Archive for the ‘Community’ category

Clean Hands

February 13, 2021

The pandemic has kept my hands cleaner than they’ve ever been. So much so, in fact, that a couple of my fingers have cracks in the skin from the multitude of hand washings each day. I don’t remember being concerned about my hands being clean when I was a nose-picking, coughing-into third-grader. Cleanliness has come on me later in life.

Late-18th Century preacher John Wesley said that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” Although Wesley was thinking just as much about moral purity as he was of physical cleanliness, the message stuck. Most people think that Wesley’s words were a scripture quote from the Book of Proverbs. They would very well fit into the emphases of our present COVID-19 precautions.

In my reading through the Bible this year I am presently in the “clean chapters” of Leviticus. I’ve been intrigued and startled by the requirements for cleanliness amongst the people of God. If I wasn’t reading scripture I would think it had been written by someone with excessive compulsive behavior or the CDC.

Good hygiene has a purpose. So does a soul rescued from the darkness of sin. Leviticus is filled with remedies for “getting clean” again…offer a sacrificial animal, get quarantined for a period of time, wash thoroughly. Each situation of intentional or unintentional defilement had a procedure. Leviticus 18 and 19 reads like a Baptist youth group’s list of don’ts. Better to be proactive at the beginning of a youth activity than reactive afterwards.

Jesus was proactive and reactive. That is, he became that cleansing agent even before we’d been tainted and he is that reconciler even after we’ve strayed into the dirt. Hebrews 9:14 tells us this.

” How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

That’s some deep cleaning!

There’s another parable that Jesus tells in Luke 15 about deep cleaning. It’s the story of the widow who sweeps her house until she finds one lost coin. That probably meant sweeping a dirt floor, moving everything around until she found one small, perhaps to most insignificant, coin. That tells me what a clean fanatic Jesus is willing to be to find me and anyone else who’s lost and doesn’t realize it.

Yesterday, Carol dropped a needle on the floor and couldn’t find it. A needle on the floor is hard to find until the bottom of your foot says, “Found it!” I went to my knees and searched until the flipping of a rug caused it to become visible. That picture of being on my knees made me think of the extensive search that Jesus conducts for each one of His children. Can you see him down on all fours looking for you?

Somewhere Between Too Religious and Jesus-And”

February 6, 2021

I’ve been reading “The Message/Remix”, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, for my devotional/quiet time reflection this year. This week the readings took me into Leviticus and Hebrews. Peterson gives a brief introduction to each scripture book. For Hebrews, he says that it was written for people who were either “too religious” or had a bad spiritual habit of putting a hyphen after Jesus…Jesus-and-angels, Jesus-and-Moses, Jesus-and-priesthood.

It’s so relevant for us today that it’s scary! There are followers of Jesus who are so concerned with the fabric of his robe and the color of his crown that they fail to see the Jesus they are called to follow.

And then there are those who feel like Jesus can’t be enough. The hyphen adds any number of things…Jesus-and-politics, Jesus-and-church programming, Jesus-and-money. The danger with hyphens after Jesus’ name is that whatever it is that follows the hyphen is prone to become the dominating force. In other words, it’s almost like Jesus stands up to introduce the guest speaker for the evening and then whatever the add-on happens to be rises to the podium, and Jesus steps to the side.

To clarify, it’s not that Jesus isn’t connected to other parts and interests in our lives; it’s the tendency to contort the Savior into some kind of shape that fits into our interests. He becomes a reference for our opinion, instead of the Revelation through whom we come to an opinion. He becomes the after-the-hyphen word, kind of a substitute driver if the main driving passion of our life gets exhausted.

Peterson makes the point that the book of Hebrews is getting the followers of Jesus to realize that God’s action was in Jesus, not Jesus-and! In our complex culture, many people shudder at the idea of simplicity. It’s too plain for them, like a bowl of rice with no seasonings or butter. Jesus is just not exciting enough for them. The “happening church” they attend adds some color to the plainness of their King with a moving light display and a pastor in skinny jeans. The cappuccino they can sip during the live praise band performance also adds flavor. They are addicted to spiritual seasonings, not quite the intent of Jesus’ words telling people to be the salt of the earth.

Imagine, however, hearing the words of grace and forgiveness for the first time, and finding out that the One who loves me and beckons me to follow is the Only One who does not need to be hyphenated. In fact, the only punctuation after His name might be simply a wondrous exclamation mark! Simply amazing!

Hidden Behind the Headlines

January 23, 2021

When I log onto Yahoo (to check college basketball scores) the first screen that appears for me is the screen with the headlines. These days the headlines mostly focus on the downside of life, whether it be the pandemic, riots, or major storm fronts.

Our culture is fixated on the headlines, the drama of the stories, the status of the unrest. We’re influenced by the influencers– sometimes simply because of their beauty or handsomeness– and begin to take on their views and opinions as if they are rational.

Followers of Jesus get sucked into this just as much as anyone else. Our attention so often is diverted to the immediate instead of the eternal. We battle over who’s in charge…Republicans or Democrats…as opposed to Who is in charge?

The Almighty rarely makes the headlines these days, and He undoubtedly is not concerned about it. It says much more about who we are than who He is. When I feel myself sliding off a crumbling cliff created by the heaviness of depressing headline news I turn to the middle of my Bible and reacquaint myself with the One Who gets hidden behind the headlines. I read words that open up the veil of current newsprint.

Like Psalm 98:1-4


Sing to God a brand-new song.
He’s made a world of wonders!

He rolled up his sleeves,
He set things right.

God made history with salvation,
He showed the world what he could do.

He remembered to love us, a bonus
To his dear family, Israel—indefatigable love.

The whole earth comes to attention.
Look—God’s work of salvation!

Shout your praises to God, everybody!
Let loose and sing! Strike up the band!

The Almighty doesn’t need to be on the front page, the op-ed page, or even the back page. He’s made His statements to the hearts of His created. As Jesus said to His followers, “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear!” (Mark 4:23) God may be hidden in today’s headlines, but He still speaks to our hearts, and His spirit lives within us!

Center Wisdom

January 16, 2021

Rubber bands have always made me a bit nervous. When I use one to hold a stack of notecards together or to keep a box-top from flying open, I proceed with caution. You may be doubting my manhood at about this point, but, you see, I hate it when a rubber band suddenly snaps. The snap often results in my fingers getting hit in the recoil. And then I have to do the same thing all over again with another rubber band. It’s like having your mom shovel a second helping of hominy grits onto your plate right after you had survived the last bite of the first helping!

Rubber bands have their limit. They are only so flexible, and then they snap into a worm-like piece of useless rubber.

It’s a visual example of the extremism that is stretching our nation. Both progressive and conservative extremists are bringing us to the snapping point, and the flexibility of our nation is being sorely tested. Those of us in the middle, or leaning some either way can see it, but the ends of the tug-of-war keep pulling like it’s a taffy pull.

As I’ve grown older, I hope I’ve grown wiser in some ways. That wisdom has caused me to see the foolishness and selfishness of political extremists. Their agenda is usually short-sighted and prone to displaying various versions of bullying. Wisdom, more often than not, makes a home in the middle or close to it.

Not to be left out of the equation (And I’m not using the word ‘left’ there to hint at anything!), many churches have also stretched the elastic band of their member bodies. There’s been the pulling on Jesus’ arm to reposition him in one camp or another. Interestingly, this week I was reading some words that were written by Philip Yancey all the way back in 1996. He wrote these words in an article in Christianity Today magazine, entitled “Unwrapping Jesus” (June 17, 1996): “Each time an election rolls around Christians debate whether this or that candidate is “God’s person” for the White House. I had difficulty imagining Jesus pondering whether Tiberius, Octavious, or Julius Caesar was “God’s man” for the empire.”

Jesus was “God’s man” and God’s Son! He was always aware of the pulls to get Him to support this or that agenda. His wisdom, given to us in the Gospels, is void of any agendas but His Heavenly Father’s. He had a social conscience that sought to care for the widows, orphans, the poor, and outcasts; and He displayed a passion for the spiritually lost. He ate with a tax collector who was perhaps the most despised person in his town, and probably the richest; and he walked with fishermen who were about as common as anyone of their time, and struggling to make ends meet.

In the end, the Jesus I follow, knew what His purpose was and where it would lead Him. The factions that He listened to but would not join turned on Him and snapped back.

That’s what happens quite often with the wisdom in the center. The pulling ends won’t give up. The call for unity in the views of the extremists is not a priority, but rather a nuisance. Like the rubber band about to snap, their focus is more on getting a bigger piece of the rubber, regardless of the pain.

What’s My “Jesus Word”?

January 7, 2021

Cary Nieuwhof wrote a blog recently as a result of the Washington protest/unrest. Although written with church leaders and pastors in mind, it had several great points to make about the power of our words. I love it when I read something or hear someone speak that results in causing me to think and ponder the words of the author/speaker.

Cary makes this statement: As Jesus so clearly said, out of the overflow of the heart your mouth speaks.

Word issues are heart issues. The only way to really fix your words is to fix your heart. Sometimes we get so tired of the words we’re hearing that we retreat to silence or irrelevance. Last night, for example, my wife and I got so tired of the reports of what was happening in Washington that we switched channels and started watching the Tennessee-Arkansas basketball game. For someone who grew up as a Kentucky Wildcats’ basketball fan, watching Tennessee play was almost sacrilegious, but we needed a break from the “words”!

Words carry power and influence. They are impactful expressions of our mindset. However, they can be used to lead folks to a place of greater understanding deeper peace, and broadened hope; or they can be used to lead the herd to the edge of the cliff.

The question that came to me, being a Christ-follower, is what’s my Jesus-word for this time? What communication of Christ will inspire me, instead of causing me to change the channels? What word will emerge from my mouth that will be an reflection of my heart?

I think of Jesus sayings at the beginning of the fifth chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. We refer to them as His Sermon on the Mount. He talks about people of mercy and peace, people whose life-priorities are God-glorifying, people who are caring and loving, and people who may be poor in the world’s views but rich in spirit. There are Jesus’ words about grace and forgiveness, servant-minded, and giving. He teaches about inner beauty as being delightful in the eyes of God versus outward piety.

I must do self-inspection of what word my heart is echoing before inspecting the lives of others. We live in a time where criticism has dominated the tapestry. The darkness that shades our hearts affects our vision of our surroundings. For me, I must ask myself why I react with bitterness to a person whose perspective is different than mine? Why am I apathetic toward someone’s passion for a just cause? On the other side, why do I get emotional when I see a child who is seeking to befriend a lonely elderly person?

What Jesus-word will be a guiding force for me in these coming weeks?

Light Sensitivity

December 28, 2020

When I stagger into the bathroom in the morning and hit the light switch, my eyes squint at the transition from darkness to light. A few seconds later, however, my sight has adjusted and I rejoice that I can take a shower without having to search to find the bottle of body wash.

Light sometimes stuns us like deer in headlights, but most of the time it’s a revealer– a revelation, if you will– of what is and what is in front of you.

My wife noticed a post on social media from someone who was complaining about Christmas lights being displayed this year in the midst of the dark days of the pandemic. The person’s half-cocked point was that the lights were showing a lack of sensitivity for those who have struggled this past year. In other words, darkness needs to be commemorated with more darkness. Instead of light being a signal of hope, this person saw it as insulting to those who were suffering.

It’s interesting that light has a different purpose and meaning in each of the major religions– Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It’s always portrayed in a positive sense. In Christianity Jesus is referred to by John as “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). Jesus referred to himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12). In Judaism, the presence of the Lord was seen in the pillar of fire that guided the Hebrews as they left Egypt. Its purpose is to give them light to show them the way. David wrote, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1) The menorah, the lamp stand, is a symbol for the Jewish people. And in Islam the mosque lamp symbolized divine light.

Light, in other words, has a positive place in the faiths of the world. Instead of a sign of insensitivity, it’s a symbol in its various forms for hope, community, and peace. Perhaps the person who complained was in the midst of a personal dark night, a cavern of loss. Or, maybe it’s someone who has a tendency to complain, kinda like the teetotaler who complained about Jesus turning the water into wine. Some people find fault in any situation.

I recognize the dark days that many people are living in. Financial constraints, separation from loved ones, and concern about being infected with the virus are just a few of the heavy burdens that have been weighing folks down.

I also recognize the optimism of light, especially since the longest night of the year is only a week in our rearview mirrors. A gathering in our city on December 21, known as “The Longest Night”, remembers the struggles of the homeless, and they light candles to symbolize the meaning of the event.

Power outages are not welcome events. People and work crews scramble when power outages darken a city. The first thing affected people go for is a flashlight, a candle, or a fire in a fireplace. Light is not to be hidden, but is to shine. As Jesus tells us, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Wolfe Wisdom

December 14, 2020

Sometimes it’s more stupid than wise. Sometimes it’s wisdom that’s a bit too deep for seventh grade minds to grasp. And sometimes it’s simply an observation that I’m king about middle school behavior.

Whatever it is, I begin my seventh-grade language arts class with it each day. It’s “Wolfe Wisdom”. Truth be told, many of the wise sayings that take me about five seconds to read and fit on one Google Slide come to me as I sit in our hot tub the night before. As I soak the questions about life and language arts come to me and I formulate them into a sensible sentence.

Like tomorrow’s: If Hershey’s made a deodorant stick, middle school boys would smell a lot sweeter!

Or this one that made them think: To often gratitude doesn’t emerge in our lives until what or who we are grateful for is no longer around.

Or as we head toward Christmas: Don’t allow the “stuff” (possessions) of your life define who you are, instead of the substance of what you’re about. The stuff will disappear, but the substance of who you are will be remembered.

One of my students told me– in a respectful way, mind you– that I couldn’t call it Wolfe Wisdom if I quoted someone else. I had just quoted Groucho Marx when she said that.

Once in a while I do a play on title words and all it Wolfe Whine or, like one day last week, Wolfe Wish-dom. “All I want for Christmas is for all the missing assignments to be wrapped up and submitted by December 18! No ribbon and bow necessary!”

One observation I made recently was this: I don’t understand how a student with $200 ear pods and a $700 cell phone doesn’t seem to be able to remember to bring a pencil to school!

Some days my students recognize that Wolfe Wisdoms are the ramblings of a senior citizen separated from them by at least two generations and a ton of technology. I’ve never played Minecraft, Fortnite, or any of those finger-cramping video games, but I betcha’ I can take anyone of them in a game of chess or foul-shooting competition.

I’ve got to think about that. There may be another Wolfe Wisdom hidden in those words that I’ll discover as I sit in the hot tub tonight.

Smile, Students!

November 24, 2020

Since I’m a fill-in teacher this year, kinda a fake instructor, I do some things that are a little bizarre and lacking in academic seriousness. Like last week when I started adding stuffed animals to flank the Cabbage Patch doll that was neatly arranged at the desk close to my classroom desk. I refer to the troupe as my fill-in students, since in-person students won’t be in the classroom until January.

On my back wall I had the word “Laugh” for a couple of weeks, the letters formed by Far Side cartoons. Last week I rearranged the letters, inserted some new Far Sides, and spelled out “SMILE”. Unfortunately, our school went to remote learning before my students had a chance to see it, but I’ll keep it pinned to the wall until they come back.

It’s difficult for them to smile much these days, being partially in class and partially virtual until now, and now they are totally remote. My teaching teammates and I started doing virtual lunches with them to help keep the connection. As they sit and eat their PB&J, they can log into one of our communication channels and converse with other classmates and teachers. It’s like an online cafeteria.

I want them to know that it’s okay to say they aren’t okay, to say they don’t enjoy this distant educational experience. If, in the midst of that, I can bring a smile or a chuckle I’ll have led them toward a moment of normalcy. If I can make comments about their on-screen backdrop or mention that they’re looking awesome that day, perhaps they will let their defenses and reservations down for a few moments.

This year education is more about instilling a calmness in the midst of the pandemic storm. It’s about getting these adolescents to trust in the belief that it’s going to turn out okay.

It’s getting them to rediscover their ability to smile.

The Popularity of Extremists

November 22, 2020

They make me cringe and want to floss my teeth for no apparent reason. The extremist views of the right and the left are…well, extreme!

And popular! Not popular, because mega-number of people agree with them, but they attract attention because they are so “out there”. They are the political versions of The Real Housewives of Wherever, another cultural favorite that makes me run for the bathroom cabinet.

Being a moderate, I have to shake my head and go for a walk. And yet, as I think about it, extreme views and personalities are apparent in most areas and arenas of our world. Football players, and the whole offensive line, now make it an end zone production after a touchdown is scored. It seems like no one now scores and simply hands the football to the nearest official. Broadway has to make a showing. Speaking of Broadway, that brings back the memory of Joe Namath from the 60s and 70s, the quarterback whose nickname was Broadway Joe.

Even religion goes for the extremes, from Benny Hinn smacking people in the forehead to extreme conservative churches that frown on smiling.

In politics we’ve had the Moral Majority and the Tea Party and, on the other side, there’s the Progressive “Pack” and “The View”.

The thing is…those of us in the middle are very uncomfortable with the extreme views in just about any area. We don’t frequent marijuana dispensaries and we’re likely to have a beer in our refrigerator. Our sense of what is right is more resembling of a Norman Rockwell painting than a protest march. We don’t believe everything should be free and that work is not a four-letter word (although it has four letters).

We don’t attract a lot of attention and don’t garner the kind of Nielsen ratings that make us appealing. We’re more comfortable with farmers and the town square barber than we are with techies and fashion statements. We understand how blessed we are to be Americans, but also are willing to help those in other parts of the world who need food.

We drive Hondas and Chevys at reasonable speeds and reach for the floss as the red BMW speeds by us, weaving in between three lanes of moderates.

And we know that we’ll probably never be popular! We’ll just be average, or better yet, normal!

VIRTUAL MOTIVATION

November 15, 2020

It’s an intriguing, even perplexing, problem. In some ways it’s a puzzle that I often faced in my 36+ years as a church pastor. How do you motivate virtual students? How do you shepherd the flock to move along toward the green pastures of more knowledge, understanding, and problem-solving?

I’ve wrestled with the dilemma for some time now. Not being a teacher, but kinda being a teacher, I do not have any neat-and-tidy educational formulas that fit the situation. On the other hand, it might be to my benefit that I don’t have any neat-and-tidy educational formulas to make me believe that this pandemic era eLearning setup is something that can be answered with a step-by-step lesson plan.

My concern is more for the students who are lower performers, students who struggle enough as it is in a normal school classroom setting. To be sure, their are some students who could care less and are using this time of virtual learning to improve on their gaming skills. One student this past week didn’t realize that his microphone was unmuted and the teacher could hear the “ping, ping, ping” of a video game gun being fired. As I’m discovering, there’s even a few parents who are uninterested in their child’s disinterest. But there are those students who need an in-person human voice to help them navigate a problem or assignment. They are the students who don’t see what needs to be done as a math calculation, but rather an unclimbable wall that inhibits them from moving forward.

How do you motivate young minds to gain ground when there is chaos happening all around them?

For me, the relationship with students is the pavement for the instruction. Knowing the students– their dreams and fears, the things that bring smiles to their faces and the topics that make them cringe– helps them believe that I’m there to assist them, not inject more dreariness into their lives. I want them to know that I understand that they will not always be on their A-game, that some days will be immersed with a feeling of meaninglessness.

That element of caring demands more from the teachers than from them. I must be willing to go the extra mile, because their engines have stalled. A gentle push with a few words of encouragement may be the only fuel needed to get them moving again.

However, there are those students who are resistant to being motivated toward academic advancement. For those students, their loss in education must not be multiplied with a loss of relationships. Like the prodigal son that Jesus talked about, they need to know that their teachers will be there for them when they decide it’s time to return to learn. They need to believe that those who lead them in this weird way of doing school have not given up on them.

Tomorrow I’ll see four different screens full of faces, some who have simply rolled over in bed and logged on to class and some who will be expecting to learn. Like a shepherd, I’ll try my best to move the flock on down the road. I’ll punctuate the journey with moments of laughter and words of affirmation, and hopefully we’ll all survive being taken by the predators we encounter along the way.

It’s funny, in a way, that this teaching shepherd is a “Wolf”, but with an ‘e’!