Archive for the ‘Holy Spirit’ category

What I Like About Church

March 18, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 18, 2019

                                 

I admit that it’s ingrained in me. Sunday mornings have always meant one word: Church! And since our family attended Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky, it meant Sunday morning and Sunday evening. 

I was always a bit jealous of the kids at the Methodist church across the street from Central Baptist. They didn’t have Sunday evening services and, therefore, got to stay home and watch “Walt Disney” on TV. For my two siblings and me, our exposure to Walt Disney had to happen at Leed’s Theatre in downtown Winchester. That’s where we discovered “Old Yeller” and “Big Red”, not on TV!

But I liked church! It was like a warm blanket on a blizzard night. It felt good and right. 

And now 55 years since Central Baptist, and a career as an American Baptist pastor, I still feel right when I sit in a pew, or a sanctuary chair. It makes me wonder though…why? It’s got to be more than just the mark made by a family tradition. Why do I think about being a part of a worship service when Sunday morning rolls around?

I could get all spiritual on you and say right away that it’s because of the grace of God for such a sinner as me, and the forgiveness of Christ exacted by the shedding of his blood…and that’s true! The foundation for being a life-long church participant IS rooted in the gospel of Christ, but that’s not what gets me out of bed on Sunday morning.

It’s not the lure of donuts and Danish’s either, or weak coffee brewed by someone who’s taste was destroyed by drinking watered-down Maxwell House.

I like church because of the intimacy and the memories of intimacy. Not the youth group hay rides we used to go on…not that kind of intimacy, although the memories of them still bring a smile to my face!

The intimacy I’m thinking of was being able to lean up against my mom or dad’s arm and know that neither or them was going anywhere for the next hour or so. There was a closeness to family in those moments. 

A few weeks ago a picture popped up on my Facebook page from seven years ago. It was from Christmas Day, 2011. I stood in the aisle of the sanctuary with a dear man named Rex Davis. I had my arm around his shoulders and he had his arm around my waist. Rex was around 90 at the time. I like church because of moments like that, when the bond of Christ draws us together in an embrace of deep love and connected humanity. 

I like church because of the moments of revelation. Once again, I need to clarify about that term, because it’s been associated with suspect snake oil salesmen. For me, the moments of revelation come as I sit in silence and ponder, or as a scripture verse is read for the umpteenth time, or as I gaze at a stained glass window. Things get revealed to me about myself, or about the One I’m encountering. I live in a world that is so noisy I’m blasted with false revelations every day. I’m told my life needs certain things- products and services and such. Snake oil now comes in a variety of cultural flavors. In church, true revelation is hinted at if I desire to follow its path.

I like the hope of church and the hope experienced in church. Weary souls stumble through the doors and then a short while later leave rested and reassured. The hurting share their wounds and are carried back to healing. The lonely and broken-hearted are able to be embraced and held in place. A world of trouble is put into perspective by the message of the God who draws near.

I don’t go to church to be impressed by the perfection of the pastor, or the performance of the participants. There’s something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth- like sweet cream gone bad- when church tries to outdo the other places of worship in the same zip code, something fake and foreign to my senses.

And so I go each Sunday, ready to receive and willing to give. I’ve long since stopped using my mom and dad’s arms as a pillow for my head, but I still have others who I know I can lean on, if and when I need them!

When Christians, and Their Churches, Disagree

March 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 2, 2019

 

In my 36 years of shepherding flocks (“Pastor” comes from the Latin for Shepherd), I guided congregations through a few briar patches of heated discussions and thorny issues. Sometimes my style fit and sometimes it didn’t. When I was president of the Mason School Board back in Michigan, since again, my style fit and, although we had a few disagreements too work through, we always managed to come through the discussions with a high respect for one another.

As a pastor I remember differences that we had about renovating the sanctuary. Two different churches I pastored over the years had the wood paneling on the sanctuary walls…you know, the paneling that showed up in the basements of homes back in the 50’s and 60’s! Each was gradually brought along to seeing that a change would not offend Jesus…but it took time. We considered switching out pews for chairs in one of the congregations, but one person protested vehemently. Her concern was for one of the senior saints of the congregation, that he might fall over in his chair and hurt himself. We disagreed with her, but did not force the issue. The saint, who lived to the age of 91 was loved by all and anything that might harm him (though we doubted that a chair would increase the chances of injury) became a point that we longer wanted to debate. 

Churches are hot beds for conflict and disagreement. When people are passionate about an issue or situation…and there is passion on both sides…the depth, or lack thereof, in Christian community becomes evident. In that respect the church mirrors the world instead of becoming different from the world. 

Let’s be honest! Too often the church is simply a commercial for the world instead of a repository of the love and grace of God. What I said to a 7th grader student a couple of weeks ago, who was trying to minimize the amount of classwork she had been asked to do, I could also say to a  number of church folk. “So what you’re saying is this is you.” I made an imaginary dot in front of me, and then drew an imaginary large circle around it. “And this is the world, and the world revolves around you. Is that what you’re saying?”

Our churches are dotted every service with people who have that mindset!

True confession: I’ve been that “dot” a few times myself!

Words like “surrender”, “sacrifice”, “servant” echo through the Bible. “Sacrifice” appears 54 times in the New Testament and “servant” gets mentioned 157 times. They are words we say in our liturgies and write in the church covenant, but often get pushed to the side when things are going against our opinion. Sides then get chosen and sometimes all holy hell breaks loose! 

In recent times a few churches have resembled more hell than holiness. Prominent church pastors have gone to war with some of the leaders of their churches. When the pastor of a mega-church gets relieved of his duties it rarely ends well for anyone. When denominations have doctrinal disagreements or differences over contemporary issues, unfortunately, it rarely ends in a good way. The battles make for good news in our drama-addicted culture, but after the heated fog lifts there always seems to be a lot of wounded people laying around. 

Of course, even Jesus couldn’t bring his disciples to 100% agreement! But after he rose from the grave, and the Holy Spirit was poured out, his remaining eleven were able to unite to the point that they changed the world!

All things are possible!

Every Blessing Leads To A New Problem/Challenge

November 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        November 15, 2018

                            

Recently I was worshiping at a church my daughter attends. The pastor talked about blessings, being blessed and the gratitude of experiencing the blessings of God. In the midst of his message he made a profound point that struck me so much I wrote it down!

He said every blessing leads to a new problem! 

I’m sure we could substitute the word ”challenge” for blessing if need be, but I’ll stay with problem just to press the point.

The first gathering of Christ-followers, who became the first church, prove it. Acts 6 begins with these words:

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1)

To break it down it would read like this: The number of disciples increased, and the number of problems increased as well!

At stake was the very reputation of the first church. Like a restaurant getting a bad Yelp review they were at risk of being labeled as uncaring, “all words but no action”, fake, a flash in the pants. Their blessing led to a new problem.

I wonder if there were some “who wished for the old days” when you didn’t have to stand in line and there was room in the meeting room? Kind of a New Testament version of the Hebrews longing to return to bondage in Egypt!

Going back to when Jesus traveled from place to place healing people and speaking truth, he kept drawing larger and larger crowds. The blessing of a healed life was accompanied by twenty more people following Jesus looking to be healed. Jesus didn’t see it as a problem, but his disciples sometimes gave the impression that they were at their wit’s end because of it. Like the employee of a major retail store on Black Friday…a sense of dread about the next twelve hours or so!

Every blessing leads to a new problem. In Colorado Springs the blessing of having a mission that is concerned about the homeless and impoverished, called the Springs Rescue Mission, has led to new problems. Perhaps this is where the word “challenge” would fit better! The mission has almost always been at capacity in the housing of the homeless in its shelter. They’ve expanded the number of beds with a new facility. It still can not accommodate all of those who need shelter, but it’s a blessing to the city. The blessing has come with new challenges, like opposition from those who are concerned about public safety and having a large number of homeless people in a certain area of the city, increased health issues that the homeless population brings, and the increased challenges of leading homeless people back to a more settled life.

On one hand Colorado Springs thanks God for the Rescue Mission, but on the other the effectiveness and caring of their ministry and mission has resulted in more challenges for them and the city.

Blessings do not lead to an eased existence and a comfortable life. Blessings are simply a step on the road that stays obedient and faithful as it follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

It’s like our family gathering last night! We had dinner at our house, all ten of us- our three children, two son-in-laws, three grandkids, Carol, and I. What a blessing to have family tonight! Carol fixed an amazing dinner, that culminated a couple of days of anxiety and worry 

about whether it was going to be okay; the grandkids ran around like they were on sugar-highs; the noise level was sometimes deafening and the number of conversations going on at the same time were plentiful. We had to put up another table alongside the dinner table to fit everyone. The dishes were piled up afterwards, and Grammy and Granddad’s energy had been consumed!

And we knew we were blessed! 

We wouldn’t want it any other way! Blessings bring problems and challenges, and we’re smiling in the midst of our exhaustion!

The Church I Don’t Have to Attend to Attend

October 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 21, 2018

 

It’s the reality that unsettles me!

The church is different than it was when I was growing up. Heck! It’s different than when I pastored! 

Not that it didn’t change at all when I was pastoring! I remember the first Sunday back in Mason, Michigan when I used power point slides to go along with my message. A twenty-something person came up to me afterwards and told me that I had a great message and that the slides on the screen had made it even better. And then a sixty-something lady came up to me and said the message was great, but the slides had been a distraction. That was a wake -up moment about generational differences at that time (early 1990’s). The power points continued each Sunday after that and the older lady got used to it!

Carey Nieuwhof said that “the gap between how quickly you change and how quickly things change is called irrelevance!” The contemporary church has rarely had the adjective “innovative” attached to it. 

It’s like the church is still learning the multiplication tables and culture has moved on to algebra. 

And yet, some churches have often rushed to change because what the culture says has occupied the driver’s seat of the mission and Jesus, although still in the vehicle, is just one of the passengers…kinda’ like Grandpa, still well-respected but no longer allowed to drive!

Social media has changed how the church functions. That’s understandable, as long as we don’t build a new garage simply because we came home with a new car. 

In a growing number of churches people no longer have to be physically present at an on-site worship service to be a part of the congregation. Aunt Lucy can now stream the worship service and watch it at home. Social media and technology have now made it possible for people to be a part of a church in a different state across the country.

The importance of having a  sense of “community” has been packed in the trunk. The new clamoring is about “connectedness.” 

Connectedness has been confused with being the twin sister of community! People confuse being connected on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter with being a part of a spiritual community. 

A wise middle school principal, seeing how social media consumes so much of a typical adolescent’s time, takes this approach. 

“You have to manage your social being with being social.”

In other words, our social being has the potential to minimize our ability to be social. 

That being said, there is something about the Body of Christ coming together in a worship setting, taking the bread and the cup of the communion experience and sharing with one another, having someone ask if the church can gather around him and touch him with their hands and prayer. Perhaps those things are antiquated elements of a church that is passing away, but I guess that means I’m ancient!

Be Kind or Be Kinda’ Kind

September 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 25, 2018

                            

At our middle school, as any other middle school, there has been a lot of information and discussion about bullying- what it is and what to do if you are the person who is being bullied? 

This school year there has been an initiative to have students and teachers think about doing the polar opposite of bullying. It’s the idea of being kind. Teachers and administrators wear t-shirts that say “Be Kind” on the front. (I’ve got one of the t-shirts!) Since school is only into its seventh week it’s hard to make any “kind” of determination on the effect or non-effect of the initiative yet. 

Students ARE influenced by slogans and sayings, images and symbols, but I’m not sure how well a school can teach kindness. It’s on a different plane than learning algebra, what the functions are of the three branches of government, or the different body parts of a grasshopper are. 

From my Christian faith, kindness is one of the results that emerges in the life of a Christ-follower as he/she allows the Holy Spirit to take up residence in his/her life. Kindness, along with other characteristics like perseverance, self-control, and peace are called “fruit of the Spirit.” That’s not to say that someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus can’t be kind, but I’m more comfortable with the belief that the Spirit can develop it within my life than in the idea that it can be taught to be a part of our human nature. 

Middle school students are a bizarre community of many things- kind and thoughtful, self-centered and obnoxious, unorganized and wrinkled, understanding and supportive. Perhaps teaching and emphasizing kindness will cause a number of them to think about what they say and do before they do it,  but I’m hesitant to believe it will change them for a lifetime. It may simply make this school year a little more tolerable!

I’m not so naive as to believe that if someone is a Christian he/she is automatically kind. I know a lot of people who identify themselves as Christians who are simply jerks! I wouldn’t let them date my granddaughter or walk my cat (if I still had a cat)! 

Jesus modeled kindness for his disciples. His disciples were a bit clumsy in how they showed such a practice, but it finally sunk in. Early followers of Christ were known for their kindness. It grew out of their spiritual relationships and from the life of their community. 

Can schools teach kindness that has sanitized from anything resembling Jesus? Time will tell, but it may end up being more like a “kinda’ kind!”

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.