Archive for the ‘Grace’ category

Having A God Limp

June 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                June 2, 2019

                                  

I ran three miles yesterday. Today my hips are feeling the effects! Someday I’ll probably have to have hip replacement surgery, but let’s don’t talk about that right now, okay?

This morning I sorta’ limped down the steps. You know, an “Ouch” noise whispered through my lips each step down. 

Running is not good for certain parts of the body, but great for the cardio! For that matter, life is not good for parts of us, but great in other ways. A few days ago I had a fried seafood platter. It was great for my taste buds, but my arteries are waving the white flag.

All of us have “life limps” of some sort. Recently I found a copy of my freshman transcripts from college. My ego limped through the next couple of hours as I was reminded of the “0.533” grade point average I accumulated in my first quarter of higher education. 

Ouch!

Then there are limps that tell ongoing stories. My friend, Jim Newsome, who passed away a few months ago had a slight limp for most of his life. The limp was the result of having polio when he was in the Navy back in the early 1950’s. He spent a month in an iron lung, unsure of whether he would live or die. Five other sailors who had the disease died. Jim lived. He believed that God spared him for a reason, a life reason, and he served his Heavenly Father for the next 65+ years…with a limp!

A God limp!

There are those who limp along with God and those who have a God Limp. That is, there are those who limp through life affected by its damage, slowed by bad decisions, and scarred by the bitterness…and God is with them, but not in an intimate way. He’s like an acquaintance, not a friend.

And then there are those who walk closely with God, depend on His leading, are encouraged by his companionship, and are touched by His hand. Like Jacob, their wrestling with Him over the problems and conflicts of life have produced a limp that has been the result of the close relationship. 

With Jim Newsome, his limp became a lead in to conversation about coming near to death, living a life of purpose, and trusting in the Lord. 

People with “God Limps” are special, grounded, and, unfortunately, rare! I’ve been fortunate to have a number of them in my life. They are faith followers who lean on the Lord.

This morning I’ll lead worship with the saints of Simla, Colorado. John and Sherry will talk about leaning on the Lord in regards to the Cowboy Camp their family has run for 64 years- a week in June where people gather for worship, fellowship, and evangeIistic services. Each year there are needs that they pray through, like for a cook this year to fix the three meals each day for the 100 or so people who camp there. When God stops providing they believe that Cowboy Camp will end. BUT each year He provides, so they keep going. It’s their God Limp, pronounced and blessed. 

This afternoon I’ll run another three miles and walk gingerly through the rest of the day, and I’ll ponder the closeness of God that I brace myself beside instead of limping along with Him!

Yearbook Signings

May 31, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 30, 2019

                              

Today was my last day of substitute teaching for this school year. Tomorrow I’m having a root canal. Some of the middle school teachers were willing to trade places with me if I took their classes.

I said no!

Today, however, I had several students come to me with their yearbooks and ask me to sign them. I can’t just sign my name like a doofus! I HAVE to write something, a few words of wisdom, or some inspirational jargon with a personal spin to it.

One 8th grade girl begged me to come and sub in high school next year. I let her have some hope that I would consider it, but I think I’d rather gargle with spoiled milk!

End-of-the-school year emotions run the whole spectrum. At one end are students who are crying their eyes out and at the other are students counting down the minutes like a NASA rocket launch just waiting for the final bell to ring.

“Mr. Wolfe, would you sign my yearbook?”

“Sure!” I take it in hand and glance at the words already written by others, hoping someone wrote this young lady’s name in their greeting. If not, I create a nickname on the spot, like “K-Factor”, “Brainiac”, and “Groovy Girl!” (No, just kidding on that last one!).

“K-Factor! What an awesome young lady you are! Every time I see a Snicker’s bar next year I’ll think of you!”

“Steady Freddy! You brought a smile to my face every time I had you in class this year. You are something else! Have a great summer!”

“Jill! Keep being as awesome as you are and the sky’s the limit!”

“Judy! Eat your veggies!”

The yearbook signings are diverse in message, some funny and some serious, some meaningless and others with words that will bring back a smile years from now. I didn’t have yearbooks from my middle school days. My first yearbook, still on my shelf, is from my freshman year at Maysville High School in Zanesville, Ohio. I was 4’10” with eyeglasses that kept sliding down my nose. In fact, I was runner-up in the school chess tournament that year. There is a picture in the yearbook where I am shaking the hand of the champion, a junior, and my glasses look like they’re about to fall off my face. I look at that picture now, 50 years later, and cringe but also chuckle. Some of these students will have the same reactions when they look at their pictures sometime in the future.

“Good Lord, what was I doing with my hair back then?”

“Look at my facial expression! Was I constipated that day?”

“Thank God, I stopped wearing that stupid headband by the time I got out of high school!”

And the signings. They will look at what Johnny wrote and laugh, or what Andrew wrote that makes no sense, or what Kyle wrote that a handwriting interpreter wouldn’t be able to figure out.

Students who have caused my underwear to get into a wad suddenly want me to sign their yearbook. I am honored that they value my signature so much. Some of the students who have caused me to run screaming to my car after school are the ones who want me to plant a few “Words from WW” in the center of their page. In 2039 when they pull their copies off their shelves many of them will get perplexed looks on their faces as they try to remember who Mr. Wolfe was…and that’s okay!

The Illusion of Being In Control

May 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      May 21, 2019

                           

It’s May 21 In Colorado Springs and we woke up to a foot of snow on the ground. It started in the early evening, but surely it would spew for a while and then cease! 

It hasn’t! School closures on May 21 for snow storms aren’t the norm around here, but my back is mumbling something to me this morning that may be a mixture of pain and profanity.

Carol and I were out in the backyard at 6 AM shaking slumping tree branches that look weighed down by the misery of it all. 

The longer I live the more I realize how much of life I’m not in control of. Late May snow storms are beyond me, as are sudden sicknesses, achy knees, and 7th Grade algebra. I suppose I could take algebra off that list if I studied it long enough…maybe not! But all the hand sanitizer, Vitamin C, and hand washing does not make me immune to a virus that comes on like gangbusters.

My friend, Ron McKinney, was looking forward to his daughter returning home yesterday from her first year at a Boston area college, but at the last moment Frontier Airlines changed her flight from Monday to Wednesday. Isn’t it interesting how we can plan something like a trip, vacation, or major purchase and a business, an institution, or the unpredictability of nature scratches out all of our ideas and itineraries?

Being in control is an allusion that we live by. That’s not to say that it’s futile for people to plan and prepare, but rather to not be surprised by the wrinkle in the schedule.

Athletes train and prepare to compete with excellence, but a blown-out knee can happen to the best of the best. 

I’ve had friends who have lived a healthy lifestyle and suddenly been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that seems to answer to no one.

I’ve had people in the congregations where I served as pastor- faithful people, people of prayer and spiritual disciplines, who have an intimate relationship with Jesus- suddenly encounter life tragedies that shake them to their cores.

I’ve seen investments in stocks that seemed sound suddenly go off the deep end because the main products of a company became obsolete. Think Eastman Kodak! Or the arrival of Amazon speeding the departure of Sears!

A foot of snow on May 21st! And the forecast of temperatures in the 70’s for the coming weekend! 

What I can trust in is the God I serve always being faithful, always loving, and always merciful. As I plowed through the snow this morning with hesitation and white knuckles, I was reminded of my Father God who navigates the way of life for me if I trust in him…if I allow him to be the one who is in control. 

Psalm 23 is probably the most familiar scripture selection in the Old Testament. It’s also a psalm of surrender and recognition. It tells of the Father who is like a shepherd, the one who leads, protects, and provides. The reoccurring theme, however, is that he is our Father God who is in control. 

What can a person do on May 21st when a foot of snow greets him as his garage door opens? Grab a shovel, get the Biofreeze ointment ready, and live with what is!

Friend Listening

May 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  May 19, 2019

                              

Carol and I are returning from a European river cruise that was awesome and memorable. Being in the youngest 20% on the boat made us feel like 65 year old teenagers! Suddenly, as we travel home, we’re feeling a bit weathered!

Our friends, Dave and Robyn Hughes, joined us on the cruise. They now live in Bradenton, Florida, but a long, long…very long time ago Dave and I went to high school together, he performed the function of being my Best Man, and I performed his wedding ceremony.

It was good! It was needed! It was heart aching!

You see, Dave and Robyn’s oldest son, Brad, passed away two years ago this month. His death was the result of an unfortunate accident. Brad was in his mid-thirties at the time of his passing. When I received word of his death I called Dave and we talked for a few minutes, but being together on the cruise was a chance for us to talk face-to-face, laugh and cry, journey through the dark lonely walk, and renew our deep friendship.

He talked, I listened, asking a few clarifying questions as he retold the story, but mostly just listened. A friend is someone you can laugh with, but, more importantly, a friend is someone who stays on the path with you. The path is adorned with bright flowers at certain times, but also potholes of misery at other times. 

Dave needed to talk. Grief causes some people to clench their jaw muscles tight in firm anger and anguish, while other people need to talk through it. It is the honesty of grief that  reveals the loss, deep loss, and its effects on different people in different ways. Americans still live in the land of denial when a significant loss occurs. We so often are in fear of looking weak, but grief is not about who is strong and who is weak. Grief is about healing the wounds of loss.

All of us have, or soon will, experience loss in some way. For Carol and I, all of our parents are now deceased. It’s a tug on our hearts at any moment. A conversation from long ago breaks to the surface and Mom or Dad seems to be right there…but they aren’t. 

So Dave and I talked, and sometimes rested in the silence of our conversation. We told each other old stories that we’ve shared umpteen times already and pondered the questions that have no answers. 

Friendship is about listening. It’s about taking the hand of the other and leading him into the unrest, and it’s about helping him look ahead in the looming shadow of the past. It’s allowing the other to ask the questions of spiritual doubt and confusion without rushing to the shallowness of snappy conclusions. 

I miss my old friend! I’ll miss the opportunity to stand on the deck of the boat and listen to his sadness, and to retell the stories of the pranks we pulled on each other and others. We long for our next gathering, wherever that might be…God willing!

Playing In the Lion Tigers’ Den

May 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 14, 2019

                                   

When our basketball team from Judson College (Elgin, Illinois) played Olivet Nazarene College the result was usually painful! We had a small college All-American named Tom Randall and… eleven other guys who wore the same uniform! We weren’t very good! 

For example, our center was short (six foot two inches), but he complimented his lack of size by not being able to jump or shoot! He did, however, make good use of his five fouls each game, and was usually sipping on a water bottle as he sat on the bench to watch the last eight to ten minutes.

We tried! Tried really hard before we were deep fried! Olivet Nazarene had already beaten us on our home court in January by about thirty…okay, 36! Now it was February, we had lost ten in a row, and had to go to their gym and play them again on a Saturday night. 

“The Lion’s Den” as we called it was always jam-packed. A balcony with an iron railing ran around the entire gym and spectators hung on it as they yelled at the players of the visiting team. We cranked up the myth by talking about they would spit on us if we strayed to close to the edge of the court. We weren’t “moisturized”, mind you, but somehow it gave us an excuse for having our butts kicked up and down the court.

My senior year someone came up with an idea to help calm the nervous anxiety that made us play tentative. We would all get our hair done in Afros. Somehow it seemed like a good idea, like a dimwit getting a tattoo on his arm saying “I Love Betty”, but then having Betty dump him like a bad habit. 

Afros! Most of us were whiter than angel food cake. Afros were not our identity or calling, but for one game, one night, we’d provide the Nazarene faithful with a sight that would cause mouths to drop open in amazement and horror

That morning several female classmates prepped our hair. The school yearbook has a picture of several of our teammates sitting at a lunch table, eating with hair adorned with bobby pins and curlers. 

And so we hopped on the team bus and traveled south to Kankakee. I was a five foot eight inch shooting guard, but my Afro made me a sweet-looking 6’2” that game. I had it flowing as I ran up and down the court.

We played loose and carefree, like champions! It was the days before three point baskets, but we still were shooting long range jumpers. I hit three jumpers for six point that game and could feel the wind of the Tiger fans blowing through my hair as I sprinted from one end  of the court to the other.

It was a sight and an adventure!

And another lop-sided loss! The final score caused cringing when it was relayed to our campus and the local newspaper, but, to us, it didn’t matter. We had risen to the occasion, played without fear, and, most of all, enjoyed having young ladies play with our hair for several hours that day.

Olivet Nazarene went on to winning our conference championship and playing in the small college national tournament while we went back to being students who also happened to play basketball.

And we knew…we knew…the Tiger players could only wish that a few college co-ed’s would play with their hair! They were too good to be able to look different! We, however, were bad enough to be allowed to do the unthinkable! 

Middle School…Because’s

May 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 4, 2019

                               

It’s a big word in middle school, overused and misunderstood!

Because!

It arrives at the crossroads of question and answer or, better yet, confusion and illogical reason.

This week it made more appearances at our middle school than UPS. The packages were in different sizes and forms.

For example, yesterday a student was completing a math test. One of the problems had him deciding which choice was better…if you bought 10 oranges for $4.00 or 17 oranges for $6.49…and then to explain why you decided on your choice? The student chose the right answer, but he hadn’t given an explanation. I said to him, “Buddy (not his actual name)! You need to give an explanation.”

He looked at me with an expression of disbelief about my request and then placed the pencil lead on the paper and wrote. His words lay as flat on the page as his reason.

“Because it is!” That’s what he had written. “Because it is!”

“Buddy, that’s not an explanation. Because it is…that doesn’t explain anything!” He focused his eyes on me through the lens of his eyeglasses. “Why do you wear glasses? Because you do…is that the reason?”

He nodded yes. “No, you wear them to help you see. Because isn’t an explanation, it’s an excuse.”

He looked back at his paper and erased…the right answer and the explanation, replaced them with the wrong answer and the explanation, “Who needs 17 oranges anyway!”

Earlier in the week a student in one of my classes had been caught playing video games on his cell phone in the midst of class, a no-no for seventh graders! I had him take his phone to the office, but then he never came back to class. Later on the security person found him hiding in the library. During lunch he came back into the classroom to get something. His quick look towards me conveyed irritation and anger. I had probably interfered with a career high in his game score.

I asked him why he hadn’t come back to class after taking his phone to the office. His eyes were doing bodily harm to me as he answered, “Because I didn’t want to!” There it was! The pathway to understanding…the word that our parents used on us followed by the tail ending of “I said so! And that’s the only reason you need!”

If an educator begins a question with the word “Why” there is a good chance the student will answer with a “because” statement. The probability of “because” increases as the end of the school year approaches. 

“Why did you set off firecrackers in the cafeteria right by the nacho bar?”

“Because!”

“Why did you think it was okay to wear a tee shirt with the middle finger prominently displayed on it?”

“Because…the shirt was clean!”

“Why did you throw his shoe on top of the building?”

“Because I wanted to see if I could do it!”

Of course, why do 12, 13, and 14 year olds do a lot of the things that they do? And, in a few years new ages will be inserted into that statement! And then many times in the years following it will be said again about adults…adults at tailgate parties, adults speeding down turnpikes, adults trying to cheat on tax returns and/or their spouses. 

Because becomes the answer to the unexplainable and actions that have not wisely been thought through. And why is that?

As Buddy would say, because it is!

Returning to the Old Pulpit

April 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 28, 2019

           

I did not do a General MacArthur when I retired from pastoring at the end of 2015. I did not say “I shall return!”

I had no thoughts of returning! After 36 and a 1/2 years of pastoring I was fried, fricasseed, roasted, and toasted! I knew it was time to move to the side. So I did! Just about anyone in any profession prefers to go out on their own terms, as opposed to being told it was time to depart. Not that I had anyone who wanted me to take a quick exit and leave them alone, it’s just that there were some days I wanted to be left alone! That’s when I knew it was time!

This morning I return to the old pulpit. Back in August the church asked me to come back and speak at their 60th anniversary celebration. Six months later Pastor Reggie, who also happens to be a friend of mine, asked me to come and speak again, and now, three months later I’m speaking again. I don’t know if you noticed or not, but the time between speaking engagements keeps being reduced by 50% each time.

It’s with mixed emotions that I speak in the place where I delivered about 750 sermons over the years. I loved the people, and still love the people. I remember the baptisms, like when the baptistry had a leak and Jacob Lundquist gave a shivered moan as he was dunked into about 8 inches of ice cold water; or Barbara Shepherd getting baptized at the age of 80. 

I remember the Sunday we served donut holes for communion, and the Sunday I made the unwise decision to give two children’s stories during the service. By the second story it was like herding cats to keep the kids all together!

I remember our seniors group, called The Ageless Wonders, who kept me encouraged; the young guys group who took me camping; and the Saturday Morning Men’s Bible Study group that encouraged each other in the journey as men of faith.

I remember the tears of heartache and the hugs of healing. I remember the losses of life, the funeral services for the departed; and I remember some Sundays where there seemed to be a loss of congregational life. 

I remember the folk who caught my vision for ministering to the community around us and others who wouldn’t be caught dead in any ministry that reached outside the walls of the building.

There were people who loved Jesus and others who loved the church…and still others who loved Jesus and the church. A fourth group simply loved the free coffee and donuts!

By the end of 2015 my level of cynicism had risen to an unhealthy level even for a Baptist! It took a few months into retirement for a healthy perspective to re-emerge. 

Pastoring is like a marathon race. It needs a nice steady pace, not an opening sprint that results in a long exhausted walk! 

So today I return with a different perspective, an old guy who has been humored by the past two years of substitute teaching with middle schoolers. The challenge of teaching 7th graders what is really important in life is similar to getting church folk to believe that the gospel is more important than the Denver Broncos.

Oops! Here comes that cynicism again!