Archive for the ‘Christmas’ category

The Simla Saints

December 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 24, 2018

                                        

Yesterday I gave the morning sermon at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. It was good! Not the sermon, but rather the fellowship of the saints, the Simla Saints. 

The parking lot was not crowded. There is no parking lot!

There was not a greeter at the door. Everyone greets each other just like a family would.

No one had a Starbucks coffee cup in their hand. The nearest Starbucks is 45 minutes away, and the pot of (weak) coffee brews during the service for consumption afterwards.

There is not a screen or a projector..or an organist or pianist. But there is something like a music machine that plays background organ music that the congregation is rarely in rhythm with. The machine plays 3 verses of a hymn that the hymnal has four verses of…or vice-versa.

Simla First Baptist is one block off of the main road through town, but by the time a car leaves the main road it hits dirt. Dirt is cheaper than those highfalutin big city streets that are blacktopped! Simla is a town that does not desire a lot of attention!

Each pew of the sanctuary has a blanket at the end of it. If you’re cold, wrap up! The thermostat is not going to be adjusted when you’ve got a readily accessible blanket right there. One Sunday the batteries had gone dead sometime during the week in the sanctuary thermostat. No one had replacements, so the saints moved closer together, covered themselves with blankets, and we worshipped together in a 40 degree chill. Singing “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” had a visual addition to it that Sunday in front of each singer’s lips.

When I retired from pastoral ministry at the end of 2015 I got a call from the church moderator at Simla, asking if I was available to speak the first Sunday in February? I was so I did! At the end of that February service he came up to me and asked if I was available the next Sunday. I did three Sundays in a row before my friend, Steve Wamberg, spoke a couple of Sundays. Steve and I then started filling in every week, usually in two week rotations. 

Now, almost three years later, Ed Stucky and I handle the bulk of the Sundays, riding out together from “the big city” each Sunday morning.

Simla First Baptist was my second salvation. Jesus was the first! When I retired from ministry, however, I needed a second salvation. I needed for a church, so to speak, to save me from the church. 36 years of ministry had whipped me. I needed a rescue of sorts! Pastors can become disillusioned after a while, a long while. A pastor, who is the messenger of hope for people on a faith journey can come to a point where he/she feels hopeless.

The Simla Saints picked me up. Grace became more important than grandeur, simplicity the norm instead of splendor! 

And so yesterday Carol and I drove out to see the Saints once again. Almost all of them were there…all 16 of us!…ranging in age from nine months to 74. A dear widow lady who runs the family farm lit the advent candles. Two 7th Grade boys took up the offering. The nine month old had been carried down the block from the Methodist Church to her second service of the morning, after being the Christ-child in the Methodist children’s church program. Her brother, now four, had been Jesus the year before. His baby sister was a sorta’ “second coming”!

One mom brought homemade cookies. Two army veterans munched and talked about their service during the Vietnam years. Everyone had a purpose and a place. Everyone had their struggles to share and blessings to trumpet. 

When we got back in the CRV and headed back on the dirt street to the main road I had a sense that I had been used to minister to others…and had been ministered to by the Saints!

I had not only been to church, I had been a part of the church! 

What To Give To Someone Who Doesn’t Want Anything”

December 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        December 23, 2018

                   

My wife is an amazing woman, great mom, blessed grandmother, who agreed to journey with me almost 40 years ago.

She is also frugal in her spending habits, including the multiple fake wedding rings she lays by the kitchen sink, none costing more than ten bucks, but all looking like the real deal from Helzberg Diamonds.

Carol is a challenge to buy a Christmas present for. She has already waved a spatula in my face several times and said, “Don’t buy me anything for Christmas!!!” 

“Yes, dear!”

“I mean it, Bill Wolfe!” When she uses my first and last names it’s like I’m standing in front of the judge, receiving conditions of my probation. 

She’s like her mom, who when asked what she would like for Christmas would reply, “Well…ahhh…I could always use a new spatula!” Spatulas seem to be a big thing in Carol’s family…for cooking and warning!

So I’m in a quandary! Do I risk a spatula spanking and buy something, or adhere to her demands and not buy her a gift? Is there a third option, like buying a gift but pretending it’s from a mystery person? It could come from Amazon Prime, with no name attached!

Carol’s birthday occurred just two weeks ago. It creates another challenge. She accepted the new John Grisham novel as a birthday present, but Grisham has not written another book in the last two weeks to fill the Christmas void. 

So what are my other options? 

I could invite her to watch Hallmark Christmas movies all day…and actually watch one with her. But should my personal pain be a part of the gift-giving? And I’m not sure I could watch the movie and not make sarcastic comments!

I could take her out for dinner, but we usually go out for dinner once or twice a week as it is. It’s not a gift, but rather our routine.

So what could I give her that she would appreciate and enjoy?

A hug and a kiss would be a start. A hug with meaning and commitment, not too tight because of our increasingly fragile bodies, but an embrace that says “I am blessed to be your spouse!” And a kiss, preceded by a Tic-Tac to cancel out my coffee breath! She would see that as a gift!

A walk around the block, punctuated by conversation about things that interest her and thoughts that keep filtering through her mind. 

Help in the kitchen preparing for the family to gather on Christmas afternoon. That would be seen as an appreciated gift, as long as I take directions from her and don’t free lance too much! 

And maybe the best gift would be to sit back in the midst of the family and just be with them, watching the three grandkids discover the hidden treasures in Uncle David’s cellophane-wrapped ball (Now a Wolfe tradition each Christmas!), enjoying dinner together, and seeing surprised looks on young children’s faces as they open a pile of presents one by one.

Those are the things that will be gifts to Carol, moments and pictures that don’t take up space in the house, but space in her heart!

Maybe I can sneak a spatula in there somewhere!

The Why’s of Christmas

December 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 16, 2018

                              

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it changed things!

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 it REALLY changed things! That’s not meant to say Dickens was more important than Jesus, but rather to make a point about what we have done to Christmas.

Before the British author wrote the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Christmas was not viewed as a major holiday. In fact, in the early part of the 1800’s very few American Protestants celebrated Christmas because it was seen as being “too Catholic!” 

Dickens’ tale of greed turned to generosity brought a different spirit and perspective to the season. It helped that he was already a recognized author with novels like Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop. 

Christmas now dominates our calendars. I asked the children during a recent Sunday morning worship what they knew about the Season of Advent. One boy’s response was “Isn’t that when we do a calendar where a piece of chocolate pops out for each day?”

Yes…and it’s also the season that has become populated with other yearly sweets…like fruitcake, fudge, and candy canes. It’s the time of the year when our mailbox gets product advertisements for almond toffee candy, over-priced pears and apples, and popcorn in a tin! 

I know…I know, I’m sounding like a “Bah! Humbug” withered old man who doesn’t wasn’t to part with his nickels and dimes. Actually, I love Christmas! I love it even more now that I’m not a full-time pastor. I can now actually enjoy the season and meditate on its message, as opposed to planning extra services, and taking care of all the church-related extra details.

Sometimes, in all our busyness about the business we forgot to think about the why’s of what we’re doing. Celebrating the Christ-child becomes a short-term sermon series…and then we move on. Christmas is seen as an emphasis, complete with decorated sanctuaries, children’s programs, and star-shaped cookies (There’s that sweet thing again!). 

But the coming of Immanuel was a foretold event that was meant to change things forever. It signaled God’s love for his created, and reconciliation then and now. That has been, and should always be, the why of the event.

Charles Dickens raised the popularity of Christmas by writing a story about a man who was visited by three ghosts, who MADE him see his past, his present, and what was yet to be. In essence, it had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus but rather of personal revelation of how one man’s deeds and misdeeds affected others. 

It’s a great story, but not THE story. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. God has been and still is writing the story of grace, forgiveness, and new life.

Blogging For the 955th Time

September 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              September 16, 2018

                                         

Today marks the 955th time I’ve sat down at my laptop and pecked out a blog post. 955! That’s almost a thousand! Okay…it’s 95.5% of a thousand! When I was in high school I longed for 95.5%. I would have considered it perfect if I had ever received a mark that high!

At the rate of my writing I’ll hit “the summit”…I mean my thousand blog post about the end of November. Since I’ve been substitute teaching quite a bit so far this school year (16 out of 22 days) my frequency of posting has dipped…but I receive so much of my writing material from being with the students that it’s a good tradeoff…kinda’ like continuing education!

When I write my 1,000th blog post I’m not sure what I’ll do. In the world of print, newspapers know how many copies they sell and subscribers they have. Authors know how many book copies they’ve sold. I, however, don’t have any idea who reads what I write and who doesn’t. Last week I sent a Facebook birthday greeting to a former college classmate of mine. She replied with a thank you and then said she enjoys reading my blog. 

Didn’t know that! The parent of a player I’ve coached said the same thing to me. I barely know her, but she reads the words I write that often bring chuckles and sometimes even profoundness. 

955 times. 

How did I get into it? The seeds for my blogging sowed back in 1980 when I went to be a part of the staff of First Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan. The church had a weekly newsletter and I began to write a column each week for it. It began a discipline for me where I’d be called upon to create something in writing each week. 

When I went to pastor First Baptist Church in Mason, Michigan the newsletter column habit continued…plus I had to come up with a sermon every Sunday. Some weeks the words flowed out as smoothly as breathing and other weeks the words seemed like elusive air bubbles that I couldn’t quite grasp.

36 years of ministry with the last 31 of those being the senior pastor resulted in the writing of about 1,300 sermons…and now 955 blog posts!

My first blog post was on December 30, 2008. It was entitled “Missing Mary”, and it focused on the fact that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had come up missing in our church’s nativity scene. 

The seed thought for my last post, before today’s, came from the Japanese science fiction movies we used to watch, where the dialogue was about three seconds ahead of the moving of the actor’s lips.

In between those two blogs I’ve written about having coffee with Jesus, psycho parents of young athletes, substitute teaching, growing old, my parents, middle school church camp, friends who have died, being a grandparent, coaching, pastoring, and questions about how churches function. 

People ask me where I get my ideas for my blogs and the answer is…from watching and pondering about life. Not very profound, but that’s it.

How much longer? Who knows? At the rate the world and technology are changing it could be that blogging will be about as relevant as cassette tapes in a couple of years, but until that happens I guess I’ll keep writing about life and the pursuit of it!

Speaking Hope In the Christmas Shadow

December 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               December 26, 2017

                                  

Yesterday our three grandkids ran around our house like sugar-hyped squirrels, excited about the wrapped presents that they would soon tear into. It was a great day of brisket chili, chilled shrimp, homemade Chex mix, and pie. The bounty of food items on the kitchen island was simply dressing for the family time, laughter, and the playing out of various family traditions.

Yesterday was a feast in the midst of a time when Carol and I have encountered several families in the midst of emotional famine. This Advent Season seems to have been more about speaking hope to various folks in the shadow of Christmas.

On Friday I had attended the funeral of Ray Lutz, a fifty year football and basketball official who was one of my officiating mentors. At 77 he had passed away suddenly. Funerals close to Christmas have a sadness to them regardless of how old the departed is.

On Saturday the wife of my friend, Mark Miller, went into the hospital…and is still there…with some serious health complications. Crystal, the mother of four, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day laying in a hospital bed, a time that had always been spent gathered around the family Christmas tree and dinner table. There is something deeply discouraging for a mom having to be monitored by ward nurses on Christmas Day instead of being the monitor of the family festivities at home.

And then on Sunday afternoon Carol and I went across the street to our neighbor’s house to express our condolences. Their eighteen year old grandson, a young man I had watched grow up, played basketball in our driveway with, and had coached in middle school football, was murdered a few weeks ago. We hadn’t heard about it until a former neighbor told us. We sat and talked to the grieving grandparents whose hearts were broken. To go through Christmas with the absence of one of the young ones is a journey walked with heavy emotional boots. We could not understand the depth of their grief, but we could sit at their kitchen table and listen to their hearts.

And finally to talk to my dad later on that same day and offer him encouragement. Just a few days released from his latest hospital stay, he has slowed down a good bit and now has to make choices about what he has the energy to do and not to do. Each day he is a gift to us, but each day is also a struggle  for him layered with uncertainty. I’m so thankful for my sister who watches over him since I live four states away.

Ray Lutz’s funeral was a community sharing of hope. The hundreds of folks to attended brought hope and encouragement to the family. The laughter caused by the staring of stories was like a soothing ointment to the wounds of loss.

With Mark and Crystal Miller I was simply a presence that symbolized hope in the midst of confused despair. With our neighbors Carol and I assured them of our prayers and support. It was an assurance to them that we will walk alongside them as they take each day ahead.

With my dad I simply spoke hope to him about his grandkids and great grandkids. That things are good with them. It provided some laughter in his soul as he pondered the stories of their lives.

Christmas sometimes is all glitter and lights; and sometimes it’s simply a word of hope that we suddenly realize is the greatest gift we could ever give!

The Inclusiveness of Christmas

December 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             December 24, 2017

                             

Our nation has always had a battle over who belongs and who doesn’t, whether it be in certain areas, positions, occupations, or institutions. It goes back to even before the patriots of the 1770’s.

American history is dotted with issues over who could own land and who couldn’t? Who was allowed to vote and who wasn’t (which in many cases was also tied to who owned land and who didn’t)? Immigrants who came into the country in those days, and even for the rest of our existence, were pushed into certain locations. In the late 1800’s Chinese immigrants were viewed with suspicion and often mistreated.

In the early 1800’s many Protestant families in our country didn’t celebrate Christmas because it was seen as being too Catholic! Talk about religiously biased!

When I was growing up the phrase “they live on the other side of the tracks” was an indication of division based mostly on race, as well as economic class.

In recent times the debate about who belongs and who doesn’t has taken different shapes, and the battles have been fought in various venues. Agreement rarely raises her beautiful face. Instead the ugliness of humanity- our amazing ability to mistreat one another- often emerges.

A wedding cake battle in Colorado brings the issue of accepting everyone into the arena to go up against a couple who have deep religious beliefs about same-sex marriage. It has been a case where neither side has yielded.

In another area of life illegal immigrants are being sent home. Higher walls are seen as being part of the answer. Churches have offered sanctuary to those who could be deported. It’s a battle over what is legal versus what is humane? 9-11 will always make Americans suspicious of those who are noticeably different than white middle-class citizens…although Timothy McVeigh was about as white as you could get, and he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Here’s a hard statement that Christians who are also  Americans have a difficult time hearing: Our Christian faith is not always in line with our American pride and ways. That is never more apparent than at Christmas time when we talk about the birth scene of Jesus. His very pregnant mother and his father couldn’t find any space in the inn so they were pushed out into a stable. The birth was witnessed by livestock. Shepherds may have arrived a bit later, and wisemen from the East came sometime later on, perhaps even months.

The idea of our savior not having a place where infants usually were born is an indication that the gospel is not just for the normal folk, those who are accepted and valued. Shepherds were not to be seen or heard. They were expected to just stay out there and take care of the sheep, and yet Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd.

Christmas reminds us that God welcomes everyone, and that his people are to be welcoming. We may not agree with everyone, their life choices, lifestyles, and opinions, but we are to be purveyors of grace and peace.

Each of us comes into a different arena from time to time where the battle between being a devoted follower of Christ wrestles with our passion for our nation. Those two often become entangled and difficult to discern which is which. What is Christian is often also American, but sometimes that “arm” that we thought belonged to Christ was instead the arm of patriotism that got mistaken for belonging to Jesus.

And the thing is, it’s always been that way in our nation!

Eric the Christ Child

December 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 19, 2017

                                    

(This is based on a true story that occurred on Sunday, December 17, 2017)

Three year old Eric arrived at the Methodist Church excited about his role in the Children’s Christmas Play as the baby Jesus. Even though he was a bit old to play the newborn babe he was the youngest available to fill the position. His mom was as excited as he was. She had her son scrubbed and spotless. A clean child seemed to be a prerequisite for Eric to act like Jesus.

They entered the sanctuary where there was already buzz and laughter. Two young girls in glimmering white dresses pranced around the front of the sanctuary. They were playing the role of angels to the disbelief of their brother.  Another girl who was about five was a third angel but she didn’t have a white dress. Instead she wore a red one. The devil, however, she wasn’t! It was a wardrobe decision based on financial resources, not theological assumptions.

Two handfuls of adults were scattered around the small sanctuary waiting with expectation. If the children’s program ran long the pastor had already forewarned them that she might not give the sermon for the morning.

They were hoping for slow-speaking children!

The pastor would need to exit following the service and drive the twenty miles or so to the other congregation she served. Worship in the Methodist Church was on a time limit!

The children were assembling themselves…three angels, two shepherds, and Jesus. Eric started heading up the center aisle, but Mrs. Book, the director, stopped him halfway to the altar. He was still wearing his red Santa hat. Red Santa hats were not a part of Jesus’ wardrobe. She eased it off the young boy’s head and handed it back to his mom. Eric’s long flowing hair was now fully visible.

The angels let him get settled in the chancel area in front of the communion table. There were probably a lot of theological ramifications to the going-ons but no one wanted to stop and have a discussion. Any veteran of children’s programs at Christmas time knows that pure theology is secondary in importance to cuteness and costume design.

The angels wrapped a white blanket around a sitting Jesus. Eric was ready to be the messiah!

The play started. The angels, standing on the left side of the platform, started talking to the shepherds, who were standing on the right side of the platform. Jesus was visible between them, taking in the dialogue. A few lines into the conversation he spread his arms to his sides and took on a messiah-like look. Since he had no dialogue lines to say it was his contribution to the action. After all, the angels were talking about him. He couldn’t just sit there and look uninvolved.

The play ended. It went long enough and the pastor couldn’t preach. The message had already been heard anyway!

And the messiah came dancing back down the aisle to where his mom was keeping his Santa hat safe!