Archive for the ‘Pastor’ category

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! 

The Last Third

May 5, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 5, 2019

                                     

I hit Medicare-eligible age this morning! Age 65, Day 1!

You never really think about someday being 65 when you’re in high school. It’s like Bulgaria, over there but not relevant to your life.

But today it is relevant! It’s real! My “Bulgaria” just landed!

Being an optimist, I believe I’m at the two-thirds mark of my life! Yes, I see the finish line tape around 97 or 98! I said I’m an optimist!

So what do I hope for in the last third of my life? What do I hope defines it? Since I believe God still has a purpose for me to breathe on this planet, what will stand out as points of emphasis…and, perhaps, areas that will keep be focused.

1) Relationships- This morning as I was showering I suddenly had thoughts about my dad, and had one of those moments of grief that comes out of nowhere. I miss him! It brought to the surface the importance of relationships. Family and friends are the blessings of God upon us. Carol and I are about to celebrate 40 years of marriage. We’ve been blessed with three children, three (soon to be four) grandchildren, and two son-in-laws. It’s the spice of life for me! 

When I travel back to Ohio and Kentucky I try to always go by the cemetery outside of Paintsville, Kentucky to visit the grave sites of Mom and Dad, uncles and aunts, and grandparents. I can hear their accented voices and remember the long-ago conversations. There are people in this world who focus on the wrong “R’s” as their focus for life. But “Riches” and “Religion” just don’t bring depth and joy. Notice I said “Religion”! Faith, or “right religion”, if you will, comes out of a relationship with Jesus. I see a lot of lonely, unhappy rich folk; and I also see a lot of disgruntled uptight religious people, who always seem to wear their underwear a little too tight! 

2) Work as Play- I’m retired…kinda’! After 36+ years as a church pastor, I retired at the end of 2015. Better said, I transitioned! I still pastor, I just don’t get paid for it! Today I’m speaking at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado, something I do about twice a month now for the 15 Salt of the earth that show up. 

Work is now like play for me. When I substitute teach I enjoy it. They pay me to do it, but the pay is more like a token of appreciation. Last week the principal, Mr. Smith, said to me, “Coach Wolfe, we need to put your picture on the staff listing in the main hallway. My grandson keeps telling me that!” I took it as a compliment! Each day when I go to be the guest teacher in a classroom I fill my baggie with candy and dish it out to kids as the day goes on. One 8th Grade girl seems to smell my presence in the building, like she’s a bloodhound! I enjoy it! I enjoy coaching! I enjoy writing, and someday I might even get paid for writing something…maybe!

Work is now like play for me. Funny how that is! I can’t remember too many church council meetings that could have been defined as play!

3) Be Used by God- I will continue to ask that question in the last third of my life. How does God want to use me? Carol and I now support several missionaries in various ministries and locations, most of whom we have known in either churches I’ve pastored, or been a part of team I’ve coached, or is a family member. We look to where we can help and be partners with those called to ministry. 

Being used by God, however, is much more than writing a check. How can I use what I’ve learned in life to lead others? How can I be an advocate for someone who needs encouragement to stay the course? How might my life wisdom speak to those who are green behind the ears? 

Although I am open to new experiences and opportunities, by the time someone turns 65 he/she is pretty well defined in regards to talents, gifts, and strengths. I know who I am, and yet am open to new leadings. In essence, I don’t HAVE to do anything, and that’s how a lot of retired folk view their last third…and they don’t! My view is a bit different. I have the freedom to be used by God in extraordinary ways, large and small- reading a book to my grandkids at bedtime and writing a book for thousand of kids to read at bedtime. Buying a cup of coffee for someone at Starbucks and having a cup of coffee with Wendell and Heather Garrison at a coffee shop close to their church camp in British Columbia.

4) Seeing Each Day As an Opportunity- Having the right perspective is something that defines our view of life. Yes, we all have people in life that cause us to grind our teeth at night, but those are few and far between. Mostly, our lives are saturated with opportunities to better the world around us. 

65! I’ve been blessed! Lord, make me a blessing!

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!

Being Redemptive Synonyms

April 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 21, 2019

    “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)

I was writing a chapter in the book I’m currently working on and came to a pondering point. I had just used a certain word to describe the mood of one of the characters and I needed to say something similar about him again. To use the same word would have been repetitive at that point, like reading the First Grade Primer with Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot, and Puff. 

“Sally ran. Sally ran up the hill. Sally ran fast. Sally ran and ran!”

Didn’t want that! So I searched for another word that would describe the same situation, a synonym of the already used to communicate the same picture. 

This past week the scenes from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris have elicited a torrent of tears. Parisians who have seen five months of protests (Yellow Vests protesters) were united in their sorrow as flames shoot up from the 850 year old church. They sang together in a candlelight vigil, a mass community of people dealing with loss.

It’s interesting that the protesters have now returned, angry that billions of dollars have been promised by tycoons around the world to rebuild the structure!

Notre Dame is a symbol for the redemptive story of the gospel. It’s holy space that was, ironic as it sounds, in the midst of a restoration project. The preliminary reports are that something connected to the restoration- an electrical short or similar- was the cause of the blaze. Now, despite protests by French citizens, there will be efforts to save and rebuild.

In our own country the past couple of weeks have been stained with the burning of several African-American churches in the south, the threat of an 18 year old girl infatuated with school shootings, especially Columbine, and other assorted acts of evil that let us know the Deceiver is still active and productive.

In the midst of the darkness, however, there are the stories of redemption and the power of the gospel. Redemption comes in many forms, actions, and stories. It takes the form of a Notre Dame security guard rushing to save two priceless relics from the burning building. It  surfaces in the two million dollars of contributions that have been received to rebuild the three Louisiana churches. It appears in the gathering of Columbine families yesterday to remember those who died and those whose impactful stories continue on even in the midst of those deaths. People like Dave Saunders, the teacher who died in the midst of saving some of his students.

A synonym of “redemptive”, in fact, is “saving.” Many of us have been saved from harm, sometimes even from the harm we self-inflict, by someone else who has come alongside us and taken our hand, pulling us from what would be a bad ending. 

Being redemptive synonyms is our opportunity to make a difference, to compensate for the tragedies that surround us, to be new revelations of the Christ story in the present. 

Living out the gospel is a continuous synonym of the redemptive story of Christ. Oh, that there would be more stories of transformative redemption, as opposed to antonyms to the good news!

Life and Death, And Life In Death

April 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     April 14, 2019

                   

Yesterday I participated in a memorial service for a gentleman and a gentle man named Jim Newsome. I had been his pastor for the last three years or so of my final pastorate. Back in November I posted a writing about the last visit Carol and I had with him and his wife, Pat. He knew he only had a few days to live and in the only time I ever saw him exhibit impatience he said to his wife, “Okay! I’m ready to go, but when’s it going to happen?” Five days after we sat by his bed he passed on into Glory.

The gathering to remember him was punctuated with stories and laughter, a book of tales and experiences. During the service someone made the statement, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

I have found the truth and the meaning in those words in recent years. Each  morning I brush my hair with my dad’s hairbrush and I think of him, a year now since he passed on. Every time I fire up our grill to cook some hamburgers I can smell the sizzling aroma of the burgers he would cook. They were the best hamburgers I’ve ever tasted! Mine are tasteless in comparison, and I’m okay with that! Dad was the grill master. I’m simply a guy who stands by a grill.

My mom has been gone for five years now, but every time I see the crossword puzzle in the daily newspaper I think about her. My dad, brother, and I could be having an in-depth discussion about present-day terrorism and the role of a democracy in fighting it and my mom would suddenly break into the conversation with…”Laurence, what’s a three letter word for fish-and-chips fish?” 

Both of my parents are gone, but they’re still alive each day.

Each of us lives and each of us dies. The sweetness of this world is the relationship we still experience with the one who has passed away. Death ends a life, not a relationship. 

At Jim’s reception following the service a 10 minute video was showed of his portrayal of The Lone Ranger, an act he did for various groups and gatherings for 19 years. Suddenly, he was back with us, back when he had more hair, but still it was him! Each time I see The Lone Ranger I think of him.

We often see death as the final brushstroke, finishing the work. It’s suspicious looking, mysterious, and characterized as cold and somber. And yet it’s communicated as gloriously better, awe-inspiring, and pain-free. 

The memories of the departed stay with us. They continue to live and bless us. 

And the person of faith lives on even if he dies. The last words I spoke to Jim were, “If I don’t see you again, Jim, I’ll see you on the other side!” 

And he looked at me, gave me half a wink, and said, “Plan on it!”