When Your Friend Is About To Cross Over

Posted March 4, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Lessley Ellis is a friend of mine. I know, that doesn’t sound that unique, but you see Lessley is about to cross over from this life to the next, from this world where his walking was sometimes painful for his tired legs, to the next world where he envisions streets of gold and a new spring in his step. He lays in a bed right now of a local hospital hospice ward, his kidneys failing him and no longer desiring to continue the journey of dialysis and just simply feeling lousy. He’s ready to move on, even though he’s only 62 years old.

The first time I met Lessley was on a February Saturday morning at our church. The day before had brought several inches of snow. After our Bible Study a few of us men grabbed snow shovels and headed out to clear sidewalks around the building. Suddenly, Lessley pulled into the parking lot in his red Honda Civic Hatchback, popped the hatch and pulled out a small snowblower. He started clearing the walk without asking permission…just did it! Then he started coming to church on Sundays…and that men’s bible study group on Saturdays…and we became friends.

Some would say that our friendship was an unusual match. You see, Lessley couldn’t read but a few words. Ben Dickerson, our associate pastor, took him under his wing and started teaching him how to read. Roger Mollenkamp picked up the challenge. Flash cards can work even with a fifty-year-old. I remember a while later when Lessley read part of the scripture that we were studying on one of those Saturday mornings. He was far from fluid, but he was so happy. In his eyes, he had scaled a mountain that had seemed unclimbable for a long time.

He had come from Detroit, lived a hard life growing up, dropped out of school, fled the demon of drugs that surrounded him, and come to Colorado. He worked as a custodian and then for several years tossed trash cans for Waste Management. The physical labor wrecked his body and probably hurried the onset of his kidney problems. At church, however, he’d do what needed to be done…picking up a vacuum cleaner, taking out the trash after a church dinner, helping wherever.

Life was sometimes confusing to him. He didn’t understand why some people were the way they were. We’d have a cup of coffee together or go out for lunch. Sometimes he’d drop by my office and we’d sit and talk. He’d get emotional. I know there were more than a few times when he felt slighted and minimized because of his lack of education, his job, and even the color of his skin. The combination of the three could result in a person treating him like he didn’t matter. It may not have been intentional, but a few times I witnessed a 6’2″ inch African American man feeling like he was about five feet tall.

We’d talk through it, or I’d just listen to his questions about the insensitivity of humanity. Most of the time, he didn’t expect an answer, but just appreciated that he had someone who would listen.

When he worked for Waste Management he’d bring me things. Like a water dispenser that produced hot or cold water. It still worked fine, but someone had tossed it to the curb. It became a part of my office attire. As did a Michael Garman art piece, tossed to the curb because a tiny article of it had broken off. I didn’t even know something was missing and it sat on top of a bookshelf in my office until I retired.

That kinda described one of the things I loved about Lessley. Something that might be tossed to the curb for the trash guys to pick up, he could still find value in. Something seen as being useless, he saw as still having some life in it. He taught me a lot of things that I could never learn in a book.

I’ll always remember that smile of his, half his front teeth missing but still able to grin. He had dreams that never panned out, like going to barber school (but getting taken by the people who ran it), buying an old pickup truck thinking he could earn some money hauling things like scrap metal, and a few other ideas that I’d try to offer him some guidance about but never discouraging him.

Some of the people in our lives that bless us the most are the ones that our world says have the least to offer us. Lessley had little, in terms to worldly possessions, but offered so much. I admit, as I type this I’m fighting back the tears that are causing me to rely on Grammarly to correct.

When Carol and I saw him this afternoon he clung to our hands as we were saying our goodbyes. The tears came to him when his strength was waning. We ached in the valley of that room on the sixth floor. He asked me if I would do his funeral and I said “I would be honored!” I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold it together, but I’m sure he’d be smiling.

And to think! It all began on a Saturday morning with a snowblower.

Is God Nice?

Posted March 1, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

There’s this theologically-shallow belief that is treading through people’s lives that God is nice. It’s as if people are saying, as one of the senior ladies at church would say about so-and-so, “He’s so nice!” There would be a look of satisfaction on the white-haired lady’s face in saying that about someone. That opinion of God is also saturated with misguided satisfaction.

You see, God is gracious, but niceness is an adjective taped to Him by a world that wants to see Him as a “Yes God”, a happy-face deity, sprinkling angel dust upon His children and answering our dreams and wishes because He’s…nice!

In my reading of the Bible this year I’m almost finished with the Old Testament book of Numbers. If you were looking for a word to describe the Lord Almighty in Numbers, nice would not jump to the top of the list. I’d say He’s loving and demanding, offering blessings and judgments, forgiving and disciplining. He demanded atonement for wrongdoing.

Holiness is not the same as niceness. Perfection is on a different level than mostly-good. Most of us want our life to be filled with nice things, people who treat us nice, nice feelings, nice times, and echoes of “Nice!” being mentioned to us about our decisions, our accomplishments, and our creations. A holy God, however, does not operate on the basis of whether we are satisfied and secure. That’s not saying that He’s mean and prone to sending lightning bolts upon the heads of unrepentant sinners. After all, His grace and love is shown in Jesus, and Jesus surrendering His life so that we might live.

So where does this idea of niceness in describing our Creator come from? It comes from the book of our hopes, and how we wish things in this world operated. It develops in our minds as we adjust our theology to balance on top of a see-saw of good and bad. It comes from that idea that if God is a loving God He will not send anyone to eternal darkness. In other words, a nice god only does nice things.

Some people only want to hear half the story, the nice half…the half that includes no negative repercussions. Here’s the thing! A God who operates on grace and forgiveness is much more demanding of Him than a god who is just nice.

Social Media One-Down-Manship

Posted February 17, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I remember my seminary professor, Dr. David Augsburger, making the point that wherever two people meet there becomes an immediate attempt for one-upmanship. We will seek to be the more impressive person, the one who seems more important and vital than the other person we’re meeting.

With our consumption of social media in recent years the trend has taken a different path. Now it seems that people are prone to strive for one-down-manship! It’s the temptation to say something even more belittling and critical than the previous person and post. For example, one person might post that he doesn’t like a certain person. The next person agrees and refers to the same individual as disgusting, and then the next person calls him a pig. Not to be outdone, the next post says he should be roasted over an open fire. Finally, the capper, someone says he’d like to take him out behind the woodshed and beat the crap out of him.

Each post seeks to take it to a more caustic depth, perhaps to impress the others with their volatility. It is perplexing to see how low someone is willing to go in their attempt to express their opinion. Recently, a parent lambasted a school employee for following proper procedures. The parent thought their child should be an exception to the agreed-upon protocol, and went to social media to express discontent. As a result, others joined in with the assault. Name-calling and insults kept the thread plummeting downward. There seemed to be no bottom for how abusive people could be.

Social media unbinds people’s negativity and duct-tapes their common sense and decency. Words that would not be said in person are suddenly released like pigeons to unleash their droppings. I wonder how the sender will feel about his venomous verbiage ten years down the road?

The Starburst Rapper

Posted February 14, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Grandchildren, Humor, Parenting, Story, Uncategorized, Youth

Tags: , , ,

I couldn’t help myself. One of my seventh-graders had pushed me, dared me, to do it…to do a rap! He doubted my ability to lose my attachment to ancient music– that is, music from the seventies– and pull off a different genre of music that I rarely can decipher the words of.

My students have become used to my tendency to stray outside of the stoic, starched collar, and whatever the textbook says. When I showed up one day while everybody was virtual, dressed as my twin brother, Bobby Wolfe, complete with a blonde mullet wig and Wolfe Family Reunion ball cap, their virtual eyes widened. Another day, as we were finishing the novel The Outsiders, I came as a greaser with a close resemblance to Fonzie (Henry Winkler) on Happy Days. A twenty-year-old Furby showed up a couple of weeks ago.

So a rap, doable!

I wrote it out and waited. The seventh-grader who had double-dared me was out of school because of a sickness, so I waited some more. Finally, he was back this week and on Friday afternoon I let loose with the lyrical masterpiece. Astonished– or petrified, I couldn’t tell the difference– students were taken back by the rhythm and fluctuation in my rapping solo. Here’s the words, in case you’re wondering:

I’m a granddaddy with the Starburst. I wish they’d make a flava’ of Liverwurst!

I’m looking at an empty wrapper, you can just call me the Starburst Rapper!

Don’t want no cherry, ’cause cherry got to be my scary!

It needs to be strawberry! Do I look like Katie Perry!

I’m a granddaddy with the Starburst. I wish they’d make a flava’ of Liverwurst!

I’m looking at an empty wrapper, you can just call me the Starburst Rapper!

Here’s where the rap took an unfortunate turn toward the unexpected. I plopped a strawberry-flavored Starburst candy into my mouth as I was weaving my way through the original creation. As I neared the end, about the time I said Starburst Rapper for the last time, one of my lower gold crowns sprung loose with the taffy attached to it. It was a fitting end, as my students eyes widened even further at the object that emerged from my mouth. Then there was the sound of clapping for my rapping…or was it for the unexpected special effects ending?

The student who had double-dared me into this adventure, and who is always bugging me for candy, looked at me and the strawberry-taffy-covered gold crown I was holding and gave me a frown that communicated, “What a waste of a perfectly good Starburst!”

Clean Hands

Posted February 13, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Community, Faith, Grace, Humor, Jesus, love, Parenting, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

Tags: , , ,

The pandemic has kept my hands cleaner than they’ve ever been. So much so, in fact, that a couple of my fingers have cracks in the skin from the multitude of hand washings each day. I don’t remember being concerned about my hands being clean when I was a nose-picking, coughing-into third-grader. Cleanliness has come on me later in life.

Late-18th Century preacher John Wesley said that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” Although Wesley was thinking just as much about moral purity as he was of physical cleanliness, the message stuck. Most people think that Wesley’s words were a scripture quote from the Book of Proverbs. They would very well fit into the emphases of our present COVID-19 precautions.

In my reading through the Bible this year I am presently in the “clean chapters” of Leviticus. I’ve been intrigued and startled by the requirements for cleanliness amongst the people of God. If I wasn’t reading scripture I would think it had been written by someone with excessive compulsive behavior or the CDC.

Good hygiene has a purpose. So does a soul rescued from the darkness of sin. Leviticus is filled with remedies for “getting clean” again…offer a sacrificial animal, get quarantined for a period of time, wash thoroughly. Each situation of intentional or unintentional defilement had a procedure. Leviticus 18 and 19 reads like a Baptist youth group’s list of don’ts. Better to be proactive at the beginning of a youth activity than reactive afterwards.

Jesus was proactive and reactive. That is, he became that cleansing agent even before we’d been tainted and he is that reconciler even after we’ve strayed into the dirt. Hebrews 9:14 tells us this.

” How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

That’s some deep cleaning!

There’s another parable that Jesus tells in Luke 15 about deep cleaning. It’s the story of the widow who sweeps her house until she finds one lost coin. That probably meant sweeping a dirt floor, moving everything around until she found one small, perhaps to most insignificant, coin. That tells me what a clean fanatic Jesus is willing to be to find me and anyone else who’s lost and doesn’t realize it.

Yesterday, Carol dropped a needle on the floor and couldn’t find it. A needle on the floor is hard to find until the bottom of your foot says, “Found it!” I went to my knees and searched until the flipping of a rug caused it to become visible. That picture of being on my knees made me think of the extensive search that Jesus conducts for each one of His children. Can you see him down on all fours looking for you?

Somewhere Between Too Religious and Jesus-And”

Posted February 6, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Christianity, Community, Faith, Freedom, Grace, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Parenting, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

Tags: , , ,

I’ve been reading “The Message/Remix”, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, for my devotional/quiet time reflection this year. This week the readings took me into Leviticus and Hebrews. Peterson gives a brief introduction to each scripture book. For Hebrews, he says that it was written for people who were either “too religious” or had a bad spiritual habit of putting a hyphen after Jesus…Jesus-and-angels, Jesus-and-Moses, Jesus-and-priesthood.

It’s so relevant for us today that it’s scary! There are followers of Jesus who are so concerned with the fabric of his robe and the color of his crown that they fail to see the Jesus they are called to follow.

And then there are those who feel like Jesus can’t be enough. The hyphen adds any number of things…Jesus-and-politics, Jesus-and-church programming, Jesus-and-money. The danger with hyphens after Jesus’ name is that whatever it is that follows the hyphen is prone to become the dominating force. In other words, it’s almost like Jesus stands up to introduce the guest speaker for the evening and then whatever the add-on happens to be rises to the podium, and Jesus steps to the side.

To clarify, it’s not that Jesus isn’t connected to other parts and interests in our lives; it’s the tendency to contort the Savior into some kind of shape that fits into our interests. He becomes a reference for our opinion, instead of the Revelation through whom we come to an opinion. He becomes the after-the-hyphen word, kind of a substitute driver if the main driving passion of our life gets exhausted.

Peterson makes the point that the book of Hebrews is getting the followers of Jesus to realize that God’s action was in Jesus, not Jesus-and! In our complex culture, many people shudder at the idea of simplicity. It’s too plain for them, like a bowl of rice with no seasonings or butter. Jesus is just not exciting enough for them. The “happening church” they attend adds some color to the plainness of their King with a moving light display and a pastor in skinny jeans. The cappuccino they can sip during the live praise band performance also adds flavor. They are addicted to spiritual seasonings, not quite the intent of Jesus’ words telling people to be the salt of the earth.

Imagine, however, hearing the words of grace and forgiveness for the first time, and finding out that the One who loves me and beckons me to follow is the Only One who does not need to be hyphenated. In fact, the only punctuation after His name might be simply a wondrous exclamation mark! Simply amazing!

Bringing Furby to School

Posted February 1, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

It was the craze of the late-90’s. Furby, the furry toy that said things that were located somewhere between gibberish and toddler talk, was bought by over 40 million customers in a three year period.

We had one, and still have one. Our bundle of joy had been hibernating for the past twenty years in our basement, out of sight and out of mind. Since I had brought a busload of stuffed animals and one creepy-eyed doll to my school classroom, I decided it was time for a Furby resurrection, a Furby introduction to a new generation of kids unacquainted with his/her personality.

Fresh batteries needed to be inserted first. Furby demands four AA’s to get him to say anything. Otherwise, he/she simply stares at you with those huge eyes. Carol and I played around with the creature, increasing his vocabulary kinda!

On the way to school the next morning he kept making sounds every time I went over a bump. “Whee!” and giggling and party-like utterances kept coming from my backseat.

And the students met him…and were creeped out!

Despite all of their video game exposure, compete with fantasy and foolishness, Furby was too real for most of them. That is, the realness of his un-realness was spooky for them. One class tried to hide him so he wouldn’t talk at all. His language was unfamiliar. They would have been less frightened by a mouse squeaking his way through the classroom.

The toy hit of the previous generation resembled a mini-version of Chucky for them. Now, if I could only get him to answer questions in class that deal with hyperbole, extreme exaggeration!

Hidden Behind the Headlines

Posted January 23, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Faith, Grace, Holy Spirit, Jesus, love, Nation, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

When I log onto Yahoo (to check college basketball scores) the first screen that appears for me is the screen with the headlines. These days the headlines mostly focus on the downside of life, whether it be the pandemic, riots, or major storm fronts.

Our culture is fixated on the headlines, the drama of the stories, the status of the unrest. We’re influenced by the influencers– sometimes simply because of their beauty or handsomeness– and begin to take on their views and opinions as if they are rational.

Followers of Jesus get sucked into this just as much as anyone else. Our attention so often is diverted to the immediate instead of the eternal. We battle over who’s in charge…Republicans or Democrats…as opposed to Who is in charge?

The Almighty rarely makes the headlines these days, and He undoubtedly is not concerned about it. It says much more about who we are than who He is. When I feel myself sliding off a crumbling cliff created by the heaviness of depressing headline news I turn to the middle of my Bible and reacquaint myself with the One Who gets hidden behind the headlines. I read words that open up the veil of current newsprint.

Like Psalm 98:1-4

Sing to God a brand-new song.
He’s made a world of wonders!

He rolled up his sleeves,
He set things right.

God made history with salvation,
He showed the world what he could do.

He remembered to love us, a bonus
To his dear family, Israel—indefatigable love.

The whole earth comes to attention.
Look—God’s work of salvation!

Shout your praises to God, everybody!
Let loose and sing! Strike up the band!

The Almighty doesn’t need to be on the front page, the op-ed page, or even the back page. He’s made His statements to the hearts of His created. As Jesus said to His followers, “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear!” (Mark 4:23) God may be hidden in today’s headlines, but He still speaks to our hearts, and His spirit lives within us!

Preventing Punctuation Problem People

Posted January 20, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s a ripple effect of texting and other forms of social media, like that bloated feeling a person has after his fourth trip to the Chinese buffet food bar. I wouldn’t call it a catastrophe, but I might put the label of “famine” on it– punctuation famine, that is!

Grading seventh-grade language arts assignments for the past five months has made me realize it isn’t a slip, like when I think I’m typing an exclamation point and I realize I typed the number 1! (In fact, I just typed that three times to get the punctuation point111!) No, the punctuation shortage has become an epidemic. Commas are no longer common, capital letters have fled to the South, and semi-colons are less understood than the 70-year-old hoarder getting counseling on Dr. Phil’s show.

Pretty soon punctuation marks may disappear from our keyboard as if they were carryovers from the Greek alphabet. I have some students who understand the meaning of a comma in the midst of a sentence, but there are other seventh-graders who shave more often than they have one of those squiggly marks appear in their assignment.

So I’ve had to start taking on the role of the mean teacher and taking off points for not capitalizing the first word in a sentence. I need to take the next step toward being defined as cranky and chop off some points for writing a one sentence paragraph that includes sixty words and no separating signs that would allow the reader to take a breath.

I’ve had “martin luther king”, “denver”, “december”, but no one uses lower case letters when they write “The Nuggets” or “Broncos”. Quotation marks are seen simply as being an unnecessary nuisance, like a speed bump on a drag strip! Question marks are questionable, and a colon is believed to just be a body part.

So I’m leading these enlistees through a punctuation boot camp. They are going to get down-and-dirty in the new jungles of strange species of punctuation. When they see their parents they’ll begin to think of parentheses. When they pass a fire hydrant they’ll recall the use of a hyphen. When they watch a hockey game they’ll think of “periods”. I’ll be like a drill sergeant making them view an apostrophe as being an extended hand to keep an ‘s’ from falling off the cliff!

My hope is that come May they may remember to capitalize the month and then say “I did it!” (exclamation point).

Center Wisdom

Posted January 16, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Faith, Freedom, Grace, Humor, Jesus, love, Nation, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

Rubber bands have always made me a bit nervous. When I use one to hold a stack of notecards together or to keep a box-top from flying open, I proceed with caution. You may be doubting my manhood at about this point, but, you see, I hate it when a rubber band suddenly snaps. The snap often results in my fingers getting hit in the recoil. And then I have to do the same thing all over again with another rubber band. It’s like having your mom shovel a second helping of hominy grits onto your plate right after you had survived the last bite of the first helping!

Rubber bands have their limit. They are only so flexible, and then they snap into a worm-like piece of useless rubber.

It’s a visual example of the extremism that is stretching our nation. Both progressive and conservative extremists are bringing us to the snapping point, and the flexibility of our nation is being sorely tested. Those of us in the middle, or leaning some either way can see it, but the ends of the tug-of-war keep pulling like it’s a taffy pull.

As I’ve grown older, I hope I’ve grown wiser in some ways. That wisdom has caused me to see the foolishness and selfishness of political extremists. Their agenda is usually short-sighted and prone to displaying various versions of bullying. Wisdom, more often than not, makes a home in the middle or close to it.

Not to be left out of the equation (And I’m not using the word ‘left’ there to hint at anything!), many churches have also stretched the elastic band of their member bodies. There’s been the pulling on Jesus’ arm to reposition him in one camp or another. Interestingly, this week I was reading some words that were written by Philip Yancey all the way back in 1996. He wrote these words in an article in Christianity Today magazine, entitled “Unwrapping Jesus” (June 17, 1996): “Each time an election rolls around Christians debate whether this or that candidate is “God’s person” for the White House. I had difficulty imagining Jesus pondering whether Tiberius, Octavious, or Julius Caesar was “God’s man” for the empire.”

Jesus was “God’s man” and God’s Son! He was always aware of the pulls to get Him to support this or that agenda. His wisdom, given to us in the Gospels, is void of any agendas but His Heavenly Father’s. He had a social conscience that sought to care for the widows, orphans, the poor, and outcasts; and He displayed a passion for the spiritually lost. He ate with a tax collector who was perhaps the most despised person in his town, and probably the richest; and he walked with fishermen who were about as common as anyone of their time, and struggling to make ends meet.

In the end, the Jesus I follow, knew what His purpose was and where it would lead Him. The factions that He listened to but would not join turned on Him and snapped back.

That’s what happens quite often with the wisdom in the center. The pulling ends won’t give up. The call for unity in the views of the extremists is not a priority, but rather a nuisance. Like the rubber band about to snap, their focus is more on getting a bigger piece of the rubber, regardless of the pain.