Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

My Road To Simla

September 25, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      September 25, 2016

                                     

Sunday mornings have become a favorite time of mine, not because I’m able to sleep in or make flapjacks in the iron skillet, but because I get to travel down the road to Simla.

Traveling to Simla is synonymous with finding rest and being at peace. I go to Jackie Landers for a body massage. I travel to Simla for a massaging of my spirit.

Quite frankly, when I retired from the pastoral ministry last December after 36 plus years I was fried crispy. I did not do self-care well. Not many pastors do! I came to dread Tuesdays because it signaled the beginning of another six day week filled with meetings, crises, obligations, and church drama. Doing pastoral ministry is like taking a daily vitamin, but at some point the bottle becomes depleted and you can sense the gradual loss of vitality and purpose.

After stepping away at the end of 2015, Carol saw the difference in me within the first couple of weeks. She saw what I could not see…the slumped shoulders perking up again, the laughter and joy, the lessening of the hurrying.

And then in February I took my first drive to Simla, a forty-five minute ride into the eastern plains of Colorado on a two-lane road…passing by Peyton, slowing down for the 35 mile an hour speed limit through Calhan, and skirting the edge of the spot by the side of the road called Ramah, and then arriving at the village of Simla.

On the drive I ponder, pray, listen to Garth Brooks, think about the Sunday message, hum to myself, and sip on my third cup of Starbucks coffee. As I get closer to Simla and First Baptist Church my “happy meter” keeps moving to the right. The twenty people or so that will be there each Sunday morning are like pastors to me. They minister to my wounds, soothe my doubts. Thelma and Kathleen brought me a dozen ears of corn from their farm a couple of weeks ago. Ray and Laura open the building and talk me up upon my arrival. John and Angie and their two kids, Lou and Lena, bring me chuckles. Henry and Mildred, 89 and 90, are the senior components of wisdom and church history. Elizabeth, and her young son Eric, offer kindness and care. John and Sherri always remind us to pray for our country. Each person brings something to offer and is offered the ministry and community of the Body in return.

And as I pass by Ramah I anticipate the blessing of what is about to happen.

At this point the Simla church can’t afford a pastor. My friend Steve Wamberg and I fill the pulpit each week. It has become a dance that we thoroughly enjoy. The coffee after worship is exceptionally weak, but the fellowship amongst the saints is strong. No one seems in a hurry to beat the Methodists to the restaurants, since there are very few Methodists in Simla and the only restaurant in town, the Hen House, never seems to have much of a crowd.

When I drive home from Simla I always feel emotionally uplifted, spiritually nurtured, and ready for the week ahead. In some ways I’ve rediscovered the value of church for my life. It may have taken my being at a different life point for that to happen, but I’m thankful for where I am.

Sometimes it simply takes a 45 minute step away from what has been to rediscover what still is.

Saying Goodbye To My Colorado Dad

September 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 24, 2016

                        

My father, Laurence Hubert Wolfe, lives in Proctorville, Ohio. He turned 88 back in June. He is, and has always been, a man of integrity and compassion. Living in Colorado has minimized my time with him in recent years. Sunday night phone calls are our meaningful habit, about thirty minutes of conversation about what is happening, punctuated with a few stories that we each chuckle about when shared. I’ve been blessed to be the son of a man who is Deacon Emeritus at his church, not so much for his biblical knowledge, but rather for his humbleness and grace.

God knew I needed another dad…a resident papa, if you will…and he blessed my life these past seventeen years with another man of humbleness and grace named Rex Davis. Both Rex and my dad were government employees- Rex with the Postal Service and my dad with the Social Security Administration. And both Rex and my dad were caregivers for their wives for a number of years, treating their spouses with respect and love as ailments and conditions slowed their mobility.

The only difference between Rex and my dad is that Rex preceded his wife, Ann, in death. Today I speak at his funeral. He passed away about a week ago after battling cancer for the past three years or so. Rex was 95.

As I speak this afternoon I expect that I will become emotional. Sometimes pastors become accustomed to grief, to loss, and tragedy. It becomes a part of our occupational routine, and quite frankly, seldom touches our hearts. There are, however, those people whose lives have entwined themselves into your lives that ignite the sorrow and awaken the emotions. Rex is that person for me! His funeral is an event I have dreaded, and yet, feel very honored to be a part of.

When I was his pastor he would squeeze my finger each Sunday when he would pass the offering plate to me, and then he’d whisper to me “Praying for you, Pastor Bill!” He was my golfing dad, hitting them short and straight and then patiently waiting for me to find my drive that usually went long and sliced to the right. He appreciated my ministry and, with sincerity, told me so frequently.

I walked some lonely days with him, as he grieved the death of his only son in a motorcycle accident. I was a listening ear in his time of loss and confusion. When my mom passed away he came along beside me with words of comfort, and found a few more times each month to give my finger a squeeze or embrace me with a hug of support.

I expect that the sanctuary will be close to capacity this afternoon, a testimony to a man who outlived just about everybody of his generation. It will be a bitter-sweet celebration of his life and his witness. There will be outbursts of laughter and ears streaming tears of sorrow.

I miss my friend. I miss my Colorado dad!

Sharing My Opinion

September 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                September 22, 2016

                                  

I received an email from Time magazine yesterday. They want my opinion on different things! They must have received a rumor that I’m opinionated and have opinions to offer on anything and everything…from the election to the price of avocados to the end of “Mike and Molly.” It’s nice to know that someone values what I’m thinking.

Sharing opinions is a risky business these days. Facebook opinions have become the Jerry Springer Show of social media. People seem to get off sharing their distorted anger, while others get even more satisfaction at telling them what pathetic losers they are…and then back to you…and then I’ll reach for an even lower comment…and then…

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus had his challengers ready to pounce. Of course, the difference is that Jesus didn’t have opinions, he had the truth. The truth got lampooned, demonized, and criticized. Jesus would have been caricatured on the editorial page every day in some cartoon drawing.

Most of us have a hard time differentiating between the truth and what is simply our opinion. In my annual eye exam my optometrist does one test where two lines gradually come together. That’s how most of us see truth and our opinion. They have become two lines of thought and understanding that we’ve brought together.

And so sharing any opinion seems to be like lighting a fuse on a conversation ready to explode. Some of us like explosions. They seem to ignite us! Others of us shake our heads in disgust and dismay.

Just think about recent opinions that divide us like New England Patriot fans versus…well, everybody else! There’s been the election, National Anthem protests prompted by recent shootings, immigration, health insurance, the cost of Epi-pens, Ryan Lochte, concussion issues in sports, and the legalization of marijuana. Wow! Time could do a couple of issues just on the issues.

And here’s the thing! In our hyper-opinionated culture the thinking seems to be that I must totally agree or totally dis-agree…that I can’t disagree 60% and agree 40%, or admit that there is some truth in the opinion that i don’t agree with. We seem to think that people have to be all in or all out!

I’ve been reading a book entitled Washington’s Circle by David and Jeanne Heidler. What  I’ve been amazed at is the opinionated founding fathers. In today’s terms we would say that they were not all on the same page. They had their opinions about issues, as well as about each other…and they seemed to be able to talk about their differences and, in most cases, come to a consensus of agreement. Perhaps a slower way of communicating helped. In many ways the speed of our interactions these days is a positive, but it has also become a liability. People don’t think before they speak or comment or send a social media post…and then let the fire begin!

A wise person longs for truth and considers the value of their words.

Knowing That Voice!

September 19, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            September 19, 2016

                          

     My wife Carol still shakes her head in disbelief as she retells the story to people. It happened about twenty years ago now in the midst of a restaurant in Tempe, Arizona called Rustler’s Roost. Our family, along with Carol’s mom and dad were enjoying a nice dinner in the midst of the establishment. As we sat there sipping our Pepsi’s and munching on the pre-meal bread I heard a voice, a woman’s voice, coming from a few tables over from us.

I looked at Carol and said, “That’s Sue Burt!”

She gave me a confused look and asked, “Sue Burt?”

“Cyndi Martin’s step-sister from Arlington Heights.”

“How do you know it’s Sue Burt?”

“I’d recognize that voice anywhere!” Sue Burt’s step-father was Dr. James Payson Martin, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a church where I served as Youth Director during my next year of seminary in 1978-1979.

It was now 1998!

“Bill, are you sure? You aren’t even looking at her.”

“Absolutely!”

Without delay Carol got up and walked over to the table where “the voice” was coming from and asked the young woman, now about 35 years old, if her name was Sue Burt. She was greeted with a confused look attached to an affirmative nod. Carol explained to her that I had heard her voice. I walked over and we reconnected for a few minutes after a twenty year gap.

Sue had a voice that was distinctive, unmistakable, just like a few other voices that we can easily recognize…Pee Wee Herman…Mister Rogers…our family physician. When a voice becomes known to you it isn’t easily forgotten. When a voice speaks into your life you remember it.

I find this is increasingly true for followers of Jesus. When we know the voice because our life has listened to it for a long, long time we recognize when the voice is speaking to us. In a culture of a lot of noise- or perhaps multiple voices- hearing the “true” voice is essential for a person’s spiritual journey. The thing is lack of intimacy with “the Voice’ creates a high level of voice-guessing. That is, God becomes the voice of personal agendas clothed in spiritual jargon. “God told me so!” gets used a lot to cover up self-centeredness or people on power trips.

Churches are prone to listen to the ten spies rather than to the “Joshua and Caleb’s”. People also tend to listen to the loudest voice rather than the whisper of the Spirit. The one who has the deepest intimacy with the real Voice often gets drowned out by the turned up volume of others. Spiritually mature voices are seldom loud. Wisdom and discernment don’t emerge out of turned up volume.

But when a person or a church truly…undoubtedly…unmistakably…undeniably hears the voice of God, the whisper of the Spirit, and the leading of the love of Jesus something that can only be explained as being of God is about to happen!

 

The Church That Mutually Submits

September 12, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          September 12, 2016

                               

Churches can be incredible places of grace…and churches can be intolerable places of ungodly treatment. I’ve seen both. We dream of the first and too often experience the latter. It’s been that way since….ohhh, say the first century!

The Corinthians could be a reality TV show. Lawsuits, disorder, self-centeredness, strong personalities, dysfunctional church life…they could make a ten year run on Bravo! And most of the seven churches in the early chapters of Revelation…talk about issues!

Churches are comprised of people with issues, otherwise known as imperfect people, who are incapable of perfection. Every church has problems! Every church has warts!

The difference is when a church recognizes that and brings grace into the midst of the fellowship. Grace paves the way for dialogue, forgiveness, and reconciliation. A church that is committed to grace values the principle of mutual submission. That is, each person in the Body of Believers desires to be serve the others. Personal agendas get thrown into the trunk as people in the Body value one another more than they value their own wants.

Here’s the thing! People don’t trust mutual submission. They are afraid of being burned, and afraid that wrong decisions will be made if everyone is treated with equal regard. They are afraid of pushy people pushing their wants, and loud people drowning out those with soft voices. It is easier to be suspicious rather than servant-minded.

The dynamics of the Kingdom of God are written in a different book than the one most of us are living by. Mutual submission means that we recognize that we need each other, we have a deep love and respect for each other, and that we value each other. When “a wart” surfaces in the life of the church the members of the fellowship respond with words of commitment like “We will work it out together!” Judgment and demeaning decisions get thrown into the trunk with the personal agendas and everyone gets a firmer grasp of the hands of others as a storm of conflict is faced. There is a bond that will not let go. People say things like “What’s it going to take to bring our relationships back to the trusting level? Let’s work on it together.”

The dilemma for the church is that she puts up with people that no other organization would tolerate. Our commitment to grace shows in how we love those who believe in grace but never practice it. That takes us back to the reality of the truth that depresses us, that we all have issues and we all need the grace of God. Woe is we!

The reality of our fallen nature, of being people with issues, will not, however, deter me from  believing the church is to be that place of mutual submission and grace! Even though some of the behavior I see or hear about makes me grind my teeth I haven’t given up on the fellowship of Christ-followers yet!

 

What Would Jesus Say To ______?

September 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                September 10, 2016

                     

Since I’ve been a pastor for a majority of my life people have often looked to me for guidance on a variety of issues and life situations. I’ve been asked what version of the Bible I would recommend, what to say to a child that has begun to wander spiritually, how to deal with mother-in-laws that make life torture, and what to say to someone who scoffs at the Christian faith?

All are relevant questions that trouble people’s minds.

There is one area, however, where I refuse to give people that I’ve been the pastor to any guidance, and that is the problem of politics. It’s interesting how in the blessedness of our liberty we’ve made the political arena a problem. People have become snippy! If I was able to measure on a scale the weight of political venom expressed versus mercy for the impoverished the scale would topple over under the weight of the vicious.

About 25 years ago I made a political comment during a Sunday sermon and I still remember a woman in my congregation getting up and walking out. My conversation with her the following week was eye-opening for me. She respected me as her pastor, but not as her political commentator. Our deep dialogue made me realize how powerful the pulpit can be…for good or for bad. Although I have my personal view on politics since that episode I have never used my position as pastor to influence how people should vote.

On the other hand I have used my position as pastor to influence how people respond to poverty, community needs, supporting missions, responding to catastrophic events around the world, and the church’s tendency to become insulated and isolated.

It’s interesting how those issues get pushed to the side in the midst of the daily political jabs and low blows. It seems that people are more interested in what Jesus would say about someone or to someone. What would he say to Trump, or Clinton, or Johnson, or Stein? There is a weird thirst amongst a number of religious people to dress Jesus in the coat of their political preference. The funny thing is that Jesus was always a bit wary of politics and people in power, or looking to be in power. The politics of the Kingdom of God are usually printed in a different section of the newspaper than the news of current political campaigns.

Jesus said a lot about issues. His words would not fit neatly into any one of the political parties’ platforms. People would be trying in a variety of ways to reword his views to fall within their boundaries. In effect, there would be a lot of “trying to straighten out Jesus” moments!

And thus the tension with where we are today! My family and relatives include avid Trump supporters, committed Democrats, confused Republicans, and some who will vote Libertarian for the first time in their lives…and we’re all still one family! Most of us are followers of Jesus, and most of us understand that it’s okay to disagree with one another. That we can vote for different people and still be family! Sadly, that kind of freedom seems to be lacking in many congregations of Christ-followers, and some sanctuaries this time of year simply resemble smaller versions of Cleveland and Philadelphia.

 

Sermon Sorting

September 7, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   September 7, 2016

                                        

I’m in the midst of chaos in my home study. As my mom used to say, “It looks like a tornado went through your room!” She often exaggerated when it suited the point she was making! If, however, she saw my study she would run for shelter.

The reason for the chaos is that I’m going through all my old sermons…all thirty-six and a half years of them! I’m sorting them according to the main scripture text in various piles that cover the floor. I’ve been going about it a few minutes at a time, because my knees can’t take that much floor time! Old knees kneeling over old sermons…quite a combination!

As I’ve gone about the sorting process I’ve started to discover certain things. Although I’m not done yet, Matthew seems to have been my favorite book of the Bible to preach from. Mark is not far behind! In fact, the gospels are getting a majority of the manuscripts. If it was my fantasy football league draft they would be my first four picks in building a solid point-producing line-up.

There are certain books that are missing in my sermons. Song of Solomon and Lamentations did not make the sermon cut. I was always a bit shy about preaching about gazelles and pomegranates in THAT kind of way. And although it is the Word of God, Lamentations didn’t really inspire much hope for me. It was understandably hard to “get up” for preaching doom-and-gloom!

I’m already seeing certain themes appear. In my earlier years of ministry my sermons tended to dish out the guilt more. My task seemed to be to make people realize how screwed up they were. In my later years of ministry the theme of grace filters through my messages more and more. I can’t analyze that too much yet. It could be that I was seeing how ridicule and accusation were becoming more dominant in our culture, or it could be that I was sensing more sorrow in people’s lives because of who they had become. It is always easier to condemn rather than help people reconcile. Whatever winds blew me in that direction, grace has been a guiding theme for me the last few years.

I was never really into “end times prophecy”. There’s a void in my preaching in regards to that. I was much more into present-day living and life application. My emphasis was not on what’s going to happen in the future, but rather what does this means for us now?

When I breathe my last breath I’m not sure whether my bulk of messages will survive “the clean-out.” They may end up in some dumpster, along with my old underwear and twenty year old bottles of cologne. Perhaps one of my kids will feel some kind of “dad obligation” and keep them in a few boxes in their basement…maybe!

They are what they are, simply written two thousand word manuscripts from a time gone by. The bigger question will be what sermons will my life have communicated that will stay with people. The most important sermons are not those written on typing paper. The most important messages are those that a person’s life writes with the kind of ink that never fades away.

Going back to Lamentations, I realize that all those three page sermon manuscripts I have are as nothing. They represent thousands of hours of preparation, revision, and pondering and yet they will one day be gone.

But what my life preaches will be remembered! It’s a humbling thought for a preacher, and yet it is one that keeps things in perspective for me. When it comes to a Sunday morning message I’ve assisted a multitude of people in getting a few moments of slumber, but when it comes to what my life preaches there is always an attentive audience.

My life will preach a sermon today. What will be the dominant theme that comes from it?