Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

Over my years as a minister and as a minister in training, I have come across the sense that a large portion of the church is afraid of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps rightly? When the Holy Spirit moves there is power, there is transformation, there is growth. When the Holy Spirit bursts out on someone, sometimes they seem like a different person. When the Holy Spirit enters the picture, suddenly all of our carefully constructed categories seem to fall apart as we find ourselves in the presence of something both familiar and strange, mysterious and known.

Growing up in the Southern Baptist branch of the church as well as the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (comment if you need some background on that one) the topic of the Holy Spirit was often kept to the book of Acts. Outside of that, we kind of danced around the topic unless a teacher was particularly passionate about the work of the Spirit, and then we’d get some extra meat, which was exciting. (Sorry vegans for the meat metaphor… it is biblical, though?)

Some background on myself: I am in so many ways a product of the Enlightenment (via Modernity.) Honestly, Post-Modernism (or however many “posts” are in that by now) gives me headaches and exasperation, but I will not deny it’s had its own impact on my thinking. That said, I like evidence. In a lot of ways I wholeheartedly relate to Thomas when he states he needs to see the wounds or he won’t believe. I would be right there with him. You have to show me. So I tend to be very skeptical about the supernatural in general – along with what seems like a majority of Protestants. Maybe the Enlightenment hit Protestants harder than we realized. (No “maybe” about it, but benefit of the doubt and all that.) Perhaps we reacted too strongly to a Catholic mentality of miracles. Perhaps we’re scared of what it means that the Holy Spirit is still at work today.

When I run into fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who have had a spiritual experience different from my own, can I dismiss their experience out of hand? Can I state without a hint of humility that what they attribute to the Holy Spirit is all in their head?

The few spiritually charged moments I have had in my life I can count on one hand. Maybe I’m just thick-headed, or maybe I’m not open enough to the possibilities? Despite this, I have a hard time looking at a brother or sister in Christ who has had a spiritual experience and thinking they’ve made it all up. Now, there are some interesting discussions we can all have about what it means to have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the signs of that, and maybe discuss baptism in depth to really get to the heart of the Holy Spirit’s work there, too.

The Holy Spirit is our guide into the truth and toward Jesus. The Spirit is our comforter and advocate when we don’t know what to say. The Spirit is our prompter when we are called to give an answer, and the very presence of God that resides in us and in the church like God’s presence was in the Temple.

Are we willing to let the Spirit do its work? Are we willing to listen when the Spirit speaks? Are we willing to live in the mysterious familiarity the Spirit brings?


Naive White Male Makes Discovery in Foreign Land

Several times in my life I have found myself in a position of making a purchase in a market in a foreign country. In one of these countries I knew a smattering of the language, and the other, I found myself at a severe disadvantage knowing almost nothing about the language and less than I’d like about the culture at large. However, in both countries I found myself expecting everything to be cheap. I found myself valuing things as less than they would be at home. In some cases this was true, based on basic exchange rates, but in others I found myself surprised. (Now, some of this is my inherently trusting nature that renders me hopelessly naive at times.)

Today I wondered about that. What caused me to value someone else’s artwork or handiwork as less? Was it simple cultural familiarity bias where I assumed other countries were further behind? Was it pride? Was it relying on hearsay and assumptions built up over a lifetime? Was it a combination of all of these? Regardless, I was humbled and realized how much more I needed to grow in my understanding and appreciation for other cultures outside my own.

I wonder if this is how the disciples felt whenever Jesus raised up someone who, in that culture, was valued less. How did the disciples feel when they came back to find Jesus chatting with a divorced, unmarried, Samaritan woman? (What judgments are you unconsciously passing on her yourself?) How did the disciples react when Jesus touched a man with a skin disease – an unclean person? What did the disciples say when Jesus said that a Roman centurion, one of the hated, oppressive gentiles, had more faith than anyone in Israel? The disciples suddenly found themselves in a seemingly foreign land realizing that people had way more value than they thought.

We struggle with this ourselves today in America. How much to we value the immigrant, the foreigner God commanded his people to respect and care for? How much do we value women, and all of the struggles they face? How much do we value those with a different skin color, with all of the present and historical abuse they’ve suffered?

In our families, how much do we value our children? Do we show it by our actions, by our forethought, by our considering their dreams, hopes, and fears? Jesus raised children to a new level when he said, “Let the little children come to me.” He made them a priority, much like God did in the Old Testament – funny how that works, right? God taught his people that children are blessings, gifts that don’t belong to us as parents, but are gifted to us to raise, guide, disciple, and protect. Children are more than children, they are human beings, too. I know this sounds cliche, but a reminder of the value of children is needed on occasion.

How do your actions show what and who you value? How do your actions teach your kids who you choose not to value? What might you change about your habits to show your children to value all people?

What if you could dash it all to pieces… and start over?

There’s been a lot of anger surrounding ideas concerning immigration, racism, sexual assault, consent, abuse, and so many other issues I’m having a hard time remembering which one of them has priority at the moment. It can get difficult to trek through all of these issues, but I had a thought the other day to help deal with some of these. It’s an exercise even kids can do.

Have you ever asked yourself what a perfect society would look like? Have you ever gone through the exercise of deciding how you would build America if you could do it all over again? What would you keep? What would you scrap? What do you think your kids would say in response to that question?

Now, there are some people who would say that America is fine, as is. I wonder about those people. Seriously? There are absolutely no problems that need fixing either present or historically speaking?

Try the exercise and ask specific questions. Start with the fun ones. What would be the national style of food? What language would your country speak? Would you have specific national clothing? What would be the most popular books or movies? Who would be the people celebrated in your country? And after you’ve got the fun stuff talk about, move on to the difficult stuff…

What style of government would you have? What responsibilities would that government have? What would you do about poverty? How would you handle immigration? How would you handle diplomacy with other nations? What would your cities look like? Who would manage the resources of your land? How would you avoid extreme inequality? How would you regulate industry? What would your justice and prison system look like? How would you treat criminals? How would you handle healthcare and illness?

It’s easy to just copy and paste whatever our current US system is doing. Often times we don’t recognize our own blind spots and weaknesses until we do an activity like this. Which is more important, infrastructure or military, freedom or order, compassion or justice? Asking ourselves what we see as priorities for life can give us insight into ourselves as individuals as well.

While I would like to sit here and go on and on about my personal beliefs and how Scripture and church tradition as well as wisdom from people I trust has guided the development of those beliefs, it wouldn’t be productive. See, I understand that a blog doesn’t have the kind of punch to change someone’s mind… but you do. Can you hold your beliefs and views under extreme scrutiny, comparing each detail to Scripture, to Jesus, and come out with all of them in tact?

I’m not going to get all cliche and ask, “How would Jesus vote?” Instead, I’ll just ask whether or not our society, our families, our churches reflect Jesus’ conception of the Kingdom? Do our lives look as though “His Kingdom [has] come?” Or do our lives look more like that other extremity?

What will you change to help your family better reflect the Kingdom? How will you act to help your community better reflect the Kingdom? How will you engage your family to serve the city around you?

Were You Expecting A Cakewalk?

What would it feel like to literally give up your life for someone? What would be your last thoughts as life left your limp body? Would you wonder whether anyone would appreciate the sacrifice? Would you wonder if anyone would even know what you had done? Would anyone remember you?

We often see laying down a life as literally dying, and that could be the case for any one of us. Jesus, though, asks us to pick up our cross daily and follow him. There is only one place that Jesus leads carrying a cross, though… Golgotha. When faced with that grotesque vision of a skull-shaped (or maybe that’s just my imagination interpreting too much) hill littered with the remains of previous executions: nails that had seen one too many uses, wood chips broken off of sturdy cross beams, drops of dried blood, what is our reaction? Does the fear and revulsion compel and convince us to turn around, drop the cross and run? Or do we hear the still small voice, barely audible saying, “Here lies victory. Keep moving forward.”

The crux, literally, of the Scripture is the cross. Jesus, on the cross, is the clearest picture of God we have. It’s terrifying and awesome all at once – the victorious God suffering humiliation and self-giving. The Great I Am feeling the pain of rejection and satisfaction of a world redeemed all wrapped up in that paradoxical moment. And in those eyes that lock onto ours, full of mercy and sorrow, there’s an invitation, “Through here lies the victory. Come. Die. Live.”

Each day is an opportunity to die. “He who loses his life will find it.” Every choice a splitting pathway between selfishness and selflessness. If the cross is the clearest picture of God, then our pathway to being more Christlike lies through a thousand moments of self-giving, pain, sorrow, but ultimately victory and celebration.

The way of the cross leads through those moments of conflict when we look into the eyes of another human being who truly wants to see us hurt and serving them wholeheartedly in self-giving love, eating our own pride as we take each motion. The way of the cross leads through the path of confession, speaking painful words that disappoint and hurt those around us, but lead to healing and reconciliation. The way of the cross leads through owning our mistakes… in front of and to our kids. The way of the cross leads through the tunnels of weakness and humiliation in order to access a different, divine sort of power that Jesus used to triumph over the darkness.

We need this sort of reminder – as many Christians have forgotten over the centuries just how painful the way of Christ is. Especially in this time where worldly power is being called out for its many abuses and injustices. The Church has always been tempted to be chummy with worldly power, and often pays dearly for its partnership. Worldly power is just that, worldly.

When is it hardest for you to model Jesus’ self-giving love? How do you model that conviction through pain to your children? How do you show your family the grace, compassion, and self-giving nature of Jesus?

Scared of Silence

Photo: “Enjoy the Silence” by Thomas Leuthard

Everyone has a fear… mine may be silence. Well, maybe not silence so much as my own thoughts. It’s a scary place in my mind – as you well know getting this weekly peeks into how my brain functions. Our culture has a problem with silence as well. Take TV for instance, at one point in history, the TV had an end point. It would just… go off the air at a certain point each day. There was silence. Now… we want to curse the TV because there’s always something running but never anything we want to watch, amiright? (ba dum tss)

I’ve gotten into podcasts and audio books. I love them. I get to learn while I work, organize, or clean. I’ve learned more about history, food, church leadership, theology, social justice, world events and much, much more. (And now I sound like an infomercial.) The downside is, I don’t get much silence into my daily life.

I’ve recently taken one morning a week and setting a timer and giving myself 10 minutes of silence. No reading. No music. Silence. I do this because God often speaks in the silent moments – the unexpected moments. Moses got hit with a meeting while he was alone, in in nature, looking for a sheep, lost in his thoughts. Elijah covered his head and came out of his cave upon hearing the silence after the earth-shattering shows of power.

If I’m constantly filling my day with incoming stimuli, with podcasts, music, articles, books, TV, YouTube, work, when will I make time to hear from God? When will I stop to listen? Even in prayer we often resort to talking.

I know it’s scary, but make some time, at least once a week to be silent, if even for a minute. Listen for God, don’t just talk at Him. Prayer is two-way, and if we don’t shut our mouths, God’s always having to wait for us to breathe to get a word in edge-wise. But, remember, the scariest part of listening for God… is what to do when He does speak. Will you be ready to act on what you hear?

How do you model listening and silence to your family? How will you make time this week to be silent and listen for God? Why do you avoid silence?



3 Months In and I’m Messing Up My Kid!

If you’re anything like me, there are days when you look into the eyes of your precious bundle of joy and wonder, “Am I screwing you up permanently?” Sure, your question may sound a little different, but we’ve all had the thought as parents. I have had that thought often as I have discovered the one song that can calm my little girl down 99% of the time… which happens to be “Echame La Culpa” a Latin Pop single that currently in the top 20 of the Global charts. And in those moments when she is peaceful as the Latin rhythm, is ramping up into the hook I wonder, “Am I screwing you up?”

The short answer is probably not. Children are human beings, too, equipped with the ability to make choices that determine their own outcomes. Even the “best” parents have had their moments of conflict, indecision, and worry when their children make poor decisions. We can relax though, and lean into God’s grace and care. And pray really, really hard that God takes care of them.

See, in the time of Abraham, children were considered property until adulthood, when boys would become self-determining men… and women would still fight against being called property. (Not God’s design, but man’s.) Abraham would have expected Isaac (and Ishmael for that matter) to be under his sole authority and molding. God quickly disillusioned Abraham of that by allowing Ishmael to be sent away and asking for Isaac’s sacrifice. Suddenly, Abraham was faced with the reality that his children didn’t belong to him, but to God, their Creator. Suddenly, there was a bigger plan and much larger picture that Abraham was forced to look at and realize that God would have to work to accomplish it. And, I think, Abraham was better for facing that reality.

And if you read the Prophets, you realize that even God faces the reality that His children make poor decisions and have to face the consequences of them. Even through constant warnings and calls, Israel and Judah both chose to face the rod of Assyria and Babylon rather than turn back and choose to repent. We can find hope and empathy in God when we face those moments, too.

Parenting isn’t about winning a prize or raising the next Pulitzer winner or President. Parenting is an exercise in discipling a young life. A disciple is someone who is consistently moving towards Jesus – becoming more like Him. And if we can raise a child who becomes more like Jesus every day, that’s a win. It may not lead to the highest salary, or the greatest awards or accolades, but it will lead to a child growing into someone who becomes more like Jesus and calls others to do the same.

Cut yourself some slack. God is with you. Do what you can and let God handle the rest. You’re doing well. Be at peace.

What parts of your child’s development worry you most? When do you wonder if you’re “screwing your kids up?” What Bible passage gives you the peace and hope you need to continue each day? What’s the one thing you hope your child will have when they become an adult?

How to Avoid Meeting a Prophet in a Dark Alley

It’s a fairly regular occurrence, you know. A body is simply walking along, minding their own business, when a voice whispers from the alleyway. “Psst… I’ve got something for you.” Little does that body know what lies within that creeping darkness – the stark reality that faces them as the prophet proceeds to dress them down.

What do you mean that’s never happened to you? I had thought that moment in New York was a little weird…

Anyway, I’ve been getting my own little dressing down while reading Jeremiah. It’s strange how relevant the Prophets are even today. Gives weight to Jesus’ phrase about the words not fading. Jeremiah was writing to Judah warning them to turn back to God before their lifestyle led them straight into the not-so-loving arms of Babylon (or as Jeremiah says “the North.”) So what was Judah’s problem? Well, there were two problems.

The first was the lack of proper worship. Sure, Judah was visiting the Temple, observing the festivals and sacrifices, and saying the right words. Everything’s cool, right? It would be, if they weren’t also hedging their bets and praying to the Canaanite idols. There were some extra sacrifices, and even some children given to the fire to prove devotion – and the priests even encouraged that behavior. God in one instance even says to not bother about proper sacrifice protocol, since they didn’t seem to care about his guidelines about worshiping one God.

And we worship some extra gods ourselves, don’t we? “What? No,” you say. Well, the culture at large worships some gods. Some worship Roma, the goddess of nation. Some put their idea of national identity before anything else. Sometimes these individuals put more faith in their chosen political party, candidate, or system than in God. Some use political affiliation as a test for whether or not someone is a true believer. Others worship Aries, the god of war, putting a great deal of faith in their own or their nation’s weaponry. Some worship Venus, the goddess of sexual desire, bowing to pornography and selfishly using sex to gratify themselves. Some worship Plutus, the god of wealth, only feeling secure when enough money is in their bank account – and trusting only that number in the bank account. Some worship Liber, the god of freedom, trusting only in their ability to choose any and every option that comes their way, distrusting any authority that seeks to limit their freedom, even at the cost of personal harm. Others worship Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, eager to serve their master through anger and returning whatever slight might be thrown their way. These are just a few of the common gods in our current cultural pantheon, and much like Rome, many of us are quite welcoming to any and every new god or goddess that comes along, thinking, “It wouldn’t hurt to have an extra helper…”

Second, Judah’s lifestyle was not reflecting God’s Torah or God’s character. Judah’s power structure was such that the wealthy and powerful were abusing and refusing to help those who were poor, foreigners, or the weak. Where God had said to lift up and take care of neighbor, foreigner, orphan, and widow, the Judahites were oppressing, extracting resources from, and ignoring the cries of those very people. Not only that, but the leaders of the nation were making nice with empires and kingdoms and building up an armed force – both actions that would lead to them landing squarely in Babylon’s sights.

Jesus said it much more positively, but the entry level message of the Law and Prophets is: “Don’t be a jerk.” It’s a pretty low bar, really. The trick is, it’s hard to be loving, kind and compassionate when we’re more worried about “getting ours” than about our neighbor. See, Judah’s worship led directly into their actions. They didn’t see God as big enough to handle all of their problems – hence the resort to other gods. And if God isn’t enough to handle our problems, then we go about trying to sort out our own lives and make sure me and mine are covered – often to the exclusion of everyone else. The current American attitude of “if someone else has a thing that means I lose” is a terrible attitude to live. It’s like saying, “God doesn’t have enough love to go around, and if God loves me and mine, He can’t possibly love you and yours, too.” Boy howdy that’s creating an idol in your head and calling it God.

God’s love, care, and presence aren’t limited resources we must all fight and jockey for. If God is infinite, so are those things. Through His prophets, God often reminds His people that He is a compassionate God, slow to become angry, quick to show mercy and full of loving-kindness. Those that lose sight of that fact can be tempted to introduce just “one more god” to help God out. And once monotheism becomes polytheism, there’s no reason to stop at just two.

So how do you keep from having a prophet pronounce judgment? Well, trust God and don’t be a jerk, especially now. Patton Oswalt’s late wife Michelle McNamara said: “It’s chaos, be kind.” So many people look around and see nothing but chaos and want just a rock to cling to in the storm. We already cling to the Rock of Ages. Why not invite others to give up their mini-gods and find that same security?

What do you find captures your trust? What gods have crept into your life? How do your priorities and family calendar reflect who you worship? How do your habits and giving reflect the God of creation? In what ways do your worship and lifestyle match up?