Archive for June 2017

Throw Back Thursday: The Baptist Youth Fellowship (BYF)

June 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                       June 29, 2017

             

I’ve been asked many times over the years how I came to become a pastor? What caused me to take that life direction, that occupational leaning? The first answer, and basic answer, is that I was called by God to head towards ministry. “Calling” is essential for someone to make it through some of the ministry mess, denominational drama, and church chaos that happens in the journey.

But underneath calling are other influences that have helped steer my vessel and charted my course. One of those was the youth group that I was fortunate enough to be a part of in my high school years at the First Baptist Church of Ironton, Ohio. Back in those days we called it BYF, which stood for Baptist Youth Fellowship. We met on Sunday nights at 5:30 in advance of the 7:00 Sunday Evening service.

BYF had great leaders. Ralph and Phyllis Carrico were two that “kept the horses in the corral”. They had help, which was greatly appreciated, but I remember them guiding us steadily each Sunday evening as we discussed, laughed, prayed, and played together.

We had a steady group of 15-20 high schoolers, a mixture of the four grade levels, and we enjoyed one another. My three best friends from high school were in that group, David “Hugo” Hughes, Mike “the boy” Fairchild, and Tommy “TD” Douglas. We were all seniors, and other guys in the group- Lee Bryant, Mark Fairchild, Danny Lewis, Stark Hughes, Tim Geswein, Dick Brown, Bobby McCollister, Jeff Grubb, John Kennedy, Glenn Layne, and Danny Gool- felt comfortable with us. It was a youth group that was united, regardless of a person’s grade level. The girls were a mixture of interesting personalities and charm. Teresa Ball, Cindy Kennedy, Mary Frances Bryant, Clara McMahon, Shannon Grubb, Terri Hughes, Lynnanne Dale, Lizi Gann, Stephanie Alfrey, Karen Wallace, and Teresa Carrico.

Sometimes we’d go for pizza after church, or pile a few of us in a car and drive to a cemetery across the river in Kentucky that had a disappearing statue. One time Hugo, Fairboy, and I ran through the cemetery to touch the disappearing statue as Jeff Grubb quivered in fear in the backseat! I can still hear him saying, “You guys are crazy! You’re crazy!”

BYF was the highlight of our week. The core of our group didn’t miss. Someone only missed if he was deathly ill, otherwise we were all there.

When I think back to my foundational years I think of that youth group. We supported one another, we kidded each other, we dated one another, we pranked each other. The first youth group I led at First Baptist Church in Marseilles, Illinois, was modeled after that BYF group I grew up in. It’s interesting that some of the same dynamics that were a part of my Ironton youth group growing up ended up getting incorporated into the Marseilles youth group. We hung out together, did Friday night outings that were riddled with laughter, learned together, and supported one another. The Simpson girls, Connie and Debbie, were the high school equivalent of Laverne and Shirley. Jana Moats and Jed Johnson still stand out in my mind. They laughed at my jokes, and snickered at my blunders. There were others whose names have long since escaped my memory although I can still see their faces, but it was a good group, a group that probably taught me more than I taught them.

Youth groups have changed in recent years. Many churches have given up on them, because they just don’t have the young people to make it happen. Perhaps BYF is one of those good memories that we think about and smile at, a thing of the past that had its day and purpose. What I know is that who I am at the age of 63 still has the hazy fingerprint of that BYF youth group on me from 45 years ago…and I thank God for that!

Cold Companion

June 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           June 27, 2017

                                               

I despise colds, the head and chest kind! I think I would rather have a colonoscopy than a head cold! I’ll get my wish in a month when I get laid out on a table in a less than flattering way after drinking a gallon of some concoction that was created by a doctor who was mad at the world.

This year had been punctuated with colds and bronchitis. I’ve “worn” a cold this year more than I wore my new varsity letter jacket after I received it at the beginning of my junior year of high school. It would be ninety degrees outside and I would sport my orange varsity “I” jacket of Ironton High School. In a similar way I’ve had a cold clinging to me for a while now.

I’ve heard of the remedies. Take more vitamin C. Check! Drink more water. Check! Get more rest. Check! Wash your hands a lot. Check! Use an inhaler. Check! Pray more. Check! Repent of my sins. Check…I think! Maybe there’s one that I keep forgetting about!

I’ve heard the reasons that do nothing to bring comfort, like “You’re getting older!” and  it’s twin brother “You’re not getting any younger!” There’s the Dr. Oz friends who offer the wise advice that adds nothing, “You need to take better care of yourself!”

My Baptist upbringing still looks at a cold as some kind of divine retribution for my wayward inconsiderate actions. The other day it occurred to me that perhaps my present cold is because I consistently forgot to put the toilet seat back down after assuming the standing position in front of it.

I missed church a few weeks ago. Perhaps the sniffles descended because my singing praises didn’t ascend that Sunday!

Baptist guilt tends to connect illnesses with transgressions!

My physician saw me a couple of weeks ago and greeted me with the words, “Here again?” That’s just a few letters different than “You again?” He had a disturbed expression on his face, like a school principal seeing a problem student for the umpteenth time! Trust me! At $40 per office visit I’m a little disturbed whenever I have to see him as well!

I’ve also used various medications. NyQuil could be better referred to as “My Quil!” I’ve resorted to drinking! A bottle of Woodford Reserve Kentucky bourbon is hidden in the back of one of our cabinets. It goes back to one of my grandmother’s cough remedies…bourbon, honey, and a squirt of lemon! But, once again, being Baptist there is a hint of guilt associated with each shot poured. I even find myself trying to be quiet in the kitchen as I’m preparing the remedy, even though Carol knows I’m doing it. I feel like the little kid who used to sneak sips of RC Cola from a bottle in my grandparent’s storage room. And so I pour the bourbon and then quickly hide it away in the lower cabinet behind the steam iron and excess water bottles.

I bought the family-size bag of cough drops at Walgreen’s…for me!

It’s just a little irritating, like the girl you broke up with back in high school who keeps trying to hang around you. You try to be nice and get her interested in your best friend, but she seems to gravitate to you.

That’s this year and this cold with me! It’s like teenage acne that disappears in one spot and then emerges close by the next day. Right now my nose looks like a war zone!

The only good thing about having a cold and/or bronchitis is that my physician gives me the cough medicine that makes you happy! It’s like having a restaurant manager apologize for how your steak was cooked and giving you your meal free, plus dessert! Yes, it’s kind of like that with a dazed look added on to it!

The way this year has gone whenever this cold decides to take its leave I’ll stand at our front door and yell to the waiting room of future sniffles and say, “Next!”

The “F” Word

June 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       June 26, 2017

My granddaughter recently used the “F” word. Her mom’s eyebrows hit the ceiling! She had used it in reference to Satan. Instead of “Defeat Satan”, or “Stand up to the devil!” she had used the “F” word as a verb in front of Satan. When my daughter’s eyebrows came back down from the rafters she asked her where she had heard that word. It had floated out of one of her kindergarten classmate’s lips, and she had heard it a few other times in other places.

My daughter controlled herself and taught her that there are certain words that are not appropriate to use. In a few years her daughter might ask her mom a follow-up question. “Mom, if it’s not appropriate why do I hear it being said so much?”

The question might cause her mom to have to think about the answer a good bit.

The “F” word is now the over-used expletive that seems to be accepted by many. Robin said, “Holy Cow, Batman!” My grandfather said “Lord, have mercy!” Beaver Cleaver said, “Gosh, Wally!” Now the “F” word is the word of emphasis, the word of anger, and the word that seems to flow fluidly from the lips of many people.

I remember using it one time my sophomore year of high school for no apparent reason in talking to my friend Dave Hughes. I called him the “F” word with the maternal pronoun in front of it. I was having an exaggerated moment of machoism and I thought it would make me seem taller than my 5’2’ stature. I remember his look of dismay because he knew it was out of character for me. My moment of a verbally raised testosterone level quickly passed and I felt stupid. Dave Hughes was forgiving and ended up being my best man about nine years later.

I figured out that the “F” word didn’t define me, or make me seem tougher and meaner. I was who I was, and my vocabulary was prone to stay on the more positive end of the spectrum.

I could put a list of reasons why people seem to use the “F” word more these days, but I’m not sure that would be helpful. I prefer to focus on the “F” words of scripture that mean more to me and are more about hope, promise, and building up.

Words that come to mind are “faith” and “faithfulness.” My faith in Jesus has set me “free” to be one of his “followers.” I hear the other “F” word often used in frustrated reaction to failure. My “faith” however assures me that Christ’s victory on the cross “finished” it! And now I cherish the “fellowship” that I enjoy with the other “followers.”

Don’t think too highly of me, however! I still use the word “Crap!” from time to time, usually after a miss a jump shot playing basketball, but never in reference to someone else’ s character.

Just some “food” for thought! What kind of “fruit” is coming from my tongue?

The Illusion of Facebook Friends

June 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            June 25, 2017

                                    

I’ve crawled up close to a thousand Facebook Friends now. I’m almost impressed with myself! I am easily fooled into thinking that they know me…or, even so, read my Words from WW blog that gets posted on my Facebook page. ..like this one!

But let’s be honest! Very few of our Facebook friends are actually friends. They are more like acquaintances, people that we know and are interested in to some degree. I graduated with about 210 classmates from Ironton High School Class of 1972. There are 76 of us on Facebook. About 50 of those are my Facebook Friends, and about 5 of the 50 are my real life friends. That isn’t to say that I don’t care about the others, it’s just to say that friendship means more than giving someone a “Like” sign, or sharing your latest vacation pictures with them.

There has been some neat reconnections for me with people on Facebook. Kids I led in youth groups over the years, former basketball players that I coached, college teammates, cousins, and young adults whose weddings I performed. Those are awesome connections that I treasure.

An old friend of mine named Harold Anderson once said that “He had a number of acquaintances, but very few friends.” A couple of months ago Carol and I met up with the Anderson’s as they traveled through Colorado. We hadn’t seen each other in about twelve years,  but it was like we hadn’t missed a day. Our conversation was constant and meaningful for a solid three hours. Harold is in that growing list of friends that I was categorize as “non-resident friends”, people that I don’t get to see on a daily…or even yearly basis, but still hold a special place in my heart.

Friends value each other. We value what each of us brings to the life of the other. We value meaningful information about life events. We value the humor and the heart cries. Friends can sit down on the deck and have long conversations, or also feel comfortable just sitting there in silence. Friends can call each other up at a moments notice to check on how the other is doing. Friends use Facebook as only one source of connecting with the other.

Friends respect each other. Differing opinions do not necessarily divide them. Facebook has become the dumping ground of how people feel about issues, and the reaction ground of others who disagree with them. There are not clear boundaries on what is acceptable communication and what is venomous rhetoric. It’s like a verbal mixed martial arts slugfest! And here’s the thing! People say things on Facebook that they would never say face-to-face, or say to their parents…or perhaps now, let their kids hear them say. Friends are respectful of the other. To use a term of one of my old seminary professors, they see each other “with equal regard.” Friends can agree to disagree.

Friends check in on one another. One of those high school classmates, a guy who was my best man and I, in turn, performed his wedding ceremony, lost his 34 year old son less than a month ago. I dialed his number and let him grief on my shoulder for a few minutes from 2000 miles away. Two weeks later I called again and we talked for a long time. In another week or so I’ll check in with him again.

One of my best friends in ministry lives in North Carolina now. We check in on one another by phone. He reads my blog, and will probably send me a reply. When I was having a rough stretch of ministry he’d call me to see how I was doing. When he was having a similar stretch I’d call him. That’s what friends do! I don’t really care about what he ate for breakfast, but I do care about how his rotator cuff is healing from the surgery he had, and how the expected arrival of his second grandchild is looking.

I’ve got another friend in San Antonio who I need to call back today. He left me a voicemail to see how my dad is doing from the surgery he had this week. I’ve got to carve out about an hour of time when I do call him, because that’s how long we’ll talk about life, family, and friendship.

If I use those criteria for friendship my Facebook page would probably be 90% acquaintances and 10% friends…and that might be high! Either way I’m thankful for all the 976 who “friended” me. There’s a lot of blessings in those faces!

Senior Place

June 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               June 24, 2017

                                              

Back in the 60’s there was a TV series that attracted a large following. Peyton Place, for that time period, sizzled with drama. At it’s hey day ABC was airing three episodes a week. It was a soap opera aired in the evening. Some good Baptists had to face the dilemma of watching a TV show with questionable morals versus their belief in leading the pure life. As a result curtains got pulled shut to hide their giving into the temptation. Peyton Place was a diversion to those of us who lived lives with minimal drama, ate macaroni and cheese at least once a week, and didn’t wear anything that hadn’t been bought at J.C. Penney’s (where my mom worked!).

In this age of reality TV shows that I cringe at involving teenage moms, wayward Amish, dance moms, and “You’ve got to be kidding me!” wives, I think there’s a place for Senior Place. It might not have the steamy sex of the 60’s hit TV series, but a large part of our population could identify with the issues, crises, and life situations.

My dad’s senior complex, a nicely situated thirty resident building called Wyngate, located on the banks of the Ohio River, could host the show.

Here’s a few of the episode elements that would become evident.

Meal complaints- It’s just about impossible to satisfy thirty elderly people who have been accustomed to eating what they want. One of the main complainers is an over-the-top gentlemen who is loud and demanding. At a recent residents’ meeting he was quick to point out that there were a couple of things in their contract that weren’t being fulfilled in regards to meals. Of course, I had noticed that he had been bringing his dog to breakfast with him and giving him a feast of bacon every morning. That probably wasn’t a part of the contract either. His dog was showing the effects of too much bacon consumption. His nickname could have been “Porky!”

Meal conversations often focus on something that was served in the past. “Do you remember those lima beans we had last week?”  “Weren’t those mashed potatoes a little lumpy last night?” And yet, the chef of Wyngate comes out and talks to them, fixes salt-free entrees for people like  my dad, and converses with them like she is one of their daughters. The women who help in the dining room- Robin, Gail, and Valerie- are incredible and caring. The food simply becomes a conversation piece in the midst of their community living.

History Lessons- I’m a history buff, and I was always amazed at the history shared at meal tables. My dad was in the Navy, and two other men who live at Wyngate were stationed in Norfolk, Virginia where he was stationed. A story that one of them tells usually resulted in two other stories that the other thought of as the first one is being told. Some stories get told numerous times because although they remember fascinating accounts of the past they seem to forget that they’ve already told it so often that the listeners know it even better than the Pledge of Allegiance. They are the Appalachian version of Prairie Home Companion! Stories are punctuated with knee-slapping laughter.

Drama Because of Hearing Problems- Half of the residents can’t hear the fire alarm when it goes off…thus necessitating the flashing lights! Conversations are interrupted with the question “What was that?” every twenty words or so. Something said at a dinner table on one side of the room can frequently be heard by those…who can hear…on the other side of the room because of the limited hearing of someone at the table where it is spoken! I’m positive there has been Peyton Place drama created by miscommunications because of the elements of deafness and misplaced hearing aids.

Companionship- The heartwarming element of concern for others is the over-riding feature of Senior Place at Wyngate. The residents watch out for one another. They care about one another. When my dad was in the hospital recently a man named Chuck came to visit him. Chuck can’t hear diddly, which made the visit a little bit awkward, but he cared enough about my father to check in on him. That’s the part of Wyngate that my dad loves the most. When you’re 89 you could care less about things like a hot tub, exercise room, and cook-to-order omelettes, but if you know that there’s a group of people on the same journey of “getting older” with you it makes the final years a bit more tolerable!

Scolding Pops

June 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      June 21, 2017

                                          

I was sitting next to Dad in the waiting room of the eye specialist he was scheduled to see. The day before he had experienced some blurred vision in his right eye and I had taken him to see an ophthalmologist. He couldn’t see anything such as a cataract, thus the referral to the specialist.

Before the ophthalmologist appointment I had taken him to the hospital for a CT scan of his lower abdomen area. He had been experiencing some discomfort there, and had dealt with a bout of bladder cancer a couple of years earlier.

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket. It was my sister calling. When I answered she asked me the question: “Did Dad tell you that he was suppose to go to the Emergency Room?”

I glanced at the 89 year old gentlemen sitting on my left side. “No, he didn’t say anything about that!”

“The hospital called yesterday afternoon and told him that he needed to go to the ER because he has a bowel obstruction.”

“He didn’t say anything about that to me.” I stared at him like he had stared at me when I was 12, and he had received a phone call about my misdeeds. “We’ll finish this appointment and head to the hospital.”

I said goodbye and turned to the offending senior, who had a sheepish look on his face. “So…you were suppose to go to the ER yesterday?”

He looked at me . “Yes!”

I thought of possible responses, such as the ones he had said to me when I had violated family behavior guidelines. This would have been when he said to me, “You’re grounded!” Or, “No TV for a week!” But those punishments seemed a little excessive for an 89 year old! So I took the easy out, yielding to my belief in his wisdom and common sense.

“So why didn’t you tell us?”

“Because I wanted to wait until after lunch today!” Dad had turned 89 on Father’s Day and we had ordered a cake that would be enjoyed by him and the other thirty residents of Wyngate, the senior complex he lives in, at lunch. “But it backfired on me!”

“How so?”

“I was going to tell both you and your sister after lunch, but since the sign in the office here says to mute or turn off your cell phone they must have called your sister when I didn’t answer.” He was unrepentant, and yet a rule follower, a contradiction in human form!

“I wanted to enjoy our dinner last night and then lunch at Wyngate today, and then I was going to tell you.”

I did not have my “I can’t believe you would do that” speech rehearsed. He seemed a little old for the tirade that begins with the words, “When are you going to learn?” or “When are you going to get some common sense?”

I couldn’t fault him. He was actually thinking of others. He knew that my wife Carol was fixing dinner the night before, and he knew the Wyngate residents would be disappointed if the birthday cake was delayed. In fact, my brother-in-law delivered the cake and the residents took care of most of it. By the time they stopped eating it the wording on the top of it simply read “89th Dad!”

That’s my dad! Putting a higher importance on the taste buds of senior folk than his physician’s urgent plea to get to the Emergency Room. I faked a look of disappointment and then we finished our eye exam.

I helped him to the car, and as we drove towards the hospital he said, “Bill, let’s stop and get a sandwich on the way!”

That didn’t seem like a good idea to me. After all, he had a bowel obstruction. Logic told me that I should say no and proceed to the medical center, so I looked at him and responded, “McDonald’s, Arby’s, or Wendy’s?”

 

The Bet

June 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             June 19, 2017

                                                  

In September of 1977 I began dating a young lady named Carol Faletti. Both of us were involved in the leadership of Young Life in the western suburbs of Chicago, and we hit it off pretty well to begin with. A couple of dates and a lot of laughter, it seemed like the relationship had possibilities. I was beginning my second year of seminary. She was teaching pre-school deaf children.

And then we made a bet!

I was still rooting for the Buckeyes of Ohio State at that point. Her brother-in-law had attended Oklahoma University. The Sooners were scheduled to invade “The Horseshoe” in Columbus for a football showdown, so we made a wager on the game. If the Sooners won I would buy Carol a steak dinner. If the Buckeyes were victorious she would do the same for me. Oklahoma kicker, Uwe von Schamann kicked a 41 yard field goal with two seconds left and Oklahoma was triumphant 29-28.

Before I could buy the steak dinner for her, however, both of us started dating other people!  Time passed and paying my debt got buried underneath term papers and textbooks. I didn’t really think of it any more…and then around Christmas of 1978 I received a Christmas card from Carol wishing me glad tidings, but also with the statement “Still waiting on my steak dinner!”

I had taken a class that fall in “Liberation Theology”, and was still intrigued by the language so I sent her a quick reply that said something like “The oppressed shall serve the oppressor, and I’ll buy you a steak dinner when I get back from Christmas break.”

On January 8, 1979 we had a nice romantic dinner at that restaurant hot spot where so many romances begin, Sizzler! Two months later we got engaged! Four and a half months after that we were married!

When I look back at those events I’m amazed at how an unfulfilled promise set in motion a thirty-eight year commitment! So many factors could have altered or derailed our journey. Von Schamann could have missed the field goal and Carol would have quickly paid up her bet. There would have not been a reason to get back together a year and a half later. She could have forgotten about the bet and we would never have renewed our relationship. Each of us could have gotten involved in another relationship that could have resulted in our paths never crossing again.

So many other possible outcomes, but a bet…one silly unfulfilled bet…caused two young adults to risk the possibility of love.

That story continues to amaze me, even after 38 years! It draws me towards the Great Designer, the Orchestrator, and gives me a sense of assurance that He knows what He’s doing! I would even go so far as to say that Use von Schamann didn’t make the 41 yard field goal. God did…because he had two people in mind who he wanted to bring together!