Posted tagged ‘Spiritual Growth’

Spiritually-Addicted Christians

December 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                         December 14, 2018


“It’s spiritually dead here!” explains the middle-aged woman to me.

“How so?”

“Nothing ever happens here!” she says, using her hands to exaggerate the point.

“Nothing of God ever happens here. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes, Pastor! It’s dead!”

“I’d beg to differ with you.”

“You’re the pastor. I would expect you to disagree!”

“Like last Saturday morning when the men’s bible study group prayed for a problem that Bobby was dealing with, and then we gathered around him and hugged him, and gave him encouragement! Or last week when I was out changing the letters on the church sign, and I got into a conversation with an 84 year old lady who lives a block away from our church. A few of us are going to walk up to her house and trim her bushes and fix her screen door next Saturday! Or last Sunday when Patty brought out something from the scripture story we were studying that caused a light bulb to go on in the minds of a few of us. I’m not sure what criteria you’re using to determine whether God’s involved or not, but those were all signs to me.”

She looked at me and bit her lip.

“Say it!” I urged her.

“Those things just aren’t very exciting, pastor! I’m looking for miracles and people who love the Lord, and I’m just not seeing much of that here.”

“So…have you been to see Widow Samuels? Because, even though she is in a care center now, whenever I go to visit her I experience a spiritual blessing and marvel at her love for the Lord.”

“I don’t really like those kind of places.”

“And last week I was sitting beside Joe Skinner’s bed and talking about the end of his life, his looking forward to experiencing the glory of the Lord in heaven, and how God has walked with him through a multitude of life valleys.”

“Those aren’t the things I’m talking about, Pastor. I’m talking about spiritual highs!”

“So you’re an addict?”

“Excuse me!”

“You’re a spiritual addict, whose addiction can only be satisfied by an experience that is high energy and high emotion.”

“I knew you’d blame me!”

“I’m not blaming you for anything. I’m just stating what the situation is. You don’t seem to see God working in our midst unless something awesome happens. What is awesome, however, has to be defined by your standards. Am I right?”

“No, you aren’t right!”

“Then we will just agree to disagree. The spiritual life I’m seeing is different than what you’re looking for. I mean no disrespect in saying this but there are some people who go to an amusement park and define its impact by how many roller coasters it has and how thrilling they are. When I go to an amusement park I evaluate it on being able to ride the merry-go-round with my grandkids. Different perspectives, neither which is wrong.”

“I’m not addicted, though!”

“And I’m not spiritually bored! So, I guess we’re both where we need to be!”

She smirks, starts to say something, but then turns and walks away. She has moved on to the next church down the road. 

Five years after the conversation she has moved on three other times. Sometimes, it seems, we minimize the power of God by not allowing him to be involved in our rhythms of life. There is a hunger- an addiction, if you will- to wanting to see smoke on the mountaintop while missing the nearness of His presence.

Sore Muscles

October 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          October 22, 2017


I invited my friend, Ron McKinney, to join me yesterday at the health club Carol and I belong to. It was “Bring A Guest Day”, and Ron likes to workout, so he accepted the invitation. I’m “feeling” his friendship today!

I made the suggestion that he show me some weight training lifts that could improve my abs. I still have illusions of developing a “six pack”, or even a “four pack”. At the moment I have a rounded “one pack”!

After my usual thirty minutes on a thread mill, during which he used a step climber that looked like torture, we went down to the weight area. In the weight training I’ve done it has always been the weight machines that I’ve used. Ron, however, likes the stand-alone weights…like we had 45 years ago in high school.

He took me through several types of lifts, from squats to pull-ups, to arm curls, to “standing sit-ups”, to bench presses. He smiled as I grunted and groaned.

This morning I had a hard time lifting my toothbrush! My abs feel like a semi ran over them! My chest is asking for the day off…apart from the rest of my body!

It didn’t help that this was my first day back at the health club in two weeks. Bronchitis had sidelined me for a while. The muscles that Ron made me use, however, had been put on the shelf for quite a while. Quite frankly, they were like those cans of food in the pantry with the expiration date already passed.

Sometimes it seems my spiritual fitness has forgotten muscle groups as well. I get out of prayer-shape to the point where my prayers seem uncoordinated and stuttered. Meditation becomes a foreign practice, and worship feels weird. In the church we talk a lot about renewal (as we hold our Sunday morning donut), but renewal seems far away and like a dream to someone who is spiritually flabby. It’s like trying to go from Point A to Point Z, without having to stop anywhere along the way.

The question for me is will I have the desire and perseverance to get back to some of those lifting exercises Ron showed me tomorrow? Will I build on the knowledge and the routines that were demonstrated for me and develop better muscle tone?

Spiritually, when I get out of sync am I willing to admit my state of casualness and commit to striving towards intimacy with Jesus and a hunger in my spirit? Do I have the willingness to be who God intended for me to be, and to be draw as close as he desires for me to be?

No Grow and No Go

May 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 7, 2017


Recently a pastor friend of mine was sharing his church’s “simplified plan.” Our ministry support group of five people was sitting in a restaurant having lunch together. The noise and my aged hearing caused me to misinterpret what he was saying. His congregation’s simplified plan is “Know. Grow. Go.”

I, however, heard him say “No grow and go!” I thought to myself, “That’s an unusual plan…no grow and no go!’ I asked for clarification and my friend corrected my understanding when I told him what I had heard. All five of us got a good chuckle out of it, but then I thought about it a bit more. “No Grow and No Go!” might better define many churches of various flavors around the country.

There are many reasons why a number of churches don’t desire to grow as disciples and go and make disciples of others. First of all, growing requires commitment to something and surrender of part of my agenda. “Growing” is a marathon race and the church is crowded with sprinters and jumpers. In sports there are “fair weather fans”, and in churches there are “fair weather attenders.”

Growing requires change and, whereas we are fluid in many areas of our lives when it comes to change, we are also entrenched in other ways. For example, I need a new pair of jeans but I love the pair I’ve been wearing for about a decade. The pocket that I’ve carried my wallet in has a hole in it that resembles a woodpecker’s carving. I’ve tried changing pockets, but then I feel like I walk funny. I’m considering the option of not carrying my wallet with me rather than buy a new pair of jeans that I have to get used to. That’s how we are in various areas of our lives. I drink my morning juice out of a certain plastic cup, but I drink my dinner milk from a glass. I write my blog from a certain stool at a certain Starbucks. To vary that always gives me the feeling that the quality of the writing has diminished…unless I’m visiting my dad in southern Ohio, and then it’s okay to write from the Starbucks across the river in Huntington, West Virginia.

On the other side of the equation are churches that have a hard time figuring out what that “growing” element looks like. Our recent history shows the jumping around of churches trying to nail the discipleship block. But growing followers of Christ is not easily contained in a program or a curriculum, and that’s a hard truth for many of us professional church leaders to admit. It’s not that programs and curriculums are bad or unnecessary, but rather that we often put all of our eggs in one basket and there’s, so to speak, a growing number of spiritual egg-haters!

Moving on to the “go” part we’re often unmovable! Jesus’ Great Commission too often is the great omission in congregations. To sum it up, most of a typical church’s budget goes for what happens inside the walls, and what is designated as the mission budget is what gets sent outside the walls to support people not from the church in mission work. When the budget gets evaluated each year the mission budget lies there like a clay pigeon ready to be shot at. Want proof? Just notice how many people in your church come to a potluck dinner, and compare that to how many people participate in a community service or ministry project!

“No grow and no go!” symbolizes the “standing firm congregation.” We’ve mis-translated that great hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” a bit! Jesus didn’t intend for us to be stationary and anchored to what has always been, protective of our resources and unsympathetic towards a broken world around us.

Church Obesity

April 30, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 April 30, 2012


I returned last Wednesday from being with my mom and dad in Ohio for two weeks. Since my mom is almost entirely bedridden, Dad and I ate dinner at the house just about every night. My sister, who lives down the street, would cook a double portion- one portion for her and her husband, and one portion for Dad and me.

Chicken salad casserole…meatloaf…spaghetti and meatballs…pot roast…potato salad…lasagna…banana cream pie…the food just kept coming. “Lord, bless this second helping I’m about to have…and may there still be room in my tum-tum for pie!”

Seriously, I was there for two weeks and I gained ten pounds…and that’s with just eating an infant-size cup of Activa yogurt for breakfast! If I had stayed another week I could have applied for a position as a boulder! It would have been a new version of “Rock and Roll!”

The thing is…my weight gain was the result of a few subtle changes in my usual daily routine. In Colorado I’m usually pretty active…early morning hoops at the “Y”…walks with my wife in the evening…a lot of movement during a typical day…but in Ohio I was focused more on being with my parents, being stationary. The setting necessitated a lack of movement, and my sister is a great cook! Did I mention the squash casserole or the lemon cake?

It gives me pause to consider what happens quite often in a church. There’s a lot of “feed talk” in church. People want to be fed the Word, they want to feast on sermons and Bible studies and Sunday morning fellowship donuts.

There is a time for a feast, and there is a time for implementing.

I wonder what the reaction would be is the pastor or the teacher were to say, “That is the lesson for the day, the food for thought. Now, there will be more no food until you do something with what you just received.”

What is we were to implement an exercise program, a putting my faith in action exercise program?

It was easy for me to become physically inactive, but a food glutton. Within a few days I had been transformed…and extra waist size!

The danger is for a church to encourage church obesity. That is, a person losing focus of what is outside the walls, and becoming focused on the next spiritual offering.

Don’t misunderstand me! There are plenty of examples of congregations that offer spiritual lean cuisine that leaves a person without the spiritual nourishment to put their faith into action. There just needs to be some balance. A church that doesn’t offer spiritual nourishment is a church that is, or soon will be, insignificant and irrelevant. A church that practices the “Golden Corral principle” is the church that will create faith waddlers, who partake of sermon after sermon and then take a long nap.

Spiritually Re-Hydrating

April 13, 2012

It’s been a tough winter! The extreme dryness of Colorado has been a killer on my skin. Some mornings when I get up and look in the mirror I look like a cast member of “The Walking Dead.” Brutal!

I’m going through Chapstick like butterscotch candies. I rub on lip balm so much that I have a glaze on my finger now.

Dry, baby! Yes, I know that the excessive amount of Starbucks coffee I drink doesn’t help…but…I…I’m a coffee snob…and a creature of the caffeinated habit.

So now I’m back in Ohio visiting family…and getting re-hydrated! Being within a stone’s throw of the Ohio River is a sign of the “wetness” of the air around here. I haven’t had to make a “Sam’s Club run” for a case of Burt’s Bees since I got here. The vampire look is disappearing from my face. A few more days and I might even look normal! Okay…maybe not!

There is, however, a parallel between being in the spiritual desert for so long that a period of spiritual re-hydrating is the Great Physician’s remedy.

It is not coincidental that King David talked to the Lord about being led  beside quiet waters and laying down in lush green pastures. There are periods in our lives where, spiritually speaking, we need to dangle our feet in a stream and cut some blades of green grass with our fingers.

There are times when we must admit that our lips are parched from too much talking, and not much listening for the whisper of the Spirit. In a different Psalm (the 63rd) David said:

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

David wrote those words as he was in the desert of Judah. It was a time of drought…for him.

Spiritual drought doesn’t suddenly smack us in the face like a Colorado hail storms as you’re out for a walk. It comes gradually, slowly, and then it occurs to you that you are parched, that your upper lip is almost chapped. It’s time for the thirst to be quenched, not in one big guzzling, but rather with a long slow watering.

A few years ago Nestea sold a lot of iced tea by having a guy fall willingly backwards into a swimming pool. Many of us rushed to the frig to get a glass because the visual was so effective. In our churches, a similar visual involves the dipping of a new believer into the waters of baptism. There is a congregational squeal of delight about the time the new believer arises from the water with wet and messed up hair while sporting a smile.

How well do we plan for periods of spiritual re-hydrating? How well do we look for that lip-smacking moment when our spirit sings, like the Nestea plunge, “Ahhh!”

Like lip balm, we often try to play catch-up instead of planning ahead, reactive instead of proactive. Instead of being in the Word, we search for an answer after the windstorm has hit our lives.

We hope that we’ll learn from the desert. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t!

Like the words of a hymn we sing, “It is well with my soul!” May the Spirit drench us with the presence and delight of the Living Water!

“Stuck Between The Can and The Will”

December 16, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. December 15, 2011

A walk with Jesus is a walk of faith.
Plain and simple! Faith is what moves us on when it would be rationale to stop. Faith is at the center of who we are as Christians. It takes faith to believe that what the Word of truth is really true.
But there is a point in our faith walk where it is easy to get stuck. It’s a point that is as consuming as Mississippi mud. It’s the place where we have faith that God can do something, but we’re not sure if he will do something. It’s an uncomfortable place for people of faith to be in, because we pride ourselves on believing. Stories of extreme faith fill our Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and daily guides. It’s the residence of the doubt-filled.
There’s an interesting story in Mark 9 where Jesus encounters a man whose son is possessed by an evil spirit. The father has grieved the pain of his son’s life for years. The boy is continually in the midst of situations that can bring him harm, plus he can’t speak. The father comes to Jesus and tells Jesus that he has already brought his son to the disciples, but they can’t seem to handle the situation. Jesus replies “O unbelieving generation…” (Mark 9:19)
His disciples were struggling with the “can” and the “will.” They were at an impasse. I picture it being like a group of government bureaucrats shrugging their shoulders and saying “We’re sorry! But this is a situation that falls outside our parameters. You might check with the disciples of John the Baptist. They may be able to help you.”
The scripture says that when the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. (Mark 9:20). At the end of verse 22 the father says to Jesus, “…if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
And Jesus replies, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.”
The disciples are over in the corner trying to not notice, and doing a lot of rubbing of their foreheads. The father then replies to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Those words resonate with me. I believe, but sometimes my unbelief tips the scales.
We may feel guilty in those moments and those points of “faith deserts” in our lives.
But the story doesn’t end there! After Jesus has cast out the spirit and restored the son, he is in a private location with his disciples and they ask him the tough question- the question that gets attached to the “stuck point of faith.”
“Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
And Jesus replies in Mark 9:29, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
It seems that prayer is an essential bridge builder over the gulf of doubt. How much prayer? I don’t know. I don’t read in scripture that there’s a minimum…or a maximum. It’s a vessel that slowly moves us, or, if you will, un-sticks us, from the “can” to the “will.”
Perhaps sometimes we don’t put faith in our praying.

Half Full or Half Empty?

December 2, 2011

WORDS FROM W.W. December 2

The church is the mechanism in our time that has the most potential to make a difference; and the church is also the most difficult organization to make a difference.
That statement may seem like a contradiction in terms, and yet it hits at the core problem…and possibility of the Body of Christ.
The church is comprised of flawed and fallen people who are trying to stand back up. We seek to help people in finding Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We seek to help people who are constantly falling getting back on their feet, and walking on with our Savior.
And yet because of our flawed fallenness, we quite often knock people back down who have started walking again. The Body of Christ can quite often be called the Bruised despite Christ.
Grace gets see-sawed with a grinch. Love gets paired up with hate. Peace is put in an uneasy relationship with unrest.
I wish it were not true, but it is. Behind the beauty are some warts. Crouched behind faith is unbelief.
And so we come together as the people of God and talk one minute about the blessings of the Lord, and then we talk about the problems of the people in the very next statement. We thank God for how we see his hand at work in one situation, and groan about our imperfections in the next one.
Is the glass half full or half empty? The answer is “both and.” This very moment I my thoughts might be consumed with the impossibilities of the situation, the difficulties of having to work with people; and then in the next moment I’m sensing the hand of God working in our midst.
It’s a glass of water that has tidal waves in it, at one moment rising to the brim and then at the next exposing the deep bottom.
And that is the church, fluctuating in effectiveness and emptyness; experiencing the moving of the Spirit, and then the barrenness of a valley.
The difference-making and the difficult nature of the church makes the journeying together complex and confusing, but, as time goes on, it also clearly becomes more and more vital.
Walk on! Walk together! Walk with grace!