Category Archives: Holy Spirit

water and spirit

hornet

Yesterday I decided to engage in a task that was a long time coming…cleaning out the youth supply closet. Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with a youth supply closet, I want you to picture your junk drawer in your house; and now it’s a closet. So as you can well imagine there were quiet a few things that needed to make the fifty foot trek to the dumpster.  It also happened to be an incredibly rainy day. But on one of my trips to the dumpster I noticed a path being carved in the water before me. After dropping my load I came back to observe a single hornet that was carving the path in the water. He was holding on against the inevitable. Fall is coming…winter is coming…and a deluge of water was pushing against him and yet he still held on stubbornly against the inevitable. Here he was exposed to imminent danger (feet, cars, etc.) and yet he persisted. I almost wonder if he would have been safer to let the current carry him. Would he have found refuge further down the stream and then be able to live out his last few weeks in a better place; an open place?

I feel like we in the church can be guilty of hanging on to things we should let go of. Culture and the winds of change push us so aggressively that we are scared and so we hang on to that which we know/understand. The problem is that this isn’t a new problem. In the third chapter of the gospel of John we read about someone who was shook by all of the newness that was being ushered in. He was anxious about this Jesus character but could not comprehend why he should change or how he could change in order to accommodate his known identity, tradition, methods, etc. Jesus responds to him in part and eventually says to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8 Those truly born of the Spirit know what it is to move by the Spirit’s leading. They know what it looks like to let go and allow the current of God to carry them into newness of heart and life (that’s a very loaded phrase if you dig into it).

So back to the hornet and hanging on. Sometimes what we perceive in fear may actually be the moving of God. Think about it for a minute Abraham left all he knew, Moses stood up to a god-king, Joshua faced down giants, 3 Hebrew children didn’t bow, Peter got out of the boat, Matthew left his tax booth, Saul forsook all he ever knew (it was rubbish)…they all let go of relative safety, what they knew and the tradition they had embraced in order to be carried by God’s Spirit into something unknown, foreign, scary and unpredictable…and the world would never be the same. So what are you clinging to today? What terrifies you about God’s movement amidst the winds of culture? Where is God calling you to pull up anchor and join the movement of His Spirit? May we be those born of Water and Spirit and not those who cling to dry and stagnant land amidst the current of God.

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old dog new tricks

I haven’t had an old dog for quite some time. In fact, both of the dogs in my house are two years of age or younger. Which often results in things being chewed that aren’t intended for chewing (I may be a little bitter as one of these items was my most frequently worn Red Sox hat this last week). But I want to take issue with that old adage today, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. While perhaps this may be true for dogs, it is oft applied to humans and I’m not sure that this is exactly the case. Case in point; I have been a sufferer of teenage acne for going on 28 years. I have taken various pills, lotions, creams, etc in pursuit of a clear complexion over those 28 years. But most recently I have found the simplest method is to actually just wash my face one more time before bed. Now most of you at this point are putting your palm to your forehead and saying duh, but for me this was a completely new habit. And yet I have seen better response to this in my later years than to anything else I have done throughout my entire time of eternal adolescence.

It got me thinking about something my pastor, Kevin Ulmet, recently tweeted. He said, “The holiness of God calls us to transformation not continuation. That is a message of hope and change that we must teach and live in these days.” We as people of God are called to transformation and not continuation. And yet continuation is so much easier. Albert Einstein is often credited with the expression, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” And that’s sometimes the way we behave in this Christian life. We keep living the way we always live and are surprised that people are not impacted by our witness. We keep the same routines and schedule and we wonder why we feel relatively the same in our relationship with God. What we come to realize is that continuation is simply that…continuation.

In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul has this to say about transformation, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2 The word for transformation in the Greek here is anakainōsis which is defined as renovation, something becoming completely new. And that’s what people of faith are ultimately about; becoming completely new. Even the faith habits that we establish early on in life are in need of continued renewal and growth and transformation. After all, I’m not anywhere near the same person I was when I was fourteen…save the teenage acne. So let us learn new tricks. Let us discipline ourselves with new habits. Let us be transformed in new ways so that we don’t continue with the same old same old.


noisy

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This morning, as I am often apt to do on days that I blog, I woke up and thought to myself, “What in the world am I going to write about today?” I’m sure there’s some fancy phrase for this dilemma like writer’s stymie or writer’s barricade…but anyway.  As one is apt to do in this situation I turned to my trusty friend social media to see if I could find inspiration and was immediately inundated, nay overwhelmed with commentaries, discussions, opinions, etc. on everything under the sun. It’s as if social media has become an interstate clogged with billboards intended to either bottleneck traffic or have you swerve off the road entirely. Trying to make sense of all that is coming at you could almost be a full-time job and I was looking here for inspiration…? I wonder how often we step into the social media fray hoping to come away inspired and bettered by what we encounter there? And in the same vein how often do we come away feeling like we’ve encountered nothing but noise?

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament revolves around the prophet Elijah. Elijah is a titan of a prophet who has an amazing showdown with over 400 prophets of Ba’al and sees YHWH answer with fire from Heaven. And then as if that isn’t enough he declares the end of a drought and then outruns a royal chariot on foot. Then in the midst of all the noise he receives a death threat from the queen and runs and hides for fear of his life. To answer Elijah among all of the noise God takes him to a solitary place and here is where we pick up in scripture. “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” – 1 Kings 19:11-13

The phrase in the scripture for “gentle whisper” is actually best translated “sound of sheer silence”. This is where the prophet, who has been surrounded by noise and craziness and even good things, encounters God. This is where the prophet finds the ability to keep going. This is where the prophet finds inspiration. And I began to think about how often I disengage from the noise. How often do we turn off our devices? How often do we turn off the news? How often do we turn off our echo chambers that affirm how we think in order to listen to the One in whom we believe? My challenge to myself and perhaps to you as well today is to allow the noise to be the noise. May we also give space in our lives to the quiet so that perhaps we may have that same encounter in the “gentle whisper” which is the space in which the Spirit often speaks.


the best medicine

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When I learned to read I quickly became a little predictable. You see, we had this book that my parents got every once in a while and every time they would get it I would find myself rifling through the pages until I got to a certain section. It was either “Humor in Uniform”, “Life in these United States” or “The Best Medicine”. The publication was called The Reader’s Digest and I went straight for the joke sections. I remember going to my grandparents house and seeing their Sunday paper and going straight for the comics section (as long as my PaPaw was done with his puzzles). For a while I feel like I was almost obsessed with reading “The Far Side” or “Hogarth the Horrible” or “Get Fuzzy”. So yesterday, the superlatives at a teacher’s meeting for the end of the school year really didn’t come as too much of a surprise. That’s right, yours truly was awarded the Staff Comedian. Someone even asked if I was given the award because they were laughing with me or at me…? My response, “Yes”.

But I treasure this award…truly. I see laughter as a reflection of joy and I hold joy in the utmost regard when it comes to the life of faith. When the apostle Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit, you know the things in our life we see as a result of the living presence of God within us, it goes a little like this, “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23 The first one on the list makes a lot of sense. After all, God is love. But the second one? Joy?!? It’s that important that it gets picked second. There is a story in the Old Testament where the people of Israel are overcome with grief and guilt. They had finished rebuilding the temple wall and in the process had discovered anew the law. After hearing it read the people began to weep because of how far they had fallen, but this is the response: “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Don’t mourn or weep…Go, eat rich food, and drink something sweet,” he said to them, “and send portions of this to any who have nothing ready! This day is holy to our Lord. Don’t be sad, because the joy from the Lord is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:9-10 The joy of the Lord is your strength!

Laughter to me is a natural reflection of joy. I remember my wife and I reading about the biology of laughter some time ago. Evidently laughter, true laughter, is an almost involuntary response when your brain gets surprised…literally tickled. It’s our bodies way of showing us there is a new way to see the things around us and sometimes it can even be silly or absurd or flat out funny. Laughter is a reflection of learning and a way of showing us the joy to be found in and through the world around us. Maybe it might not be the best literal medicine (my money is on ibuprofen), but it does make life a little more livable. And if God’s joy is our strength and a reflection of the presence of God in our lives, then let’s find more things to smile, laugh and be joyful about each day.


fire fighters

 

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This Sunday is a significant Sunday for the life of the Church…actually it is the celebration of the life of the Church, because it’s the Church’s birthday! Pentecost Sunday is the day we commemorate the reception of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the movement that came to be known as the Church. The story goes a little something like this, “When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:1-4 And from that moment on the world would never be the same. I love the description for the presence of the Holy Spirit; wind and fire. (Add earth and you’ve got a soul-filled experience, I couldn’t help myself). But these two movements in nature are both powerful and mysterious, yet how often do we think of the action of the Church in terms of wind or fire today?

Often the Church is more of a comfortable movement in the world today. We hear passages from scripture and rather than being spurred on or challenged, we simply seek to be affirmed or comforted in the station or position in life in which we currently exist. Take for instance this passage from Paul to the church in Thessalonica, “Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else. Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:15-19 That sounds good. Don’t repay wrongs, rejoice and be prayerful, give thanks and don’t suppress the Spirit…wait, what!?! The Greek word is actually sbennymi, which meant to extinguish. Don’t extinguish the Spirit? But think about it for a minute. This is the presence of God that on the day of Pentecost was described as a fierce wind and fire. What is it about the movement of the Church today that resembles a fierce wind or fire?

In his book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis is describing the four children’s preparation for their first meeting with Aslan. The children become a bit scared when they realize that Aslan is a lion. Here’s how the conversation concludes, “’Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you’.” I think that’s where safety has taken over the flow of the Spirit in the Church today. We want the action of the Spirit to be safe, comfortable, fit our schedule, pat us on the back and tell us we’re doing okay. But what we don’t realize is that in doing so we are fighting the very fire of God that continually seeks to set the church ablaze. When we seek to control the Spirit or dictate how the Holy Spirit must work in our churches or in another’s life we are actually extinguishing that which is unpredictable. And yet God does not force us to remain in the flames of His love. In fact it’s quite easy to suppress the presence and power of God when our agendas of safety, comfort and control take over. So what will it be this Pentecost? Will we find ourselves consumed by the mystery of a God who is nowhere near safe, but good? Or will we continue to suppress the very Spirit that gave birth to Kingdom of God on earth?

Maybe it’s high time we put down the fire extinguishers.

 

 


anticipation

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PSA: This may be the nerdiest blog post I’ve ever written.

I’ve been waiting for today for what seems like forever. For those of you who have read my blog at all or listened to a sermon, you know I am a fan of comic books. And not just any comic books, but Marvel comics; you know, Spider-man, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, etc. Well one of my favorite cultural gifts of living in the twenty-first century is that we are living in the golden era of comic book movies. It’s almost as if Hollywood said, “You know who we need to cater to? All those weird 30 and 40 something year old nerds.” And today marks the completion of a ten-year saga for Marvel movies as they release Avengers: Infinity War. Since the villain of the movie (Thanos, the ultimate Marvel bad guy) was teased in 2012, fans have been awaiting this day. If they are like me, they have even reread all the comics they owned that cycle around this movie’s story-line just to be extra prepared. And so I woke up knowing today was the day…I don’t think I’ve been this excited in a long time. And I know that regardless of what I experience tonight, I will still be excited. I don’t think the movie could even let down my anticipation. And this is all over a two hour and twenty-nine minute movie…

Anticipation is a powerful thing. My kids get excited about upcoming birthdays. My wife will start packing for trips sometimes weeks ahead, but maybe that’s because a healthy dose of anticipation is necessary for traveling with a family of six. But anticipation, I believe, can often make the thing anticipated even greater. If you come to an event or happening with all this built up excitement and energy, and then you invest all that big excitement and energy into said event, then there really isn’t any way that you should be disappointed…of course maybe that’s just the eternal optimist in me speaking. However, sometimes I think our anticipation looks more like anxiety. I remember growing up and hearing about Christ’ second coming and always being nervous. Sometimes I would even go over to my grandmother’s house (she lived across the driveway) and if I didn’t find her quickly I would be scared that I missed the rapture. I’m not sure, though, that the coming of Christ is something that is ever meant to be seen through the lenses of fear. In fact, I think it’s something the church is called to rehearse over and over again.

The New Testament scriptures end with the writer of Revelation saying, “The one who bears witness to these things says, “Yes, I’m coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” – Revelation 22:20 And some translations even add the phrase “come quickly”. Now if you’re like me, you often look at the world around you and wish Jesus would come quickly and fix all the brokenness and hurt. You anticipate His return because it will be the cure-all for all the messed up things in the world. But what if we, as the church are called to rehearse, live out His coming again in anticipation in the now? I mean, after all the church is called the body of Christ. And we gather together through the power of the Holy Spirit. What if our presence here is Christ in flesh, Christ having come into the world? Here me out. Christ will come again; I’m not denying this. But what if in the now we are called to live in such rich anticipation that each time we gather we become agents of transformation in a world that could really only be fixed by the coming of Christ? What if each time we met the world would know that His Kingdom is coming and His will is being done through us because this is why we gather? What if each time we prepared to assemble as a church we anticipated the movement so richly that we couldn’t help but be excited and amazed at what God did through us? I think perhaps this is the type of anticipation we are all called to live with. After all, if one of us could get this excited for a nerd movie, think about what we could do if all of us were truly excited about what God can do through us.


breaks through

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Next week is Holy Week. I repeat, next week is Holy Week. I know, I can’t believe it either. It really did sneak up on me this year. I’m not going to say I was too busy or anything like that, but I feel like Ash Wednesday was just the other day. So now, maybe like some of you, I am scrambling to prepare myself for what is to come: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, our Easter Eggstravaganza, and Easter Sunday itself. Even as I sit here and type this out I think I can actually sense my blood pressure going up. But regardless of how I feel or if I seem too busy, the resurrection still breaks through. I mean, think about that first Easter Sunday for a second. Do you think any of the players in this amazing drama actually truly expected resurrection? Mark’s gospel records it this way, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb” – Mark 16:1-2 Everyone was doing what they had always done when something like death enters the picture and then, out of nowhere, the resurrection breaks through.

I am thankful though, that nature has an incredible way of reminding us even if we seem too busy or overwhelmed. Maybe it’s the increasing minutes of sunlight. Or maybe it might be like my back patio where the smell of blooming wisteria almost bowls you over. Or maybe it is even like the photo one of my friends from Michigan posted of a small flower fighting its way through the snow encrusted landscape. Whatever the sign might be for you, the world around us is never surprised by resurrection and new birth. It’s built into the very fabric of being of all that is. Yet for some reason we often become so busy, overwhelmed, anxious, scheduled, (fill in the blank with your appropriate adjective), etc. that we NEED the resurrection to break through in a way that reminds us that this is built into our very identity as well.

So maybe you find yourself coming into this Easter season overwhelmed. The resurrection still breaks through. Maybe you find yourself coming into this Easter season lost in grief and sorrow. The resurrection still breaks through. Perhaps you find yourself coming into this Easter season fearful of the future and the unknown. Guess what…the resurrection still breaks through. Whatever emotion or feeling or predicament you find yourself consumed with today still doesn’t stop resurrection from breaking through. For once the world was covered in sadness and sorrow from that which had taken place on Calvary and yet, Sunday morning still came and the universe was reborn because Easter broke through.


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