Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Remodeling Starbucks and Un-remodeling Church

February 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 16, 2019

                   

I arrived at MY Starbucks this morning to find a trash haul-away and a Mobile Mini storage unit. In fact, they were flanking my usual parking spot. I had to park three spaces over! Very inconvenient!

I didn’t think the haul-away was for coffee grounds, so I asked Megan, the barista, what was going on.

“We’re going to have a remodel starting next week.”

Michael, one of the regulars like me, then told me. “This is the third remodel since I’ve been coming here. Not fun! Although they are putting in a nitro cold brewing system.”

“What’s that?” I asked, and he explained it to me…and I still was wondering what it meant!

New furniture, new brewing system, lower serving counter for the increasing number of people who do mobile orders…same coffee!

Three remodels in about six years! Hmmm! I remember the struggle to get the last church I pastored to remodel the sanctuary. The dark wood that covered the walls resembled a scene from the old TV sitcom “Happy Days”. I think it actually pre-dated “Happy Days”! We went round and round about the need to update, replace the lights that I referred to as “the celestial balls”, and change the seating pattern. Finally, enough people supported the idea and we used volunteer labor to do most of the work. It had been transformed into a place that was appealing to walk into…not depressing, or as if you entered a time warp. 

And here’s Starbucks remodeling for the third time in six years! BUT same coffee!

I sense a lesson there, more for the church than Starbucks! Hold firm to the purpose of your existence, navigate the best way to present it, and negotiate about the packaging. 

In my growing up years our family would travel to Kentucky on Christmas Day to see our relatives. Our first stop would be in Wittensville to see Granny Wolfe and my Great Aunt Lizzie. I still remember Aunt Lizzie looking at the wrapped package sitting in her lap and saying- every year, mind you- “This package is to pretty to open!” We’d coax her into breaking the ribbon and actually seeing the contents inside the package.

There’s been a few times when the church I pastored became a little too enamored with the packaging at the price of never seeing the contents. That is, the wrappings around Jesus, but not Jesus; the wrappings of the church at the expense of the purpose of the church.

On the other hand, the church has sometimes used the excuse of not changing the packaging because it’s about Christ, when it actually is about not changing anything! 

Starbucks has its deficiencies, but if you stripped everything away from it you’d still find that coffee is at its core. 

In like manner the church has it’s sore spots. The question is if everything was stripped away would the core be the gospel of Christ?

The Young Life Ministry

February 12, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 12, 2019

                            

This past Sunday night Carol and I attended the banquet sponsored by Young Life of North Colorado Springs. Young Life is a long established ministry to young people. It was started in 1941 by a guy named Jim Rayburn in Gainesville, Texas, and has been going ever since. 

Young Life is significant for us in that it was how Carol and I met! We were both working with Young Life high school clubs in the western suburbs of Chicago…she at Elmhurst York and me at Hinsdale Central, and then Downers Grove North. Hinsdale Central was the school she had graduated from and one of the other club leaders, Jeff Slaga, had invited her to come to a summer evening gathering of students who had been to one of Young Life’s summer camps. He knew that I was going to be there and was trying to be the matchmaker. 

So, it was at a Young Life event that we first met! The next March we went on a Young Life spring break ski trip to Colorado with a couple of busloads of students. The summer after that I took a van load of students from First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, Illinois to Silver Cliff, a Young Life camp at that time in Colorado. It was a life-changing experience for some of the students. Three years ago when I was back in the Chicago area I met one of those students, now in her fifties, for dinner and she told me that it was during that camp week that she became a follower of Jesus. 

Now, forty years after we had been Young Life leaders, we were back at a banquet to hear the Young Life story again. It’s different today, and yet the same! The gospel is still the center of the ministry, but some of the dynamics of youth ministry are different than they used to be. Forty years ago we didn’t have to deal with a sense of hopelessness in some young people’s lives that made suicide a final solution for several. We didn’t have cyber-bullying or as many split family units. There were different kinds of teen pressure that we dealt with, but nothing like vaping and gender confusion. 

As Carol and I entered the place for the banquet I was manhandled by five of my current basketball players who were a part of the cheering group of greeters. 

“Coach Wolfe! Coach Wolfe!” they shouted as they jostled me back and forth. They were surprised to see me and even more surprised when I told them that Carol and I had been Young Life leaders. 

The evening was a revisiting of part of our life stories, a confirmation of a ministry we had once invested in and will now come back to in support of. 

As I’ve coached and substitute taught I’ve seen and heard some of the heart cries of today’s teens. They’re confused and yet knowledgeable; depressed and yet smiling. Young Life offers an invitation to a relational road that they need not walk alone.

Careful!

February 3, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   February 3, 2019

                                         

Yesterday was nice and sunny here in Colorado Springs- about 60 degrees, in case anyone in the East and Midwest is wondering- so I took a walk. I went past the Liberty High School parking lot and noticed a young lady being taught how to drive. Her mom was giving her instructions and she slowly made a loop around. Whenever she made a turn she almost came to a complete stop as the tires were redirected. Her mom had her park in one of the parking spaces and it took her three times of going forward and then backwards before she put the Subaru in the spot. 

She was being extremely, extremely, really extremely careful! The question occurred to me as I watched this from the hillside overlooking the school, “when will she stop being careful?” Will there be a point where she will begin exiting the school parking lot at the end of a school day driving like a bat out of hell?

Our three year old granddaughter is determined. Otherwise known as being stubborn! There’s been a few times when she’s been given a cup of juice to drink and she grabs it like a Black Friday 5 A.M. shopper at Walmart! The juice goes every which way, sloshing to freedom on the table, chair, and floor. Sippy cups have made her reckless! They’ve taught her to proceed carefree! Perhaps when she’s five she will discover the relevance of carefulness for her life…cautious and controlled now to avoid spills and cleanups later.

Being careful appears and disappears like the fog along the Ohio River. Someone runs down the driveway to pick up the morning newspaper, trips and falls on a spot of ice, and breaks their arm. Another person, an elderly woman, walks with heightened fear taking each step slowly as if she’s on a tightrope. Her fear of breaking a hip has made her careful, whereas the first person has learned the hard way that there are times to slow down.

Working quite frequently with middle schoolers, I am amazed at how so many of them now have cell phones…without protective cases! A thirteen year old’s cell phone without a protective case is an accident waiting to happen! Little Jimmy, who races through the hallways between classes, now has an iPhone that has no many cracks in it there’s no way he can make out what anything on the screen says.

Careful or without a care, so much of our lives get spent at one end or the other of the pendulum.

I was surprised to discover that the Bible uses the word “careful” 120 times. the advice of Ephesians 5:15 is simple and clear. “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise!”

Reckless behavior has its consequences. Decisions not thought through will have negative results. Doing something stupid has the potential to do damage for years to come. Here in Colorado we have had several devastating fires in the past decade. Last June’s Spring Creek fire burned over 108,000 acres and destroyed 141 homes. It was caused by a man who has been charged with arson. One moment of stupidity caused damage that will take decades to undo.

Scripture keeps reminding us to be careful in our words and actions. When something is said or put into print or onto social media it can’t be undone. It’s there, and will be there! Being careful is associated with being wise!

We need not be as careful as the young lady inching her Subaru along in the school parking lot, but so often we resemble our granddaughter, sitting in the splashes of our rash decisions. 

The Lost Backpack

February 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   February 2, 2019

                          

Luke 15:8-10  Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

I pulled into our garage, weary from a day of substitute teaching 8th Grade math (WHAT!!!) and then going to our basketball games at another school’s gym. I stepped out of the CRV and then opened the back door.

That’s when it hit me! I had left my backpack at the school where we had played. It was too late to drive the 25 minutes back since it was already 9:20 when I arrived home. I’d have to wait until the next day and hope that someone from the custodial team or the school security team had picked it up and put it in a secure place.

The backpack contained a couple of granola bars, dry erase markers, gum, pens, pencils, cough drops, a bottled of water, and a snack bag of trail mix. BUT, unfortunately, it also had my Mac Airbook laptop!

I went inside the house and called our varsity coach to let him know, and to ask him to send out an email to our team. I knew exactly where I had left the backpack and maybe someone a little more responsible than me had picked it up from behind our bench.

And I told Carol! Thus began the worrying! She worried! I was simply irritated at my irresponsibility! I had already forgotten the shirt I had worn to school that day. After school I had gone into a staff restroom to change into my TCA Titans coaching shirt, but had left the long sleeve Land’s End dress shirt hanging on the hook behind the door. Carol had already retrieved that forgotten item for me…and now this.

We called a couple of credit cards to put temporary freezes on any activity since we were worried about possible info somehow getting accessed. 

And then I went to bed! Carol stayed up and worried! I fell asleep and she stayed awake…even after she went to bed! I did have a dream about the backpack, going to the school where I left it and walking around with their Athletic Director to all the possible places it could have been put. We looked in a laundry bag, a hidden closet, the school office, the teacher’s lounge, and in the bleachers. No backpack! Carol, however, worried about the potential loss, thought through the Thursday morning search details and prayed for its recovery.

The next morning I called my athletic director and asked him to call the AD of the high school where we had been about the missing item. A little while later I called the school and was told that the bag was in the office.

Carol and I went and picked it up and celebrated with breakfast at Chick-fil-A!

What occurred to me as I reflected on the mishap is the difference in urgency that each one of us had. Even though it was my laptop that was missing I wasn’t as concerned about it as much as my wife. Nothing else mattered to her except finding the lost backpack.

When I read the parable about the lost coin I sense the urgency in the woman who had lost it. Nothing else mattered! The lost coin must be found. Everything else in  life was put on hold until she could find it.

So many of us, however, have an attitude that resembled mine. Concern, but not that much! I was even thinking about when I might go to the Apple store to buy a new laptop. In essence, I was thinking about the lost laptop remaining lost and just getting a new one.

Most of us have an attitude like that when it comes to someone who is spiritually lost. We want him to be found, but we’re prone to just move on ahead without much of a search effort. In the parable of the lost coin the widow’s anxiety was not eased until she found what needed to be searched for. 

The good news for me is that Carol spent soundly the next night!

Unplanned Open Day

January 23, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     January 23, 2019

                             

Yesterday schools, the public libraries, military bases, and other spots that are usually open…weren’t! The Colorado Springs area got blasted with a blizzard during the night and into Tuesday. The wind gusts scooted the swing across the deck behind our house. The cover on our hot tub was blown open (and I can’t wait to see what our next utility bill will be)! Roads were closed as snow drifts were shaped and created.

It was a planned day that suddenly became unplanned. Snow days have that effect. What hadn’t become a possibility pushes all the plans out of the way as it goes from the back row to the front and only seat!

There is something refreshing about a planned day that suddenly becomes open and free, unless you’re one of those drivers who gets stuck on the side of the road when the temperature is 4 degrees. There is something freeing about realizing that there is nothing you can do the whole day. You are homebound, away from the classroom or office, whether you want to be or not…and you breathe in a deep sense of peace!

Our lives are consumed by schedules and tasks. When I pastored I would make a list at the beginning of each week that would be filled with all the jobs to complete, the people to visit, and the meetings to attend. It covered a page, two columns wide, top to bottom. I’d cross off completed tasks, but each week the page would get filled back up. 

To be told that it’s okay to chill for a day, to be unproductive, to sit back in the recliner and read a James Patterson novel…it brings a smile to our face. We come face-to-face with the fragile nature of our plans and the harsh truth that we aren’t always the ones who can be in control.

Yesterday I worked on a jigsaw puzzle, read for a couple of hours, took a long nap, and wrote the first few hundred words in a new story I’m writing. In sharing what I did I must say that I didn’t seek to do them so I could have a sense of accomplishment. Each of them happened in the midst of my relaxed outlook.

It was as if I received sabbath rest on a Tuesday. There is a hint of God’s intentions in it, a calmness in the midst of the blizzard. It reinforces my belief that some of life’s biggest surprises come in the unplanned moments.

Christianized Swearing

January 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  January 22, 2019

                               

I was raised in a household where swearing didn’t happen. About once every five or ten years my dad would be on opposite from  my mom on some issue or situation that he would clench his teeth and say “Shit! Virginia!” Like I said, about once every five or ten years. Other than that no one cussed…ever! 

Perhaps they did behind closed doors or in other places, but I highly doubt it!

I think my Uncle George did because he also drank alcohol. Growing up Southern Baptist I got the feeling that swearing was linked to alcohol…kinda’ like peanut butter and jelly!

So we christianized our swearing. We didn’t say “Oh, my God!” That was like fingernails scratching a chalkboard! We said the accepted “Oh, my gosh!” Gosh did not raise eyebrows, but gosh was simply the bleached out form of God!

My exclamation of choice these days is “Goooodddd Lorrdddd!”, extending the pronunciation of each letter as much as possible. When I’m really upset I shout, “Crap!”

Growing up instead of saying “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” we said “Geez!” and “Geez Louise!” like it needed a partner!” We only said “Jesus” when our Sunday School teacher was looking for an answer to a question…no matter what the question was! (“What river did the Israelites cross as they were entering the Promised Land? Yes, Bill!” “I think it was Jesus!”)

The words we used to express our disbelief, dismay, or anger were indications of our sanctified walk with the Lord. Those “other people” let the devil guide their tongue in speaking the forbidden utterances. 

We took the James 1:26 words to heart. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

Saying “Oh, my gosh!” was our own sign that we had a tight grip on the reins. It gave us the false illusion of being aligned with Christ. We were maturing in Christ as we exclaimed “Oh, my word!” 

We were easily fooled. We thought we were saved by using the right words rather than saved by grace. Slowly it would become apparent that people at church who didn’t swear DID DO other things, like gossip, keep a tight rein on their money, and chastise anyone who recommended any kind of change. We discovered that the spoken words were purified but there were bitter spirits and jealous hearts.

We were a bit like the Pharisees. We had tamed tongues and twisted spirits, the right words but the wrong motives. 

I still don’t swear- once again, a byproduct of a household where it was not welcome- but I recognize that it doesn’t make me saint-worthy. Each day I am thankful for the grace of God more and more. My prayer is that He makes me more like a  Mother Teresa and less like that other name that begins with Mother and continues with an “F”!

Handling The Wounds of Injustice

January 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 21, 2019

                            

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – Dr. Martin Luther King

Perhaps it’s apropos to the emphasis of this weekend that the Saints are dealing with the pain of injustice!  A trip to the Super Bowl was almost assuredly thrown to the ground just as their receiver was. 

As we watched it- even those of us who aren’t Saints’ fans- we yelled at our televisions, “That’s a penalty!”

But it wasn’t! And we walked away muttering, “That’s just not right!” 

As I said, it’s appropriate for it to be a part of this weekend, a time when we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, who pointed his finger at systems, institutions, and discrepancies in the Land of the Free and said “This isn’t right!”

How we handle the wounds of injustice tells us who we are. It reveals our beliefs, or lack of, our callousness and caring, our self-centeredness and our concern for others. 

First of all, we must come to grips with the fact that injustice is a part of our lives. Rather it be a stolen football victory, the mistreating of a certain segment of our population, or even a student being falsely accused of cheating and suspended from school, injustice has a pocket somewhere in each of our backpacks. It happens on the avenue through town as Mr. Speed Demon races ahead going 65 in a 40 mile an hour speed zone. We cringe and grit our teeth at the gall that the guy has for so blatantly going outside of the accepted driving practices. 

It happens with the insurance companies that seem to rule the medical treatments of our lives. When a cancer patient is told that the treatment he needs will not be covered by insurance it makes us wonder what the purpose of insurance is? It strikes us as unjust to leave the decision of treating a potentially deadly disease to a for-profit company that has already been receiving our money.

So how do we handle the blows of injustice? Do we turn the other cheek? Do we strike back? Do we pout? Do we march? Do we strike? 

When teachers get taken advantage of, or taken for granted, do they just keep on keeping on? When the rent on an apartment escalates by a third while a teacher’s salary goes up 3% do they say “Oh, well!”?

Martin Luther King gave us an understanding for how to approach events and circumstances that aren’t right. He identified it, zeroed in on the roots of its existence, questioned its fairness, and promoted a new direction built on justice for all and hope for the future. Hate can pervert a system to grasp injustice, but hating injustice offers a path towards healing!

There are, however, injustices in our world which we can not quickly change! They become the fuse for our frustration that ignites our anger. Simply put, they become our prayer heart cries that we forget to pray about! 

Prayer becomes the invitation for the God of justice to counsel us about our grievances and take action in the struggle. It becomes “the talking it out” with the Lord. 

We tend to forget that in a world that seems out of control we worship the Lord who is always in control. Injustice will always seek to overwhelm us, but God will always walk with us!