Archive for the ‘Story’ category

They-Be Deciding!

February 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 17, 2019

                          

There are a growing number of parents who are raising their babies as “they-bies”! That is, they are allowing the baby to decide what gender “they” will identify with at some time in the future.

One of the reasons for this decision is to keep them from having gender stereotypes cast upon them, so the parents aren’t even revealing the gender to other family members, like grandparents.

This brings in a host of theological questions about how we’re created by God, how we’re known by him, does a lack of gender clarity create confusion in other ways, just to name a few.

Have we become so politically correct about gender fluidity that we’ve created a whirlwind of chaos?

My conservative friends may tell me that it’s a sign of the fallen state of our society and that judgment day will soon be upon us. My left-leaning friends may suggest that I’m too traditional and it’s time to get with the times and recognize the preciousness of every person…whatever they may be!

I’m uncomfortable with both sides and look for a middle ground where everyone IS valued, as well as what God has already designed. Some will come back at me with some “what if’s?”. We seem, however, to avoid the clarity of the “what is’s!” Quirkiness has become king…or queen! God’s design and handprint has been cast as old-fashioned and irrelevant.

Remodeling Starbucks and Un-remodeling Church

February 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 16, 2019

                   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, Hi Son!

February 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2019

                                            

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

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

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

“Well, hi son!”

“Hi, Pops!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Turn! Turn!”

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

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

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

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

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

The Young Life Ministry

February 12, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 12, 2019

                            

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch Detention

February 6, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 6, 2019

                             

Ughh! It happens! Jimmy decides to be extra annoying in class, perhaps because I’m a substitute teacher for the day or because it’s one of his dominant characteristics…either way I have to use the dreaded two words.

Lunch detention!

It means that the next day he will be spending time with me in the classroom where I’ll be consuming my cottage cheese and cucumber. It may be more painful for me than it it for him. It means he won’t get to hang out with his buddies for 30 minutes. For me it means I’ll be restricted to my classroom, unable to make a restroom visit, and sitting in uncomfortable silence with 8th Grade boys who think I’m unreasonable and the devil incarnate!

They don’t connect their actions with consequences. After all, should they be expected to do their part in promoting an environment where students learn? Shouldn’t they be allowed to muddy the waters of knowledge and make things challenging for their teacher? Isn’t that their right, their God-given privilege?

Oops! I’m starting to sound bitter! 

Okay! I am a little bit! I’m spending another 30 minutes with two students who already have antagonized me for 57 minutes! It’s like having a root canal and then asking if the dentist can do another one right after that!

And so we sit in the classroom together trying to make believe that the others aren’t really present. Each bite of my cottage cheese feels lumpy and unappetizing in my mouth. I might as well be eating grits with no hint of seasoning or butter.

We talk about their offenses. They have a different view of things. I’m the problem. They believe I have a vendetta against them. It’s kinda’ like the driver saying, “Yes, I switched lanes. It’s not my fault that a car was already there!”

One of the lunch detainees has a hint of repentance. The other remains defiant, convinced that a great injustice has been done. I have a feeling that his grades are an indication that not much has been done…for a few weeks!

8th graders are on the verge of high school, which means most of them are on the verge of irrational behavior as well! As their  middle school days weird down they seem to get more wound up! Teachers leave each school day shaking their heads and chewing their fingernails. It is the circle of life…middle school life that is!

Lunch ends and Abbott and Costello leave without smiling. Their comedy act has been interrupted and they are not happy. But, after all, 8th grade has just as much drama to it as humor and, in their opinion, I have no sense of humor whatsoever!

Careful!

February 3, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   February 3, 2019

                                         

Yesterday was nice and sunny here in Colorado Springs- about 60 degrees, in case anyone in the East and Midwest is wondering- so I took a walk. I went past the Liberty High School parking lot and noticed a young lady being taught how to drive. Her mom was giving her instructions and she slowly made a loop around. Whenever she made a turn she almost came to a complete stop as the tires were redirected. Her mom had her park in one of the parking spaces and it took her three times of going forward and then backwards before she put the Subaru in the spot. 

She was being extremely, extremely, really extremely careful! The question occurred to me as I watched this from the hillside overlooking the school, “when will she stop being careful?” Will there be a point where she will begin exiting the school parking lot at the end of a school day driving like a bat out of hell?

Our three year old granddaughter is determined. Otherwise known as being stubborn! There’s been a few times when she’s been given a cup of juice to drink and she grabs it like a Black Friday 5 A.M. shopper at Walmart! The juice goes every which way, sloshing to freedom on the table, chair, and floor. Sippy cups have made her reckless! They’ve taught her to proceed carefree! Perhaps when she’s five she will discover the relevance of carefulness for her life…cautious and controlled now to avoid spills and cleanups later.

Being careful appears and disappears like the fog along the Ohio River. Someone runs down the driveway to pick up the morning newspaper, trips and falls on a spot of ice, and breaks their arm. Another person, an elderly woman, walks with heightened fear taking each step slowly as if she’s on a tightrope. Her fear of breaking a hip has made her careful, whereas the first person has learned the hard way that there are times to slow down.

Working quite frequently with middle schoolers, I am amazed at how so many of them now have cell phones…without protective cases! A thirteen year old’s cell phone without a protective case is an accident waiting to happen! Little Jimmy, who races through the hallways between classes, now has an iPhone that has no many cracks in it there’s no way he can make out what anything on the screen says.

Careful or without a care, so much of our lives get spent at one end or the other of the pendulum.

I was surprised to discover that the Bible uses the word “careful” 120 times. the advice of Ephesians 5:15 is simple and clear. “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise!”

Reckless behavior has its consequences. Decisions not thought through will have negative results. Doing something stupid has the potential to do damage for years to come. Here in Colorado we have had several devastating fires in the past decade. Last June’s Spring Creek fire burned over 108,000 acres and destroyed 141 homes. It was caused by a man who has been charged with arson. One moment of stupidity caused damage that will take decades to undo.

Scripture keeps reminding us to be careful in our words and actions. When something is said or put into print or onto social media it can’t be undone. It’s there, and will be there! Being careful is associated with being wise!

We need not be as careful as the young lady inching her Subaru along in the school parking lot, but so often we resemble our granddaughter, sitting in the splashes of our rash decisions. 

The Lost Backpack

February 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   February 2, 2019

                          

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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