Posted tagged ‘mentoring’

The Wisdom of Ray Lutz

December 3, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 3, 2017

                                    

As I drive through Calhan, heading to Simla, this morning out of habit I’ll look to my right as I pass a certain street two blocks this side of the county fairgrounds. Down this street on the right Ray Lutz has lived. It’s a nondescript home that has seen its share of pie consumed by numerous visitors. The number address, in fact, should be 3.14!

Ray passed away on Friday, December 1. He had been a sports official for so long people were prone to call him Methuselah.

Ray would greet me with “Reverend” or “Reverend Wolfe”. Always a kind word or gentle jab. He told me he was Methodist. I told him I’d pray for him. The more I got to know him the more he didn’t resemble a Methodist. Method was secondary to common sense for Ray. The rulebook might say one thing, but sometimes basketball game situations required that common sense trump the rules of the game. Don’t get me wrong! He knew the rules, but if everybody on the interstate is driving 85 when the speed limit is 65 you sometimes have to inch that speedometer up a bit more to not get rear-ended. Common sense driving!

The first time I met Ray was at a class he taught for brand new basketball officials. Twenty or so of us were seated at desks in the classroom and listened to Mr. Lutz explain how a person officiates a basketball game. He was interesting to listen to then, and I wasn’t even sure what he was talking about. At the end of our six weeks of sessions we took a test to see if we would be able to actually blow whistles at basketball games that season. As I sat there mulling over possible answers he came by and told me that I should probably think about what I had answered for a certain question. It was his way of getting me past the cut-off. For sixteen years, until the end of last season, I proceeded to blow my whistle and wear the stripes. He was my officiating shepherd, and I was one of his striped lambs.

One year he encouraged me to run for one of the elected positions of our basketball officials organization. I did, and I lost! My first reaction was disbelief, not because I had been beaten, but rather because Ray had been the one to get me to do it in the first place. I thought it meant victory.

For several summers I went to a basketball camp for officials that Dave Hall conducted. Dave Hall has done NCAA championship and tournament games for a number of years. Ray was always one of the clinicians for Mr. Hall. It was where I was able to talk to him the most, sitting beside him by a court and taking in some of the wisdom that would naturally ooze from his personality. It was also at those courtside chats that he encouraged me with flattering remarks on how good I was doing, that he expected big things from me that coming season, and other remarks that made me think I was all that. Of course, I think Ray, the encourager, made those remarks to most officials at the camps he was a part of, but either way it caused me to want to be the best I could be.

A few years ago he was in the hospital for a serious medical condition, so I went and paid him a visit. I walked in the room and he looked at me.

“Reverend!” he greeted me, and we talked about life, basketball, health, and blessings.

Some of us are privileged enough to make a mark in the world in some way. The most effective people are those who influence others in their craft or passion. They are the folks who people can look behind and, like the waves behind a motorboat, see the number of people who are following faithfully in the wake of the same pursuit.

Ray Lutz will always be that. A wise mentor, a professor of common sense basketball officiating philosophy, and perhaps…even a Methodist!

Coaching Twelve Year Old Football Rookies

August 31, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             August 31, 2016

                          

Yesterday was the first game for the Timberview Middle School Timberwolves 7th Grade football team. Thirty-one excited twelve year olds boarded the yellow school bus for the slow forty minute ride to one of the southern schools in our league. Most of them even had their uniforms on correctly!

With their blue game pants and blue jerseys on this is still the greenest group of kids I’ve ever coached! Most of them are more familiar with Madden 2016 than what a Spread Formation looks like. There are some powerful thumbs in this group, but have them drop and do push-ups and you quickly realize that the power begins and ends in the big digits.

This “green” blue team is a great group of kids, and I love coaching with Coach Steve Achor, but we knew we weren’t ready for our first game. Lightning had forced us inside so much in our first week that we had only been able to have three days of player to player contact. Understand that those three days included the coaching discoveries of who even wanted to tackle and who wanted to just hang out by the water cooler as we were tackling. Middle school football always has kids who just aren’t totally convinced they want to be there. It sounded good to them upfront, with the uniforms being sharp and all, but once the contact started and a few of those hot August afternoons in full football pads arrive, the scent of uncertainty becomes as profound as the odor in the boy’s locker room.

A few years ago I had a player who was in his first year of playing football. He was never entirely convinced that it was a good thing to do. One day in practice he was playing cornerback and was so close to the sideline he looked like a pony trying to make a break for the open range. I said to him, “Teddy (Not his real name)! Come on in some closer to the play! There’s no one over there!” He looked at me, and with his high-pitched voice said, “No! I’m okay out here!”

And so we traveled with excitement and uncertainty. More than half of our squad had never played football before. Several of them are not tall enough to ride roller coasters at the amusement parks yet. Several others would be too timid to ride a roller coaster yet. Last Friday we had a controlled intra-squad scrimmage…after the lightning storm had passed and we were allowed to go outside! It gave some of our players a warped idea of how good they were, as the first-team running backs kept running for touchdowns against the second unit defense. Could it be this easy? Players answer: Yes! Coaches’ answer: No! No! No!

The plan was to keep the play calling simple. Amazingly no turnovers happened the whole game. On the other hand, every play had something that needed correcting. The good thing about first games is they show you so many things that need to be worked on in practice.

The final score was 28-8, and the home team’s last TD came in the last minute of the game. My back-up quarterback had to play the last quarter. Let me emphasize…my back-up quarterback who I had just discovered in an informal conversation the day before to have played some quarterback and had not practiced that position yet…yes, that back-up quarterback…had to play the last quarter. We scored our touchdown at the beginning of that quarter on a seventy yard sweep run. I sent the play in for the two-point conversion, and quickly noticed everyone standing around in confusion. I yelled “Let’s go! Let’s go!”, and I heard one player say “Coach, we’re missing Brandon!” Brandon is the back-up quarterback. He had been watching Peyton Manning too much, and Peyton Manning was never in for the PAT. Welcome to middle school football!

But you know something! I love coaching these kids! Coach Achor and I have the unique privilege and opportunity to teach them about the game and life, to help them experience what it means to be a team with ups and downs, trials and successes. Bottom line: I am truly blessed!

Coaching Middle School Football

August 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 August 18, 2016

                                  

It happened about twelve years ago in the midst of a Pike’s Perk coffee shop. I was drinking my first cup of the day when Russ Peters, the middle school assistant principal in charge of athletics, entered. I greeted him from my table with a “Good morning, Russ!” He looked at me and said, “Hey Coach! Do you coach football?”

I didn’t! I had coached basketball at the school for a couple of years, worked well with the players, and so the administration kept asking me to return. But football…no!

The school had encountered the problem of hiring football coaches each year for the past several. “Russ, didn’t you have this problem last year?” He hung his head and nodded.

And that was my interview for the position. I agreed to coach football for the middle school, but I told him, “You just need to understand that I’m a basketball coach who just happens to be standing on a football field!”

Now twelve years later I’m still coaching football at the same school. Another season has started just like the others before it- players of all sizes…players who aren’t sure which is the front of their practice pants and which is the back…players who think their helmet is too tight…players who have played for several years…players who have never played a lick…players who have played Madden on their game system at home, and think that tackling a steamrolling running back will be just like that…players who have never worn a jock strap…and players who leave parts of their equipment as a trail behind them like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs.

And in the midst of these seventh grade boys who are still more clueless than clued in we have to teach them football terminology, a play calling system, passing routes, defensive formations, figure out who can catch versus who can’t catch a cold, assemble special teams, teach them how to tackle, try to keep a new kid the size of Tiny Tim how to not get killed or maimed, and equip each of them in a way that makes them look like a football player, not someone who has arranged his football wardrobe off leftover garage sale clothing.

My fellow coach, Coach Achor, and I see ourselves as teachers, encouragers, discipline instructors, role models, protectors, counselors, and coaches. Part of middle school football coaching is about the game, and the rest is about being like a shepherd who the sheep follow and trust.

Yesterday we taught them a couple of offensive plays out of a basic formation. “Spread Right Rocket 28”, and “Spread Left Laser 49”. Two basic plays! It took fifteen minutes to get all of them…okay, most of them…to understand. The quarterback would hand off to the wrong running back, the running back would fail to go in motion, the wrong running back would go in motion, the running back would run the wrong way, the quarterback wouldn’t hand the ball off to anybody…fifteen minutes to get two plays right!

I have to remind myself that students learning how to read didn’t start off reading The Iliad. There had to be a lot of “Dick, Jane, and Sally” reading times before beginners could go on.

Today will be the first day in full pads for most of them. Some will look impressive, and others will cause us to chuckle.

We will seek to have them take a few more steps up the “understanding ladder” today, and as coaches we will seek to learn more of their names. Right now I’ve got a Number 76 who is 4’6” and weighs sixty-five pounds. Learning his name won’t make him any bigger, but it will let him know that i know who he is.

And the ultimate privilege for Coach Achor and myself is that the players know who we are and they call us that name that we are privileged to have: Coach!

The ‘I Thought About’s!’

June 27, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           June 27, 2016

                               

I thought about being a high school physical education teacher, otherwise known as a gym teacher. That was when I was a junior in high school.

I thought about skydiving once, and then came to my senses.

I thought about buying an old ice cream truck and strolling through neighborhoods with that bell-sounding music selling fudgesicles to delighted children.

I thought about growing my hair out and looking like a hippie from the sixties just stepping out of a time machine.

I’ve thought about a lot of things, and I think about a lot of things. Some wise coach once told me that “Thinking about it and doing it are two different things.” It was a slap of reality as I procrastinated on some important decision. We all have our list of “I thought about’s.” It’s the jump into the unknown.

I thought about studying for a master’s degree in Athletic Administration.

I thought about planting cucumbers.

I thought about running a marathon this September. The last marathon I ran was the Chicago Marathon in 1978, or, in other words, when Moby Dick when a minnow!

I thought about hiking the Grand Canyon.

Our thoughts make it on to our bucket list of things we’d like to do before we lay down for our eternal rest. Some “think about’s” come to us for one insane, irrational moment and then pass on like a puff of flatulence that we leave behind.

Some folk share their “thought about’s” openly and endlessly. From my experience, people who share their “think about’s” frequently are people who seldom do anything. Perhaps they want the listener to be impressed or encouraging. Encouragement, however, has run its course and the thoughts still keep coming. The listener gets tired of encouraging “think about’s” with no substance.

There are some “think about’s” that should be tossed as quickly as whole hominy on a dinner plate. Years ago I mentioned to Carol that we should think about having a fourth child. She gave me the look that spoke volumes using no words. I didn’t think about it much after that…at least while she was in the room.

Some people have a habit of thinking one bad idea after another and, unfortunately, proceeding with one bad idea after another. Like someone in extreme debt who decides to go and buy a new car because there won’t be any payments for the first six months!

Other people need to be coached in a few of their “think about’s”. They need to be told that the idea or new life direction has merit, be asked some clarifying questions, and be aided in giving what they are thinking about some substance and legs.

I thought about retiring from pastoral ministry for several years. My friend, Tom Bayes, helped me process my thoughts, separating frustration with the job from feelings of conclusion for the occupation. After thirty-six years I was used up, and felt like that half-gallon of milk in the refrigerator with the expiration date from a week ago. In the same way Tom helped me clarify some of my “think about’s” for the future. He was a voice of experience, since he had retired from pastoral ministry a few years before me. He helped me figure out whether or not the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

Ultimately, each one of us needs to sort out our “thought about’s” and determine which ones will get tossed with the trash and which ones will make the cut. Like that coach who told me that thinking and doing are two separate things, sometimes we need to risk proceeding with the idea.

And sometimes we just need to admit to ourselves “That is stupid!” It doesn’t hurt as much when we can admit to ourselves the idiocy of what our brain concocted.

I still, however, think about buying that ice cream truck and playing the song “Ice, Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice over and over again!

The Students Who Mentor You

November 16, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      November 16, 2015

                                   

In recent weeks I’ve come to realize a few things about being the adult. Sometimes the younger ones we’re raising up, teaching, discipling, are teaching and mentoring you…the adult, the teacher, the pastor…perhaps more than you’re impacting them.

About a month ago, when I was in Chicago, I had dinner with a young lady who was in the youth group I directed more than thirty-five years ago. I still refer to Cyndi as a young lady even though she is now in her mid-fifties! When we met for dinner we had not seen each other for about ten years, but it was like we had seen each other the day before. A three hour conversation ensued. It was delightful to talk about the past, the present, and the future; to hear what God has done in her life and the lives of her family, to hear of a special mission project that her ninth grade son has initiated that has taken off.

And in the midst of it I realized that Cyndi, and her friends Laura, Sue, George, Wave, and others had raised me up as a youth minister. They showed grace to me when I was trying to figure out how to communicate scriptural truth to adolescents. They gave me the freedom to laugh at myself for my moments of cluelessness. They stood beside me in times of lacking confidence, and showed me that there are different ways of looking at a relationship with Jesus besides the Baptist mindset, the only view I had ever experienced.

And perhaps most amazing, and deeply moving, was to hear that Cyndi had become a follower of Christ at a Young Life Camp in Colorado I took a van load of students to the summer I was on staff at her church. For some reason I hadn’t been aware of that. And now 37 years later I was blessed to discover the rest of her story.

The students we mentor often becomes the students who mentor us.

Last week another of my former youth groups students, Deb Simpson Aldridge, went home to be with the Lord. She battled cancer, and cancer finally won, but her victory was assured even in the midst of death because of her faith in Christ. Deb was part of the first youth group I directed at First Baptist Church in Marseilles, Illinois. I had just graduated from Judson College in Elgin, Illinois, was going to start seminary that next fall, and was hired by the church to be the summer youth director. I had never had a youth position before…operated out of the experience of cluelessness! Deb and her sister Connie were two high school students in the youth group who accepted me right away. At my less-than-stellar bible study gatherings they would voice their thoughts and help me to keep going. There is nothing quite as disconcerting than to lead a group of students who sit there and look at you like you are speaking a foreign language. Deb would share something, or, in a loving sisterly way, tell Connie that what she just said was ridiculous.

Deb had a dry wit and humor that made our gatherings or road trips in the van experiences of laughter-laced fellowship. Anything I planned or suggested she would support. Think of it! A young guy right our of college with no experience could have been trampled to a ministry death by a youth group that saw him as an outsider to be neglected, but this youth group raised me up to proceed forward for a forty years of ministry. They could have killed me, but inside they mentored me.

Deb’s passing made me realize the effect she had on my life and my ministry.

Cyndi, Deb, Connie, Steve Landon, Shirl Streukens, Jon Daniels, the Epps Twins, Phil Girard, Jon Girard, Amy Anderson, Keri Anderson, John Chora, Brad Johnson, Tiffany Chora,Tony Lamouria…the list of student mentors for my life is long and deep.

A big part of how I see ministry…especially youth ministry…has been chiseled into my person by their hands.

And I am very, very blessed!

Whose Next?: The Responsibility of Supporting The Next Called Ones”

October 30, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                                  October 29, 2015

Our money preaches our priorities. It clearly conveys what we feel is important and what is an add-on. It conveys our dedication to comfortableness and reluctance to commitment.

As I approach retirement from being a pastor…a paid pastor that is…I’ve been doing more and more thinking about money. Carol and I are looking at what we can expect, and not expect, once my position at our church ends.

But I’ve also been thinking about my responsibility to support the next generation of “God’s called.” I’ve been blessed to see several people I’ve known as their pastor or their coach enter into some form of full-time ministry. I believe I have a responsibility to affirm and encourage their calling through words of blessing, prayerful support, and financial backing. It’s the punctuation mark to their blessing, to be affirmed in these ways instead of comments like “Hope it works out for you!”

     That conviction I have was affirmed today as Carol and I met a young man named Tony LaMouria, his charming wife Elisabeth, and their four boys…nine years old down to seven months.

Carol and I have known Tony since he appeared one cold, sleet/rain Sunday morning at our church in Mason, Michigan, riding a bicycle. That ride into our midst began a new chapter in his faith journey that was marked by disappointment, confusion, acceptance, and unconditional love.

There’s so much to “the Tony Story” that I won’t mention, but one thing that I will mention is how one family in the church, the Andersons , took Tony into their home, gradually brought him to the point where he became the new little brother to their two older daughters, and modeled for him a love that is blended with wisdom, firmness, and encouragement. The Andersons felt a deep responsibility to support this high school kid with a charming smile and a confusing past. They were entering the period in their lives called “the empty nest”, and now they believed God had called them to parent another who wasn’t even theirs.

That family that supported him was part of a new foundation in Tony’s life. The other was our church that took him in, came alongside his new family in the “congregational parenting” of him, and applauded him in his accomplishments.

Today as Carol and I talked with him and Elisabeth he told us of their calling to be a part of a mission organization that sends pastors to churches, mostly rural or small towns, who don’t have the financial resources to support a pastor. There are thousands of churches like that around our country. In our conversation Tony shared how important our church in Mason was to him at that time in is life when he was trying to figure out if he had purpose and value. As he said to us today, if he had gone to a large church he would have gotten lost in the crowd, but our church loved him and embraced him. Now, years later, he sees the value in small churches, and is looking to serve in one of them.

That means I have a responsibility to continue the blessing, to come alongside him, to help him to keep the pursuit.

What blessing! What a responsibility! What a privilege!

Camp Day, Day 5

July 10, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              July 10, 2015

                                            

Dear Parental Units,

Just kidding, Mom and Step-dad! I want you to know that I love you…I really do! My week at camp is almost over, and I’ve made some great new friends. My counselor has been incredible as she has allowed me to ask her hard questions, but she’s also been there to listen to my confusion.

I’ve learned a lot about faith and trusting this week. This morning we  got up WAY TOO EARLY and climbed to the top of the peak behind our camp. I didn’t like the getting up early part, and there were a few times during our climb that I wasn’t sure I’d be able “to get up!”…but I made it And a big reason I was able to make it was because of the support and encouragement of everyone else who was climbing with me. When my thigh muscles were about to explode I got a pat on the back from my counselor and a hand from another counselor helping me make the next really big step.

It made me realize how important it is to have “solid friends.” I say solid because some of my friends back home stand on shaky ground, and they are more like the wind that blows in and out of my life.

When I come back home on Saturday could I ask something of you? I’ve decided to become a follower of Jesus this week. That’s probably something you were hoping for, but I hope you understand that it doesn’t mean I’m going to be all perfect and always doing the right thing. I’m going to mess up royally, and I’m not going to suddenly understand high school calculus just because I’m following Jesus!

But this thing I need to ask you…would you help me in this faith walk? Maybe that sounds weird, but it’s kind of like that climb this morning. I need your support and encouragement to keep going…a helping hand when I’m having those moments when I’m about to tip backwards. I know you go to church and help out in different ways, and I appreciate that more now than I did before this week at camp.

But…I’m sorry to start so many sentences with but…but I need to know that your faith in Jesus is real! I’m not saying it isn’t…but I need you to tell me every once in a while that it is…that it isn’t just something we do because we’ve done it that way for so long.

Even though I like my space from time to time from you, I need you to lead me, to help me deal with my questions about why God does certain things…what happens when I pray and when I don’t pray…help me figure out what God wants me to do in life, what my purpose is?

I hope I’m making sense. My counselor isn’t even making me write this. I’m doing this on my own! If Jesus was thinking of me when he went to the cross I want to try to think a good bit more about them in these coming days.

Thanks for being my mom and step-dad! I know you don’t have perfect lives, but I know you love me deeply…and you paid for me to come to camp!

 

Can’t wait to see you!

Your daughter!