Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

The Blurring of Wrong

November 28, 2021

By now most of us have seen the film footage of an organized mob storming a Nordstrom’s around closing time and making off with merchandise worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. An estimated 80 thieves hit the store fast, blocking off a city block, grabbed whatever they could get, and fled.

Now it’s happened in other cities as well, causing shoppers to think twice before heading to a place of business. Add to that neighborhood thefts of Amazon packages delivered to front porches. Packages, mind you, that the thief has no idea what is inside!

There has always been crime, and waves of crime, but it seems that we now have a new classification of crime. That is, unlawful acts that some folk don’t consider unlawful. Perhaps we could call it “entitled crime”! Some blame it on the pandemic. Others say it’s a ripple effect of our culture’s addiction to drugs. In other words, there are a lot of excuses for why it occurs. The Bible calls it what it is…Sin! Sin is an assorted deck of offenses and neglects. If it isn’t pleasing to God it’s probably sin. If it causes a sigh to sound in the heavens it’s probably sin. If I knowingly do something that I know is not right…it’s probably sin.

In our time, however, what is considered wrong has been blurred. It’s like my annual eye exam where my optometrist places a device in front of my eyes and asks me to say what I see. He intentionally makes my vision unclear to begin with. I can only guess as to what the right answers are. That’s how it is with our current view of right and wrong. It’s blurry and subject to a person’s opinion.

However, scripture makes something crystal clear. “As it is written, there is no one righteous, not even one…All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10 and 23)

If, in this unsettling time, our culture does not accept that we’re all fallen creatures, then our starting point of what is wrong has no anchor. It’s subject to how a person feels in the moment, to circumstances, and even to individual interpretation.

We shake our heads when we see a band of hooded thieves stealing sledgehammers and power tools from Home Depot, but we’ve inched our society toward that action in the blurring of what once was clearly wrong.

Being The Answer…Or Not Being The Answer

November 27, 2021

Sometimes I kid some of my middle school students who demonstrate moments of entitlement. I point my finger at my imaginary dot and say “This is you.” I then draw an invisible circle around that dot and say, “And this is the world. What you’re telling me is that the world revolves around you.”

Usually that comment causes giggles from others and a smile on the face of the entitled one, followed by a few moments of sputtering and stammering.

Our culture has a high opinion of itself these days. It’s a grown-up version of that “the world revolves around you” image. As if what I do, or you do, will affect the rotation of the sun.

Stop! That last statement caused some nervous twitching amongst the Christ-followers…and it should! As a follower of Jesus I DO believe that what I do and say does have a ripple effect. My essence and my confidence is rooted in Jesus. I’m referring to the other side of confidence. The side that thinks I…me, myself, and I can do anything. Bottom line, that I am the answer to the problem and the one who can do it better than anyone else.

Case in point! Howard Stern its considering a run for the presidency. I’m sure a big part of his consideration is connected to receiving publicity and self-promotion, but it also follows the thread of thinking that our culture is filled with examples of people who believe they are the answers to situations. They are difference makers, not exasperaters of the problems.

It speaks to character, for lack thereof. Humbleness rarely causes someone to think they are well-qualified. I am acutely aware of situations in my life where humbleness was non-existent and I thought I was the answer for a particular position. When I receive a rejection letter from a publishing company or a literary agent I feel that twinge of indignation. How could they take a pass on an incredible book manuscript?

One thing about being a writer! If you aren’t a humble person, it will cause you to head in that direction!

Sometimes it takes a few head thumps for me to remember that I’m not the answer, but I follow the One who is the Answer. In fact, with no hint of arrogance Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Instead of being influenced by one of our culture’s influencers, I remind myself daily that He is the Light, the Bread, the Vine, the Living Water, and the Good Shepherd. In essence, He is the real Answer to our needs in the clattering of voices that proclaim their greatness.

Thinking About Thanking

November 23, 2021

In a couple of days most of our family will gather for Thanksgiving conversation, chaos, and casseroles. Part of that experience will include groans associated with the Detroit Lions and abdominal discomfort. It will also include moments of sharing what we’re thankful for. Our oldest grandson will say something absurd that will cause his mom to groan even more, like being thankful for the three hours of a certain video game that his parents are going to let him play. That would be a dream, not what will be the reality!

Our granddaughters will say something about being thankful for family and friends and turkey…and pie. The adults will mention similar things and there will be a collective sign as we consider how blessed we are.

Thanksgiving offers us the opportunity to think about the different reasons we have thankful hearts. The list begins to be formulated, with each item resulting in a rippling effect of other things that come to our mind.

Relationships and relatives.

Homes and home cooking.

Freedom and free spirits.

The list keeps growing and it conjures up memories of Aunt Cynthia’s raisin pie, front porch conversations with MaMaw and PaPaw, childhood friends Terry Kopchak, Mike Bowman, Dave Hughes, and Mike “Fairboy” Fairchild.

Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to reflect and allow the depth of our thankfulness to rise within us. As we walk down the path of our ponderings we see how even the valleys and defeats can edge us toward gratitude. Without that disappointment after a job interview we wouldn’t have ended up in a better place and better position. Without that sudden loss of a friend we may never have reconnected with five other friends we had lost track of.

Gratitude is more than a moment or even an attitude. It is periodic debriefing of what has been and what we are in the midst of. It clears away any thoughts of being entitled to something and takes us to having gratefulness for everything.

And so my list is long and diverse from a dear friend being brought back from a close glimpse of death… to a family that is always available for hugs…to unplanned on encounters and conversations with people that cause my insides to chuckle.

Even in the Detroit Lions dismal football season there is a note of thankfulness. They are destined to receive the #1 pick in the next NFL Draft. Silver linings every where!

The Dissatisfaction of Excess

November 22, 2021

My wife and I just returned from a vacation road trip to Las Vegas and Phoenix. One of her sisters and brother-in-law live outside of Phoenix, as does one of our nephews, thus our trip culminating with a sliding further south.

We had other friends from Michigan who had moved to the Las Vegas area about a year ago that we wanted to reunite with, as well as their daughter who used to be one of our kids’ babysitters. The rest of our time in Las Vegas was spent walking, walking, and walking. We strolled through The Bellagio and stared at the ceiling, The Venetian and watched the gondolas, and the shopping area at Wynn’s where you had to make an appointment to be able to enter and look at the extremely overpriced merchandise. Everything in Las Vegas is about excess and unnecessary. It whispers the possibility of obtaining what is outside a person’s personality and lifestyle.

And there lies the dilemma and the deception! The Las Vegas sale that lures the crowds is an image, a dream, of people bathing in the riches of their winnings and the depravity of their fallen nature. The truth that gets detoured around is that what is excessive never satisfies. It’s simply the next rippled ring in the splash of the new experience.

There is something about us that leads us toward decisions that have not been thought all the way through. What looks dazzling seems to demand our attention. There is also something about the way God created us that longs for a holy fullness, an intimacy with the divine. The world (and the Deceiver), however, continues to lead us in a bypass around our hunger for God and caused us to settle for the thirst of the unnecessary.

In Las Vegas we saw people who were on a constant search for something that would satisfy and they never found it. And they won’t! The brightness of the lights and hopes written on marquees however will keep them searching, longing, and wondering why happiness is so elusive.

The Comedy of Seventh Grade Boy’s Basketball

November 13, 2021

My seventh grade boys’ basketball team finished its season this past week. Yes, I know it’s only mid-November, but our league fits five different sports seasons into a school year. Boys’ basketball begins the first week in October. Girls’ basketball gets rolling the week after Thanksgiving.

Seriously, the time of the year did not make any difference. Our team of 13 boys, several unknowingly wearing some of the girl’s uniforms because the boy’s uniforms were too large for them, struggled at times to understand offenses, defenses, press breakers, presses, inbounds plays, and how to rebound…Wait a minute! That’s pretty much the whole game of basketball!

But they also struggled to keep track of their uniforms, where their water bottle was, not jumping over the free throw line, keeping their shoes tied, and not just running onto the court when they were told to sub in for someone during a game.

After all, they are seventh-grade boys. They are just beginning to experience underarm deodorant sticks, considering the value of combing their hair, and trying to figure out why the Mary Janes are always staring at them and giggling.

Basketball is like a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle for most of them. They can figure out what the border pieces are and gradually which of the four sides each piece belongs on, but the overwhelming bulk of the picture is a mystery that will take a long time to figure out.

Consider this confusing puzzle. With 17 seconds left in the game and trailing by double-digits, one of my players tried to shoot a three-pointer on the opponents pass. The inbounds pass came from underneath the other team’s basket. Thankfully, the shooter didn’t connect on a three-pointer the whole season– and maybe his whole life– and wasn’t close this time either. But after the final seconds clicked off the question occurred to me, why had our four other players on the court also been lining like it was an inbounds play? In other words, all five had been led like lambs to the slaughter into believing they were shooting at the basket 94 feet away from the one they should have been heading.

Consider this confusing, misplaced piece. An hour before our last game one of our smaller players came to me and, with fear in his eyes, said, “Coach, I can’t find my uniform!”

“You mean this uniform that was left on the floor of the locker room two days ago?” Since his assigned number was on the uniform, I knew it was his.

Sheepishly, “Yes.”

Consider this very clear corner piece of the puzzle that is self-explanatory. In our last game, a very close game, the other team had the boy out-of-bounds underneath their basket. Number 40 was killing us all game and our main player had four fouls. At a timeout the other coach and I said to one of our players, “You have #40. Play him man-to-man, Number 40! That’s a four followed by a zero! Number 4-0! That’s who you have!”

The game resumed and number 40 received the inbounds pass right by the basket and laid it to put the other team up by two points with less than a minute left. We called timeout and said to our player, “You were suppose to guard number 40.” He looked at us and with sincerity written all over his face replied, “I forgot!”

It’s a puzzle and it’s puzzling…but I’m chuckling as I think about it.

Our 40-Year-Old Oldest Child

November 8, 2021

Forty years ago plus one day ago, my wife said “It’s time!” I helped her down the steps to our Toyota Corona and we drove to St. Lawrence Hospital on the west side of Lansing, Michigan to begin a few tense and, for her, painful hours of labor and delivery. At 1:21 A.M. on November 8th, Kecia Corin Wolfe arrived and immediately gave us a scare as she struggled to breathe.

Forty years later we struggle to contain our emotions of thankfulness for her and pride we feel because of her. It is a bit strange to realize that you have a child who now has a four in front of her age, even stranger than that moment Carol and I realized we could order off the Senior Menu at the restaurant.

Kecia followed the trend of her mom and also gave birth to three kids. Besides that, she “mothers” and instructs a classroom of third-graders each year, sees their potential, applauds their efforts, and deals with the nonconformists. She has always been a self-motivator, striving to reach that challenging bar that seems ominous.

But more than her grit and punk, Kecia’s character is what brings tears to our eyes and smiles to our hearts. She is a woman of integrity, deeply-committed to her family, dependable for her friends. She has a soft spot for the struggling, shows an urgency in her praying for the afflicted, and strives to be available to listen to the hurting.

In my opinion, her patience is numbing. She goes to great lengths to help her students grow in their learning and also their maturity. Sometimes, however, she has to contend with parents who stepped out of line when common sense was being handed out. She sees down the road and what is best for the student, striving to hold her ground when she can see the ripple effects of bad student decisions on the distant horizon.

She is a person of faith, understanding that there is a strength that is not her own but available to her, an Encourager that walks closely beside her while, at the same time, dwelling within her. She knows Jesus in a very personal way and models Christlikeness for her kids.

As Carol and I look back over the years, we can see how God has shaped her into who she is. We can remember heartaches that wounded her and yet caused her to be sensitive to the stumbles of others. We remember the few times her friends failed her and can see how it has caused her to latch on to the principle of authentic friendship. We remember her successes and see how they instilled in her the excitement of applauding the successes of others.

She has lived a life well for the past forty years and, we pray, as she celebrates this milestone that she will see the coming years as being a continuation of the impact she is having on those around us. Happy birthday, Oldest Child!

A Different P.E. Time

November 6, 2021

Yesterday I was the guest teacher for our middle school’s physical education teacher. It was…different!

It’s not that I had never been the substitute for physical education. About three years ago I filled in for the teacher so many times I left him a welcome letter with instructions one day. Since I was teaching a language arts class the whole time last year, this was my first P.E. class in two years. All that being said, it was still different. There is a different vibe going on with many of the students.

For clarification, I had two classes each of each middle school grade level, 6th, 7th, and 8th. In each class there seem to be more outliers, students whose main objective was to be noticed in some way. For a number of them, outward appearance is how they distinguish themselves: hair color(s), clothing, facial indifference, voice volume, a style of shoe that would only look in-place at an army boot camp, jewelry from the beyond, and…one Apple AirPod.

When I announced to each class that we were going outside to play a variation of the game of Kickball, there were whines and groans from a number of them. It had been a cold week until yesterday, temperatures mostly in the 30s and 40s, but yesterday the sun was shining and most of the classes enjoyed 60’s and low 70s. The groans were an indication that many of them have become sedentary creatures, more comfortable playing video games and doing social media than physical exercise. Of course, I also have to attribute some of the groans to middle school students’ reactions to a direction given by the teacher. It’s on the same level of reaction as Americans who are told that there’s a new tax in town that they will be “participating in.”

So there were appearance outliers, allergic to outdoor physical exercise…and then there was the dumbfounding realization that a number of them had never played kickball, or even knew how to play. Seriously! I’m not exaggerating! They had no clue. I’m sure they could tell me how to be categorized as awesome and amazing on Minecraft, but what to do as a rolling ball comes toward them…confusion! Obviously, none of them live in the Colorado Springs neighborhood close to the center of town that has a weekly kickball game where whole families gather to kick and run and laugh and bond. You know, the one that was shutdown by law enforcement for a while out of concern for someone getting hurt, since they played in the middle of the street. (The middle of the street used to be where most of our games of football and whiffleball happened in my growing up years!)

Finally, every class had several students who had no interest in learning. It wasn’t a lack of interest in learning a new game, but rather a lack of interest in learning. Since they didn’t have a laptop in front of them to do classroom assignments and sneak in a few minutes of playing a video game, their attention was on their class friends and perfecting their ability to stand around and do nothing. The idea of being a part of a team in a game for a few moments was something they had no desire to commit to. Kinda like those students in the classroom who contribute nothing to a group project that involves two or three others. There was no sense of responsibility and desire to be a part of a team effort.

All that being said, there were plenty of students who WERE with the program, who did contribute and enjoy it, and were engaged, but that category of student seems to be a diminishing part of the student population. My opinion only, I think it’s another ripple effect of the pandemic and a mostly-lost year of school socialization and in-class instruction. Many students are still searching for their place, fearful of becoming so engaged and then suddenly relegated to remote learning. They are only showing half of their faces, so how can they be identified?

Back to my first statement. I taught P.E… and it was different. It makes you long for the way things used to be, as opposed to the new norm!

Life Has Gotten In The Way

October 31, 2021

Yesterday Carol and I were in attendance at the funeral of a dear elderly gentleman who passed away at the well-lived-life of 90. During the service a lady, who like the deceased, had been a mentor for me spoke about her departed friend. Since I had retired from my career as a pastor at the end of 2015, our paths had only crossed a couple of times.

As she spoke I felt a sense of sadness and loss at how we hadn’t connected, the opportunities that we had missed. She being in her late-80s now, it really had fallen to me to initiate our chats and I had let it gradually drift away. After the service we were talking and I apologized to her. I said, “Vera, I’m sorry that we haven’t gotten together with you, taken you to dinner, and talked for about three hours. I have no excuse. Quite honestly, life has gotten in the way.”

She understood, but it didn’t erase the disappointment I had in myself. Life had been thrown into a container, shaken, and rolled out like Yahtzee dice to reveal a new configuration. Last year I unexpectedly had ended up teaching 7th Grade language arts from August through May. My teaching has been heavy on the assignments so far this year also. COVID-19 has thrown a monkey wrench into the plans for most of us. There have been other things that have come up as well, but the bottom line is that I so often allow responsibilities to get in the way of relationships.

It seems like the responsible thing to do, right? Taking care of responsibilities is the grown up thing to do, right? In saying that I’m feeling my “Martha” coming out. Jesus had been at her house and Martha had been scurrying around taking care of “responsibilities”. After all, the bread doesn’t get ready for baking on its own…and this is Jesus that is being waited on…and, and someone needs to take charge and get the dishes, drinks, napkins, food, dessert, and wash basin ready. The words of Luke put it into context. He says that Martha was distracted by the preparations.” Meanwhile, her sister Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, which irked Martha to the nth degree.

And Jesus replies to her whining with these words,  “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about many things, but only a few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

Well, my Martha had been in the dominant spot for a while. Life has gotten in the way. I’ve tended to be richly responsible and relationally-restricted.

There’s been glimpses of relational richness, like when I flew to St. Louis about month ago and drove up to Springfield, Illinois for a reunion of my Judson College cross country team 45 years later. What an awesome couple of days that was! I thank God for Jim and Lynn Fay who brought up the idea last March when Carol and I drove over to Aspen and had dinner with them during their days in Colorado skiing.

Life just has a way of getting in the way and blurring our vision. My two best friends in ministry, Chuck Moore and Tom Bayes, and I have talked about getting together for the past two years. Tom lives outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Chuck just began an interim pastor position at First Baptist Church of Foxboro, Massachusetts. He also had a heart episode almost two years ago that put the fragileness of life squarely in front of us. Tom’s son, Brandon, has pressed us…all right, scolded us… about the need to get it scheduled.

I miss people. I miss my friend, Dave Volitis, who lives in San Antonio now. And I miss my best friends from high school, Dave Hughes and Mike “Fairboy” Fairchild, one in Bradenton, Florida and the other in Rochester, New York. I miss Harold and Carol Anderson, now living outside of Las Vegas; and David Leonard and Dave Golder in Mason, Michigan, who I served on the Mason School Board with; and Dave and Pam Shaffer in Davison, Michigan; and Wendell and Heather Garrison, now serving in

The Marthas in us have distracted us with all the other “stuff” of our lives. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe there’s someone you need to call up and invite him/her to join you at Village Inn for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. Maybe it’s simply someone that NEEDS YOU to call him/her!

The Thirst For Something From Nothing

October 24, 2021

I don’t watch that much TV. At least, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. What I do watch, besides The Andy Griffith Show on MeTV, is the local news at 6:00 in the evening. I’ve noticed that most of the commercials are either tooting the horns of personal injury attorneys or sports betting businesses. Both give the impression to the viewer that big money is coming their way, that only a fool would pass up the opportunity to get what they deserve.

Whereas sports betting businesses mostly feature a well-known celebrity actor or athlete, the personal injury firms put someone on camera who seeks to gain the sympathy of the viewer with his story before he breaks into a smile with the sum that his attorney gained for him.

Gosh! I’ve never wanted to see that old commercial so much as now. You know, the one where the elderly lady says “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Bring on some of those commercials from the past that made us chuckle, but were a lot closer to reality than the present.

Personal injury attorneys and sports betting firms are two present-day examples of our culture’s obsession for “getting something for nothing.” Yes, the personal injury situations have involved someone being in a car accident or other unfortunate occurrence, but the commercials quickly change the focus to the gigantic sum of money that was won.

Last week I was out for a walk and I came upon a broken jar. I noticed that in the midst of the glass there were coins…pennies, a few nickels, and a couple of dimes. I picked them all up out of the brokenness, only pricking myself on a glass shard once, and smiled all the way home with the discovered and unearned fifty-three cents. I only lost a little bit of blood in the transaction but you know the old saying…”you can’t get something for nothing!”

Such a saying, however, shows a person’s age and ineptness. Even our government, past and present, has lent their support that we can get something for nothing. Of course, the future kids of our grandkids will be paying for it, but that won’t take any skin off of our backs. My cynicism is beginning to ooze out!

Jesus said that “No one can serve two masters“, but we’ve evolved into unbelievers of that principle. Our culture has become firm believers in being self-serving and self-advancing. Consequences be damned!

But there are consequences that try to be hidden behind the curtains. For example, at the bottom of the TV screen in very small print for about three seconds at the end of each sports betting commercial is a warning about gambling. If you can pause your screen for a few moments you’ll see that it mentions a gambling hotline phone number for anyone who has a gambling addiction. Not even a speed reader can read the miniature-sized words in the time they are projected.

In other words, the consequences are in the fine print that warn of future devastation. We don’t want to talk about that though!

Taking The Air Out Of The Ball

October 22, 2021

After winning the first basketball game off the season, my seventh grade boys team received a dose of reality in Game #2 this week. It wasn’t that we were manhandled. In fact, with a minute left in the game the score was tied. Our opponents, however, hit an improbable three-pointer and then added two free throws in the closing seconds to take the game 32-27.

The reality medicine began before they even began warming up. It was our first game as the visiting team and one boy with a “deer-in-headlights” look said to me, “I’ve never played an away game before.” I looked at him and used Gene Hackman’s line from the movie Hoosiers.

“Guess what? The rim is ten feet high…just like it is in our gym!” He looked at me as if I was putting him on.

And then the game started…and the dribbling started. We dribbled like there was no tomorrow. If the basketball had been a set of tires on my CRV I would have had to replace it because of wear. We dribbled to the right corner. We dribbled into two defenders. We dribbled with our head down. We dribbled to the restroom…and the concession stand…and to the parking lot. Dribbling seemed to be like that college Psychology 101 class that you’d have to take before you could take Psychology 102. It seemed to be viewed as mandatory.

The next day in practice, my friend and co-coach, Ron McKinney, and I sought to correct a few things. One of the corrections was the dribbling with their head down. For several minutes each of the players put on a pair of special eyeglasses hat intentionally are made to keep the ball handler from seeing the basketball when he dribbles it. It’s always a hoot to see a kid trying his hardest to see the basketball when the eyeglasses are made to keep him from seeing it.

And the second thing we did toward the end of the practice was to take the air out of the basketball. We didn’t tell the boys we were doing that, we just did it. Suddenly, in the midst of their scrimmaging Coach McKinney snuck the other basketball in. The first boy immediately tried to dribble it and the ball only bounced back up about four inches. It confused him, but he knew he couldn’t dribble it again after he picked it up. He passed it to a teammate who followed the same pattern: Dribble, confusion, pick the ball up, and pass it.

It went on like that for a while. A few of the boys were trying their hardest to get that ball to bounce. Gradually, almost all of them understood what was going on and what we were trying to get through their heads. One player, however, five minutes after we had started this lesson on “dribbling addiction” shouted, “Hey! There’s no air in the ball!”

The interesting thing about basketball is that when James Naismith invented the game, players weren’t allowed to dribble. They could roll the ball, but otherwise they had to pass it. The NBA’s obsession with one-on-one matchups has created dribbling fanatics. We want our players to be able to handle the basketball, but, most of all, we want them to understand how to function as a team that experiences success because the sum of all the parts is more important than any one person.

At this level, at least for us as coaches, it’s not about winning and losing. It’s about teaching them the game of basketball. What brings a smile to my face is seeing a young player figuring out what the right decision is and the fundamental skills of the game being executed correctly. Sometimes you’ve got to have kids put on dorky looking glasses and take the air out of the ball for them to get to that point.