Archive for the ‘Holy Spirit’ category

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.

Feeling It!

March 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 25, 2017

                                          

There is a TV commercial airing these days from a high-tech mainstay that promotes one of their products that can help assess the shooting ability of a basketball prospect. Showing it several times during each March Madness college basketball game gets noticed by viewers. They add a small “megabyte” of humor to it, but the point is clear: Technology is a valuable tool in assessing talent and potential!

Moneyball was a book and movie about how the Oakland A’s baseball team used statistics and probabilities to figure out how to put a winning team on the field with a small payroll. I loved the movie! Once again, however, it brought the concept to the forefront of using technology and statistics as the determining factors in making decisions.

“Feeling it” seems to be getting pushed further and further back in the decision-making process. I can appreciate that. Hunches, intuition, and feelings are prone to being misread and misleading. If the Cubs had ended up losing the seventh game of the World Series against the Indians their manager, Joe Madden, would have been crucified for following his gut feeling and using relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman on short rest. He would have been rooming with Steve Bartram!

But, thank God, there is still some room for following what a person is led to do or say. Thank God Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have a statistical probability!”; or Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t encourage Luke Skywalker with the line “May the analytical findings print-out be conclusive for you!”

It seems that churches have bought into the information and analysis age as well. One program that is being sold right now promises to be able to help churches fill their sanctuaries on Easter morning. Follow the program and have success.

My cynical side has always been a bit suspicious of a church whose worship leader guides the congregation into worship, complete with raised hands and tear-filled faces, but ends the gathering after an hour because there are two more worship services scheduled that morning. It’s like we trust the leading of the Spirit to a point…er, a time…and then the emergency brake gets engaged. It’s like leasing God instead of buying into him!

What happens when a church is “feeling it?” What happens when the Spirit is truly leading? Unfortunately, most times in recent history when the church has “felt it” has gotten communicated in grandiose projects such as new building campaigns and launching satellite campuses. “Feeling it” doesn’t seem to surface in the relational areas of being led to ask for forgiveness and the practicing of grace. It seems to be in gigantic Solomon temple-sized visions! Perhaps that has made the church, and its people, a bit hesitant about the whispers and leadings of the Spirit.

In my old age I still lace up my sneakers from time to time and play hoop. A couple of weeks ago I was playing with some young guys and every shot I took except one went in. In two pick-up games I made like… ten baskets (Not that I was keeping my “statistics” or anything!)!

“Feed the old guy!” was the increasing emphasis because the old guy was…”feeling it!” It went against success probability and 62 year old player analysis, but they kept giving me the ball and I kept burning the nets.

That “feeling” doesn’t happen very often now, although I still have a “shooter’s touch”, but when it does you’ve got to go with it. To carry it a bit further, there is nothing quite so frustrating as having someone “feeling it” and someone else reluctant to feed the fire.

That sort of summarizes the church, doesn’t it?. We are a people of faith, hatched by an unbelievable God-story… driven most of the time by statistical probabilities!

Knowing That Voice!

September 19, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            September 19, 2016

                          

     My wife Carol still shakes her head in disbelief as she retells the story to people. It happened about twenty years ago now in the midst of a restaurant in Tempe, Arizona called Rustler’s Roost. Our family, along with Carol’s mom and dad were enjoying a nice dinner in the midst of the establishment. As we sat there sipping our Pepsi’s and munching on the pre-meal bread I heard a voice, a woman’s voice, coming from a few tables over from us.

I looked at Carol and said, “That’s Sue Burt!”

She gave me a confused look and asked, “Sue Burt?”

“Cyndi Martin’s step-sister from Arlington Heights.”

“How do you know it’s Sue Burt?”

“I’d recognize that voice anywhere!” Sue Burt’s step-father was Dr. James Payson Martin, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a church where I served as Youth Director during my next year of seminary in 1978-1979.

It was now 1998!

“Bill, are you sure? You aren’t even looking at her.”

“Absolutely!”

Without delay Carol got up and walked over to the table where “the voice” was coming from and asked the young woman, now about 35 years old, if her name was Sue Burt. She was greeted with a confused look attached to an affirmative nod. Carol explained to her that I had heard her voice. I walked over and we reconnected for a few minutes after a twenty year gap.

Sue had a voice that was distinctive, unmistakable, just like a few other voices that we can easily recognize…Pee Wee Herman…Mister Rogers…our family physician. When a voice becomes known to you it isn’t easily forgotten. When a voice speaks into your life you remember it.

I find this is increasingly true for followers of Jesus. When we know the voice because our life has listened to it for a long, long time we recognize when the voice is speaking to us. In a culture of a lot of noise- or perhaps multiple voices- hearing the “true” voice is essential for a person’s spiritual journey. The thing is lack of intimacy with “the Voice’ creates a high level of voice-guessing. That is, God becomes the voice of personal agendas clothed in spiritual jargon. “God told me so!” gets used a lot to cover up self-centeredness or people on power trips.

Churches are prone to listen to the ten spies rather than to the “Joshua and Caleb’s”. People also tend to listen to the loudest voice rather than the whisper of the Spirit. The one who has the deepest intimacy with the real Voice often gets drowned out by the turned up volume of others. Spiritually mature voices are seldom loud. Wisdom and discernment don’t emerge out of turned up volume.

But when a person or a church truly…undoubtedly…unmistakably…undeniably hears the voice of God, the whisper of the Spirit, and the leading of the love of Jesus something that can only be explained as being of God is about to happen!

 

Church Life

August 3, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 3, 2016

                                           

“He touched me….oh, he touched me! And oh, the joy that floods my soul! Something happened, and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.”

The congregation closed the song with several heart-felt “amens” from the twelve gathered souls for Sunday worship. Most of them smiled in the warmth of the words, the truth of their meaning.

I told them the Mark 5 story of the woman who had a feminine hygiene problem for twelve years and had been “ritually unclean.” She came to where Jesus was and risked a touch of the edge of his garment. She just wanted to be clean. She was emotionally distraught, felt spiritually unworthy, and had been afflicted for so long that she had become almost invisible to people. The story was retold to ears that were listening and heads that were nodding in agreement.

“People may not be ostracized for the same reasons today, but you know, we have a way in the church of making people feel like outcasts and minimizing certain ones because of this, that, or the other. My guess is that most of us have been made to feel like we don’t matter at one time or another.”

“And the thing is…when we’re gathered as the Body of Christ, that’s where we should always feel loved, accepted, and valued.”

They were with me as we journeyed this story. Their church had been larger at one time, but things happened. People moved away because of jobs, kids grew up and went off to college and didn’t come back, and some of the saints had passed on to the next life. Those were all journeys that were a part of life, the things that just happened. It was the other losses that kept wounding the few faithful. Words that had been said in the heat of the moment, unforgiving spirits and non-repentant hearts, power plays and personality conflicts. All those things that people expected in other places, but cut more deeply when they were a part of the community of the King.

But sometimes a church needs to go deep in the valley to see the sacredness of the fellowship. Pain sometimes makes the good days more cherished.

“How might we touch one another today as the Body of Christ? Who in our community is like the woman who just longs for a touch of hope, a touch of healing? Who might we invite to join us in this sanctuary of brokenness as we seek to be a place of hope?”

The words were being felt in the midst of the congregation’s soul.

“How might the words to that song that we sang be experienced in our lives, and the lives of those around us?”

“Amen.”

It wasn’t the end of a sermon, but rather the transition to reflection and action. Prayer concerns were shared. One person shared a deep concern that was weighing upon her. We stopped to pray, but before we prayed we gathered around her, laid hands upon her weary shoulders and touched her with care. Tears streamed from her eyes and ran down her cheeks on a path towards healing.

There was a wholeness that was coming back to her, and in that wholeness was also a sense of wholeness in the midst of “the gathered.”

Church life can often be the death of us, but sometimes a church near-death experience is their resuscitation to a new life and a deeper hope.