Archive for the ‘Holy Spirit’ category

The Back Story

May 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 20, 2018

                                       

Why am I the way I am?

Why do I always drink my coffee with cream and sugar?

Why do I always put my left leg into my pants first?

Why do I hate beer?

Questions that may intrigue no one else but myself! They are questions that hint at something from my past that caused me to think, act, or feel in a certain way in the present. 

It’s my back story reemerging. For example, I drink my coffee with cream and sugar because that’s how both my mom and dad drank it. It’s a family practice. Once in a great while I’ll drink a cup of coffee black, or with only one of the additions, but it feels strange…it feels off, like I’m putting my pants on backwards and wondering where that zipper went!

“Back Story” is a term writers use to illuminate a character’s past, like telling the story of how the main character received the scar that ran down the side of his face. It’s a glimpse into why someone is the way he is. 

Everyone has Back Story! It’s what we’re rooted in, for good and for bad. 

When tragedy happens, something unexpectedly evil, we ask questions about the perpetrator. We search for some kind of explanation for the unexplainable. Why would Dimitrios Pagourtzis kill students that he went to school with each day? I’ve noticed that there have been several rumored reasons set forward already. What’s his Back Story? What pushed him to do something so evil that it would break the heart of a community and send more shudders throughout the nation?

That question will trouble Santa Fe High School for generations to come. “Why” will continue to rumble through the minds of the students and faculty each time they look at the building or walk down the hallways. A mass shooting will become their Back Story.

If I was pastoring a church in Santa Fe, Texas, what would I say this morning to a sanctuary of confused and troubled faces? What would I tell them on this Sunday that is also Pentecost Sunday?

It is the “Back Story” in our faith journey that I would bring forth. Pentecost is that holy moment when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples of Jesus. In a world that is exhausted by its unrest, Pentecost is part of our Back Story of hope. It is why we believe that good can overcome evil. It’s the reason each follower of Jesus believes that lives can be redeemed, that light can shine into darkness. 

Pentecost is the Greek name for “Shavuot”, the spring harvest festival of the Israelites, which was happening at the time of the coming of the Holy Spirit. If you could find more than a couple of Christians out of a hundred who would know the spring harvest festival part of Pentecost you’d be doing good. Our Back Story is now connected to the promise of the Spirit. 

We may never know, and probably, never understand why Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened fire on people he knew and had been educated with? Whatever was going on in his past may never make any kind of sense to us. Our culture minimizes the idea of “The Evil One”, until the Bible tells us he comes to deceive and destroy. It’s his M.O., his Back Story that continues in the present and on into the days ahead.

But followers of Christ know their Back Story, too, and that it leads us on to be agents of change, and lovers of all people. It’s my Back Story that causes me to fear no evil, and have the assurance of future hope!

Static Church Cling

April 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       April 9, 2018

                                      

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:42, 44-46)

A few days ago I pulled one of my tee shirts out of the dresser, put it on, and started another day. It felt a bit different, tighter maybe, but I attributed the snug feeling to the two servings of lasagna I had eaten the night before. I often associate tight clothes with the previous night’s dinner entree’…not the oversized bowl of ice cream!

A few hours later I went to change clothes to go to basketball practice. When I took the tee shirt off I discovered one of my handkerchiefs attached to the inside of the shirt. Static cling had drawn it to its hidden position while in the dryer. The crackling of the static electricity still present sounded as I unconnected it. I felt a bit silly, but at least the hanky wasn’t hanging out behind my shirt like a piece of toilet paper!

The first church in Jerusalem could be said to have static church cling… in a good way. They hung together, developed a deeper level of fellowship, and relied on each other for love, life, and support.

The description of who they were began with the verb “devoted”, and then three times in three verses the adverb “together” is used. They clung together! The health of the Body of Christ depended upon the connectedness of its parts.

With static cling in our clothes there are certain products that we use to reduce the “togetherness” of our clothes.  There are fabric sheets and other antistatic agents that lessen the chance that a handkerchief is going to be sticking to the seat of your pants.

Our culture, in many ways, is an antistatic church clinging agent. People are busy, and busyness is an effective reducer of people connecting with one another. On the other hand, to have a church fellowship meet together more often…just because!…is not the path to deeper bonding either. Church busyness is simply cultural busyness spiritualized. There needs to be purpose behind the clinging.

Two of the draws of social media are its superficial solution for the need for relationships and its availability when the person wants it.

Our culture lends itself to relationships that are superficial and meaningless. Church culture usually mirrors that. The most meaningful relationships in these uncertain times seem to come about because of causes that seek justice and correction, but, once again, they are mostly short-lived and lack relational depth.

The decline of churches can be attributed to a number of factors. Perhaps one of the ways of renewal will lead us through the rediscovering of our devoted purpose and the re-clinging of our belief that the gospel guides us to personal transformation and also transformation together.

The Last Stool On the Right

January 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              January 21, 2018

                               

I sit on my stool this morning drinking my Pike Place medium roast and staring out at the snow flying past the window. The storm obscures my usual view of Pike’s Peak, but there is still a sense of peace in the scene in front of me. My earbuds bring soft music to my ears and I sip my morning brew with an attitude of gratitude about God’s hand of grace and abundant blessings.

The last stool on the right at the Starbucks on the corner of Union and Briargate Parkway is my sacred place, or perhaps better phrased, my sacred seat! Some spiritual pessimists may question my choice for where I sense the closeness of God, but I’m okay with that…as long as they stay off my stool! Strange as it may sound, it is from this perch that I have my deepest spiritual ponderings and quiet (with music in my ears) moments with God. Perhaps I should call it “Coffee With Jesus”!

Each one of us needs our space, but we too often neglect to look for some sacred space. We minimize the urgency of holy whisperings in the midst of the culture’s noise. As I sit here this morning God brings people to my mind even as I’m pecking out the words of my blog post.

Ray Stromenger, having a heart procedure tomorrow…my dad passing blood in his urine…one of the young ladies I used to coach in basketball, Autumn Boyles, who torn her ACL in her game last Thursday night…Diana Stucky, who I know will be dealing with a health condition she has in the midst of the change in weather we’re dealing with…my niece, Jennifer Graham, recovering from surgery…Henry McIntosh, in his journey of loss as he grieves his wife’s passing…our neighbor’s, the Nash’s, who lost their eighteen year old grandson back in late October…Nate and Alyssa Price, celebrating the birth of their son. The longer I sit here the more names and faces keep passing through my mind, many because of the down moments of life, but some because of the mountain top events they are shouting about.

Psalm 16:11 says “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence…”

 

That Psalm is referred to as a “miktam”, a term that many believe is unclear or untranslatable, but some believe it meant that the Psalm attached to it was of such importance that it needed to be engraved in the hearts and minds of the ones saying it.

I sit in his presence experiencing the quiet joy of the morning, and reciting those words once again…”You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

My sacred spot usually runs through three cups of coffee, one blog post, about fifteen recorded songs, and then it’s time to journey back to the rest of my day. It’s an intimate time, oddly enough, in the midst of a gathering crowd of coffee drinkers.

I’ve warmed the stool for the next journeyer as God has warmed my soul. Amen.

Christian Tutorials

January 4, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 January 4, 2018

                 

Recently my son-in-law’s Audi wouldn’t start. One day it had, the next day it didn’t! My daughter lugged the battery to NAPA and got a new one. The new battery, however, didn’t fix the problem. So my son-in-law went online and watched YouTube video tutorials that explained how to fix this problem, and then that problem. Armed with this knowledge and his tools he attacked the stationary vehicle once again.

Finally, the tow truck was called and it was towed to the mechanic where a thousand dollars later hopefully it will be fixed.

Some of that story resonates with me when I think of living the Christian life. Let me explain! Yesterday I was walking amongst the book aisles of Mardel’s, the Christian book store a few miles from our house. One of the long bookshelves was occupied with the best-selling books of the Christian faith this past year. I browsed, picked up a couple for clarification on what they were about, and then went on.

What was revealing to me was the fact that most of the books were written to answer questions, like how to pray or how to be a woman of God or a man of God? They were an assortment of self-help guides as to how to live the Christian life. They were about process and executing a plan. I walked away saying how nice it is to have tutorials for living the Christian life, and yet being a bit uneasy about it as well.

The Christian life is a journey, an ongoing relationship with the Holy. Our tendency as flawed beings is to try to figure out how to successfully live out that journey. The rub, however, is that it isn’t about succeeding. It’s about being.

If I’m focused so much on how to walk with God I will barely experience the walking with God. Like an educated adult, if I’m YouTubing how to pray with power I will detour around the childlike words of a simple faith.

Like my son-in-law’s quest to be an at-home Audi mechanic, sometimes as followers of Jesus we must simply surrender to the fact that we can’t do this on our own; that we won’t be able to figure everything out, establish a fail proof plan for reaching the mountaintop with God, and trust the Maker. There is simply not a way for us, as they say, “to be all that” when we acknowledge that the grace of God is intimately mingled into our existence. It’s difficult to calculate where I am on the journey when I forget where God is on the same journey.

Psalm 46:10 tells us to “be still, and know that I am God.” For many believers there is an immediate jump to “how do I be still?” But you see, it isn’t about us! It’s about us being still and letting God be who he is. It’s realizing that I’m in the passenger seat and the one who knows all and is all is driving the direction of my life.

Two Double A’s!

January 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                January 1, 2018

                                             

I arrived at Simla First Baptist Church yesterday as usual…about 10:00 for the 10:15 worship service. Simla First Baptist is one of those older small town church structures, white on the outside and dated on the inside. Pleasant looking enough, but it’s far from contemporary. People don’t go to Simla for contemporary and fashionable, let alone church in Simla.

I walked into the sanctuary and was immediately greeted by Laura, who was shivering in front of the communion table. The temperature in the worship space felt forty five-ish!

“Ray went to get new batteries!”

“New batteries?”

“Yes, the batteries in the thermostat died.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Wish I was! Two AA batteries, that’s all it is!”

The death of two Double A’s had rippled into a lack of life in the furnace on a Sunday morning when the temperature outside was hovering around twenty degrees. The sun shining through the east side sanctuary windows was not going to lesser the lack of heat. We proceeded to light every candle at the front of the sanctuary, but fifteen wax candles are not the same as a campfire to warm your hands beside.

The blankets were dispersed amongst the pews. We usually prayed for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be upon us. This morning we grabbed comforters and wrapped ourselves within them.

Two Double A’s!

There’s a lesson to learn in that. Here’s the cold hard facts! (Sorry! I couldn’t resist using a pun here.) It’s the small things that bring warmth to a church!

When perfection is more important than the person a coldness descends.

When grace and forgiveness get smothered by program and performance the temperature of the church plummets.

When ministries that care for the poor, displaced, and discouraged are seen as being of less significance than ministries for the well-to-do, established, and encouraged the warmth of community flickers away.

It’s the small things, often unseen, that cause a congregation to experience authentic fire and relational depth.

Two Double A’s!

Thank you, Lord, for the lessons you teach us in the little things of life!

The Sinful Nature of Tee Ball Parents

July 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 12, 2017

                          

I was at my granddaughter’s t-ball game last night. It was a calm event, appropriately applauded by parents and grandparents alike. The game’s highlight was when the first baseman actually caught the ball that was thrown to him. Other than that it was a time of watching six year olds more interested in the plane flying overhead than the baseball that just rolled by them on the ground, baseball caps turned backwards, and kids carrying mitts about half their height. Six year old t-ball is meant to be about learning, having fun, and getting the post-game snack. A kid can belt four home runs in the game, but if he misses the post-game snack he will go home totally devastated.

Then there are the other games! In Cortez, Colorado several parents got into a fight at a t-ball game. Video circulated from the event showing women going after one another, profanity thrown around like candy, and, ultimately, the police called with one parent cited! If this was an isolated situation we could just assign it to “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”, but unfortunately it isn’t just a blip on the screen. It happens quite often.

One team in my granddaughter’s age group has parents who follow the attitude of their children’s coach…a bit arrogant and cheering that is a bit over the top. One player who fell and went to the bench crying…as any six year old well-adjusted child would…was reprimanded by the coach who yelled at him that he had two minutes to get his act together.

Being a basketball official for sixteen years I remember having a mom removed from a sixth grade boy’s club game. She had been sitting along the baseline yelling to her son, “Kill him! Kill him!” When I had her removed she protested that she had paid to get in.

What is it about their son and daughter’s athletic contests that make parents become prime examples of human depravity? It seems to be the fertile ground from which their sinful nature grows like a weed. The Apostle Paul had it right when he wrote to the people of Galatia that “…the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17)

     He goes on to clarify what the acts of the sinful nature are, and while not specifically naming “being a parent at a youth sporting event” he does list associated acts like “hatred, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, and dissensions.” Ahhh…yes, sounds like some of the ingredients of some sideline parents I’ve seen.

Last summer twenty adults got into a fight during a four and five year old tee ball game in Florida over a disputed call of the umpire’s. National youth sports organizations get calls weekly about parents or coaches…or both…who have gotten into fights at games.

Years ago we had a men’s team play in a church basketball league. I used to say that the teams would pray together before the game and pray together after the game…and play like we were demon-possessed during the game!

Let’s face it! Sports bring out the best in us…and the worst in us! Parents have a hard time keeping things in perspective. Winning is worshiped. Having character is devalued. It is no longer about enjoying the sport, it’s about annihilating the competition. Common sense has exited the ball park!

Some leagues have toyed with not allowing parents to attend. Others have gone to the extreme of not allowing parents to say anything, even cheering. Associations of sports officials are seeing decreasing numbers of referees. One of the main reasons given is the behavior of parents!

Going back to Paul and his instruction to the Galatians he contrasts what the “fruit of the Spirit” are with the previously mentioned acts of the sinful nature. That is, what are the evidences of someone being directed by the Spirit of God, as opposed to “that other me” that seems to emerge form time to time. In his list he mentions things like “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Just an idea! They may not get it, but it’s an idea! What if parents start receiving a list of positive elements, like those just mentioned; and another list of unacceptable behaviors and attitudes. Perhaps some of them would recognize the spiritual connection…and file a law suit, citing religious discrimination! But maybe, just maybe, some of them would have their dusty light bulbs click on that would tell them how things should be, and one playing field intended to be a place of play would regain some of its purpose.

 

Out of Shape Churches (Part 2)

April 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           April 22, 2017

                          

I heard a presentation a couple of years ago from a state high school athletic association commissioner who expressed the growing concern about the number of one-sport high school athletes who were getting injured. I remember him referring to the NCAA’s growing concern about this. More athletes, who were coming to college with full-ride athletic scholarships, were missing some or most of the competitive seasons because of injuries. The sports affected the most were volleyball and baseball. The main cause of the injuries was “over-use” of certain areas. In those two sports it was appearing in the rising number of shoulder injuries. Bottom line,  those muscles were overused and exhausted.

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to figure out that out-of-shape churches are susceptible to injury for the same reason. The saying that has been heard to ad nauseam is that “20% of the people do 80% of the work.” The truth of that statement also leads us to discover a couple of things. When twenty percent, or less, of the people are doing almost all of the work their spiritual exhaustion makes them vulnerable to hurt and injury. In the workout world a common term is that a certain body part, like a knee or a lower back, “just gave out!” A sudden movement or moment changed everything. In churches “the twenty percent” is in danger of the same thing happening…”just giving out!” Someone who has been heavily involved in a ministry- one of those constants that people just take for granted- suddenly stops showing up. In simple terms, they just pooped out! Exhaustion mixed with frustration frequently results in absence!

The other dilemma of the twenty percent is that some of those people are a bit warped to begin with. They may volunteer for anything, but no matter where a psycho church member is serving he/she is still a psycho! Put another way, if an elephant volunteers to work in a china shop there is bound to be damage!

Several years ago I injured my lower back. To be more precise I herniated a disc. The injury was because of lifting some heavy objects and putting too much stress on that area of my back. In my physical therapy sessions the therapist showed me some safer ways to pick up things that won’t cause injury, and some exercises that would help strengthen a weak area. Looking back at that, now it is evident to me that I was doing things wrong. Injury was bound to happen at some time.

I’m helping with the middle school track team right now. We spend a lot of time stretching at the beginning of practice and then at the end of practice. In other words, we do a lot of prep work before we start depending on various muscle functions. Years ago when I was planning on running the Pike’s Peak Ascent, a 13.2 race UP Pike’s Peak (affectionately referred to by my wife as “The Death Race!”) I would go over to Barr Trail, which runs up the mountain, and train. I’d run up five miles and then back down the five miles. On other days I’d run around our neighborhood for a few miles. Although the Ascent was a challenge my training preparation was essential in getting me to the top of the mountain…and surviving!

Out of shape churches are too quick to press a warm body, or an overly-committed body, into ministry work. They expect their volunteers to attack a mountain when they still breathe hard just going upstairs.

Healthy churches do a lot more preparation before the ministry race starts! Healthy churches understand the value of the Holy Spirit in the functioning of ministry.