Archive for the ‘Prayer’ category

Sermon Feedback…Unplanned!

August 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   August 14, 2019

                              

I spoke to the Simla Saints last Sunday. Simla, Colorado is a sleepy-eyed town of a few hundred folk about 45 minutes east of Colorado Springs. First Baptist Church of Simla is composed of about 20 good natured souls of various ages between 1 and 92 (although the married 92 year olds moved to be with their daughter in a different town too far away). 

They are a congregation that enjoys laughter, potlucks, and after-service cookies.

And most of the time I enjoy being with them. Last Sunday was enjoyable…and then they started asking questions about the sermon!

I spoke about Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus. Both sisters made the same statement to Jesus, but I suggested that their different personalities might have  caused their statements to have different meanings to Jesus. I talked about Martha’s attention to detail and getting the work done, and Mary’s interest in sitting and listening to Jesus.

They were with me! We traveled the sermon journey together, punctuated with laughter and an occasional nodding of the head (with eyes still open).

And then we went to talking about prayer concerns…kinda’!

After a couple of prayer concerns were mentioned one of the women said, “I’ve got a question.” She was looking at me. “It says that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters a couple of times. So why did he wait to go to Bethany?”

“Well, I think he…ahhh…well….ahhh…”

A “Martha” speaks up. “And Pastor Bill, if Martha didn’t do the work how was it going to get done? Fixing a dinner for a group was a lot of work. They didn’t have microwaves back in those days.” I nodded my head in agreement, hoping that she had put a period on the end of her point.

“Good point!”

From the right side of the sanctuary…”And Mary didn’t seem to be that concerned about how the food was going to get on the table. Seems a little irresponsible to me!”

I begin to come to Mary’s defense. “But Mary was focused on Jesus. It seems that she was often sitting at the feet of Jesus.”

Back at me! “And expecting her sister to do all the work!”

“Well…ahhh…I….ahhh….”

“And Lazarus is just sitting there, also. He’s not helping.”

“Well, he did just rise from the dead,” I suggest.

“…and isn’t doing anything! He’s had a four day nap, for crying out loud!”

“Well…ahhh…”

“I’ve got another question,” said the woman who had initiated this unplanned sermon feedback session. “Does Martha believe Jesus can change things, even though her brother has already died?”

“That’s a great question!” 

When a pastor is at a loss as to how to answer a question, affirming the greatness of an asked question is a good go-to.

Back to the “Martha”. “I think Martha gets a bad rap here and Mary seems to be exalted.”

“Great point!”

The unplanned sermon feedback session goes for another five minutes. It’s filled with me saying profound things like, “Well” and “Ahhh” and “Hmmm”.

And then, thankfully, we get back to the clarity of prayer concerns, where there is no debate. The congregation has enjoyed the unplanned. I have a hunch they enjoyed how they made me stammer and look clueless most of all. Maybe next time I’ll ask for the prayer concerns to be mentioned BEFORE the sermon.

The Pain in Laughter

August 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 10, 2019

                                      

Last week I wrote about the tragic loss of a father of five (“Answering the Why”, August 4; WordsfromWW.com) in a road accident. The family was in the midst of a move from our city to another community. It was a new beginning, new challenges and opportunities, new friends to make and schools to attend…and then in a few seconds everything changed. My blog post focused on the “why” questions of life that we strive to answer and yet we can find no answer.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the father. During the course of the service there was pain and there was laughter…and there was laughter, acting like a blanket, bringing some warmth to cover the chill of the deep, deep pain.

The laughter was healing. It drew the gathering into the story, the person. It swung like a grapevine from the heartache of loss to the loss of opportunities to the emptiness of Dad’s chair at the table.

Every chuckle about a past encounter or a humorous saying was tempered with the realization that it would never occur again. And yet the laughter was ointment for the aches of the journey.

I’ve thought a lot about this tragedy in the past week. In the midst of the accident details there’s a sense of injustice and a rising amount of anger. The laughter helps simmer the unrest that has been planted in people’s souls.

My mom’s last few years were filled with the afflictions that Parkinson’s Disease can bring. The loss of mobility and the devastating effect on her ability to speak. My sister and I recently retold “Mom stories”. It’s been five years since she passed and, although we remember the pain, we shared the stories of who she was, experiences we shared and conversations we had…and we laughed. The humor brought her back to us. We could see her sitting in her chair, watching “Dancing With The Stars” and working her crossword puzzle. We remembered how she would use her “Baptist Mom Guilt” on us to make us do things we didn’t want to. 

We could envision the times when she would grab on to Dad and say her classic line of romance to him: “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” We would pretend we were grossed out by the dining room affection, but it really caused us to chuckle…and still does.

There is pain in life and laughter in the pain. It is not an escape from the grief, but rather footwear for the journey. The steps begin with the uncertainty of a tightrope and gradually gain a steadiness as we balance our mourning with the memories.

Our souls cry out. Our laughter helps us to keep going.

“I Don’t Like Faith!”

July 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  July 16, 2019

            “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’…” (Matthew 17:20-21, NIV)

Last Sunday I was speaking at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado…or, as I refer to the folks of the small congregation, the Saints of Simla. As is my custom, I also do a children’s story that goes along with the sermon theme of the day.

I asked one of the older kids to define the word faith. He gave a great answer, saying that faith is “believing in someone to the point that you trust him with your life.”

Awesome answer.

I asked a five year old boy if he would help me illustrate what faith looks like. He stood beside me and I explained that I was going to ask him to close his eyes and fall backwards. I assured him that I would catch him as he was falling. All he had to do was have faith that I would be true to my promise.

Instead of closing his eyes he brought his hands up and covered his eyes with them. Once again, I assured him that I would catch him. He seemed to be a little unsure of this.

Maybe someone had told him about my experience in the seminary class called Ministerial Duties where we practiced and performed baptisms on our fellow students. (Yes, we did!) Bonnie Bell was my baptizing partner and when we practiced without the water she had been reluctant to trust that I could catch her as she leaned backwards. I said, “Bonnie, trust me.” And she did…and I dropped her like a lead balloon on to the floor. 

This boy, however, only weighs about 40 pounds, so I said to him, “Trust me.” I counted to three.

“One, two, three.”

On three instead of falling backwards he just sat down on the floor. No fall, no faith, a lack of belief that Pastor Bill could do what he said he would do. 

It was too scary for him, and when I asked him why he didn’t fall backwards he looked me in the eye with concern on his face and replied, “I don’t like faith.”

Classic!

I worked those words into my sermon that morning with the adults, because the words of the five year old echo in our hearts. There are enormous areas and situations in our lives where we don’t like faith. Faith is risky. It demands a plunge into the unseen that, once begun, can’t be halted…so we don’t like to even begin to lean. 

Churches are like that, also. They adopt a budget that gets referred to as their “financial faith vision”, and then a  number begin grousing about how unreasonable it is. 

I recently connected with an old college friend, who had also been one of the groomsmen in my wedding. Randy was diagnosed with a serious illness a number of years ago that weakens the heart muscle. He had to step out of his middle school teaching position because of it. He has doctor visits and checkups, but he credits the progress in his health to the power of prayer and the healing of Jesus. It’s his picture of “falling backwards and leaning into faith.”

“I don’t like faith.”

I said to the little boy, who looked at me with fear in his eyes, “It’s okay. Most of us have a hard time with it, too.”

Having A God Limp

June 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                June 2, 2019

                                  

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

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

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

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

Ouch!

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

A God limp!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!

Noisy Contributions

April 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 April 2, 2019

                                     

     Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence.”     (Mark 12:41-42)

My friend, Ed Stucky, gave a message on Sunday about “offerings”. I always learn some “behind the scenes” stories of the Scriptures when Ed speaks, and this was no different.

When the crowds came to the temple the people would place their coin offerings in metallic containers (probably made of silver, gold, or bronze). The larger the offering the louder the noise of the coins hitting the metal. The louder the noise the more attention the giver would receive. The noise indicated the size of the contribution, and the wealthy status of the contributor.

It reminds me of the Society Page in our city newspaper’s Sunday edition. There are pictures of men in tuxedoes and women in evening gowns holding glasses of wine, with the headline “Benefit Raises $250,000 for Family Crisis Center!”

Not that raising money for a cause is a bad thing, but in Jesus’ time the rich wanted to be seen for the size of their gifts more than the generosity of their hearts. They liked to make a lot of noise!

And then there is a widow who places two small coins in! They are lost in the noise of the crowd, and she slips away unnoticed, invisible, and now poorer than poor. Jesus seems to be the only one that notices her. After all, the temple needs a lot of noisemakers to keep things going, not the slight sound of unimportant pence that make no impact! 

Jesus is impressed by what the widow has given and chosen not to keep, rather than what the rich have chosen to keep rather than give! It’s a counter-cultural thought that escapes the notice of everyone else.

It also signals a principle that gets overlooked or completely ignored. That is, it is usually the noisemakers in our culture that are visible and those who hardly are able to make a sound who become the invisible.

In saying that, it’s easy to place the focus on groups and categories of people who don’t have two coins to their name, but each of us also have people in our lives that easily become invisible. It’s easier to focus on categories of the voiceless rather than the man we see everyday sitting alone at Starbucks or the middle school student who has become invisible to her classmates.

Who makes the most noise these days? What noise SHOULD my life make?

Perhaps the forgotten prayer that needs to be whispered again is “Lord, may the noise that my life offers always be an echo of your spirit speaking to me and through me!”