Archive for the ‘Holy Spirit’ category

The Following of Influencers

April 7, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  April 7, 2019

                              

More than 24 million people follow Huda Kattan on Instagram, and she has 2.2 million subscribers on YouTube. Ever since Kim Kardashian wore a series of false eyelashes that Kattan has created, her cosmetics products have attracted a crowd. 

She is one of the new breed of social media marketing people called “influencers.” An influencer does just that! Influences the opinions and decisions of other people who follow them.

Some influencers are compensated by companies whose products they promote. For example, if an influencer takes a selfie of himself eating an Egg McMuffin he may be compensated in some way by McDonald’s.

Why? Because his followers model their behavior after him. Egg McMuffins may go up a hundred thousand in sales the day after he posts a picture of him biting into one.

It is why athletic footwear companies pay top-level athletes boatloads of money to wear their brand. What did Air Jordan mean before it became the name of a Nike shoe? Suddenly millions of athletes began lacing up Air Jordans because of Michael Jordan and the subtle idea that they would be skying through the air like him. 

Influence is not new term. Kids have been told to stay away from so-and-so because he’s a bad influence. In other words, when a young boy hung around with him he was prone to making stupid decisions. Parents, of course, would also talk about who might be a good influence on their child! 

Coming from a long career as a church pastor, I always felt the tension in people’s lives over who and what influences them the most. There were those who were passionate about Jesus, sought the leading…the influencing, if you will…of the Holy Spirit, and the whisper of God. And then there were those who fluctuated- on fire for the Lord one week and as ho-hum as generic peanut butter the next. Finally, there were those who it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out were not being influenced by Jesus much at all. 

These days it seems that Sunday church attendance fluctuates according to what time the Denver Bronco’s game kicks off, or how nice the weather is outside, or other Sunday commitments like youth soccer, baseball, volleyball, basketball, or lacrosse.

In other words, “church” has decreasing influence on people’s lives. Each year in the United States between 6,000 and 10,000 churches now close. They’ve become irrelevant in the eyes of much of the populace. Like Amazon has made the locally-owned book store a memory of the past, change has caused many of our places of worship to close up shop.

And yet there’s hope!

Just as people are influenced by the images of Huda Kattan fake eyelashes, the symbols and images of the Christian faith are still strong influencers. The Cross of Christ will always be powerful and meaningful. The image of an empty tomb conveys the possibilities of life in the midst of darkness and death. A broken piece of bread continues to influence me to ponder and think about my identity in Christ.

Granted the influencers of the Christian faith are not fluff and cosmetic, which seem to attract a certain part of our population, but they are deeply significant and rooted in truth.

“Church World” has been rocked in recent times by scandals, pastors who have been worshipped more than Jesus himself, and identifying with the voice of politics as opposed to the politics of Jesus. There are a growing number of people who now identity the church as one of those “bad influences.”

Perhaps there will be a renewal on the horizon of some influences that will lead hurting people back to the source of hope and darkened minds back to the Light! If fake eyelashes can influence millions of people, could a new vision from God influence the multitudes of people whose eyes are weary from the search for something meaningful and enduring?

Noisy Contributions

April 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 April 2, 2019

                                     

     Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence.”     (Mark 12:41-42)

My friend, Ed Stucky, gave a message on Sunday about “offerings”. I always learn some “behind the scenes” stories of the Scriptures when Ed speaks, and this was no different.

When the crowds came to the temple the people would place their coin offerings in metallic containers (probably made of silver, gold, or bronze). The larger the offering the louder the noise of the coins hitting the metal. The louder the noise the more attention the giver would receive. The noise indicated the size of the contribution, and the wealthy status of the contributor.

It reminds me of the Society Page in our city newspaper’s Sunday edition. There are pictures of men in tuxedoes and women in evening gowns holding glasses of wine, with the headline “Benefit Raises $250,000 for Family Crisis Center!”

Not that raising money for a cause is a bad thing, but in Jesus’ time the rich wanted to be seen for the size of their gifts more than the generosity of their hearts. They liked to make a lot of noise!

And then there is a widow who places two small coins in! They are lost in the noise of the crowd, and she slips away unnoticed, invisible, and now poorer than poor. Jesus seems to be the only one that notices her. After all, the temple needs a lot of noisemakers to keep things going, not the slight sound of unimportant pence that make no impact! 

Jesus is impressed by what the widow has given and chosen not to keep, rather than what the rich have chosen to keep rather than give! It’s a counter-cultural thought that escapes the notice of everyone else.

It also signals a principle that gets overlooked or completely ignored. That is, it is usually the noisemakers in our culture that are visible and those who hardly are able to make a sound who become the invisible.

In saying that, it’s easy to place the focus on groups and categories of people who don’t have two coins to their name, but each of us also have people in our lives that easily become invisible. It’s easier to focus on categories of the voiceless rather than the man we see everyday sitting alone at Starbucks or the middle school student who has become invisible to her classmates.

Who makes the most noise these days? What noise SHOULD my life make?

Perhaps the forgotten prayer that needs to be whispered again is “Lord, may the noise that my life offers always be an echo of your spirit speaking to me and through me!”

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!”