Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Changing the ‘6’ to a ‘7’!

January 5, 2017

                                                                                       January 5, 2017

                                     

    Perhaps you’re like me in some way! I know, I know, you’re NOT like me in most ways. Thank God! You probably don’t have your personal “blankie” that you still sleep with even though it looks like the dog chewed on it…for years! You probably don’t pronounce the days of the week with an ending syllable that sounds more like “dey” instead of “day.” And…I’m being vulnerable here…you probably don’t sleep with one sock on (usually the left) and one sock off!

But there is one way that I’m guessing you have been walking in the same footprints as I have the last few days. When I write a personal check I am still in the 2016 mindset. I’m having a hard time transitioning from the 6 to the 7. Even when I dated today’s blog post I began with 2016! About the time February rolls around I’ll get the hang of it…maybe!

Maybe you’re one of those that has his/her total act together and you’re able to change your life situations as easily as a Mustang stick shift. Plus you’ve never had a cavity, or anything below an “A”, have low cholesterol, can build that piece of furniture from Ikea without using the directions, and don’t snore!

For the rest of us, however, there are certain things in life that change that we struggle with. The calendar year is one thing, but, quite frankly, I am a creature of habit. I almost always get the Pike Place blend coffee at Starbucks, sit on the same stool for about the same amount of time. Even though I am a retired pastor it still feels weird to not be preaching on a Sunday morning (I do speak 2-3 times a month!). It feels really weird to have my Saturday nights freed up and not be honing the Sunday message.

For me routine is comfortable. Even going to Sunday morning worship is a comfortable routine for me…and it’s okay to be involved in some things that are comfortable and comforting. Life has enough twists and turns to it, plenty of gut-wrenching times that are discomforting and disconcerting. God doesn’t expect his children to be masochists who go looking for pain. Comfort is a part of the journey.

There will be things that I encounter this year that will cause my insides to tighten up, uncomfortable changes that are necessary and unwelcome news that bring me to tears, but I walk ahead with the One who walks close beside.

I write these words at a time that my dad is in St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s had a tough week. He ’s also 88 with a history of heart episodes. As a family we know that he could live another few years…or not live to be 89 in mid-June. We are thankful for what has been, but we know that “tearful change” will come someday.

A year ago I changed from being a pastor to being a “retired pastor.” In recent months I’ve changed from being a retired pastor to being a substitute teacher who does pulpit supply. I was ready for the first change and, like a kid finally tall enough to ride the roller coaster, excited about the second.

Figuratively speaking, some days I prefer the calmness of the “Lazy River” ride, and some days I’m pumped for the heart-racing Magnum at Cedar Point. In other words, some days I just want life to be the same as it has been, and on other days I’m ready for a new twist and experience. Some days I just want to sit in Starbucks and drink four cups of coffee (free refills, mind you!), and other days I’m ready to take on a class of bouncing first-graders.

Change and challenges will come whether I’m ready for them or not.

That reminds me! I need to change the furnace filter when I get home! There…that’s probably another way you’re like me!

GoReadMe

December 30, 2016

                                                                                   December 30, 2016

                                          

I’m thinking of a new venture called “GoReadMe.com“. It would be completely self-serving and ego-stroking in a culture that is self-serving and ego-stroking. The purpose would be to increase reader traffic at my “WordsfromWW.com” blog.

I got the idea in my sleep last night. Well, actually it came about the time my senior citizen body took a bathroom break from actually sleeping. I figured that if “gofundme.com” can raise over 3 billion dollars for special causes, perhaps a new “GoReadMe.com” might greatly multiply the viewership of the “Wolfe words” I hammer out.

Sounds crazy, I know, but a “GoFundMe” cause set up to help Betty White survive 2016 has raised almost $7,000 so far! What??? I’m not sure what happens to her on January 1, 2017. Perhaps a new cause will emerge to finance another year of survival for her.

On “GoReadMe” I could develop categories such as “Non-sensical”, “spiritually uplifting”, “for substitute teachers”, “family reminiscing”, and…”other.” Or perhaps, like when we would go to buy a new household appliance or television and then get the warranty pitch from the salesman…”This may have been assembled on a Monday when the workers were still hungover from the weekend. You never know, so you might want to purchase a warranty to protect yourself!” Maybe my categories would be the seven days of the week, because…you never know!

Bottom line…I am totally clueless about how to attract people to read my writings. If you have any ideas, please let me know! In a world that is wordy, getting more readership feels kind of like the owner of a restaurant attracting more customers so he can stay in business.

And please…please…please…I do not want someone to start a “GoFundMe” campaign to help Bill Wolfe survive 2017! I know Betty and I have the same initials and all, but…NO!

Year End Review

December 29, 2016

                                                                                   December 29, 2016

                                           

Most of us have gone through that white knuckle, anxiety-raising experience called “our evaluation.” For some it’s termed “job performance” and for others it’s the “year end review.” Whatever it was called most of us dreaded it with a passion, even though it usually ended up being a positive experience. I still remember the first evaluation I received when I was the very, very part-time youth director at First Baptist Church in Marseilles, Illinois. The pastor gave it to me and I thought it was totally unfair. My seminary professor who read the evaluation commented to me, “Sounds like he doesn’t care for you too much!” Perhaps that experience put the dread of evaluations in me. Funny thing is that the young people in that first youth group taught me a lot, and allowed me to figure out things. Forty years later I’m Facebook friends with a couple of them as we continue our journey, but from different parts of the country.

I’ve received evaluations that have helped me focus on areas of weakness and allowed me to become more grounded; and I’ve received evaluations that left me feeling defeated and deflated.

BUT now I’m retired! So who does my evaluation? There’s a few people who I’m sure would willingly volunteer, but…NO!

I guess it’s…ME! I guess I’m the one my evaluation falls to. Oh, I suppose Carol will continue to evaluate me in some ways, but that’s on a daily basis! Looking back at my first year of retirement after 36 and 1/2 years of full-time pastoral ministry means that I get to be my own judge. I have the honor of determining the good, the bad, and the ugly.

So here goes!

Needs Improvement- 

Time in The Word- Interesting that I thought I would have more time reading the Bible this past year, but it didn’t happen! I gleaned many things from it, but not nearly as many as I thought I would. No excuses or soppy-sounding reasons! It was just one of those things that didn’t happen enough. Hoping the coming year brings improvement here.

Time in Theological Reading- Pretty much like I just said above. My hope as I entered 2016 was to read some of those books of theology that have been in my personal library for…ever! Moltmann, Barth, Kung, Pannenberg…they’re all still there…staring at me with dusty covers!

Visits to the YMCA- Our monthly membership fee keeps going up and my number of visits keep going down. Playing basketball with “old farts” at 6 A.M. isn’t as likely to get me out of bed as much as it used to!

Average-

Since I’m evaluating myself I have the option of not putting anything as average. Seriously, the only thing I can think of as being average are the sack lunches I take to school when I substitute teach- peanut butter and honey on wheat bread, with a baggie of carrots and grapes, and a bottle of water…every day! TYPICAL would be a better word to describe most of my life. I go to bed about the same time each night, read at bedtime, sit on the same Starbucks stool, drink the same blend of coffee, play the same people over and over again in “Words With Friends”, type with the same three fingers (Notice I said “3!” One on my right hand and two on my left!), and watch the same TV shows week after week (mostly DVR’ed)…Elementary, Criminal Minds, and Modern Family.

Doing Well- 

Writing and Creativity- Today is the 167th posting on my “Words from WW” blog this year. Viewership this year increased by almost 30%. Feedback has been good, and I never seem to have a shortage of subject matter. I’m thinking about a book sometime entitled From My Stool At Starbucks. That’s where I write almost all of my blog posts…the end stool, mind you, at the right end of the counter that looks out at Pike’s Peak. Yesterday I came by Starbucks and my stool was taken, and like an old geezer set in his ways…I went back home! On the other side of things, I’m about 35,000 words into a novel, but I almost always do my novel writing at the public library! Weird, but productive! Carol thinks I have a girlfriend who works at the library.

Pastoring- I’ve transitioned, along with my friend Steve Wamberg, into being the unofficial pastors of First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. I say “unofficial”, but they even call be Pastor Bill now. I even received a mailing from our denomination’s region office last week inviting me to a conference in February that deals with pastoring the small church. Understand that all I’ve done so far is preach 2-3 Sundays a month, and lead the church in a couple of planning sessions as Steve and I help them figure out the future. I will probably never officially be pastor, but they see the two of us that way. And, quite frankly, I thoroughly enjoy the people there. They are great people who love the Lord and each other. It has allowed me to fall in love with the church again!

Coaching and Substitute teaching- I am extremely blessed to coach three different middle school teams…and to get paid to do it, and to mostly substitute teach middle school students. I love it, love it, love it! An added plus is all the writing material I receive from entering this world of adolescents. It’s like watching a new episode of The Wonder Years every day!

Spiritual Growth- This is a hard one for me to self-evaluate. Two of my best friends, Roger Mollenkamp and Steve Wamberg, continue to be my peer supports. We meet every other Friday at Starbucks for coffee, conversation, and each one of us has begun reading the book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. I seem to be more grounded, and on a daily discovery of what God has me in the midst of. My writing is often a prime way for me to ponder and pound out on the keyboard what it is that God is saying to me. I also continue to be in a group of pastors called our “TIM group”…Together In Ministry…that meets monthly for study, sharing, lunch, and prayer. Great group! These two groups that I am a part of continue to challenge me and support me in my spiritual journey.

Frame of Mind and Attitude- Carol gets to evaluate me on this one. She has said, and told others, that I am much more relaxed and less stressed. My annoyances are now more with achy joints and cranky knees. Carol would tell anyone who wanted to hear that this past year has been a good year for me. Four vacations together: road trips to Arizona and Ohio, another trip by plane to Arizona, and an awesome trip to Hawaii. Frequent trips together to places like Target and King Soopers- something we didn’t do as much when we were both still working. In other words, we are mostly enjoying our journey into the world of the elderly!

Year End Evaluation- Keep on doing what I’ve been doing…just better! Value family and friends, for they are the ones who add richness and depth to the journey. Seek the Lord and be amazed at what is found! And have fun!

What Might Jesus Wish For On His Birthday?

December 24, 2016

                                                                                            December 24, 2016

                           

Most people reading this will be opening up some kind of wrapped gift tonight or tomorrow…or whenever their family and friends gatherings take place. Let’s be honest! We all enjoy opening presents…even if there’s underwear inside!

In celebration of Jesus’ birth the Magi brought him three gifts that are mentioned in scripture: gold, myrrh, and frankincense. Each was a gift with a purpose as it related to Jesus. The gifts recognized his royalty, his priestly function, and his death.

I wonder what might be on Jesus’ gift wish list this birthday? What might Jesus hope for? I know I’m being a bit presumptuous in answering that question, but bearing in mind the purpose, personality, and teachings of Jesus, this is what I THINK he would want.

An Avalanche of Understanding- I think Jesus would be taken back by the lack of understanding that is present everywhere…and the absence of even wanting to understand. Political division, divisive people going at it in church, parents not understanding their children and vice versa, communities not understanding the plight of the homeless, well-to-do folk not understanding poverty, and just about everyone not understanding someone else’s point of view. I think Jesus might even expand his sermon on the mount to include “Blessed are those who seek to be understanding for they shall be filled with wisdom!”

    A Tsunami of GenerosityWe live in a time of “moderate Scroogeness!” Most of us would be offended to be described as Scrooges so we show “some generosity”, while hoarding everything else. I’m not talking about giving a buck to every panhandler you meet, but rather a willingness to be generous. Jesus talked about giving up our coat to someone in need. Recently my wife Carol brought about half a dozen coats to me and asked which one or two we should keep. She was going to take the rest to a place that was collecting coats. My first reaction…to myself!…was “I might still need that!” Carol’s generosity also had wisdom mixed in. “How many coats can you wear at one time, Bill?” Many of us are prone to hoard what we have instead of allowing our resources to fulfill their purpose. I think Jesus might say something like this: “The poor you will always have with you. That is not an excuse to dismiss them, but rather an opportunity to bless them.”

    An Appetite for Spiritual NourishmentI think Jesus would desire the gift of seeking him, walking closely beside him, and wanting more of him. His desire would be less entertainment centers and more worship centers, less choreographed worship services and more spontaneity, less “the look” and more the walk. Like when we grow old and instead of a gift card we’d just like to sit with our grown up children and talk, perhaps Jesus’ wished-for gift would be ongoing conversations with people who are interested in knowing him better, desirous of a journeying relationship wth him. A dear friend of mine recently told me that the younger generations often want a big splash of spiritual excitement, but Jesus asks us for a continuos relationship that asks for $5 at a time. In other words, Jesus desires a spiritual appetite that is steady, long, and forever…not just for a weekend every once in a while.

Three gifts! One that speaks to our mind, one that speaks to our heart, and one that speaks to our spirit. Or put another way, one that speaks to those we differ with, one that speaks to those who need us, and one that speaks to the One who we need.

Happy birthday, Jesus!

The Red Kettle Bellringer

December 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 22, 2016

                                 

The ringing could be heard all over the parking lot of the grocery store. The seventy year old man waving the bell back and forth smiled at everyone who passed by regardless of whether they put something in his kettle or not. Most didn’t, but he engaged them with a greeting anyway.

A young woman with her four year old daughter approached on his right hoping to sneak by unnoticed. The bellringer turned as she was right beside him and shouted a greeting. “Merry Christmas to you and yours!” The greeting made her step back startled for a moment. “Would your little girl like a candy cane?”

The four year old looked up with delight and a smile from ear to ear. “I’m sure she would,” replied the mom. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have anything to put into the donation bucket.”

“That’s quite all right, ma’am! Perhaps you’ll be able to pass on the glad tidings to someone in another way…a kind word to a neighbor, a visit to someone in the hospital, or even saying a prayer for someone else in need. There always seems to be something that we can do to help this world be a bit more decent to be a part of.”

“Thank you! I’ll keep those things in mind.”

“Mr. Bellringer,“ came the soft voice of the young child. “Do you get to keep the money that you collect?”

“Lord, no, darling!” he chuckled. “This money goes to help some folk who don’t have food to eat or a bed to lay their head in. I’m just the man who has the privilege to ring the bell and hand out candy canes.” He turned to the left to wish another customer entering the store a merry Christmas. Another woman exiting walked by the red kettle and tucked a folded five dollar bill into the slit on top of the kettle. “Thank you, ma’am!”

“So, Mr. Bellringer-“

“Call me Mr. Sam, darling!”

“Mr. Sam, what do you get for standing here and ringing the bell?”

“Well, my dear, I get…to do it!”

“Get to do it?”

“Yes, I get to do it. I get to see the looks of generosity that come upon the faces of people who make decisions to give up something of their own to help someone they will probably never see.”

The mom spoke up. “But don’t you get a bit miffed at all the folk who pretend not to see you as they pass by?”

“No, ma’am! That’s their choice, and you know something?”

“What?”

“I used to be just like that. Kind of a hardened man who didn’t really care about anyone or anything else. I can’t really say how I got to that point but it happened.”

“So…something must have changed.”

“Yes, ma’am! It did, and it was about this time of the year…ten years ago, in fact!” He paused for a moment to greet a young boy and his parents and hand the child one of his candy canes. “My wife, Ellie, came down sick…and I mean really sick! So sick that I carried her out to the car and started to drive her to the hospital. She was in severe pain, moaning and groaning, and all of a sudden as we drove she just passed out.”

“Oh my!”

“As you can tell, I was scared to death and I pulled over to the side of the road, put my flashers on, and tried to revive her. I was frantic! Thank the Good Lord that no more than thirty seconds later a pick-up truck pulled up behind me on the side of the road and a man and his wife got out to see what was going on. I jumped out of the car and screamed about my wife being unresponsive. The woman was a nurse who worked in the ER of the very hospital I was heading to, and she performed CPR on Ellie right there, got her breathing again, and jumped in the car with me as we drove to the hospital. She called ahead and they were waiting for us when we arrived five minutes later.”

The little girl looked up at Mr. Sam and with great concern asked, “Was she okay?”

“Darling, there was something wrong with her heart, but they were able to fix it and she ended up being okay. But you know something, if that couple hadn’t stopped to help it would have been a different story. That day changed me! I guess you could say that the Good Lord got my attention about how selfish I had been. If that had been someone else pulled off the side of the road and I was passing by I wouldn’t have thought twice about them, but just kept on going. But Ellie probably wouldn’t still be alive today if those two people hadn’t helped. Like I said, that day changed me!”

“And that’s why you ring the bell?” asked the mom. “That’s why you greet people with a merry Christmas and hand out candy canes.”

“It’s a simply way that doesn’t take any advanced education, if you know what I mean. The only requirements are being able to ring a bell and be friendly with people. And you know something, ma’am? I enjoy it!”

At that moment a woman was leaving the store and she came by the red kettle. “Here you go, Sam! Tell Ellie I said hello!” She dropped some money into the collection.

“You betcha’, Helen! You working today?”

“Heading there now! Will you stop by and say hello?”

“Absolutely! Maybe I’ll bring you a candy cane!”

“Save those for the kids, Sam!” She walked on across the parking lot.

“Is that one of your neighbors?”

“In  a way!”

The little girl spoke up again. “Mr. Sam, are you going home after you get done ringing your bell?”

“No, I’m heading to the hospital.”

“Is your wife there?”

“No, I go by the pediatric ward…that’s where the sick children stay…and I pass out candy canes and tell them stories to make their day a little brighter.”

“That’s really nice, Mr. Sam,” said the mom. “Is Helen one of the nurses there?”

“Yes, she’s a nurse in the pediatric ward now.”

“How did you meet? Did you meet her when you started volunteering there?”

“No, I knew her before that. She used to be a nurse in the ER.”

The young mom paused and then began, “Is that…is she…?”

“Yes! She’s the one who saved Ellie’s life.” And he gave a wink to the mom and her daughter. “I hope you have a very merry Christmas!” The little girl took two steps to Mr. Sam and hugged him with all her might.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Sam!”

Revising the Christmas Story

December 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 21, 2016

                            

I gave a “test” to the twenty folk who make up the congregation of the church I am “kinda’ pastoring” right now. I say “kinda’ pastoring” because my friend Steve Wamberg and I mostly fill the pulpit on Sundays, and are also helping them figure out the direction of their future ministry.

The test I gave them was “True and False” statements about the Christmas story. I love it, because it brings to the surface how much our understanding of the story has been determined by Christmas carols and conjecture. Through the layers of the years, music, and imagination there has been a lot of “stuff” added to the pure biblical story.

In Ken Bailey’s book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, he brings out a few of these story revisions. For example, how many nativity scenes will we see this Christmas that are set up in a make-shift barn stable? Growing up in eastern Kentucky where my grandparents lived on a farm, I identified with the Christ-child born on a bed of hay in a barn that creaked and shook in the wind. Since my grandparents had a pack of barn cats that roamed the farm I always envisioned a few feline figurines in the nativity scene. Ken Bailey makes the point that in the homes of Bethlehem the stable was actually inside the house. Livestock were brought indoors at night, and the house usually had two rooms- one where the family resided and one where the livestock bedded down. The manger would have been where the livestock were kept…in the house! It’s a cultural understanding that seems strange to us, so we have simply revised it to fit our understanding better.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Whether Jesus was born in a cave, a barn, or was bunking with the cattle in the house is not a detail that changes the essence of the story. The essence of the story that does not change is that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, come to earth in the flesh…fully human and fully divine!

But what about when layer after layer of imagination is added to the story? What happens when the created stories crowd out the original truth, the original meaning? As I sit on my “writing stool” at Starbucks I’m listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas”, and humming the tune that tells me that the best Christmas has snow. Unlike Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, it’s pretty doubtful that the first Christmas in the Bethlehem of Israel featured snow.

Saint Nicholas is a great story about a 4th Century Greek Christian bishop, known for his generosity to the impoverished. As time went on children were given gifts on the evening before St. Nicholas’s day of honor, December 6. During the Reformation there was increasing opposition to the honoring of saints. Martin Luther promoted the giving of gifts to children at that time, but sought to focus it back to the Christ-child. Santa Claus emerged sometime in the 17th or 18th Century as a blended character of Saint Nicholas and the English Father Christmas from the 16th Century.

Great story! Great and entertaining story…a jolly elderly man coming down chimneys, helped out by elves, escorted by flying reindeer. Great story!

My guess, however, is that if you gave a test to children and adults alike a huge majority would be much more proficient at knowing the Santa Claus created facts than the actual story of Saint Nicholas and…the biblical story of the birth of Jesus.

Imagination and creativity are wonderful gifts, but sometimes they steer us away from the story of the most wonderful Gift!

Caroling With the Methodists

December 19, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 19, 2016

     Cautiously they came up the seven steps into the sanctuary. There were nine of them, four adults and five bouncing kids. They hadn’t gotten two steps into the sanctuary before two of the Baptist women descended upon them with greetings and smiles. Today the Methodists were joining us! More specifically, the Methodist children’s bell choir was going to play for our service. First Baptist Church and First United Methodist Church were situated just a block apart from one another in the hamlet of Simla, but worlds apart from ever joining together in some kind of activity. Today would change that.

The cold and snow kept a few of the faithful away. Henry and Mildred, our two ninety year olds, wisely stayed away. John was down in his back. A different John was on snow plow duty with the County. So nine United Methodists joined thirteen American Baptists for a time of worship, celebration, and laughter. The five-child bell choir, all related to one another, delighted us. After they finished their two songs they passed out candy canes to everyone…and then I passed out the candy canes I had brought for them!

Two small churches figuring out each other! At the end of worship the crock pots with chili were plugged in and most of us trudged down the snow-packed street two blocks to the full-care senior facility to sing for the elderly residents and, once again, to have the bell choir play. The two churches had collected pairs of socks that the children passed out to the residents, socks with brightly colored stripes and designs to bring a bit of color to the lives of some folks whose days were mostly gray and hopeless.

Two small churches walking together, becoming familiar with one another in a community we were all familiar with. Two small churches figuring out how we could join together to make a difference.

Back to the Baptist church we walked to enjoy chili and cinnamon rolls together. We gathered at the front of the sanctuary, joined hands in a circle of prayer, and asked God’s blessing on the meal and thanked him for the day we had enjoyed. Guests went first, savoring the aromas as they passed by the pots. One of the girls gave the ultimate compliment. She said, “This place smells just like Taco Bell!”

We sat together and enjoyed conversation about school, life, and farming. A story I had shared in my morning message resonated with one of the Methodists. He had been the high school basketball coach for 35 years and my story had focused on a basketball official that we both knew. Connecting points brought us closer together in our conversation.

At the end of the day everyone knew that what had happened that morning and afternoon had been a good thing.

Two small churches a block away, but no longer worlds apart.