Archive for the ‘love’ category

Remodeling Starbucks and Un-remodeling Church

February 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 16, 2019

                   

I arrived at MY Starbucks this morning to find a trash haul-away and a Mobile Mini storage unit. In fact, they were flanking my usual parking spot. I had to park three spaces over! Very inconvenient!

I didn’t think the haul-away was for coffee grounds, so I asked Megan, the barista, what was going on.

“We’re going to have a remodel starting next week.”

Michael, one of the regulars like me, then told me. “This is the third remodel since I’ve been coming here. Not fun! Although they are putting in a nitro cold brewing system.”

“What’s that?” I asked, and he explained it to me…and I still was wondering what it meant!

New furniture, new brewing system, lower serving counter for the increasing number of people who do mobile orders…same coffee!

Three remodels in about six years! Hmmm! I remember the struggle to get the last church I pastored to remodel the sanctuary. The dark wood that covered the walls resembled a scene from the old TV sitcom “Happy Days”. I think it actually pre-dated “Happy Days”! We went round and round about the need to update, replace the lights that I referred to as “the celestial balls”, and change the seating pattern. Finally, enough people supported the idea and we used volunteer labor to do most of the work. It had been transformed into a place that was appealing to walk into…not depressing, or as if you entered a time warp. 

And here’s Starbucks remodeling for the third time in six years! BUT same coffee!

I sense a lesson there, more for the church than Starbucks! Hold firm to the purpose of your existence, navigate the best way to present it, and negotiate about the packaging. 

In my growing up years our family would travel to Kentucky on Christmas Day to see our relatives. Our first stop would be in Wittensville to see Granny Wolfe and my Great Aunt Lizzie. I still remember Aunt Lizzie looking at the wrapped package sitting in her lap and saying- every year, mind you- “This package is to pretty to open!” We’d coax her into breaking the ribbon and actually seeing the contents inside the package.

There’s been a few times when the church I pastored became a little too enamored with the packaging at the price of never seeing the contents. That is, the wrappings around Jesus, but not Jesus; the wrappings of the church at the expense of the purpose of the church.

On the other hand, the church has sometimes used the excuse of not changing the packaging because it’s about Christ, when it actually is about not changing anything! 

Starbucks has its deficiencies, but if you stripped everything away from it you’d still find that coffee is at its core. 

In like manner the church has it’s sore spots. The question is if everything was stripped away would the core be the gospel of Christ?

Well, Hi Son!

February 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2019

                                            

One year ago I hopped on a  few planes heading from Denver to Houston to Charlotte to Charleston, West Virginia. It was Valentine’s Day, but bittersweet in many ways. I had talked to my sister on Monday night, February 12, and she told me that Dad was probably in his final hours. I went online and bought a plane ticket that left very early on the 14th.

About five o’clock in the afternoon I entered his hospital room and stood by his bed. My sister said, “Dad, there’s someone special here to see you!”, and he opened his eyes and looked at me.

The words came out as a whisper, and yet they were the words he would always say to me when I would call him on Sunday evenings.

“Well, hi son!”

“Hi, Pops!”

Nothing else was said. His dinner tray was in front of him, but he had no appetite. My sister coaxed him into eating some of the butterscotch pudding and maybe a couple of bites of mashed potatoes, but he was in his final hours of a long steady life. He held my hand in those moments when my sister, Rena, slowly urged each spoonful into his mouth. 

My dad was 89, four months short of hitting the 9-0 mark! I was thankful that I had a few hours with him before he crossed over. Rena and I sat there and talked about this, that, and the other as he drifted in and out. 

St. Mary’s Hospital had become like a second home for him, kind of like a time share! His heart episodes and cancer treatments- mostly for skin cancers- had made him a “frequent flyer” of St. Mary’s. His grandson was now the supervisor of the floor Dad was a patient on. Dad knew doctors, nurses and radiation technicians and assistants. There was a sense of loss filtering through the hospital as word spread that he was close to passing on.

When you sit by your dad’s bed and realize his time is short a flood of thoughts and memories race through your mind. There’s the thoughts of when the funeral gathering will be…even though he hasn’t passed yet. There’s the “listing” in your  mind of who needs to be informed about it.

But then there’s the memories and pictures. For some reason the picture of Dad having his hand on the back of my bicycle as I learned how to ride it came to the front of my mind. I was the baby of the three kids. He already had taught two others to ride bikes…and they had survived the experience. I was in good hands, or would I say, my bike was held upright by a good hand!

Then there’s the memory of Dad teaching me how to drive our 1966 Chrysler Newport in the back parking lot of Ironton Junior High School. He was standing outside the car giving me directions. 

“Turn! Turn!”

And I did! I turned the steering wheel with such power and effort that the power steering fluid burst! I can still see his expression of frustration. He didn’t voice any expletives, but I’m sure he thought of a few!

And in the last year of his life while I was back visiting I had driven him to the eye specialist, and while we were there Rena called me to tell me that Dad was suppose to have gone to the Emergency Room the day before but he hadn’t told anyone. He had just celebrated his 89th birthday and didn’t want to spoil the festivities for the others…not, mind you, for himself! He knew a cake was coming to Wyngate, his senior adult apartment complex, and wanted it to happen for the residents.

As I’m driving him to St. Mary’s he says to me, “Bill, let’s stop at Wendy’s and get something to eat!” And so we pull into the Wendy’s about a mile from St. Mary’s and have a cheeseburger and fries before I deliver him to the ER. The next day he had surgery!

A year ago, as I held his hand, I realized that the strong hand on the back of bicycle was now too weak to hold a spoon and the man who modeled what being a father means was drawing near to his heavenly Father.

I think back to those few closing hours of his life and know that I have been very, very blessed!

The Young Life Ministry

February 12, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 12, 2019

                            

This past Sunday night Carol and I attended the banquet sponsored by Young Life of North Colorado Springs. Young Life is a long established ministry to young people. It was started in 1941 by a guy named Jim Rayburn in Gainesville, Texas, and has been going ever since. 

Young Life is significant for us in that it was how Carol and I met! We were both working with Young Life high school clubs in the western suburbs of Chicago…she at Elmhurst York and me at Hinsdale Central, and then Downers Grove North. Hinsdale Central was the school she had graduated from and one of the other club leaders, Jeff Slaga, had invited her to come to a summer evening gathering of students who had been to one of Young Life’s summer camps. He knew that I was going to be there and was trying to be the matchmaker. 

So, it was at a Young Life event that we first met! The next March we went on a Young Life spring break ski trip to Colorado with a couple of busloads of students. The summer after that I took a van load of students from First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, Illinois to Silver Cliff, a Young Life camp at that time in Colorado. It was a life-changing experience for some of the students. Three years ago when I was back in the Chicago area I met one of those students, now in her fifties, for dinner and she told me that it was during that camp week that she became a follower of Jesus. 

Now, forty years after we had been Young Life leaders, we were back at a banquet to hear the Young Life story again. It’s different today, and yet the same! The gospel is still the center of the ministry, but some of the dynamics of youth ministry are different than they used to be. Forty years ago we didn’t have to deal with a sense of hopelessness in some young people’s lives that made suicide a final solution for several. We didn’t have cyber-bullying or as many split family units. There were different kinds of teen pressure that we dealt with, but nothing like vaping and gender confusion. 

As Carol and I entered the place for the banquet I was manhandled by five of my current basketball players who were a part of the cheering group of greeters. 

“Coach Wolfe! Coach Wolfe!” they shouted as they jostled me back and forth. They were surprised to see me and even more surprised when I told them that Carol and I had been Young Life leaders. 

The evening was a revisiting of part of our life stories, a confirmation of a ministry we had once invested in and will now come back to in support of. 

As I’ve coached and substitute taught I’ve seen and heard some of the heart cries of today’s teens. They’re confused and yet knowledgeable; depressed and yet smiling. Young Life offers an invitation to a relational road that they need not walk alone.

The Lost Backpack

February 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   February 2, 2019

                          

Luke 15:8-10  Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

I pulled into our garage, weary from a day of substitute teaching 8th Grade math (WHAT!!!) and then going to our basketball games at another school’s gym. I stepped out of the CRV and then opened the back door.

That’s when it hit me! I had left my backpack at the school where we had played. It was too late to drive the 25 minutes back since it was already 9:20 when I arrived home. I’d have to wait until the next day and hope that someone from the custodial team or the school security team had picked it up and put it in a secure place.

The backpack contained a couple of granola bars, dry erase markers, gum, pens, pencils, cough drops, a bottled of water, and a snack bag of trail mix. BUT, unfortunately, it also had my Mac Airbook laptop!

I went inside the house and called our varsity coach to let him know, and to ask him to send out an email to our team. I knew exactly where I had left the backpack and maybe someone a little more responsible than me had picked it up from behind our bench.

And I told Carol! Thus began the worrying! She worried! I was simply irritated at my irresponsibility! I had already forgotten the shirt I had worn to school that day. After school I had gone into a staff restroom to change into my TCA Titans coaching shirt, but had left the long sleeve Land’s End dress shirt hanging on the hook behind the door. Carol had already retrieved that forgotten item for me…and now this.

We called a couple of credit cards to put temporary freezes on any activity since we were worried about possible info somehow getting accessed. 

And then I went to bed! Carol stayed up and worried! I fell asleep and she stayed awake…even after she went to bed! I did have a dream about the backpack, going to the school where I left it and walking around with their Athletic Director to all the possible places it could have been put. We looked in a laundry bag, a hidden closet, the school office, the teacher’s lounge, and in the bleachers. No backpack! Carol, however, worried about the potential loss, thought through the Thursday morning search details and prayed for its recovery.

The next morning I called my athletic director and asked him to call the AD of the high school where we had been about the missing item. A little while later I called the school and was told that the bag was in the office.

Carol and I went and picked it up and celebrated with breakfast at Chick-fil-A!

What occurred to me as I reflected on the mishap is the difference in urgency that each one of us had. Even though it was my laptop that was missing I wasn’t as concerned about it as much as my wife. Nothing else mattered to her except finding the lost backpack.

When I read the parable about the lost coin I sense the urgency in the woman who had lost it. Nothing else mattered! The lost coin must be found. Everything else in  life was put on hold until she could find it.

So many of us, however, have an attitude that resembled mine. Concern, but not that much! I was even thinking about when I might go to the Apple store to buy a new laptop. In essence, I was thinking about the lost laptop remaining lost and just getting a new one.

Most of us have an attitude like that when it comes to someone who is spiritually lost. We want him to be found, but we’re prone to just move on ahead without much of a search effort. In the parable of the lost coin the widow’s anxiety was not eased until she found what needed to be searched for. 

The good news for me is that Carol spent soundly the next night!

Handling The Wounds of Injustice

January 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 21, 2019

                            

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – Dr. Martin Luther King

Perhaps it’s apropos to the emphasis of this weekend that the Saints are dealing with the pain of injustice!  A trip to the Super Bowl was almost assuredly thrown to the ground just as their receiver was. 

As we watched it- even those of us who aren’t Saints’ fans- we yelled at our televisions, “That’s a penalty!”

But it wasn’t! And we walked away muttering, “That’s just not right!” 

As I said, it’s appropriate for it to be a part of this weekend, a time when we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, who pointed his finger at systems, institutions, and discrepancies in the Land of the Free and said “This isn’t right!”

How we handle the wounds of injustice tells us who we are. It reveals our beliefs, or lack of, our callousness and caring, our self-centeredness and our concern for others. 

First of all, we must come to grips with the fact that injustice is a part of our lives. Rather it be a stolen football victory, the mistreating of a certain segment of our population, or even a student being falsely accused of cheating and suspended from school, injustice has a pocket somewhere in each of our backpacks. It happens on the avenue through town as Mr. Speed Demon races ahead going 65 in a 40 mile an hour speed zone. We cringe and grit our teeth at the gall that the guy has for so blatantly going outside of the accepted driving practices. 

It happens with the insurance companies that seem to rule the medical treatments of our lives. When a cancer patient is told that the treatment he needs will not be covered by insurance it makes us wonder what the purpose of insurance is? It strikes us as unjust to leave the decision of treating a potentially deadly disease to a for-profit company that has already been receiving our money.

So how do we handle the blows of injustice? Do we turn the other cheek? Do we strike back? Do we pout? Do we march? Do we strike? 

When teachers get taken advantage of, or taken for granted, do they just keep on keeping on? When the rent on an apartment escalates by a third while a teacher’s salary goes up 3% do they say “Oh, well!”?

Martin Luther King gave us an understanding for how to approach events and circumstances that aren’t right. He identified it, zeroed in on the roots of its existence, questioned its fairness, and promoted a new direction built on justice for all and hope for the future. Hate can pervert a system to grasp injustice, but hating injustice offers a path towards healing!

There are, however, injustices in our world which we can not quickly change! They become the fuse for our frustration that ignites our anger. Simply put, they become our prayer heart cries that we forget to pray about! 

Prayer becomes the invitation for the God of justice to counsel us about our grievances and take action in the struggle. It becomes “the talking it out” with the Lord. 

We tend to forget that in a world that seems out of control we worship the Lord who is always in control. Injustice will always seek to overwhelm us, but God will always walk with us!

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?

Down In the Back

January 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   January 13, 2019

                                   

I’m preaching this morning. Could be a short sermon!

As my Papaw Helton would say, “I’m down in the back!” The muscle spasms in my lower back came on Thursday night. I could blame it on the 20 missed free throws my boy’s basketball team…17 for 37! That makes me flinch just thinking about it, and when I flinch…Ouch!

Back problems are no fun! I’ve had them on and off for twenty years now. A herniated disc afflicted me back in 2001, and since then I’ve noticed the warning signs of the possibility of spasms before they arrive.

This time I had played early morning basketball at the YMCA on Wednesday. That must have lit the fuse! On Thursday night as I coached I could tell the back wasn’t doing well. When I coach during a game, I’m usually in a squat position, like a baseball catcher. By the second half on Thursday night I couldn’t do that!

And so I’ve become cozy with a heating pad, and closely attached to the recliner. Last night I watched “Enemy of the State” with Will Smith and Gene Hackman for about the seventh time. In other words, it was an unproductive evening.

I believe that God sometimes puts us on our back to teach us something. Most of us learn best in the midst of uncomfortable situations and personal pain. The story of Jonah’s time spent inside a big fish comes to  mind! 

It’s when we’re “down in the back” that our listening needs to be even more acute. Years ago a man from our church had a serious heart situation that put him flat on his back for several weeks. Afterwards he told me that it was a life-defining moment for him. He had been slowed down enough to have long chats with God. If he hadn’t ended up on a hospital gurney he would have kept going full steam ahead and been oblivious to the presence of the Almighty.

After I preach this morning to the saints in Simla, Colorado, I’ll drive back home and spend the rest of the day  with “R’s”…recliner, reflection, rest, heated up RICE BAG, and reading. I’ll pick up my “One Year Bible” and perhaps get ahead in my reading of the scriptures. 

Maybe I’ll skip ahead to the Books of Job and Lamentations!