Archive for the ‘Faith’ category

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)

A Light (Or Strand) in the Darkness

December 24, 2020

On Monday, Carol called for me to come outside and see The Christmas Star, as it’s referred to– Jupiter and Saturn in line with each other, something that won’t happen again for about 800 years (which is about the time that all of the styrofoam trash will breakdown).

I stared up at a speck of a star and tried to contain my excitement. A telescope would have raised my enthusiasm, but Apple has not yet figured out how to put one of those in my iPhone. I mean, to be able to see Saturn’s rings would have been pretty cool, but my progressive eyeglass lens would not enable my vision to make that happen.

The next night the two of us decided to go for a car ride and view the Christmas lights in the neighborhoods around us. Carol had found some kind of email or web site that told where the most awesome displays were and we headed toward one of the street addresses a couple miles away. When we turned onto the drive we were greeted by a long line of cars waiting, as if it was rush hour L.A. traffic. Up ahead (way up ahead) we could see the flashing lights of the front yard production of one of the residents. The lights moved in time with the music that played, as opposed to the cars that moved-not! After a few minutes of staying in the same distant spot we turned around and left. Neighborhood light productions draw ooh’s and aah’s from mesmerized crowds. The two of us, however, were simply searching for some light displays that conveyed peace and hope.

Traveling down a few more streets unclogged with waiting vehicles brought us that sense of contentment. There were simple displays that echoed the hope of the season, and then we returned to our own house where an unimpressive strand of lights goes along the top of our garage and front porch. Believe me, there is not a traffic jam on our street, except for the neighbors a couple of houses down who have too many vehicles and no place to put them but the street.

Our “light experiences” made me think about the birth narratives and also some of the beginning words of the Gospel of John. The birth of Jesus was anything but a production. It was unattended, except for sheltering livestock and distant visitors who made not have been there for a long, long time. No symphony provided background music for the song of angels. Like this week’s Christmas Star, it was unimpressive unless you had a way of seeing what it really was. John testified to its significance: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

It was a single light in a dark time, a single light that did not command the attention of the crowds. That light, that single light was the most significant light. As John writes, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1:4)

Tonight I think I’ll stand in front of our house, looking at our strand of lights bought at a summer garage sale and give thanks to the Creator for His hand in the simplicity of life and how His peace so often comes to us in the ordinary moments

Car Wash Timing

December 20, 2020

Galatians 4:4-6

 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[c] Father.”

Carol and I decided to take our CRV to the car wash yesterday. We had received an email from the business that had just opened, offering a free wash. Since the CRV was resembling a middle-school boy who hadn’t showered in a month, we thought the timing was right on. What a surprise to arrive at the place and find out that it was their grand opening and that we could keep the digital coupon we had received for another time. Yesterday the wash was on the house.

Remarkably, there was only one other car in front of us that was about to take the turn into the drive-thru wash. A minute later we pulled onto the conveyor belt, put the car in neutral, and gave control of the work to the brushes, sprayers, soapers, and dryers. The cleaning was thorough and now I’m tempted to park the CRV in the garage for the next month.

As I reflected on the words of Paul in Galatians about “right timing”, that car wash journey made me think of the importance of patience and allowing things to happen when they’re suppose to, not when we want them to. I know what you’re thinking. “A car wash? Come on, Bill!”

Well, there’s a reason why the automatic blowers come last in the car wash, and why the brushes come after the soap has been applied. Need I go on?

Patience is in shorter supply than toilet paper these days. I’m reminded of the absence of patience whenever I drive that now clean CRV anywhere. The other day a vehicle behind me in the merge lane on Powers Boulevard whipped around me as I’m driving in the merge lane- a solid white line to my left- gaining speed to merge. The other driver threw safe driving out the window like a used hamburger wrapper in order to gain at least five seconds in his journey.

The idea of God waiting until the time had fully come was not received well by many people in pre-Jesus days. There had been revolts, invasions, Roman soldiers inhabiting Jewish cities, oppression, and still no messiah. How long would God wait until he merged his planned birth into the mainstream? How many would decide to take things into their own hands, kinda like Saul and the burnt offering in 1 Samuel 13. He’s confronted by Samuel and offers the excuse of impatience.

1 Samuel 13:11-13 Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash,  I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said.

We have a nasty habit of thinking the timing is right when it’s beneficial for us, but when we have to wait the gum-chomping and jaw-tightening quickens. As far as I know, the Almighty does not chew gum and exercises the patience and perseverance of the champion in a staring contest.

Perhaps that should also be a word of encouragement for many of us. Remember that child that has wandered away like a prodigal kid, or the suffering relationship that has been in need of healing for a very, long time? Maybe you’re about to have all the grime washed away and God is about to blow you away with the timing of his intervention. Just let the merge lane run its course!

Remembering Those Passed On

December 6, 2020

Today, December 5, would have been my mom’s 93rd birthday. She has moved on to walking on the streets of gold, a glorious sight for me to imagine since she had mobility problems the last several years of her life.

My mom’s name was Virginia. Yes, and she married Laurence Wolfe, therefore becoming Virginia Wolfe. We used to humor ourselves with the question, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” and then answer “We are!” She was loving, giving, and devoted to excellence. She also expected her three children (I was the baby) to be respectful, use our common sense, and not to just to anything haphazardly.

The week before Thanksgiving I told my students at school that gratitude too often doesn’t emerge in our lives until those we are grateful for are no longer around.

Yesterday my cousin Annette passed away from complications from a kidney condition. She was 59 and the first of my cousins to die. A strange feeling, since the last two times I saw Annette were at the funerals of my mom and dad.

Tonight Carol and I found out that one of our neighbors passed away a few weeks ago. They were quiet reserved people that kept to themselves and, consequently, kept the passing of the family patriarch to themselves.

Death seems to be something that just happens around us and we keep on going because we’re in a hurry to live. Our focus is mostly on the living that we can still laugh with and talk to, those who can watch the kids when we need to take a trip to the grocery or sit down with and play a game of chess.

The thing is…who I am now is because who they were. Virginia Wolfe shaped me. Laurence Wolfe put his mark on me. Those I pastored over the years put their impressions on me. I carry the physical features of my family and the cultural preferences of my roots.

If Mom was here tonight she’d be asking my dad what a six-letter word for desired could be. He’d find out if any of the letters in her crossword puzzle were filled in and then figure out that the word she needed would be missed.

They are, every day!

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!

You Matter!

November 19, 2020

My heart breaks for them! They are people who operate effectively on the basis of relational instruction. That is, they are the teachers who long for their students to be with them…physically!

It’s a strange and detached new way of teaching, this virtual education. Teachers want that closeness with their students, but 18 inches away from their faces on a computer screen is not what they had in mind.

And so they keep going, keep hoping, keep encouraging, even when their own spirits have dropped into a deep mine shaft. Their worry now gravitates to when their students return. Will it be like starting over again? Will they have to get them used to sitting up straight at their desks instead of slouching to the side with a comfort blanket wrapped around them?

And when the students are able to come back into the school buildings will it be for a week, two weeks, a month, and then there will be another transition back to remote learning?

So many questions and so little resolution. Peace seems to be fleeing from the scene.

What can teachers do? First of all, they can write in bold letters on their classroom boards, or a paper sticking to their refrigerator at home the words “YOU MATTER!”

Second, they can encourage their teaching teammates, like an orchestra that demands the sound of each instrument to create the symphony, teachers can keep telling their members that they are needed and they are valued.

And third, teachers keep the perspective of a marathon runner who stays focused on the end goal. Runners will talk about “hitting the wall” about three-fourths through the 26.2 mile race. It’s the mental, physical and emotional fatigue point that causes pessimism and discouragement to affect the pursuit. From what I see, many teachers are at “the wall” and struggling to keep going.

Hear it again. You matter! You are essential! You can do this! Your students will respect you even more when you lead them across the finish line!