Archive for the ‘Bible’ category

Giving It a Jesus Spin

January 19, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 19, 2020

                                   

Years ago there was a car accident at an intersection. Four witnesses coming from different directions gave their statements to the responding police officers. Each witness gave a different accounting of what had happened, and each believed their words were the only ones that were true…even though they differed! When the officers pieced all the eye witness accounts together they came to the conclusion that each statement had some of the truth in it, but not all of the truth.

Our culture has a certain contrariness to it. There’s a stubbornness that tends to believe that my truth, or your truth, is the whole truth, not to be questioned or minimized. 

In Jesus’ day the religious folk would put their view of the Law upon a situation. In John 9 there’s the story of a blind man who Jesus healed. When Jesus’ disciples came upon the man they asked Jesus who had sinned, this man or his parents. The struggles of life were blamed on someone’s sin. That’s how they understood the workings of life. Jesus brought them to another perspective: The man’s blindness was to allow the work of God to be displayed. The scripture doesn’t mention the disciples reaction at that point. Maybe they were confused, or maybe they came to a new understanding of the ways of God. 

The man’s neighbors come in next and can’t quite grasp that this is the same man who has never been able to see. They take him to the Pharisees who investigate the healing. These men can only see the healing through the lens of the Sabbath. That is, he had gained his sight during the Sabbath. Jesus had spit in some dirt, made some mud, and put it on the blind man’s eye lids. That constituted working on the Sabbath. They could only see the situation through the application of the Law.

I’ve noticed that there are those who frequent churches today who seem ready to press their view of situations as if it has a monopoly on  the truth. The thing is instead of the Pharisees seeing things through the Law, people today put a “Jesus spin” on their personal preferences. It smacks of “Jesus justification”, the attempt to validate my belief by attaching Jesus to it. Sometimes, dare I say, it seeks to validate our prejudices by trying to convince people it’s what Jesus would want.

Social media is a stampeding ground for people to do their Jesus spins. There’s a difference between politely and respectfully disagreeing and “Facebook Pharisaism”. 

The man who Jesus healed of blindness was convinced that Jesus was from God, but no matter what he said he could not change the perspective of the Pharisees. In fact, towards the end of the story they throw him out of their gathering. They had their understanding based on the Mosaic Law. They didn’t want to be bothered with the truth…or the Truth. 

I have certain beliefs that have nothing to do with Jesus. Like popcorn should only be eaten with an accompanying soft drink, and always root for the team that Michigan is playing…unless it’s Notre Dame! 

I also have preferences such as the NIV Bible, baptism by immersion, and Starbucks coffee. I’m openminded enough, however, to believe that Jesus can speak to me through other Bible translations, a different baptism celebration, and that he did not ordain Starbucks to be the coffee for the saints. I keep my personal preferences separated from questions that are indications of what Jesus would do.

There are certain scriptural truths that are meant to be trumpeted, such as grace, love, forgiveness, hope, and peace. So often, however, we become blind to seeing life through them.

Small Church Baptism

January 17, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     January 17, 2020

                    

She came to me after the church worship service back in early December and said “Pastor Bill, I’d like to be baptized.” 

“Okay! That sounds good!” Actually, I was taken back a bit by the request, not because of the young lady in front of me, but rather because I’ve known her for four years, seen her grow up, and hadn’t thought about this step in her faith journey.

Plus, I’m not really her pastor, although I sorta’ am. I share the Sunday morning speaking opportunities with my friend, Ed Stucky. So…we’re sorta’ unofficial co-pastors. The fourteen year old asked me to baptize her because I’ve been her middle school camp pastor the last two summers. 

“So…when are you thinking of doing this?”

“Oh, like the last Sunday in December or around there.”

“Okay, let’s talk about what it means and your understanding of why we do it, and why you want to be baptized.” 

We went through our scriptural understanding for why Baptists practice immersion…and then we went back and looked in the baptistry at the front of the sanctuary. That’s when I realized that the church hadn’t had a baptism for a while…like years! Old wooden doors were being stored in the tank. A few spiders had moved in for the winter. We also discovered the missing church crock pot, a leftover brownie (I think it was a brownie!), and someone’s missing hat and mittens…okay, just kidding on the last three!

For us to do a baptism required some rearranging. The wooden doors had to find a new home or doorways.

We prepared. Last Sunday it happened. 

But here’s the thing! Simla First Baptist doesn’t have a heater for the baptistry, and the church’s hot water heater has the capacity of a tea kettle. The church moderator and his wife arrived at 6:45 that morning to fill the baptistry for the 10:15 worship service. They emptied the hot water heater and then started boiling pots of water on the stove. Bless them! Unfortunately, the tank holds a couple hundred gallons. I had visions of a YouTube video I had seen entitled “West Virginia Extreme Baptism”, where a couple of young boys get dunked in a creek where you can see the snow banks on each side.

When I stepped down into the water with my bare feet and an old pair of jeans I immediately thought of my 104 degree hot tub back at our home. I have never done “cryotherapy”, but thought this might be comparable. I smiled at our small congregation, trying to hide the discomfort. I thought of the comfort of Methodists sprinkling a few drops on someone.

I’ve had baptistry issues for a number of years. When I pastored in Michigan the heater was broken on a February baptism Sunday. One young boy getting baptized jumped from the steps to the ledge in front of the baptistry when his feet first touched the water. I literally had to pull him into the water before I was able to dunk him. It’s been a few years, but I think I remember holding him under a few extra seconds just out of my irritation.

And then there was the Christmas Eve when our baptistry was leaking and we placed an inflatable kid’s wading pool shaped like a whale inside our baptistry. 

No leaks this time around, just a few ice cubes!

When I lowered the young lady into the water and then brought her back up her eyes became as big as saucers. It was an awakening experience in more than one way for her. The congregation smiled. 

It was good!

And the doors will not be moved back in. We expect another baptism in the next few months…like August!

Just a Little Cut on My Right Thumb

January 3, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  January 3, 2020

                                     

“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-23,27)

It was a paper cut, but it must have been angry paper…paper with an attitude looking to inflict pain!

The cut only measured a couple of millimeters…I think! I could never understand those ways of measuring things. In laypeople language it measured itsy-bitsy, but it was on the tip of my right thumb. I guess you could say that “it stuck out like sore thumb!”

No big deal. It was only a tiny cut, barely big enough to put under the microscope. I had nine other fingers to take care of details. I never use my thumbs when I type, so there was one thing. I’m a three-fingered typist, two on my left hand and one on the right. Always have been. If I have to think about using more fingers than those three I’ll become frantic, like the person in the movie who has to figure out which wire to cut, perspiration running down his face, along with tears.

So, no big deal on the thumb, right? 

Wrong! I started getting dressed to go to church and I couldn’t get the top button on my dress shirt buttoned. I’ve never worn a tie and had my top button unbuttoned, but that night— Christmas Eve, in fact— I had to resort to looking, as my mom would say, “slouchy!”

With great effort I was able to zip myself up, but I almost had to take my pants off first, zip them, and then “vaseline up” my legs and slide in.

It took me great effort to tie my shoes. I thought about wearing my loafers that I hadn’t put on since the 1990’s and have a hiding spot in the deepest part of my closet, but I struggled through the loops and would have won a shoe-tying race against my 3 month old grandson if need be.

And that’s just getting dressed with the mini-cut! 

At Christmas Day dinner we had a delicious ham, but “the cut” made cutting my piece of meat painful. Eating a pickle was painless, but how many pickles can I person eat as others are piling their plates with ham, scalloped potatoes, corn casserole, fruit salad, rolls, and veggies? Picking up the whole slice of ham and jamming it in my mouth seemed to be unfitting for the occasion. I did that later!

A couple of days later I had to shovel the driveway. Oh, the pain, the pain!

I reached to turn the lamplight off beside the bed. Jumpin’ Jimmy!

I flipped the top open on my container of Old Spice “Steel Courage” Body Wash and grimaced. Where’s that Dove bar of soap when you need it? 

You get the picture! A minute cut on the end of one finger had a ripple effect on the decisions I made, or didn’t make, for a good ten days. It’s still there, but I can at least button my shirt all the way to the top now and I’ve been able to put the Vaseline away without thinking about having to use it.

The pain of the least of these amongst us has a ripple effect on all of us. In the Apostle Paul’s description of the functioning church he never talks about the over-effectiveness of one of its parts. There’s to be no strutting amongst the people of God. Instead, he focuses the health of the church on all of its parts functioning properly…even the tip of the thumb. When one of the parts can’t be counted on it causes the whole body to shift, to rethink how to get something done, and ends up overtaxing the other members. A small cut on my thumb brought that home to me.

The Body of Christ is a unique group. When it began back in the days after Jesus was crucified and rose again it emphasized the importance of everyone. Heck! Jesus emphasized that his whole ministry. Those who were considered “the tips of the thumbs” and “the toenails on the little toes” were given just as much attention and care by Jesus as anyone else. When the church becomes more like the spiritual form of a pyramid scheme the whole body uses its focus.

My right thumb is back to ninety percent now. All is right again in the universe, but I’m putting a sign up in my study “Beware of the Angry Paper!”

The Tales of Being Last

December 31, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 December 31, 2019

                            

I was never picked first, never. Even in the progression of my siblings I was last. I was always afraid to ask if I was an afterthought, since Mom and Dad had my brother and then my sister. The tables seemed balanced…and then Billy Dean Wolfe came into the world. When you’re third in line you always wonder about things like that. Did my parents slip up one night and I was their surprise…or did they think my brother and sister were so cute why not try for another cutie? Did my mom use her infamous line on Dad, “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” and things went from there or I was a part of their master plan?

I was last, the last of the Wolfe’s. And guess what? Wolfe comes at the end of the alphabet, unless there’s a Young or a Zipp behind you. Just about every class I was in the teachers would arrange the students alphabetically. In U.S. History class I was even behind another Wolfe, Betsy Wolfe. “B-i” came after “B-e”!

My fourth grade teacher showed some compassion and had me move to the front of the class, not because she thought its was unfair that I always had to sit in the back, but rather because she noticed my squinting to see the chalkboard up front. I needed glasses. Being vision deficient qualified me for advancement from the end to the beginning.

My mom was obsessed with “the last.” The last little bite of food in the casserole dish. I can’t tell you how many times she hovered the broccoli cheese casserole by my shoulder and  said, “Bill, you want this last little bite?” Telling her that I didn’t was the wrong answer. It led to a series of questions, like a car dealer trying to sell my dad a Ford (Our family drove Chryslers and Buicks!). My dad’s resistance was solid. Not so much though with my holding off the last bit of broccoli cheese casserole that Mom would inch ever closer to my plate as she tilted it. When she went to her patented “Just enough to dirty the dishwater!” line, I surrendered.

I think about last things a lot these days. I’m getting closer to the end of my journey. Carol thinks I’ll live to be 105 and be featured in the local newspaper as I shovel a spoonful of pureed veggies into my mouth, but I don’t know! This past year more of my friends arrived at the end of their lives. For a few death was the last thing on their minds as they started a new day, but accidents and heart attacks put a dent into the daily agendas. 

I think more and more about what are the last words I want to say to people and how I end the journey. What last acts of kindness would I want to make priorities? What are the last things of my life that I need to resolve and be able to let go of? You know, what are the hurts that need healing and the wounds I’ve caused that need forgiveness?

And what if, like the broccoli cheese casserole, I’m life-stuffed and God says to me “Just a little bit left! Can you live a little bit longer for me? I’ve got just enough life here to dirty the dish water!” 

If that happens, my mom would have a big smile on her face and, though theologically I don’t believe it, I wouldn’t be able to get out of my mind the idea that Mom put the Almighty up to convincing me to the last little bite of living longer.

Polishing My Shoes

December 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 25, 2019

                      

It brought tears to my eyes and it was only shoe polish.

As I dressed and got ready to leave for the 4:00 Christmas Eve service I went to the closet and retrieved the shoe shine kit. The black polish rubbed smoothly over the leather of my dress shoes. As I brushed the shoes into a shine I was taken back to the same scene played out again and again about five decades ago. Every Christmas Eve my dad would instruct me to shine my shoes. It was a tradition that I didn’t appreciate as a teenager. After all, my shoes would only be seen for a few moments. Otherwise they’d be planted partially underneath the pew in front of me at First Baptist Church in Ironton, Ohio. It seemed like busy work, just something to keep me from watching TV for a few minutes.

But to my dad it was important. There was always the unspoken idea of looking your best and, at church, giving of your best. Polished shoes were an act of devotion to Jesus. If our family couldn’t bring gold, frankincense, or myrrh we could at least show up with some shine and show the Christ-child that we had put a bit of thought into our preparation for worship. 

To my dad it wasn’t just for looks or to impress anyone. It was part of his faith identity. He’s the one who taught me how to put the proper knot into a necktie…and it was another part of the Sunday church prep. To this day I can’t put on a necktie without looking into a mirror. It’s how he taught me to tie it and I’m sorta’ necktie dislexic!

The memories of those moments washed over me as I moved the brush back and forth over my Oxfords. Christmas is about happy kids, joy-filled moments, and the glad tidings of the season. 

But Christmas is also about remembering the parts and the people that have made up the journey. In the joy of the Bethlehem birth, for me at least, there is the moan for the passing of the past. All I can do is honor its memory by continuing its practice.

And so I slip on my shoes and then stand in front of the mirror and make the loops of my necktie. My dad would be proud. He always figured that if he was proud of me Jesus would think I was all right also! After all, in so many ways he was a reflection of Jesus.

The Long Silence

December 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 22, 2019

                                            

Life seems to be noisy these days. Two of my kids will be at the Lions-Broncos football game this afternoon. They’ll stand out because they’ll be cheering for the Lions. Seventy thousand noisy lunatics and they’ll be there. 

Meanwhile, Carol and I will be experiencing a different kind of noise— the noise of our three month old grandson wondering where Mommy and Daddy are. Life seems to be diverse in its types of noisy cries and protests.

Sometimes life is so populated with noise that we can’t hear the silence. Sometimes in our rush to negotiate the situations of life we don’t recognize that there is a moment of holy quiet. 

In the Bible there’s the story of Abraham being given the promise that he will have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abraham, however, got a bit impatient waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise and rushed to solve the problem himself. The last verse of Genesis 16 identifies him as being 86 years old…and then there is a 13 year silence. Genesis 17:1 tells the reader that he is now 99.

13 years of silence from the heavens. It took that long for God to get Abraham’s attention.

Other than bleating sheep and angels praising God the story of Jesus’ coming is punctuated with times of silence. 

A silent Zechariah. A silent confused Joseph. A silent but obedient Mary. Shepherds in terrified quiet during the visitation of the angel. 

Silence has a way of focusing our attention on the next important word that is about to be spoken. Sometimes it’s a long silence, painful to sit through and confusing to our reasoning. Sometimes the silence is renewing. 

And when the silence is from God it is either unnerving or, troubling as this sounds, unnoticed. Some of us wait with anxious anticipation for what God will say and do. Others are so consumed with the chatter of the world that they haven’t noticed the tightened lips of the Lord. 

May today be a day of listening in spite of all the noise!

My Small Town, Small Church Bethlehem

December 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 15, 2019

                            

I’m not against the mega-church. It has its mission, purpose, and place. A lot of my friends are involved in mega-churches in various locations around the country. I’m just not a big church kind of guy.

Most Sundays I’m sitting in a rock hard pew instead of watching a band rock out on stage. The church I attend is about a 45 minute drive from the half-million people city where we live, in a small town of 500 people. The church is about as unsophisticated and un-seeker sensitive as you can get…and yet there’s something that touches my spirit when I worship there with about 15 other people. 

It’s my small town, small church Bethlehem, off the beaten path and unnoticed, a block from the Methodist church that is equally unnoticed and set back in time.

In our city’s newspaper this morning there was a special section that focused on the demise of the small town. It was like a eulogy for what used to be a main fabric in the Americana tapestry, but is now slipping into being part of a memorable past. There was a yearning in the article for a return to the richness of small town communities and weeping words about its fading away.

The same obituary points could be stated about the small town church. Most of the people who move to Simla, Colorado— the few that would apply to, that is— are either running away from something or arriving to disappear from the hustle and bustle of urban life. 

Most of the visitors who come through the doors of our church aren’t quite sure what they are getting themselves into. There’s no church nursery, children’s church, organist, pianist, or welcome center. The congregation is rarely singing the right notes that the “music machine” is playing and last Sunday we didn’t have a single Christmas carol where the number of verses in the hymnal was exactly the number of verses that the machine sounded out.

And yet I’m drawn to its homespun charm and chatter. The coffee is weaker than even Mrs. Folger’s would make it, and someone’s niece that we’ve been praying for this past year is always referred to in the bulletin as so-and-so’s “neice.” It is a church that functions out of an unwritten but defined structure and readily admits that we’re all cracked pots or crackpots.

It has never been lost on me that the birthplace of Jesus was a small town, a village, and that the first visitors were shepherds from the countryside. It took the Magi, representatives of royalty and the upper crust, much longer to show up.

Perhaps my eastern Kentucky rural roots have had too much influence on my perspective, but I hope small towns and small churches can continue to be part of the spiritual journeys of the folk I rub elbows with on Sunday mornings. 

We’ll worship together on Christmas Eve, a special service that they asked me if they could have. I told them that they didn’t need my permission to have a Christmas Eve service and they replied, “We know, but we need you to speak.”

Okay!

The last Sunday in December a young lady is getting baptized. It prompted two questions that needed to be answered. Who’s going to move the old wooden doors that the baptistry is being used for their storage space; and two, does the heater still work? Actually, the second question was more like “We sure hope the heater works!” Since my tootsies will be submerged in the water, I’m offering up a prayer for warmth as well.

Could it be that, just like in first century Bethlehem, God might bring new life and new hope to the the proclamation of the gospel through the unlikely rebirth of the small town, small church Bethlehem.

Bethlehem, after all, means “house of bread”, and the church in Simla, along with the weak coffee, has cookies just about every Sunday after worship. It’s usually a sweet ending to a morning of being blessed.