Archive for the ‘love’ category

Lean on Me From a Distance

April 4, 2020

Bill Withers passed away yesterday at the age of 81 of heart problems. One of the many songs he had written was “Lean On Me”, the year of my high school graduation, 1972.

His passing at this time in our country’s struggles seems strangely appropriate because it has brought that song back into our minds. It’s a time to lean on one another, even from a socially acceptable distance. The words from the song resonate in our minds and spirits: Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna’ need somebody to lean on.

Each one of us has times where our lean is more pronounced than at other times. Weary health care workers are looking for a wall to lean against for a few minutes. First-responders are in need of a listening ear to lean on. Grandparents lean their ears closer to the phone to hear the angelic voice of their young grandchildren. Pained souls lean into a YouTube video of a church choir singing Amazing Grace.

When Bill Withers wrote those lyrics almost fifty years ago he had no idea that they’d be intently listened to in 2020.

Oh, there are still plenty of people under the illusion that the world revolves around themselves and the purpose of everyone else is to please and pleasure them, but I think this pandemic has brought a new awakening– I guess that would be a reawakening– of how I need you and you need me.

My wife, caring of the need of others, took a half-dozen rolls of toilet paper up to our middle school this week, where bagged lunches were being distributed. Her thought was that those who qualify to receive the free lunches might also need a roll of TP! I walked by the school an hour later just to say hi to a couple of the workers and they informed me that those rolls of TP had not lasted long. They had all been given…quickly!

Leaning on one another, once in a while, means something as simple as that. As Bill Withers sang, “I just might have a problem that you’ll understand. We all need somebody to lean on.”

 

Realizing What We No Longer Have

April 2, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 2, 2020

                        

When I recently taught 7th Grade Language Arts for 8 weeks, I noticed somber-faced students entering the building at 7:30. Although some were excited about being at school for another day of broadening their educational experience, most were as excited as a skateboarder at a geriatric bingo night.

Many of them longed to be anywhere but a classroom. Some of them had arrived at the notion that their purpose in life was to drive teachers looney. 

And now they are just one example of a long, long list of realizations of how good we, and they, had it! E-learning has been more taxing than their 57 minute class times in the school building. Teachers expect them to still be students and most of them can no longer be convincing when they say to their parents that they don’t have any homework.

Sometimes we don’t realize what we had until we no longer have it. No workouts at the Y! No booth at Red Lobster! No library to browse amongst the rows of books! Our routines have been knocked down like Lego blocks that we assumed were firmly in place, and now new routines, less certain and more like a Jenga tower, are being assembled.

Last Sunday I attended three worship services in different parts of the country- southern Ohio; Champaign, Illinois; and Pleasanton, California. Of course, all three were streamed into my study at home. It was a unique experience, and it made me realize how much I miss the “community of presence” when a church congregation meets together. I was fed the Word and yet I missed the fellowship that touches my spirit.

Grandkids miss grandparents and vice-versa. Waving to one another from the other side of a car window doesn’t do it. In some ways, it elevates the loneliness. 

I miss my writing stool at my local Starbucks and the baristas who I would joke with each day, giving each other new first names that began with our first initial, like Bartholomew for my “B” and “Catastrophic” for the barista whose first name begins with “Cat.” 

I miss the days when you didn’t look at people with suspicion— Does he have it? Shouldn’t those young people not be hanging around there?— or cut a wide berth around an elderly couple walking in the opposite direction.

We realize that things will never, in our lifetime, be what they once were. Our future plans are on hold. Our questions about when we might take a vacation have no clear answers. Our special events just lose some of their specialness when we participate by Zoom.

And I also think, in the midst of these cataclysmic changes, that many of us have come to realize how much of our lives have been revolved around things and events that, in the larger scheme of things, really aren’t that important. Many of us are coming to the discovery that our lives don’t have much depth to them at all. We’re shallow, like multiple text messages that just keep saying “Hi!” and “What’s up?” Perhaps, in the midst of this journey, we’ll dig deeper roots into things that matter…relationships, purpose, and spiritual nourishment. 

I think of the story of Job in the Old Testament. It’s painful, in many ways to read. Job has the good life, things seem to be in perfect harmony for him. And then it all comes crashing down…wealth, health, the respect people showed toward him. But at the end of the story, after Job has everything else stripped away from his life, he finds that nothing and no one can strip away his relationship with God.

Realizing what we no longer have may help us understand what we do have and can’t be taken away! 

Being Out-served

March 27, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      March 27, 2020

                                    

A young woman, consumed with the number of her followers on Instagram, was interviewed by Dr. Phil about her self-centeredness in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. She had partied and been apathetic toward the idea of taking safety precautions to protect herself and, more importantly, others from contracting the virus.

When Dr. Phil directed his anger at her about putting others at risk through her carelessness, she responded that it wasn’t her problem. In fact, she indicated that Baby Boomers, like Dr. Phil, were the problem. 

He had a few things to say to her!

Her perspective, based on narcissism and arrogance, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from those who proclaim to follow Jesus. Instead of placing ourselves on the throne, Christ-followers seek to serve the One who is on the throne. Sometimes that serving is clumsy and misguided, like buying your wife a weigh scale for her birthday thinking it will help her be more healthy, but the mindset is right— seeking to benefit someone else’s life.

In these uncertain times, if too many people with the same attitude as the young woman are populating one side of the world’s see-saw and too few people are helping at the other end we will all suffer from the imbalance.

I still remember a message conveyed almost 25 years ago at a Promisekeepers conference in the Pontiac Silverdome by an African-American pastor named Efrem Smith. He encouraged us to out-serve our spouses. The same principle could be used in regards to out-serving our parents, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers. His point was that our tendency is to think about ourselves, our wants, our needs, who’s going to wait on us, who’s going to bring us satisfaction, instead of figuring out how we can help others to know that they are valued.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he wrote these powerful words that indicate what Jesus’s mindset was:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

  And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!”        (Philippians 2:5-8)

I’ve been blessed to have seen this picture of selflessness modeled for me by numerous people who have been parts of my life. My dad served my mom with patience and care. In her last few years of life when Parkinson’s was limiting her mobility, Dad waited on her as his calling. When Mom was bedridden and the disease had impacted her ability to formulate words, Dad cared for her without grumbling. He did not do it out of obligation, but rather out of his desire to show her that he still loved her. 

That character was evident in many of my professors at Judson College and Northern Baptist Seminary. The willingness to sit and listen to students at lunchtime in the student commons or continue conversations after class over a cup of coffee was the norm, not the exception, as our teachers sought to help us toward maturity of mind and meaningfulness in life.

Serving one another, and seeking to go the extra mile for one another, has become a key ingredient of our marriage. Truth be told, it is so ingrained in our relationship that we don’t think about it when we’re in the midst of it.

Since we’re confined to our surroundings for the foreseeable future, having the nature of a servant is crucial. In fact, the idea for this Words from WW came from Carol. She had remembered me talking about this message by Efrem Smith so long ago. I’m hoping that, in the midst of my failures and shortcomings, that she has felt loved, cherished, and served. 

The Battle Within to Stay Within

March 25, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 25, 2020

                            

The governor of Colorado spoke, a mixture of anger and pleading in his voice. He was asking people to stay at home, practice social distancing, wash their hands, and watch out for one another. As news of the number of infected New Yorkers alarmed us, more alarming were the scenes of people congregating together to play full-court basketball, lay on the beaches, and crowd into Costco.

In New York Governor Cuomo’s press conference, his arteries were about to pop out of his neck he was so angry at some of the citizens of his state. For many, it seems that the pandemic is something that will pass from the news in a few days. No biggie! 

It tells us of the battle within each one of us, the struggle to do the right thing versus our strong-willed determination to do what we want. Each one of us faces it multiple times each day. 

Yesterday was our granddaughter Corin’s fifth birthday. Carol and I drove over to our daughter’s house with presents, but we stayed a few feet away from our grandkids as we celebrated in the driveway in front of their house. Our desire was to hug and embrace the little birthday princess, but our greater hope is and has been, that all of our family is safe and remains healthy. The battle was evident. We’re accustomed to hugs and loving touches, but we had to blow kisses to one another instead.

Scripture talks about that internal struggle…frequently! The Apostle Paul does a personal tug-of-war in Romans 7, where he goes back and forth trying to understand why he has a tendency to do the things he knows he shouldn’t do, while also recognizing his desire to do what is good. 

There’s Simon Peter, who would do anything for Jesus, and then denying he even knew the man. There’s Paul’s categorizing of the sinful nature (“the acts of the flesh) and then the fruit of the Spirit (the characteristics of someone allowing the Holy Spirit to lead him/her) in Galatians 5.

There’s the conversation that Jesus has with a young man in Matthew 19. The young man asks Jesus what good thing he must do to get eternal life? When Jesus narrows the focus of the discussion down to the man’s obsession with his wealth the line was drawn in the sand. It was a line that revealed what the struggle and, consequently, what his priorities were. The scripture says that “he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

The battle is different for you than it is for me, but it is still that inner tussle for following the ways of God, following what we know is right, versus giving into our hunger to satisfy ourselves in the moment.

The current pandemic has clearly shown examples of self-sacrifice. A 72-year-old Italian priest named Don Giuseppe Berardelli, infected with COVID-19, gave up his ventilator for a younger person who was sick. The priest had been suffering from a respiratory condition for some time and his church had bought the ventilator for him previously. Father Don died two days ago, a week after giving his ventilator up.

Volunteers are helping gather and deliver food, neighbors are checking neighbors, people are praying for one another. The good acts of humanity have been frequently needed harmonies of sweet music.

But our propensity for dumbness and deceit has also been evident. New scams are suckering in desperate people. People are stealing toilet paper from places of business. Stubborn self-centered folk are thumbing their noses at following protective guidelines. 

Crazy people in crazy times!

Let me tell you what my hope is. My hope is that the God of heaven changes hearts in these coming days, causes people to look into the mirror and discover who their number one foe and number one advocate is, and brings us into new and deeper realizations of how precious the gift of life and our loved ones are.

A Faith Gathering or A Separation of Caring

March 15, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     March 15, 2020

                     

Congregations are wrestling with the question: do we gather together in worship or do we recommend that our worshippers stay away this Sunday just to be safe?

Does not meeting say something about our lack of faith? Does gathering together say something about our lack of concern for the well-being of the attenders?

Pessimists will focus on the downside of any decision. Optimists will see the upside. Quite honestly, I think this is one of those situations where the teachers of the law and the Pharisees would be sitting in front of Jesus, trying to trap him into making a statement that would support their opinions; and I think Jesus would redirect their questions bathed in legalism and void of grace by asking them another question…you know, one of his questions that had a simple spiritually wise answer that they were afraid to say!

Could it be that Jesus would ask those of us who are trying to get an answer that supports our already determined position if we love God and people?

Sheepishly, we would look at Him and answer yes. 

And He would reply, “Then show it!”

The pessimists and optimists would look at one another with confused interpretations, some troubled and others hopeful, seeking to understand the message in the message. Like Samson’s riddle, we search for the answer that shows how strong our commitment to God is. 

One of the translators, stuck in the moment, asks Jesus what it will look like and he adds a sorta’ clarification.

“Show your love for God by loving your people. If your people need the gathering of the saints to feel loved, then gather your flock; but if by gathering your flock your people feel threatened and unsafe, then ask them to practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, solitude, and meditation. Anoint the ill and pray for the afflicted.”

The greedy disciple in our midst carelessly reveals his heart. “But what about the weekly tithes and offerings?”

And Jesus stares at him for a moment before saying, “There are some things that are more precious than a personal check placed in a plate, such as the pricelessness of someone feeling loved and cared for.”

There are other questions that go unasked as the listeners realize how shallow they really are. Like, what about the coffee and donuts…and “But, our praise team worked hard to perform this new song!”…and “But it’s Lent!”

And so some congregations realize that the gathering of the saints is the needed medicine while others know a week of Sunday social distancing is what their faith community is called to observe.

The optimist in me conjures up the thought about the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. For us to take an extra week to cross the Jordan doesn’t seem so bad!

Life In The Shadow of Death

March 7, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 7, 2020

                                 

The long lines at Costco hit the evening news. Shoppers were stocking up on a year’s supply of bottled water, hand wipes, and facial tissues. When an illness is still shrouded in mystery, history has told us over and over again that people rush toward any possible remedy or, at least, look to take any precaution possible. 

At Starbucks this morning I could not use my own reusable cup. For the immediate future, they are serving coffee in their disposable paper cups, and when you want a refill they give you a new cup. 

The shadow of death that looms over our lives right now is scary…and revealing. There is the fear of death that rings true for many of us, but, more than that, the uncertainty of death is what scares most of us. 

Not to trivialize the coronavirus concern in any way, but I can’t help but compare these tensions in the uncertainty with an amusement park ride at Cedar Point in northern Ohio called “Top Thrill Dragster”. Several years ago my kids convinced me that I needed to ride it with them. I wasn’t sure, but they dragged me to the ride. When we finally reached the front of the line, two of the ride workers were hosing out the front car…a bad sign! However, it was the uncertainty of what I was about to experience that caused me to shudder. That racing into the unknown is what is causing us to be wary of large crowds, wash our hands more, and be more observant.

The shadow of death has that effect. 

As a follower of Jesus, I also go forward with the assurance of Psalm 23 echoing in my mind. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and staff they comfort me!”

Back in first-century Rome when the plague went through the city, the sick were discarded from their homes, left to live and die on the streets and in the shadows in their final moments of life. It was the followers of Jesus who embraced the diseased and cared for them in their final hours, often willingly becoming infected themselves. 

They loved Jesus, and it was the love of Christ that brought their compassion out for others. Understandably they did not have the knowledge about diseases and spreadable viruses that we have today, but there was peace within them as they stood in death’s path. In the midst of the virus concerns, the evening news also showed scenes from Tennessee’s recent tornadoes…and the long lines of people coming to volunteer in any way they can!

Whatever these next few days may bring us— more long lines at Costco but short lines at movie theaters, cancellations of commitments and even reduced attendance at Sunday worship— may we always be reminded of the Holy Presence that walks with us in the shadows!

Updating My Book

March 1, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 1, 2020

                                        

My recently released book Red Hot: New Life in Fleming received its first review a few days ago. The reviewer gave it 5 Stars. Here is what was written:

I just finished reading this book and I enjoyed it immensely. I would consider this book light reading and to me that is definitely a plus! It deals with bullying and also pressures that are sometimes put on students that we as parents are sometimes not aware of. It has a homespun feel to it and it took me back to my childhood on several occasions. The two main characters show us what true friendship is all about and how they maintain that friendship through adolescent struggles. Most of us can relate to this while looking back on our own teenage years. I highly recommend this book for readers of all ages. You won’t be disappointed.

That was cool!

Okay, true confession! I know the person who wrote the review, although I’m not related to her. She attends the same church my sister does in southern Ohio and is probably reading these words. BUT she was sincere in what she said in her review! That’s just how she is!

On Friday, one of the language arts teachers at the school where I’m teaching read the first chapter of the book to each of her classes. I had kids coming up to me between classes and telling me how much they enjoyed the first chapter.

So now to just get people to read it! My youngest daughter is counseling me to get on Instagram and do that whole thing! She will have to guide me! My sister-in-law has bought a couple of copies and taken them to her town’s public library in Clarendon Hills, Illinois. The Timberview Middle School library has three copies of it for students to check out.ng, In

Going through Kindle Direct Publishing is easy in many ways…until you get to the marketing part of the equation. It’s a whole new experience at that point. 

And while I’m trying to get the first book known, I’ve been revising the second book in the series, Red Hot: New Grace in Fleming. There’s a student at my middle school who read the draft of the first book and has been salivating about the second book. I print off 40-50 pages at a time and take it to her at school. Whenever I’m handing her the new folder of print she breaks out in a grin and receives the newest additions as if it’s food for a starving person. In some ways, it has inspired me to be more disciplined in my revising in order to satisfy her appetite.

A couple of other people I know who have read the first book have been eagerly awaiting the sequel. Well, …their comments are more like…”We’re waiting!!!” I envision folded arms and impatient teacher-types, staring at me with consternation.

So…today I’ll revise 2 or 3 more chapters and push the dogs toward the finish line!

(The first book is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. From March 22-29 is it free on Kindle. Otherwise, you’ll have to fork over $2.99! The paperback is $11.99! Save your pennies!)

Moments

February 29, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 29, 2020

                                         

“Lord, protect me in the moments of life that can bring devastation, nudge me in the moments where something extraordinary is about to happen, and remind me of those moments that brought blessings into my life.”

They can last a second, maybe a few of them strung together. They come when you’re taking a walk around the block that ends up being much more than a stroll, or in the midst of a concert when a song is sung that brings you back to a family memory burying deep inside you. They come upon a mountaintop and also in the overwhelming darkness of a valley.

Moments are sometimes like stop signs thrown up in front of you to bring the tires to a screeching halt. They can be either collisions or proposals spoken from one knee. Either one changes things, changes the course, brings in a detour to the plans, or new energy to the idea.

There was a collision a couple of days ago and a former student of mine was tragically killed. It was one of those moments that will bring heartbreak to friends and family. A car turning too late…another car broadsiding it…and then the chaotic seconds where life evaporates into death. I was talking to a teaching friend of mine about it, who had also taught the student the same year I did, and he told me of a similar event he had experienced in his life about fifteen years before that. In his situation, however, the collision was followed only by a visit to the ER. And yet, the memory of that moment is still fresh in his mind.

On the other side of life’s emotional spectrum, a former basketball player of mine posted her engagement picture on Facebook last week. It had been a different kind of moment, preceded by her fiancee’s planning and prep and followed by tears, laughter, and passionate kisses. 

The thing is, each one of us has moments in our life that resemble a garden bed of flowers, varied and pretty, with a few uninvited weeds thrown into the plot. 

We review our lives and are able to identify each of the moments in the assortment. Birth of a child, death of a friend; a cardiac situation and the completing of a marathon road race; when your best friend shows up unexpected at just the right moment, and the time you rescued someone from disaster. The list is different for each one of us, but each list becomes a summary of our defining moments.

I’ve always envisioned those moments when Jesus healed someone, like the leper or the blind man; or the woman who had a bleeding problem or his encounter with the man who lived in a cemetery. They were moments of transformation in so many ways. 

I’ve come to pray for the kind of special eyesight that helps me see those God-given moments of life, to approach each day with a kind of anticipation and expectation. 

Lord, what might come into my life’s path today that I hadn’t planned on!

Following a Laughing Jesus

February 2, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 2, 2020

                            

Christians follow the events of Jesus during Holy Week— his entry into Jerusalem, his last supper with his followers in the Upper Room, the betrayal, his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, arrest, trial, beating, and crucifixion. The Holy Week events go hand in hand with Jesus being referred to as “a man of sorrows.”

As an African-American preacher once preached, however, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”, and he laughed deep and delighted. His words brought grins to the faces of his congregation and shouts of “Hallelujah!”

Some followers of Jesus seem to have been convinced that Jesus was a man of sorrows from birth unto death, that he would have been described as a solemn child who never cracked a smile. It may be an excuse for the dreariness and dryness of their own spiritual journey. 

I remember in my first years of ministry having someone scold me about the fact that she had walked by the room where the Wednesday Night Youth Bible Study was being held and heard laughter. How could I teach the Bible to these kids and let them laugh? I wanted to ask her why her face always looked like she was sucking on a lemon…but I didn’t? I was the rookie and she was one of the church pillars, stone cold and unyielding. 

Scripture tells us that Jesus got upset with his disciples when they rebuked parents for trying to bring their children to Jesus. Children delighted Jesus. He said that the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these. 

In my years of being a pastor I gave hundreds of “children’s sermons”. I can only remember there being one time when I didn’t laugh at something that one of the kids said in the midst of the story. That ONE TIME was the Sunday I had the ingeniously idiotic idea of doing two children’s sermons in the same worship gathering. During the second sermon it was like herding cats. The kids were crawling behind the communion table, trying to escape, and looking curiously at the musical instruments close at hand. It was…memorable! Now, years later I chuckle every time I remember it. 

I can not imagine Jesus being the man of sorrows as children gathered around him. 

In the seriousness of the world Christians need not just the vital image of the Suffering Servant nailed to the cross, but also the joyous Jesus who grinned in the hallelujah moments of His journey.

I find it interesting that science and psychology are doing more research about the effects of laughter. The findings have revealed how laughter relieves stress, boosts the immune system, and relaxes the muscles. 

It seems to me that Jesus-followers should laugh the loudest and longest. After all, we know that after Jesus’ death on that Friday his burial tomb was empty on Sunday and the stone had been rolled away. In essence, He had the last laugh!

The Weirdness of Being Energized

February 1, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 1, 2020

                                 

I looked at the class, my eyes wide open and fully caffeinated. The 29 students, most of whom have some distinctive characteristic (hair style, short and tall, reserved and animated) or possession they always have with them (Think smart phone, air pods), stare back at me.

“I know you’ll have a hard time believing this,” I begin, “but I look forward to coming here each morning and being your teacher.”

The confession causes eyebrows of each student to lower, like they’ve just been told by their parents that their family is going to move to a remote area of outer Mongolia. 

“I know, I know, that sounds weird to you. You’re wondering what is wrong with Mr. Wolfe. Is my life so lame that I need the company of 115 seventh graders each day?”

Heads nod in agreement to my statement of lunacy.

“But, believe it or not, I get excited to come to school each day. It energizes me!”

For eight weeks I’ve been given the opportunity to teach these 12 and 13 year olds, while their teacher takes care of a family member. Perhaps in these two months or so I’ll be able to convince them that someone can be energized in a way that doesn’t have to include a can of Red Bull. Perhaps they can catch some of my passion for young people and discover what they’re passionate about.

This week they’ve learned that I’m funny, use sarcastic humor like I’m doing standup comedy, and that I have high expectations.

They’ve also discovered that I can be like a military sergeant. If class is to begin at 8:04, I tell them, they are to be there at 8:04…or earlier! Not 8:04:15. The four that came waltzing in 30 seconds late owed me the first minute of their lunch period that day.

For most of them, I realize I expect more than they expect from themselves. Perhaps it’s my penance for the sins of my 7th Grade Language Arts year with Mrs. Blauvelt back in Williamstown, West Virginia. I still clearly remember doing an oral book report for her on the book Swiss Family Robinson and being “found out”. That is, I had seen the Disney movie version of the book, which is nothing like the book, and tried to make Mrs. Blauvelt believe I had read the book. 

Perhaps my expectations for these 7th Graders is to atone for my sins and to allow Mrs. Blauvelt to rest in a more comfortable eternal peace.

I’ve learned so much this week. As my teaching teammates have welcomed me, they’ve also welcomed my many questions. Most of those questions deal with technology. “How do you do this thingy right here?” “Why do they call it power point when I feel so helpless trying to do it?” “Where did MY SCREEN GO?”

As we say, “We’re no longer in Kansas, Dorothy!” I’ve learned there’s a new state I’ve been blown to called Discovery.