Archive for the ‘Community’ category

Getting Followers

January 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    January 15, 2019

                                

Getting a book published these days is as complicated as that Latin final exam I flunked back in college. I was better at “Pig Latin” than I was at Latin, but the college didn’t offer that alternative. 

I’m better at writing than I am at doing all the other “stuff” that publishers are looking for, like establishing your “platform” and summarizing your 100,000 word book in one paragraph. They use words like “hook”, “genre”, and “synopsis” like they were jelly beans that are so easy to pop into your mouth.

Another element they’re looking at is how many “followers” you have! Who reads your blog (Like you are right now!) and how many people would be interested in your book?

And so the quest for more followers happens! Getting followers feels a little bit like panhandling! There’s some pleading involved. All I can say is “I think you’d enjoy reading my blog, so please, please, please be one of my followers!” And on the other side of the sign the words “God Bless!” It’s not like I can offer a discount or a tip on what stock to buy. Almost all of my followers have some kind of relationship with me. 

Jesus had a few disciples and a number of followers. Disciples left their fishing nets and tax collecting table to follow him. There was no turning back. They were all in. Followers listened to his teachings and then returned to their homes and work. They were interested, but their levels of commitment differed, some all in and some Sabbath attenders.

Sounds a bit like church attenders! There are those who are all in with the church’s mission and ministry and others, sadly the majority, who have one foot in and one foot out. They are “the interested”! But they are also interested in sushi, Hallmark movies, and clearance sales at Dilliard’s. 

Commitment is another matter! What are they committed to? Very little! Their interests are fluid and their commitments are minimal! 

So I’m trying to attract followers, who I know are kinda’ following, to impress publishers who will then see that I’m worth being committed to! 

Did you follow that?

Old Friends in A New Day

January 3, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   January 3, 2019

                              

“Friendship knows no barriers that it will not make its way through, knows no distance it will not travel, knows no time that will bring its end except the end of life itself.”

                                                                                                        -Me

A friend of mine once said that he had many acquaintances, but few friends. He was profoundly wise in his view of friendship. Many of us have an inconceivable number of Facebook “friends”. I just checked my FB page and found out that I’m at 1,043! That doesn’t mean I’m popular, it just means that there’s a lot of people I know. Sure, some of those are immediate family and relatives near and far. My cousin Suzanne lives in Park City, Utah. I haven’t seen her in a few decades, but it’s good to see what’s going on in her life.

I digress from my point, however! 

Carol and I spent New Year’s Eve in Charlotte, North Carolina with our friends Tom and Diane Bayes. Their son, Brandon and his wife Mary, and their two young kids came over for dinner. Brandon is reading this blog so I’ll detour for a moment just to say this to him- ”Hee, hee, hee!” It’s an inside joke that brings a memory back to him of the Holy Land tour he, his dad, and I were on years ago.

Back to Tom! Both Tom and I are now retired American Baptist pastors. For about 15 years of our ministries we served as pastors at two churches in the Lansing, Michigan area. The two of us, plus another American Baptist pastor, Chuck Moore, met for lunch at Finley’s restaurant on the southside of Lansing every other Wednesday for about 7 years. We formed friendships that have carried through. We called our threesome “The BMW Group” (Bayes, Moore, Wolfe). We figured it was as close to a BMW that any of us would get. 

We differed theologically, and yet we respected each other’s views and beliefs in an uncommon way- we listened and didn’t belittle!

Carol and I arrived at the Bayes house about 2:00 in the afternoon and for the next eleven and a half hours we talked, laughed, ate, toasted the new year, and finally went to bed at 1:30 in the morning. It was as if we had never been apart.

Friendship is like that. It doesn’t struggle to chat, and yet is comfortable with the moments of quiet. It doesn’t need to impress, yet it willing to wade through the waters of discouragement that one or the other is trudging through. It congratulates and consoles. 

Both Tom and I…and Chuck have traveled through tsunamis of church ministry. Each of us has been at one time or another the solid post that the friend in the midst of the storm has grabbed onto in the dangerous ministry times of being swept away. Each of us has also been the one who has grasped for that post. It’s what friends do for one another! 

Brandon pressed the issue with us during dinner. “You two are both retired. Why don’t you meet up with Chuck in Chicago sometime?” (Chuck pastors in Champaign, Illinois now.) 

So we will! I texted Chuck about the idea and meeting and going to a Cubs game, but we really don’t even need a baseball game. We just need each other! Location is secondary! That’s what friends do. We don’t need an event to meet around. I’ll say it again…we just need each other!

My Varsity “I” Jacket

December 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        December 29, 2018

                               

I had saved my money up, mowing lawns all summer for people like Mrs. Unrue at the end of Thomas Street. She paid well…$4.00 for mowing and trimming! With her weekly payment and the money from a couple of other “cheaper” customers I finally had enough. The Varsity “I” Jacket was ordered from Bob Lynn’s Sporting Goods. In the summer of 1970 it cost me just a hair under $30!

I had earned it- that is, earned the right to have it- by lettering in track the previous sophomore season for Ironton High School, the pride of Ironton, Ohio. My 5’6”  (if I stretched out when being measured) and a hundred pound body had run a lot of laps around ovals during that season. I had expected to be a sprinter, but at our first meet at Fairland High School, Coach Bill Trent had said, “Hey! Does anyone want to run in the two mile. We need another varsity runner!”

All I heard were the words “need another varsity runner!” I didn’t even know how many laps two miles would be. I soon discovered it was eight! Eight…that’s about seven more than I wanted to do!

The day was rainy and the wind was blowing…and I never took my black sweats off even during the race! Lo, and behold! I finished 4th…out of 5! Someone else from Fairland with less desire than me trudged even slower than my feet! But I had gotten 4th in a triangular meet, and that meant 1 point for the Flighting Tigers and, more importantly, one point towards earning my varsity letter. As I remember it, a runner needed to average a point each meet and there were about ten meets that season.

By the end of that track season I had dropped my two mile time from “just behind the sloth” to 10:56, finished 5th in the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League meet at Ohio University…and had earned my varsity letter! 

When my orange jacket with dingy white sleeves came in at the beginning of September I looked at the calendar to figure out what coming event I needed to wear it to. That next Friday night was the first home football game at Ironton’s Tank Memorial Stadium. It was 80 degrees humid and, but I wore my jacket. The growling tiger head on the back of it was cool, but the capital “I” on the front meant that I was one of the athletic elite!

Perspiration flowed down my face that night, but I sensed that several young ladies were looking at me with new eyes and considering my potential. I felt sticky inside the heavy garment but kept wearing it. If I took it off I might appear to, once again, be one of the commoners. I hadn’t been mowing Mrs. Unrue’s lawn for the last four months for my status to be taken off so quickly!

I toughed it out!

I still have that jacket! It hangs in the closet of our guest bedroom, impressing no one and being worn by…no one! I tried it on a while ago. It didn’t fit! The sleeves stop about three inches above my wrists like they’re afraid of going further. The snaps in the front keep their distance from one another.

In  1970 I really had to still grow into it. In 2018 I’ve long since grown out of it. So now it hangs in the closet, befriending other garments from the past, like a nostalgic museum of a long gone era.

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! 

A Good Rejection

December 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                December 19, 2018

                                  

Thursday afternoon one of the seventh grade teachers at the middle school I substitute teach and coach at exclaimed to me, “We love your book!” I sent her the book draft in a Word Document and she had been reading a chapter each night with her two kids, a fifth grader and a sixth grader.

I replied, “That’s great to hear, because I got the rejection letter from the publishing company two days ago.” Her face announced her surprise.

That afternoon the seventh grade counselor, who I had given the first seven hard copy  chapters to came to me and said, “I really like it!”

“That’s great to hear since I got the rejection letter two days ago.”

She frowned in disappointment.

The letter came from the managing editor who had given me his business card at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference last May and told me to send the book. It had taken them this long to get it to the top of the pile. (Publishing companies are piled high with submissions and only a trickle ever being published.)

I showed my rejection letter to my Starbucks friend, who is one of the writers and producers of Adventures In Odyssey. She read it and, in a matter of fact way, said, “As rejection letters go…this is a good rejection letter!”

“Huh???”

“It shows that they actually read it and he’s giving you three suggestions as to what to do to improve it and bring it to a point where it’s ready to be published.”

“Ohhh!” My self-esteem came back up from the basement. “Have you ever gotten a rejection letter?”

“Sure!” This writer/creator of the series, that my grandkids love to listen to, had also been rejected. Several other people have told me about J.K. Rowling, who got numerous turndowns before Harry Potter became a household name. 

Rejections are stings that can make us strive for something better. After I had submitted my book draft to the publisher I went back through and revised it again. Since the rejection letter I’ve gone through and done another revision. My dear friends, Ed and Diana Stucky, are going through it again…for the third time helping with the editing and their ideas. Ed has reached out to a couple of friends in the publishing world for advice and suggestions.

Rejections can sometimes show us who will be there to help us keep moving forward. They can make us stronger, more determined, and more focused. 

One of the suggestions from the managing editor of the publisher was to cut it down to between 80,000 and 100,000 words. I was at 114,000. After going through it again I’m down to 101,000 and figuring out what the next cut might be that will not effect the quality or flow of the story.

If nothing else comes from this writing I will always remember getting a phone call one night from my ten year old grandson.

“Granddad!”

“Yes, Jesse.”

“We like it! We like your book. Mommy just read the last chapter to us tonight, and we really like it!”

“Thank you, Jesse!” 

Three months later I got another call. 

“Granddad!”

“Yes, Jesse.”

“We finished your second book tonight and…we really liked it!”

And now they are waiting to read the third book, which I’m 20,000 words into, as I also continue to revise Book 1 and Book 2.

I may never get a letter from a publisher saying “We’d like to pursue this with you!”, but two late night phone calls are all the acceptance I really need!

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.

Spiritually-Addicted Christians

December 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                         December 14, 2018

                  

“It’s spiritually dead here!” explains the middle-aged woman to me.

“How so?”

“Nothing ever happens here!” she says, using her hands to exaggerate the point.

“Nothing of God ever happens here. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes, Pastor! It’s dead!”

“I’d beg to differ with you.”

“You’re the pastor. I would expect you to disagree!”

“Like last Saturday morning when the men’s bible study group prayed for a problem that Bobby was dealing with, and then we gathered around him and hugged him, and gave him encouragement! Or last week when I was out changing the letters on the church sign, and I got into a conversation with an 84 year old lady who lives a block away from our church. A few of us are going to walk up to her house and trim her bushes and fix her screen door next Saturday! Or last Sunday when Patty brought out something from the scripture story we were studying that caused a light bulb to go on in the minds of a few of us. I’m not sure what criteria you’re using to determine whether God’s involved or not, but those were all signs to me.”

She looked at me and bit her lip.

“Say it!” I urged her.

“Those things just aren’t very exciting, pastor! I’m looking for miracles and people who love the Lord, and I’m just not seeing much of that here.”

“So…have you been to see Widow Samuels? Because, even though she is in a care center now, whenever I go to visit her I experience a spiritual blessing and marvel at her love for the Lord.”

“I don’t really like those kind of places.”

“And last week I was sitting beside Joe Skinner’s bed and talking about the end of his life, his looking forward to experiencing the glory of the Lord in heaven, and how God has walked with him through a multitude of life valleys.”

“Those aren’t the things I’m talking about, Pastor. I’m talking about spiritual highs!”

“So you’re an addict?”

“Excuse me!”

“You’re a spiritual addict, whose addiction can only be satisfied by an experience that is high energy and high emotion.”

“I knew you’d blame me!”

“I’m not blaming you for anything. I’m just stating what the situation is. You don’t seem to see God working in our midst unless something awesome happens. What is awesome, however, has to be defined by your standards. Am I right?”

“No, you aren’t right!”

“Then we will just agree to disagree. The spiritual life I’m seeing is different than what you’re looking for. I mean no disrespect in saying this but there are some people who go to an amusement park and define its impact by how many roller coasters it has and how thrilling they are. When I go to an amusement park I evaluate it on being able to ride the merry-go-round with my grandkids. Different perspectives, neither which is wrong.”

“I’m not addicted, though!”

“And I’m not spiritually bored! So, I guess we’re both where we need to be!”

She smirks, starts to say something, but then turns and walks away. She has moved on to the next church down the road. 

Five years after the conversation she has moved on three other times. Sometimes, it seems, we minimize the power of God by not allowing him to be involved in our rhythms of life. There is a hunger- an addiction, if you will- to wanting to see smoke on the mountaintop while missing the nearness of His presence.