Posted tagged ‘grace’

What Character Qualities Will I Teach My Players?

October 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              October 11, 2017

                    

Last night I met with four other men who I will be coaching alongside this coming high school basketball season. During the course of the evening we talked about offenses and defenses, practice plans, try-outs, and schedule, but we spent the most time talking about what the foundational characteristics were that we looked to teach our players. More than just teach, to model for our players!

Twenty years from now when I meet a former player for a cup of coffee what is that I hope to see his life rooted in? What will I be overjoyed about as I talk to someone who has turned 35?

There are a lot of coaches who have been entrusted with opportunities to speak into the lives of their young athletes…who are simply scoundrels! Being a high school basketball official for years I’ve seen how their teams have often taken on their personalities…bad attitudes, sour disposition, arrogant, prone to temper tantrums.

So the men I’ll be working with are committed to emphasizing the development of character in our young players. Last night we talked about four foundations:

            Integrity

            Selfless

            Reliable

            Gracious

All four go against the flow of our culture. “Integrity” seldom makes the headlines. Scandals and conspiracies draw larger audiences.

“Selfless” gets applauded, and yet we live in a time of entitlement. During a recent sports season I had a couple of players who had missed significant practice time because of injuries. When it came to preparing for the last game of the season both of them wanted to be the running backs again. In practice I positioned one of the players at Offensive Tackle. He didn’t like it. After a few plays he asked to be subbed out because he needed to do some more stretching. The other boy kept, who had missed the previous three games, kept asking me “When am I going to run the ball?” Both of them had exhibited actions and attitudes that communicated that they did not understand concept of team. The result was they caused more trouble than they were worth. As I begin this new basketball season the character quality of “selfless” will be the first foundation I emphasize.

“Reliable” is a word that we used to take for granted. An employee was expected to be at work…and working! My son, who is a chef, often talks about his frustrations with workers who just didn’t show up for work. The effect of such an absence puts more pressure and work on those who are there. There’s a lot of people who float in and out of our lives who can not be relied upon. “Dr. Phil” makes a living out of telling life stories of people who aren’t reliable, and the ripple effect of such.

“Gracious” goes to one of my favorite words…grace! I’ve encountered a lot of players who stepped out of line when grace was being handed out. They criticize and demean their teammates. Wouldn’t it be awesome to play on a team where there is a recognition of everyone trying their hardest, committed to a team effort, and recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and needs the grace of their teammates? Grace, on an athletic team, means picking someone up off the ground instead of making them want to sink into the ground.

So this basketball season we’ll seek to lead our teams to victories, but we will also seek to lead them on a path towards being young men of character.

I’ve been out of high school for…Good Lord!…45 years now, but I still remember the people I went to school with who were jerks. Perhaps they’ve changed since 1972, but since I now live five states away I don’t know. My impression was etched in my memory a long time ago. I will strive to take my players on a journey this season that will help lead them towards young men of exceptional character.

And then when we sit at table in Starbucks in 2037 sipping some medium roast together I’ll attempt to hold back tears of gratitude over who this young man has become!

The End of Grace (Tree)

July 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 5, 2017

                                    

On January 9th of this year a wind storm whipped through our area, registering speeds of 103 miles per hour. Power lines were downed, semis were overturned, shingles were blown off roofs, fences collapsed, and trees were uprooted.

At our house the “Grace Tree” lay on its side like the family pet hit by a car. Hospice didn’t need to be called. It had been put out of its misery already!

The “Grace Tree” was situated in the front yard of our house to the side of the driveway. It had been about five feet tall when we moved in eighteen years ago. At the Day of Reckoning it was about fifteen feet in height, but…ugly in appearance. Our former neighbor, David Volitis, labeled it “the ugliest tree ever.” Think teenager with a bad case of acne…and warts…and missing half of his front teeth!

Across the street at McGillivray’s another pine tree has the look of one of those special trees that gets chopped down and re-situated in front of the White House at Christmas time. It looks like it could be the inspiration for a few Thomas Kincaid paintings.

And the thing is…that tree and our Grace Tree were planted at the same time. Now they looked like the Homecoming Queen and her ugly sister!

What our tree reminded me about…every time I pulled into our driveway…was the grace of God. It got harder to look at every year. Instead of growing wider each year, like me, it just kept growing taller with no increase in width! Each time I arrived home to see it standing there I would say to myself, “If not for the grace of God…” Every year I thought about borrowing our neighbor’s axe and going “Paul Bunyan” on it, but I held off. Every time I saw the homely pine I thought about how undeserving I was of God’s blessings.

“If not for the grace of God…”

And then January 9th arrived and grace ended with a thud around 6 A.M. I suppose you can say that even grace has its limits! We expect it to always be the operating system of our life but at some point we tend to stop seeing it as a gift and view it, instead, as an expectation. Grace gets mis-defined as something we’re entitled to, and will always be there…regardless!

The lesson I take from our “Grace Tree” is not that God’s wrath is surely to come if I don’t get my act together. On the contrary, what I take from it is that God’s love for me goes far beyond the tipping point. In a world where things and people are tossed to the side when they lose their beauty grace is difficult for people to understand. It is rooted in love and shaded by kindness.

Loving kindness, that’s what it is!

Church Covenants

February 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 23, 2017

                                        

Churches are weird places! I know, I know…that’s a hard thing for a person who pastored for 37 years to say, but I’m owning up to it. Weird…strange…loving, but disapproving…like the free offer you get in the mail, but then find out there’s strings attached.

And the thing is, churches don’t intend to be that way, they just kind of warp into that!

One of those weird things about churches is a document that is called “the church covenant.” Depending on the congregation, the church covenant can be very affirming and loving, or it can be more like Ivy League entrance requirements.

I remember the covenant of a church I was on staff for that included restrictions on partaking of alcohol and participating in gambling. Everyone knew that there were a number of church members who included those two activities in their lives, but didn’t talk about it at church.

No church covenant has “abstaining from gluttony” as a part of their membership requirements!

Church covenants get glued on to the last page in the hymnal, like they were an afterthought, but they get trumpeted at hastily called church business meetings to support someone who has an axe to grind!

They are documents that create a “who’s in and who’s out” atmosphere.

The interesting aspect of church covenants to me is that they come out of communities of believers who are saved by grace, and yet operate out of rules and restrictions. Very rarely does a church covenant include procedures on how to restore someone who has screwed up, and yet grace is often referred to like it’s the holy grail of beliefs.

Churches rarely read their covenants. They are like the fine print that Apple puts on their products that read on for infinity. Click the “I agree” button and head to lunch! That’s why the covenants are in the back of the hymnal instead of the front, like the shed in the backyard that you rarely enter because you hate spider webs.

There is the covenantal language of the Bible…and there is church covenantal language. Church covenants say things like “It shall be the duty of members to familiarize themselves with the church covenant…to endeavor with all earnestness to practice the same (Huh?)…to attend habitually the services of this church.”

My suspicion is that most church covenants were “sacredly stolen” from some other congregation. Why reinvent the wheel? So most covenants are like on-line wills that someone has done all the work for already.

Should we have church covenants? Yes, but make them simple! Create them out of mindsets of grace to help people in their walk, not afflict them in their struggles.

I wonder…yes, I wonder how the covenants of new church plants shape up compared with the documents of long established congregations? What is the language like? Or, better yet, do newer congregations even have church covenants? Do they come to a point…like ten years into their journey…when they decide in their warping…they need one?

Or do they simply covenant to journey together, normal people and weird ones, in their pursuit of being the people of God?

The End of Grace

January 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     January 28, 2017

                                    

All of our neighbors are familiar with a tree that has been in our front yard since before we moved there in 1999. Just to the side of the basketball hoop, it resembled a pine tree that had been on a Slim-Fast diet…for years! Each year it kept growing towards the sky, but not getting any broader at the base. Our former neighbor would always look at it and say “Um, um, um…pitiful!” We never had to worry about rabbits hiding under it, or trash accumulating around its base.

For the past several years Carol and I have looked at it and discussed whether we should chop it down and raise the property value of our house…but it became a symbolic sight for us. We named it “The Grace Tree”, for it was only by the grace of God that it had not met the blade of an axe.

Several times when I preached about grace I’d use the Grace Tree for a sermon illustration. I’d show a couple of pictures of it to the congregation and hear the sighs and facial expressions of pity.

But grace came to an end a couple of weeks ago!

High winds hit our area and we woke up one morning to discover that the Grace Tree had taken a tumble. Think of it as the end of its stay in “Arbor Hospice!” Just kind of keeled over and done with!

We’ve received no condolence notes from our neighbors, no flowers, or other things that grow out of the ground!

Grace came to an untimely end on January 9! We’ll never know now, but perhaps if it had put some firmness and width into its base over the last 20 years or so the January 9th tumbled demise would not have happened. But you know something? Trees quite often have minds of their own. It’s hard to reason with them and make them see the long-term consequences of tree anorexia! As my mom used to say, “You can talk until you’re blue in the face”, but it doesn’t make any difference.

To be honest the Grace Tree received more grace than it deserved, but it was an ongoing message to us: That the tendency in our culture, and, sadly enough, in the church, is to be the executioners of the imperfect instead of the conduits of grace. Many New Testament followers of Jesus still live by Old Testament justice!

Whereas, many of our neighbors are a bit delighted over the passing of our Grace Tree, I’m a bit grieved. Don’t get me wrong! Carol and I aren’t going to put a grace…I mean, grave marker there! It’s just that the reminder won’t be there every day as I back the car out of the garage, or every time I’m shooting baskets in the driveway. (It did act as a ball stop once in a while!) There are a few things in life that we just need reminders about. What will remind me of grace?

I do still have a “selfie pic” of the Grace Tree in the background behind me! Maybe, just maybe, I’ll make that my new screen saver! Wouldn’t that be ironic, the Grace Tree being my screen saver!

The Grace of The IRS

April 19, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      April 19, 2016

                                  

One restaurant chain offered a special deal last Friday, April 15, where a customer could receive a free entree with the purchase of an entree. They just assumed that April 15 was Tax Day, like it usually is!

But, lo and behold, the Internal Revenue Service had delayed the income tax return filing date until Monday, April 18. The three extra days allowed millions of people to procrastinate even longer in paying up!

The extra days came as a result of Emancipation Day, a holiday that is celebrated in the District of Columbia to recognize when slaves were freed there. Since Emancipation Day is April 16, a Saturday, the day before (April 15) became a holiday for government workers in D.C.

Thus the three day stay of execution!

Consider the three days as the grace of the IRS. What is rightfully due to them was backed off for seventy-two hours. Across the country there was a collective sigh of relief, like when a snow day postponed that Algebra test we were scheduled to take at school. Our initial thought was “Thank God! Another day to study and prepare!”, and that thought soon melted away from our minds as we went sledding with the neighbor’s kids. That evening we prayed to God for a blizzard to descend upon us, or, if not that, that he might eliminate Algebra as a school subject entirely!

The IRS planned this three day grace period long before it arrived, but, you see, grace is not high on the IRS’s priority list. Monday came…tax returns were filed…and the money was due.

And let’s be honest! The grace of the IRS, limited and distorted as it is, mirrors our own extended grace. We’re prone to back off from throwing the hammer down…for a while, and then we become stone-faced and legalistic.

One reason for that is that people take advantage of a grace-filled person. When someone hears that there is a grace period he often looks to see how he can personally gain from it. A person of grace is seen as being a soft touch.

And so, like the IRS, we offer limited grace, because…that’s just how it should be!

The more I comprehend the grace of God the more I am overwhelmed by it. It filters into my life and I know I’m not deserving. It confounds the minds of those who live by right-and-wrong boundaries.

In makes no sense to most of us, and yet, as followers of Christ, we trumpet its virtues.

This year we wrote a check to the United States Treasury that lowered the national debt a wee bit. What do you think the IRS would have said to me if I would have pleaded for mercy? Would compassion have been the response? If you believe that, I have some excellent shares of Krispy Kreme stock I’d like to sell you!

Laurence Hubert: A story of redemption and grace

November 10, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   November 9, 2015

                                   

I never knew my dad’s dad. He was killed in a mining accident when my dad was in his early teen years. When you don’t know someone you miss out on part of the family story. You forget that there was family history before you ever were!

A little more of the family past was revealed to me by my dad when I was visiting him back in Ohio about a month ago. I hadn’t really thought about why my dad had been named “Laurence Hubert Wolfe”. He just was…that’s all! I never knew him by any other name and didn’t question it. It’s like breathing…we don’t think about it just is. For all I knew,

But there is a wonderful story of redemption and grace behind my dad’s first and middle names. His father, Silas Dean Wolfe, had a tendency to drink too much. Alcohol was destroying his life one shot at a time. He was losing his grip on things. My dad never said that my grandfather was an alcoholic, but he had one foot stepping into that problem.

When it seemed that he was a lost cause two Baptist ministers came into his life and walked with him through the struggles. They stayed beside him in the midst of the temptations, and lifted him out of the depths. The names of the two Baptist ministers were “Laurence” and “Hubert.” The impact of their tough love and restorative grace was so profound that my father bears their names as his names.

For many of us, our names are passed down from one generation to the next. My two names comes from a great uncle and my Uncle Dean. Some of us are “Juniors” or “the third!” But my dad’s name…Oh, my! His name is a constant reminder that the depths of a person’s life can still be ascended from. His name reminds him of where his dad had fallen and how he had risen again. His name reminds him of people who come into our loves as messengers of redemption, stand beside the broken, and never leave us!

The Grace Tree

November 6, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   November 5, 2015

                                             

In our front yard there is a tree that could have played the part of the Christmas tree in “Charlie Brown’s Christmas.” If there was ever a homely looking tree it is our front yard pine tree. People look at it and shake their head in pity.

Over the years I’ve thought about plant euthanasia. Every week I mow around the warped branches I get a vision of a chain saw and a chipper.

But I’ve held off on what most others would say is the expected. Each year of the sixteen years we’ve lived in our home I’ve thought that the tree would straighten out its ways…but it hasn’t. Each year resonates with hope for some resemblance to a tree in a painting, but it keeps looking like tree that has had a stroke.

I call it my “Grace Tree.” Every time I look at it I think of grace. It gives me the opportunity to extend grace when chopping is the logical solution.

Each one of us needs a “Grace Tree” in our life…an illogical decision that goes against what the textbook says.

I see myself in that tree! God has the axe and he decides to put it down and pour a pitcher of water into the soil instead. He decides to nurture and love instead of chop down and mow over. Grace sees the beauty where there is no attractiveness. God sees my warts and calls them marks of maturity.

My neighbors stare at my Grace Tree with hope that I will come to my senses. It looks more like Jack’s beanstalk that rises to the sky, but no width in its branches. But I hold off! My grace tree is a theological statement to me personally every time I look at it.

This is the grace of God for me!