Archive for the ‘Story’ category

That Judgmental Evangelical Church!

March 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     March 4, 2019

                      

Carol and I sat back and watched an episode of Criminal Minds last night. We can’t keep up with all the recorded episodes we have on our DVR, thus the episode we watched was from last October.

Without going into the plot too much, a woman is killed and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) team is sent to investigate. In looking at the way the woman has been murdered, investigating who her friends are, and her routines, they summarize that there is some connection between what has happened and the church she attends.

That’s when the term “evangelical” gets used! She was involved in an EVANGELICAL church. The way it’s said you could almost put in parentheses after it “You know…one of those!” as the person turned to the side and spat!

The next scene has the team interviewing the pastor. His character comes off as self-righteous and judgmental. Envision a pastor with a whip! The viewer immediately does not like him and, after all, he’s the pastor of one of those EVANGELICAL churches! You are given the impression that “fun” is a four letter word for him.

Several other indicators are that he and his church are narrow-minded, critical, ready to shun sinners, and legalistic. They probably don’t even drink root beer!

Such is the general public’s, or at least those in the entertainment world, view of evangelicals! I wouldn’t have been as bothered by the episode if they would have just said “church”, but those who produce the show probably don’t understand what evangelical means.

The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word “euangelion”, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, an evangelical church focuses on the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ.

That good news includes the grace of God, forgiveness, love, acceptance, hope, and peace. 

Some evangelicals, rightfully so, have made a mess of evangelicalism! They’ve reversed the mirror of Jesus. Instead of people seeing the image of Christ in his church they see a bunch of people who seem to have been sucking on lemons too long! I’ll be honest! There are a number of people in churches I’ve served who are about as pleasant as hemorrhoids!

It should not be! “Good News” has become religious rhetoric, and grace has been replaced with guilt. 

One of my closest friends in ministry, Rev. Tom Bayes, recently urged me to write a book about “church stuff”. Tom and I, along with our other clergy friend, Rev. Chuck Moore, spent years serving churches in the Lansing, Michigan area and sharing stories over lunches. There was a lot of laughter in the midst of our burger-munching. I think I’ll take him up on his request. The book, however, will revolve around a pastor who laughs, jokes around with the people of his congregation, enjoys life, and exhibits the Joy of life. AND he will be a pastor who firmly holds to the belief that Jesus is “Good News”!

Maybe I’ll even make him…you know…one of those Baptist pastors!

When Christians, and Their Churches, Disagree

March 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 2, 2019

 

In my 36 years of shepherding flocks (“Pastor” comes from the Latin for Shepherd), I guided congregations through a few briar patches of heated discussions and thorny issues. Sometimes my style fit and sometimes it didn’t. When I was president of the Mason School Board back in Michigan, since again, my style fit and, although we had a few disagreements too work through, we always managed to come through the discussions with a high respect for one another.

As a pastor I remember differences that we had about renovating the sanctuary. Two different churches I pastored over the years had the wood paneling on the sanctuary walls…you know, the paneling that showed up in the basements of homes back in the 50’s and 60’s! Each was gradually brought along to seeing that a change would not offend Jesus…but it took time. We considered switching out pews for chairs in one of the congregations, but one person protested vehemently. Her concern was for one of the senior saints of the congregation, that he might fall over in his chair and hurt himself. We disagreed with her, but did not force the issue. The saint, who lived to the age of 91 was loved by all and anything that might harm him (though we doubted that a chair would increase the chances of injury) became a point that we longer wanted to debate. 

Churches are hot beds for conflict and disagreement. When people are passionate about an issue or situation…and there is passion on both sides…the depth, or lack thereof, in Christian community becomes evident. In that respect the church mirrors the world instead of becoming different from the world. 

Let’s be honest! Too often the church is simply a commercial for the world instead of a repository of the love and grace of God. What I said to a 7th grader student a couple of weeks ago, who was trying to minimize the amount of classwork she had been asked to do, I could also say to a  number of church folk. “So what you’re saying is this is you.” I made an imaginary dot in front of me, and then drew an imaginary large circle around it. “And this is the world, and the world revolves around you. Is that what you’re saying?”

Our churches are dotted every service with people who have that mindset!

True confession: I’ve been that “dot” a few times myself!

Words like “surrender”, “sacrifice”, “servant” echo through the Bible. “Sacrifice” appears 54 times in the New Testament and “servant” gets mentioned 157 times. They are words we say in our liturgies and write in the church covenant, but often get pushed to the side when things are going against our opinion. Sides then get chosen and sometimes all holy hell breaks loose! 

In recent times a few churches have resembled more hell than holiness. Prominent church pastors have gone to war with some of the leaders of their churches. When the pastor of a mega-church gets relieved of his duties it rarely ends well for anyone. When denominations have doctrinal disagreements or differences over contemporary issues, unfortunately, it rarely ends in a good way. The battles make for good news in our drama-addicted culture, but after the heated fog lifts there always seems to be a lot of wounded people laying around. 

Of course, even Jesus couldn’t bring his disciples to 100% agreement! But after he rose from the grave, and the Holy Spirit was poured out, his remaining eleven were able to unite to the point that they changed the world!

All things are possible!

The End Of A Season

February 24, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                February 24, 2019

                                  

Our hope was to make it into March, but the final scoreboard tally cut those aspirations down. Tears exploded from the eyes of a few of the young men and others stood silently, unsure of the moment and what was to happen next.

Our high school team, The Classical Academy Titans, better known as TCA, had just lost our second round game to Greeley Central, 54-49. It was a battle, filled with moments of patient offense, great shooting, and clutch free throws. 

And then it was over! The excitement and adrenalin rush nosedived into a sudden landing. Monday’s practice plan was no longer relevant. The team’s one senior had just barely missed his last three point attempt that could have taken the game down to a one possession difference. He didn’t want to close the book on his high school basketball days, but an appointment to the Air Force Academy is in front of him.

In sports everyone loses…at one time or another! It’s harsh, and yet part of the maturing process. This team did it’s share of winning, 17 wins and 7 defeats for a team that only had two players returning with varsity experience. And yet, the last game, played before a great home crowd, will stand out in the minds of these boys.

The head coach- a man who was my son’s high school JV coach twenty years ago- broke down in tears in the locker room as he talked to his players. He had loved them, yelled at them, applauded them, gotten right in their faces, and embraced them at the end of each practice. 

The first games of the high school basketball season usually happen around December 1, with the last games in late February or early March, but high school basketball is really almost year-round. TCA will take the next six weeks off and then begin open gyms again in April. Then we usually take August off and get back into it once September rolls around. Our off-season will include strength and conditioning, summer camps and tournaments, and more individualized training from the coaches. In other words, it’s very demanding of time and energy. 

That makes the final defeat of the season that much more emotional. It signals the end of a journey whose goal has always been to end the season with a victory. Of course, only one team out of 68 in our 4A Class can accomplish that goal!

Today 12 boys and 4 coaches are grieving a little bit, and yet the coaches are proud of what those 12 boys became. The players replayed missed shots and lost opportunities in their minds as they tossed and turned in their beds last night. The coaches thought about all the games during the season that the team went in as the underdogs and came out as the winners.

Two weeks from today we’ll gather for our team banquet. The wounds from the last defeat will have scabbed over some and we’ll celebrate. There will be laughter and applause, hugs and hand shakes. And these boys will remember that they were a part of the best basketball team in the school’s 25 year history…until next year’s team breaks that record!

Teaching Sixth Graders Manners

February 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         February 22, 2019

  

“Mr. Wolfe, can I use the restroom?”

“I’m assuming you can. I mean, you’ve got some real issues if you aren’t able to use it!”

“What?” he whispered with confusion.

“If you aren’t able to use the restroom there could be some serious repercussions.”

I point to the white board that explains the difference between asking questions that begin with “Can” versus “May”. On the board I’ve written examples:

         CAN= Am I able to…

-“Am I able to eat healthy?”

-Am I able to do the Incline?”

  

         MAY= Do I have permission to…

– “Do I have permission to get a drink of water?”

Understanding invades the inner space of the sixth grader’s mind. “Ohhh!” he exclaims as his eyebrows elevate. “May I use the restroom?”

“Yes, you may!”

Teaching sixth graders good manners and the proper way to act has become a passion of mine…sorta’! Let’s be honest! Good manners to a lot of people is as relevant as my cassette tape collection. Right before I wrote this a girl’s notebook fell off her desk and scattered papers across the classroom floor. A boy who had just returned from the restroom (“Can I go to the…I mean, may I go to the restroom?”) stepped over the papers as if they were wet paint as he returned to his desk…right next to the girl’s!

I saw the empty stares of a few others around her, blind to her plight, so I went to help. “I noticed your neighbor here just stepped over and didn’t attempt to help.”

He knew I was referring to him. “I didn’t see it!” he exclaimed as his defense.

“You stepped over it, like it was a mud puddle on the sidewalk.”

Back to honesty, however, there are a number of adults- kids in grown up bodies- who either never learned manners, or don’t really give a crap! Politeness got stuffed in a box and put in the basement about the time reality TV made its entrance.

A few days ago I was standing in the school hallway talking to two teachers as a student- actually a 7th grader!- walked right between us.

“Excuse me!” I bellowed after him.

“Huh, what?” He looked stunned and frightened, although it could have been the lighting.

“You walked right between us as we were having a conversation.”

“Huh?”

“When people are having a conversation it’s not polite to walk right between them.”

“Ohhh!” This was new information for this kid, a new kind of education and the opening bell hadn’t even sounded.

Perhaps my generation was raised by parents who placed a higher value on good manners. They seemed to make learning good manners an essential part of developing good character and keeping order in the universe.

My mom would say, “Keep your mouth closed as you’re chewing!” I’m not sure why, but she made it seem like the right thing to do. Open-mouthed chewers probably didn’t get good jobs and had to go to night school, so we kept the lips tight as we ground up the pork chop between our teeth.

“Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to you dad! Be patient!”

Having patience seemed to be tied to politeness and we struggled with that growing up. In today’s world patience gets buddied up with whining and irritation. Most sixth graders think having patience means not being able to eat their fruit roll-up until they take the wrapper off. It’s like the sixth grade student last year whose shoes were untied. “Tie your shoes!” I commanded him.

“Why? They’re just going to come untied again!”

I wanted to say “Well, why zip your pants up? You’re just going to unzip them again next time to need to take a whiz!”

BUT… he was wearing sweat pants! 

Probably hadn’t learned the word “May” either!

Sixth Grade Trivia

February 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 21, 2019

                                   

Sixth graders have a warped understanding of a variety of things. Like the kid who is concerned about his hair looking awesome, but unaware that the hoodie jacket he’s been wearing for the last month smells putrid! That kind of warped!

Also, most of them would not do well in a game of Trivial Pursuit. If you asked a class of sixth graders what kind of cheese you would find on the moon a few of them would say “Swiss! Because of all of those craters!”

After all, it was a European cow that jumped over the moon!

Today at the end of each class I asked a trivia question and gave out a prize to the answer that was closest to being correct. Cell phones were required to be facedown!

Q. What is the distance in miles from Anchorage, Alaska to Key West, Florida?

A few hands shoot up instantly! Usually the first ones to provide an answer are not candidates for the school quiz bowl team.

I motion for a boy, whose hand is waving back and forth like Kansas wheat ready to be picked.

“Two miles!”

The girl beside him giggles, so I call on her next.

“A million miles!”

“It’s somewhere between those two,” I clarify. Several faces are transformed from genius to confused when I say that.

The answers keep coming. “Two hundred miles”, “a thousand”, “twenty-five thousand.” Finally, a young lady, who has been hanging back patiently, raises her hand and I call on her.

“Five thousand?”

“Close enough! The answer is 5,019!” I throw her a snack sized bag of Skittles.

I hear the whines of unfairness echoing as they exit the classroom. “I was going to say that!!”

On to the next class.

Q. How many words are in Webster’s International Dictionary?

“Call on me first!” urges a blonde-haired boy who usually causes his teachers to grind their teeth. I give him the okay and he opens the bidding.

“5,000!”

A clueless young lady counters with “6,000!”

Another. “7,000!”

I say, “Is this The Price Is Right or something?”

One self-assured young man offers an answer with boldness, like he’s buying a Honus Wagner baseball card. “25,000!” He looks around as if a camera is about to take his picture for the Society page in Sunday’s newspaper.

           The guesses continue and range from 1,000 to 95,000. The class is dumbfounded when I tell them the answer is 476,000, an unfathomable figure for a few of them who haven’t progressed that far past their first grade primer book! 

“The average adult knows between 20 and 30 thousand words,” I inform them.

One boy replies, “Mine’s at least that!”, and he might be right. He looks like someone who takes the vocabulary quiz in each issue of Reader’s Digest.

Most sixth graders know more about video games, Harry Potter, and electronic devices than I will ever know. Trivia, however…no!

Of course, if I was asked a trivia question on any one of those three things my answer would be about as close as Key West is to Anchorage!

Weird Stuff I Think About

February 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     February 20, 2019

                                 

My mind is active, and it seems more and more it’s active in the confusing waves of life. Like the various debris washed onto a seashore each morning, I find the sands of my thoughts cluttered with questions.

Here’s a few of the shells I’ve picked up and wondered about.

1) Does it seem that there are Girl Scouts selling cookies everywhere these days? The supermarket, the library, school, the high school basketball game, church, the appliances section at Home Depot! Okay, just kidding about the last one, but not about all the others! I’ve seen more Girl Scouts than rabbits recently, and that’s saying a lot!

2) Do Republicans and Democrats ever agree on anything, or does the media only seek to report the differences? Geez! It feels like a nasty custody battle with the nation as the child! Wouldn’t it just a little bit refreshing to hear someone say something like, “Yep! we were wrong about that!”, instead of “We’re never wrong!”?

3) Why doesn’t Old Navy sell men’s jeans in size 35? I feel like the wiener inside a corn dog in size 34 and someone who is unintentionally sagging when I wear size 36. And speaking about that, companies that make jeans should put extra strong fabric in the back left pocket. I put my wallet in that pocket and it wears out long before anything else. Carol says to just move my wallet to the right back pocket, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks…and I guess you also can’t convince Old Navy that some of us are size 35’s!

4) Instead of the three advertisements I get in the mail each week from my cell phone company I wish they’d just take $3.00 off my monthly bill! Hello! I’m already your customer!

5) After substitute teaching for 5 days in 8th Grade math I believe it should also qualify as a foreign language! 

6) I did not watch the NBA All-Star game last weekend. Having coached for twenty plus years I can’t bear to watch it! It’s like a pick-up game at the Y where defense is optional!

7) All the clergy sexual abuse cases that are arising make me ill!

8) I bought three CD’s for $5 each last weekend. They were all contemporary Christian musical artists, like Lauren Daigle, but then I figured out why they were only $5 each! It took a toolbox just to get them unwrapped and open! Plus, my MacBook doesn’t play CD’s, so the only place I can listen to them is in the car! It may be easier to just hum to myself!

9) I’m reading through the Bible this year, and there are a number of things that confuse me. Like why God filled Egypt with frogs, and then Pharaoh’s magicians did the same thing! Why would they do that? That makes about as much sense as Old Navy’s discrimination against size 35 men! (I’m not bitter about that, though!)

10) I get a Medicare ad in the mail everyday. It’s kind of disconcerting to realize how many people seem to know that any 65th birthday is coming up! 

And, yes! My mailbox seems to be filled with cell phone ads, Medicare possibilities, and this week’s Kohl’s sale items! Thank God it isn’t political campaign season! I actually look forward to having a bill amidst all the stuff!

Now you know how weird I am! I can’t help it! I need a Tagalong cookie!

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.