Archive for the ‘Pastor’ category

Am I Too Nice?

November 29, 2020

Carol and I went through the drive-thru lane of Culver’s recently for some pick-and-go-home dinner. I ordered at the brightly lit marquee and said thank you to the voice that repeated my order back to me. I pulled ahead, waiting for the two cars in front of me to pay before offering the next young lady my payment.

She thanked me for dining with them that night, took my cash, and I said a heartfelt thanks back to her. We moved to the next spot where we waited for another employee to bring our carry-out bag of food to the car. When a young man hustled to us carrying our dinner I thanked him before driving off. Then I turned to Carol and asked, “Am I too nice?”

“No, dear. You’re fine!”

“Carol, sometimes I wonder if I’m just too nice. I said thank you three different times, once to someone I couldn’t even see.”

“You’re polite, Bill.”

“It’s how my dad was. I can’t help it! If someone opens a door for me, I have to say thank you. Sometimes I think I should be…I don’t know…less nice. Nice-less, if you will!”

She let me voice my questions. Since it was dark inside our vehicle as we drove home, I couldn’t tell if she was rolling her eyes or not. After all, she’s very…nice to me!

I realize I probably get taken advantage of sometimes because I’m too nice, like when one of my students turns in an assignment two weeks late. I need to develop a crotchety attitude about that time. A teaching friend of mine made two of his students cry when he scolded them about how they had treated the substitute teacher for his class…me! I can’t remember the last time I made a student’s knees shake with repentant fear.

I was even too nice during parent-teacher conferences about six weeks ago. Instead of telling a parent that their perfect child made me grind my teeth and break out in a rash, I’d talk about their “unrealized potential” and my confidence that he/she was going to wow us in the coming weeks of school. Listen! If a teacher talks about your child’s unrealized potential it’s a hint that he’s driving them crazy, but they’re too nice to say so!

Like I said earlier, my dad was nice. He was polite and gentlemanly, treated everyone with respect, and sought to serve my mom for 65 years, even the last few years of her life when she wasn’t able to get around and then became bedridden. He modeled niceness for me. I’m cut from the prime!

I realize that most of my friends are also nice. Cranky people make me constipated. If someone can’t see the humor in life my niceness is not going to change them. So I hold the door open for little old ladies with canes heading into the doctor’s office, make my Starbucks baristas smile with comments about how awesome they are and a thank you as I leave with my Pike Place, and yield at the four-way stop for any car that is even remotely close to having arrived at the same time that I did.

Niceness. I guess it’s a curse and a blessing! Come to think of it, it may be the reason why Carol married me. All these years I’ve been thinking it was because of my nice looks and chiseled 120-pound frame (when we got married, mind you!), and now I’m wondering if maybe it was just because I was nice!

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!

Agreeing to Love in the Midst of Purple

November 7, 2020

I remember the worship wars of the 1980’s. It was a time when church congregations did internal battles over praise music versus traditional hymns. Quite honestly, the “hymn camp” was nastier than the praise music lovers. One man in my congregation would leave the sanctuary until the praise music was done, and he made his protest known.

The worship wars, however, had been preceded by the “Holy Spirit fights.” A number of churches actually split over the third person of the Trinity. More precisely, the friction was focused on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and, to narrow it down even more, the differences were over the baptism of the Holy Spirit manifested in the “speaking in tongues.” For those unfamiliar with those terms it might sound foolish, and in many ways it was. Congregations would divide over their views on a spiritual issue. Go figure!

And now, in recent years churches have taken political sides and fractured over voting preferences. A recent article in Christianity Today magazine focused on the division in churches that are “purple”, a mix of red and blue, Republicans and Democrats. More times than not, pastors have felt the pressure to lean one direction or another, instead of creating a oneness that is rooted in Christ. The dislike for one another is the current issue that seeks to take the church’s mission and purpose away from Jesus. It’s the worship wars and Holy Spirit fights transferred to political preferences. In a nation that is polarized, the church has allowed itself to float down the stream along with the rest of the venomous vessels. It’s anchor to “The Rock” (Jesus Christ) has begun to be torn away. Instead of being a community of transformation and renewal, for the most part, it is simply a reflection of a divided nation.

Jesus prayed a prayer as He faced his impending death. In it he prayed this:

” I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one –  I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

Oneness…unity, words that were right in rhythm with other descriptions of the church…community, Body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers. It seems that most churches these days resemble the dysfunctional New Testament church in Corinth rather than the One that Jesus prayed for.

The pandemic has caused enough chaos in the ministry of faith communities. Now, our distaste for those who vote differently than we do has fractured the church even more. We have gone from a bandage for the cut to needing a hard cast to heal the fracture.

I think I’m going to go back and re-read The Politics of Jesus by Yoder published in 1972. I need to hear from a voice that doesn’t have a dog in the fight.

The Blessing of Moments

November 1, 2020

“So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” (James 1:16-17, The Message) 

A student in the special needs class at school sees me in the hallway and calls my name. I call back to him and we come together and touch elbows. I give him a “You look awesome, baby!” compliment and he grins so wide I can see all his of teeth.

I play peek-a-boo with our 1-year-old grandson, each peek punctuated with his smile and a dancing, wobbling, walking combo away from me.

I catch the last few moments of the Michigan State victory over Michigan and chuckle. One Green-and-White man’s blessing is another maize-and-blue’s curse!

I walk by Ralph’s house, our 84-year-old neighbor up the street on the corner. We talk about what is and what was, and bring laughter to each other.

They are the moments of life that too often never get considered as the blessings, special seconds that fill in the gaps as we move from one obligation to another. We have this habit of equating blessings with significance in size…promotions, prizes, and prestige. The blessing of a greeting or a peek-a-boo moment gets skipped over as we focus on the headline events of our lives.

The uncertainty of our times makes our sightings of the blessed moments even more important. They are the scattered glitter in a fabric of shadows. See them as you travel through each day…the missing front tooth in the grandkid’s smile, the Far Side cartoon that you’ve chuckled at a dozen times already, the young child who stops in front of your house and salutes the flag that flies from your front porch. Look for the moments that bring melody to your life. 

Here’s the thing! When I realize how numerous my blessings in the moments are I’m overwhelmed by…by…I guess I could simply say, my blessedness!

Do I Need to do “The Shoulds”?

October 31, 2020

My mailbox and email “box” seems to get filled each day with opinionated positions and stresses telling me I should do this, think in this way, vote in that way, support something or someone in some way.

Although the election season has magnified the clutter, “the shoulds” follow me around like my shadow, always lurking with another appeal to think the way I should think.

The shoulds try to convince me that I should be interested in what they are selling. There’s the guilt pinch that seeks to pain me into believing there is something wrong with my moral character or ethics of life.

In recent times there’s the subtle jab at a few of my spiritual foundational beliefs. Whereas, I’m not one to force someone else to believe the way I do, I am very unease at the chipping away of the bark of my roots. Since I hold the Scriptures as being truth, it’s as if I’m being told my Guide is no longer knows the way.

I should realize that I’m a relic, a “Not-with-it” old fuddy-duddy. But, you see, when you have come to experience peace in your journey that is punctuated with certain routines and firm decisions you see no reason to alter how you understand the living of life.

How I live my life and how our family functions may not work for some others, but neither do the shoulds work for us.

Saying Please to God

October 25, 2020

A dear friend of mine was telling a story to children at church on a Sunday morning. The point he was striving to make was that we don’t always get what we pray for because God knows what we need. My friend had talked about how he had prayed for a red Corvette, but never received the answer to his prayer.

As often happens with Sunday morning children’s stories, his tale of past personal episodes was slightly derailed by the side point of a six-year-old boy who felt led to explain the error of my friend’s ways. To six-year-olds the solution often seems as obvious as the nose on your face. He tried to soften the harshness of the answer with the gentler word “maybe” as the beginning of his counseling advice.

“Maybe you should have said please!”

Red Corvettes are just a “please” away. There’s a simplicity in a please, and yet if the granting of our prayer concerns was dependent upon our politeness in the words of our prayer our streets might be backed up with red Corvettes and other speed-driven vehicles. No one uttered a prayer with a please and asked for a Yugo (the car that was made in Yugoslavia and resembled Fred Flintstone’s stone-age vehicle).

Perhaps reverence in our conversations with God would connect the depth and intimacy of our prayers more. A prayer request, in some ways, should seem more than asking if the dinner bowl of mashed potatoes would be passed…please! And yet, in other ways, it should be similar to that in the naturalness of the relationship.

God, our Father, desires to hear the longings and aching of our heart. He’s okay with a please attached to it, but is touched by the pleas.

All of us have our wants that we think will bring completeness to our lives, but some of those wants dilute our desire to connect with the Giver. There are times when God gives us something that we didn’t even ask for- no please even required!- but don’t be expecting a red Corvette to roll into your driveway!

The Joyride of Faith

October 10, 2020

I was watching a story yesterday about the Howdy Ice Cream Shop in Dallas, Texas. It was inspirational in so many ways, especially how the owner, Tom Landis, has employed people with special needs to staff his stores.

During his TV interview with Hoda and Jenna on NBC’s Today Show, he made this statement: “It’s been faith on a joyride searching for hope!” Man, I love that!

The shop had been struggling during the pandemic. Landis came to the crossroads point where he said, “God, I can’t do this!”, and he received the whispered reply, “You’re right! YOU can’t do this!” Word filtered through the community about the struggles of the shop that has given a number of people with special needs the opportunities to work and learn about running a small business. Soon donations that topped $100,000 came into the business from the community and people who had heard about Howdy Ice Cream.

On the Today Show, Marcus Lemonis surprised Landis and Howdy’s vice-president, Coleman Jones, with a $50,000 grant.

As Landis said, “It’s been faith on a joyride searching for hope!” Wow! So often we view faith as an extra topping on top of a basic life sundae instead of being crucial to the foundation. It’s seen as being a step of desperation in the struggle to bring things back into balance.

I’m envisioning faith being in the passenger seat of a convertible Corvette, sporting a pair of sunglasses and allowing the breeze to blow through its hair. Instead of lights flashing to signal an emergency, it heads in the direction of the brightness.

That may sound like strange imagery for something we usually talk about in intangible terms. We tend to keep faith in a fog to protect its identity and shape.

Tom Landis has seen it as the vehicle to move forward, and in heading forward he has discovered a busload of people hoping someone would believe in them. As he once said, “Too often we see them as people with disabilities, instead of people with abilities.”

It makes me want to hop in my car and drive to Dallas for some Dr. Pepper Chocolate Chip ice cream.

The Excuse of Fallen Nature

October 3, 2020

For countless children who were in the discipleship classes I led through the years one verse that was memorized was Romans 3:23, “For all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

I would talk to the boys and girls gathered with me about the inevitability of our sinning, although I never used the word “inevitability” with them. It would lead into a teaching about the effects of our sin, which would then lead into talking about grace and the meaning of Jesus’s death on the cross.

Young minds seemed to get it! A few weeks later I’d stand with each of them and dip them into the waters of the baptistry, or as some referred to it…“the dunk tank”!

I think I need to do a TED talk on Fallen Excuses. In our turbulent, uncertain times where the need to be right has been mixed in with a world that has been turned upside down like a Dairy Queen Flurry, a new flavor has been concocted with lumps of callousness and a sprinkling of disrespect.

Instead of realizing our fallen nature and the need for a rescuer, we seem now to use it as an excuse for how we treat others. Just as the verse says we all have fallen short, I’m sure most of us could also say we have all made excuses. An excuse protects me in a weird sort of distorted way from taking responsibility. Like the driver who is riding the bumper of the car in front of him, he might say it was the other person’s fault for only going the speed limit.

For many people, taking responsibility for their actions is seen as being a sign of weakness, an indication of their vulnerability.

So, do I have an answer? Well, I have what I call a Personal Covenant, a few guidelines to help me navigate a life that is reflective of my faith. They would be the mix-ins for my “life flurry” that, I hope, would be listed on the menu as “Person of Integrity”.

  1. Respect everyone. My respect of someone else is not dependent on whether he/she respects me.
  2. Be forgiving and ask forgiveness. I do not have it all together, and no one else does either. I will not use that as an excuse, but rather as a reason to seek reconciliation.
  3. See others with equal regard. As my seminary professor, David Augsburger would teach us, see others as part of the solution we seek together, not as people to act superior towards.
  4. Relationships are valued treasures to be nurtured and supported. The other side of that is that relationships are much more difficult to nurture and more easily fractured. They resemble that dinner plate that has the potential to slip out of a hand that is tainted with the residue of life.
  5. Disagreeing on an issue does not mean I need to be separated. The sign of maturity is two people who can’t agree but still treat each other with respect, equal regard. Their value as a person is not contingent on whether I can convince him of my opinion.

Perhaps you can agree with all of those, or some of those, but whether you are with me or have a iced flurry creation with totally different mix-ins, I will try to follow my “Flurry Five.”

The Patience of a Virtual Teacher

September 6, 2020

I’ve heard that saying, “He’s got the patience of Job!”, for years. Sometimes it’s been used to describe me and at other times it’s been said in connection with someone who is having to deal with me.

We use the saying in referring to the character in the Old Testament who abstains from exploding on people who keep offering him lame advice in response to all of his adversities. I’ve thought about Job a lot these past couple of weeks as I’ve been teaching 7th Grade Language Arts virtually, shepherding about eighty students toward greener writing and literature pastures.

Each day has been an adventure, punctuated with misadventures.

Did you find that next activity we’re going to be doing?”

“Mr. Wolfe, my screen is blank.”

Okay, try refreshing your Schoology page and see if that fixes it.”

There’s a pause as the lost lamb seeks to be found.

Okay, I think I’ve got it.”

Multiply that conversation a hundred fold and you discover what my day usually is. Add to that my side of the difficulties…technological illiteracy, forgetting to do Step 23# in the twenty-five step assignment process, trying to figure out is little Johnny is still with me virtually or is playing Fortnite on his game system set up right beside him.

Patience is the word- patience with my students, patience with my own inadequacies, patience with slow internet service, and patience with students who are a bit more like a turtle in their learning pace than the other thoroughbreds who sprint to the end of an assignment.

And then God, in his patient wisdom and compassion, puts this verse in the midst of the scripture passage I’m preaching on this Sunday. “Be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

I might add “everything” to that. Patient with CenturyLink, patient with myself, patient with things that don’t make sense, patient with my eLearning dyslexia.

Getting through these COVID-19 days requires a heavy patience medication. Impatience looms in the next meltdown.

And then, right about the time, I’m ready for a hair pulling episode, one of my students guides me to the solution of a technology problem and all is well again. It causes me to rediscover another gift from God that often is attached to patience.

Grace.

The Balance of Fear and Courage

August 22, 2020

Fear and courage are two over-used words in these days of hoped-for vaccines, election tensions, and employment uncertainty. They are hyped and griped in the media, echoed in the quivering tones of our voices, and thought about in the aloneness of our homes.

The middle school where I’ve coached for twenty years and substitute taught for the last four called me up on Tuesday to ask me to come and teach a language arts class for the next several weeks…or months. So I said…sure!

It manifested some fear in a couple of family members. Not body-trembling, nail-biting fear, but fear and anxiety about a 66-year-old entering a school building. My fear, on the other hand, was focused on the new Blob monster called “the virtual classroom”. On a laptop screen in front of me all these faces will be staring at me, causing me to wonder if I’m unzipped or have a piece of chive attached to one of my front teeth.

Fear can be a benefit. Cockiness usually leads to some bad conclusion, like the Soviet sub commander in The Hunt For Red October whose excessive opinion of his mastery leads his First Officer to say to him, right before the sub blew up, “You have killed us!” Fear can be a guide that tells us to proceed with caution or reconsider our direction.

Courage is the awareness of fear and the determination to stay the course. Courage demands the possibility of a bad ending of some kind, but also the potential for a beneficial conclusion. Courage is not self-seeking, but rather mindful of the good that can be done for someone else.

Fear is often trumpeted in such a way that it causes us to think that the end is near. Unfortunately, courage is sometimes communicated as if the person portrayed is like the new messiah and has no fear.

At my school this week I witnessed a teaching staff that all had fears and, from what I could see and hear, all had courage. It’s a courage to keep guiding the educational canoes filled with kids. I use that picture of a canoe, having known the unstableness of such a vessel as it moves down a stream…especially with hyper adolescents occupying its paddles.

There are some anxious educators, wanting the best for kids and trying to navigate around all the rocks and low-hanging tree branches as the classroom canoes face the rapids.

As some wise advisor once told me, “Time to put your big boy pants on!” And I would add “And pray!” Psalm 23 seems to be even more relevant each morning about 7:30!

“Though I walk through my virtual classroom of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me!”