffic ticket?”

He says half of the time that people get stopped there is because the law enforcement is looking for marijuana…with the whole legalized thing going on.”

Yes, ma’am!”I reply as I shake my head in a kind of “what’s the world coming to” kind of expression.

Do you have any relatives in Wheelersburg?” she asked as she surveyed my driver’s license.

No, ma’am! However, I did grow up in Ironton!”So some reason I thought creating ties with my growing up roots would cancel out my excessive speeding to get to a fourth grade girl’s soccer game.

Well…Mr. Wolfe, I’m going to give you a warning about your speed today. You need to be careful and go a little bit slower. Okay?”

I agree. I’ll make sure I’m more careful.”

She took my license and my Dad’s registration back to the cruiser and ran a check on them to make sure I wasn’t a convicted runaway felon on the lam. I waited, knowing that I was, as my grandfather used to say, “Guilty as sin!” Regardless of the power of my Dad’s car, or the justification that driving to my great niece’s soccer game should cancel out breaking the law, or even though I had been in church last Sunday (I had to be. I was giving the sermon!), a blazing pink speeding ticket should have been the rightful ending of the situation.

Mr. Wolfe, I hope the rest of your visit goes well.”

Thank you.”

I can’t believe those wild turkeys. You take care now.”

Thank God for wild turkeys to break the ice in conversation starters between grace-givers and law-breakers.

I slowly made my way to Gracie’s soccer game. I watched her with new eyes, not focused on her missed kicks, or other evidences of not achieving soccer perfection as a ten year old, but rather I focused on the fun she was experiencing playing a game and laughing with her teammates. As some of the adults watching shouted their disappointment in the mistakes of their sons and daughters who were playing on the field, my vision was on a Grace who was giggling. Perhaps I was able to see the upside of her soccer skills a little bit more because I had just experienced grace when I was on the downside.

On the way back to Dad’s place I watched my speedometer…and also saw the wild turkeys.

Transformed Opinions

April 26, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 26, 2013

 

Once in a great while I get out my high school yearbook from the early seventies. It is a mixture of comical relief and embarrassment…even more embarrassing if there is someone looking at it with me! Comments get made such as “You looked like…THAT?” and “You wore THOSE kind of glasses?” the comments are never made in flattering ways that result in me pumping up my chest, but rather they are asked with a chuckling undertone.

It is easy to see how I have changed from a distance of forty years. Different glass frames (Thank God!), puffier cheeks, thinner hair. Distance sometimes makes things frightfully clear.

The reverse of that is trying to discern changes on a day-to-day basis. Unless a person goes through a “make-over”, how different someone is on Monday compared to Sunday, or even the previous Monday, is hard to know.

There are similar criteria involved in discerning a person’s spiritual transformation. I have a hard time knowing how I have grown in my walk with the Lord from my perspective. It may not even be as clear as a slowly receding hairline or expanding waist.

What I need are others who are in the midst of faith journeys to tell me what they are sensing. Sometimes those external views involve hard things to hear, such as sensing I’m in the midst of a spiritual dryness, or the identifying of an evident fear to go to a deeper level of trust. And sometimes those observations are encouraging and energizing comments that leave me asking “Really? You see how I’ve grown?”

The past few years I’ve attended a basketball official’s camp at some time during the summer. We don’t stand around a campfire singing “Kum-Ba-Yah” at this camp, or dance around the dining hall chanting “We are the Order of the Forks!”. At this camp we officiate basketball games while being watched by clinicians. As we go about managing the game on the court the clinicians take note and then share their observations with us during time-outs, half-time, and at the end of the game. They note good things we did- good calls, good communication- and bad things we do- lame calls, slow rotations in covering the court. Often during the three days together the clinicians will keep telling someone about a tendency that is being observed that needs to be corrected, and the official is able to correct that flaw by the end of the camp.

One of the instructions at the beginning of camp is to not use two words.

Yes, but!”

“Yes, but” is resistance to the truth. It’s a bolted door closed to reality.

Likewise, spiritual transformation needs those external eyes, trusted others to guide us and instruct us.

When I want a humorous moment I open my yearbook. When I want the close truth of the present reality I go to those I know love me, want the best for me, and want me to be all that God intended for me to be.

Losing Power At Starbucks

April 25, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          April 26, 2013

 

I was at Starbucks yesterday!

Not a surprise, for those who know me. But what happened while I was there was…interesting!

Starbucks lost power! Not one of those little momentary hiccups that we have all experienced. No, this was the loss of power that kept staying lost!

Of course, it happened while I was in the men’s restroom. And, of course, this restroom had no windows…just a while lot of darkness! It allowed me to find out one more reason to have a cell phone. Not to call from the restroom, but rather to shed a little light on the situation.

I emerged from the restroom to a coffee shop that was quiet. If you have been in a Starbucks you know how unusual that is. There is usually the sound of blenders, expresso machines, oven doors opening and closing, music being played from the ceiling speakers, orders being taken. But this time it was quiet and still.

Power that is lost stills the presence. Customers who were about to order waited for a few moments, before giving up and exiting. No frappuccinos…no cappuccinos…no lattes. Donuts were visible, but since there was no power to operate the register they couldn’t be sold. Things came to a halt. Employees stood around not knowing what to do. Losing power was not a chapter in their employee training manuals.

I stay for another twenty minutes or so, long enough to finish my tall coffee, and then made my exit. Several other people had already gathered their belongings, laptops, and workbooks, and preceded my departure. Several stayed.

Losing power leaves people in a quandary. Will it come back? How long before it returns?

It was an object lesson for me about the church. What happens to a church that loses power? Who notices? Who quickly exits, and who waits in hopeful anticipation of its return? What do we do when the power of God is absent? Do we stand around trying to find something to busy ourselves? Do we walk around in confusion?

Hard questions for the church. Harder questions because there are times when we are much more comfortable operating under our own power than we are operating under the power of the Spirit. When the Spirit is suddenly absent how aware are we that the lights have gone off?

Perhaps another relevant question is how urgently do we pray for the moving and empowering of the Holy Spirit in our churches? Every church has its times of delight and periods of desperation, green pastures and dry deserts. Consistent praying gets us through the desert journeys. It gets us through those times when the darkness is evident and we’re not sure when the light will return.

I was back at Starbucks this afternoon…go figure! One of the employees who was here yesterday told me that the power came back on after about forty-five minutes. I told him that I had been in the restroom when it happened. We were able to laugh about it, but if it happens again I’m heading to McDonald’s. Their coffee is just a buck anyway…although their restrooms are more suspect!

The Disappointment of New Possibilities

April 19, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  April 19, 2013

 

This past week I had the door closed on me twice in regards to opportunities related to one of my passions, one of the things that I’ve been involved in that energize me. Suddenly what looked like a new venture, a new chapter, became a brick wall. A few days the brick wall re-emerged in regards to another possibility.

What does a person do when the wind is taken out of the sail? I admit that my initial reaction was one of self-pity and confusion. My ego jumped into the ring and became the center of attention. When the situation revolves around something that we are passionate about it is easy to go that way. Most of us believe that our giftedness is always affirmed with a “yes”, as it relates to the area we are gifted in. Our value gets tied up with the opportunity.

When our passions, experience, and skill get presented with a new opportunity that is seemingly in perfect harmony with them we assume this is the way of God. This is the door that is being opened for us. We even spiritualize it by saying that all we need to do is have faith to walk through it.

But there are times when perfect alignment is not the tell-tale sign that this is what God was preparing for us all along.

Sometimes God is in the closed doors! That’s hard for most of us to hear because we believe more in open doors than closed doors. Closed doors require us to look further. Closed doors make us wait. Closed doors can sometimes even be an indication that a chapter has ended. We’d prefer a “Let’s Make A Deal” scenario where we get to choose between three doors instead of two closed doors and one open.

I remember a number of years ago being contacted by a pastoral search committee. One Sunday they inconspicuously visited the worship service at the church I pastored. Carol and I met with them about a month later “on their turf” and, from all indications, we felt God was calling us to move there. Then, in the midst of that, they went in another direction. We were disappointed, but ultimately the church I was pastor of went through a new period of fruitfulness.

It is hard to see the possibilities in rejection. It requires a willingness to trust that God knows what he is doing, and that he desires the best for each one of us… that hard news can lead us to good news.

It encourages me to know that God even gave stop signs to Paul and Silas. In Acts 16:6-7 we read of how the Holy Spirit kept them from preaching in certain areas, while not letting them even enter into other areas. It doesn’t take a seminary professor to be able to determine that Paul was being very effective in his ministry. You would think that all doors would be opened to him! But God had specific plans for him. A closed door one moment could be connected to a fulfilled purpose a few years down the road.

So my discouragement is tinted by eyes looking for new directions. The glare of being turned down will gradually dim and suddenly there in front of me will be the defined way.

Fanatics, Fans, Followers, or Faithful

April 11, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      April 11, 2013

I’ve just returned from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four in Atlanta. What an experience! My son and I thoroughly enjoyed everything but the MARTA train ride after the Saturday night games were over. We now know how it feels to be a cow being herded!

In Atlanta I experienced four types of basketball people: fanatics, fans, followers, and faithful. Each type gives the church some clues about momentum, fickleness, and congregational life.

“Fanatics” were evident for each of the teams. They were people who took on a different appearance for a few hours. A Michigan fanatic dressed up to look like a big banana…or at least that’s what it looked like to me. Another one painted his face maize and blue. A Wichita State fanatic wore a full body gold suit. Fanatics are people who are different for a few hours, before going back to who they really are.

Church fanatics get worked up for a cause or an event, but it is only a surface appearance for a moment or a time, and then they take on their usual nature again. Fanatics get attention, but the energy that they expend usually can only endure for a season. To use a basketball analogy, they are like the slam dunk that gets highlighted, but in the scheme of things is still worth just two points.

“Fans” wear the team colors and show up in the good times. We use the term “fair weather fans.” Fans are loyal as long as they are benefiting from it. If they don’t perceive there being a benefit they get testy, and look for the best possible scapegoat. Fans are willing to invest as long as it’s the popular thing to do. If the team’s success starts sliding fans often head for the exits.

Church fans are committed until there is a conflict. If they don’t care for the pastor, and can’t create enough discord in the congregation to get him ousted, they will head for the exits. Fans are not early adopters of change. They are late adopters, joining in when the buy in from enough people reaches a tipping point. Fans were amazed at the teachings of Jesus, but joined the crowd that shouted for Pilate to put him on a cross.

“Followers” wear the team colors, and check the Sports section the next morning after an away game to see how the team did. They are usually a member of the team’s Facebook page like “the Big Blue” from Kentucky or “Duck Nation” from Oregon. They are more invested than fans. Their car probably even has a bumper sticker proclaiming a team name like “Duke Blue Devils” or “Marshall Thundering Herd.”

“Church followers” are not necessarily Jesus followers. They are loyal, but maybe not for the right reasons. There is attraction to the music, or the location. The pastor could be the focus of their following. A new pastor comes in and it could be a different story. Church followers may follow the trimmings, but not the Core. Fellowship time conversation may revolve around the professional basketball team or the new store that just opened in the mall, instead of it being conversation that flows out of spiritual journeys.

To use another story from the sport’s world, it’s like a professional baseball player who couldn’t figure out how to get off of the I-285 that went around Atlanta. He kept driving around and around, missing the game he was to play in, and could never get to the core…the center…the destination.

Finally, there are the “faithful.” The faithful know that it is not all about them. That the point they are presently at has been paved by many years of tradition, principles, and wise people. The faithful know that valleys happen and mountains don’t go on forever.

The “Church Faithful” know where they have come from, but also know that there needs to be movement from where they are at. They understand the source of their energy and filter the good times and the bad times through Christ. Perhaps, most of all, the faithful are not fickle. They can applaud a good high tide without getting swept away by a tidal wave.

Final Four madness! Memorable even beyond the guy dressed up like a cardinal!

Seeing ‘Used To Be’s'”

April 6, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 April 6, 2013

 

My son and I are in Atlanta this weekend for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four. The Final Four weekend is “an event”, complete with a convention center filled with exhibits, people wearing orange (Syracuse), blue (Michigan), red (Louisville) and gold (Wichita State). There is intense team loyalty. David and I don’t care. We’re just enjoying the event.

Another thing about the Final Four weekend is that there are a lot of tall people walking around. Very tall! For some of them age has not been kind! For others the resemblance of who they are now compared to twenty years ago is striking. Danny Ferry doesn’t look much different now than he did when he played at Duke in the late 80’s. Of course, he looked like he was about 40 when he was in college. Now he looks like he’s about 40 with minimal hair.

I found myself walking around “Bracket Town”, the name of the place where the exhibits are at, looking at tall people and wondering “Did he used to be someone?”No one asks that about 58 year old 5’6” white guys. (Okay! I’m really fix foot six and a half inches!) When you see someone six foot eight you wonder, especially when it is at a place where basketball people congregate.

I saw Rolando Blackman, who has been retired from the NBA for twenty years and yet I recognized him right away. Christian Laettner looks a little more domesticated than when he was going through his “bad boy non-conformist” days. Of course, my opinion is still filtered by my pain over seeing his buzzer beater shot against Kentucky. I was a Big Blue fan back in those days. Laettner was the enemy. Twenty years later it was hard to look at him and still not regard him as the enemy.

But then there were the hundreds of 6’6”, 6’7”, and 6’8” guys who were walking around the Georgia Dome who looked like they might used to have been someone.

Fame is fleeting in this world. People follow you for what you are doing for them currently, not for what you used to do. Our culture is very much a “in the moment” kind of people. History is not valued by many folk. One day in basketball practice I mentioned Larry Bird to my 14 girls who were crowded around me, and I was met with 14 blank looks. I then asked “Doesn’t anyone know who Larry Bird is?”

Fourteen pauses.

And then one brave young lady responded in question form, “Birdman?”

My mouth dropped open. It may have been the first time that someone had confused Chris Anderson with being Larry Bird. History is not valued.

It also tells me that my purpose is not necessarily to be remembered, recognized, or even memorialized, but rather to live my life with purpose, passion, and responsibility. I may not even be recognized as a “used to be”, but God has gifted me, graced me, and called me to make an impact in the lives of others. The impact may happen in small ways, or in one lasting conversation at just the right moment in one person’s life. It may be an impact that happens after a multitude of “reflecting Jesus” moments. The difference between wondering whether that 6’9” balding giant who just passed me use to be somebody and who I am is that I’m called to lead people to knowing and remembering Jesus for now and ever. It’s the best philosophy for a former point guard: Give it to the Big Guy!