The Cheery Holy Spirit

“Most of our inherent spirituality is in waiting on the Lord. It is the practice of God consciousness in our thinking. Allowing our hearts to be filled with the wonder of Him. In living a simple life of astonishment at his continual goodness. It is in developing a certainty in the kindness of God. It is loving the laughter and cheeriness of the Holy Spirit. It is being wrapped in the power of the grace that is in the Lord Jesus.” -Graham Cooke

So much of following has to do with getting to know God’s character–what he’s like and how he likes to relate to us. That takes time, and it takes listening and it takes waiting for him to speak. There have been times in my life where God has seemed distant. Oh, I knew he was right there, but sometimes it just didn’t feel that way. That was because, subconsciously, I worried that he was mad at me, or too messed up over my mistakes to talk to me. Because I wasn’t certain of his kindness, I created the distance.

That’s why I was so struck by Cooke’s description of the Holy Spirit. I’ve thought of the Holy Spirit as a lot of things–sober, serious, unpredictable, kind, loving–but cheery wasn’t one of them! What comfort this revelation brings though, as I quieted myself in God’s presence today and welcomed a cheery Holy Spirit. Immediately, I was reminded of Mrs. Potts (the teapot in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), a cheery and motherly persona whose job it was to simply pour a warm beverage for those coming in from the cold. In that moment I heard the Holy Spirit speak to me in a Mrs. Potts-cockney-accent sort of voice, and he said, “‘Tis alright, love.” In my mind I saw a figure tucking me into a blanket and this cheery Mrs. Potts/Holy Spirit voice talked to me some more about something I’ve been fretting over. And in an instant there was peace in my heart where there wasn’t before.

I love that the Holy Spirit is playful enough to interact with our imaginations, to engage in metaphor in such a way that drives his words home to our hearts. Next time you quiet down to pray, instead of imagining God-who-is-distant-and-far-away, remember Mrs. Potts, and imagine God-who-is-right-here, God-who-plays, God-who-would-sit-and- pour-us-tea.

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Money Talks. God Talks.

Hey readers, check out this interview:

First, let me tell ya, Cool J and I are not homies so I don’t know how else he elaborates on his point. But I like what I hear so far, and here’s my own spin: Even if we tried to take care of every need we have in life, we get to a point where we reach our limit.  We just can’t anymore. Tithing is one way we say to God–“Okay–take it–you be in charge. I’ll do it your way”–and let Him sort out the details we don’t know how to sort out

In the book of Malachi, God spoke to the Israelites about tithing, saying, “Test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be enough room to store it.”

There was a time in my life where I tithed faithfully, another time in my life when I didn’t. Getting back on track with tithing was another leap of faith that God was going to come through for us come hell or high water. And He did. He does. I have friends who talk about God’s crazy math–how they give faithfully and then are somehow, miraculously, able to pay all their bills at the end of the month when the money just hadn’t been there. That’s his crazy faithfulness right there. Him proving himself. God talking.

Tithing: effective strategy for life? Think on it!

Casting Call: Dispute Settler Needed

One day this month my two oldest children got off to school only for one to return 7 minutes later through the back door…crying.  I checked the time anxiously, needing to get out the door myself, and asked what the matter was.  The story unfolds as many sibling stories might:

On the way to school, Sibling A teased Sibling B about some aspect of her appearance.

Sibling B punched Sibling A.

Sibling A teased some more.

Sibling B punched her again.

Sibling A punched B back.

Sibling B ran in the back door sobbing and confessed to punching her sister, who was frolicking down the sidewalk to school with a neighbor girl at this point.

I called her back. A dramatic scene ensued with crazy amounts of yelling and hurt feelings, half-truths and mismatched stories. “We can’t solve this now,” I said. “You have to get to school. But neither of you will be going anywhere or doing anything until your stories match up and you get things taken care of with each other.” They stormed off in their separate directions, one of them shouting at me in her anger.

Throughout the day, I dreaded facing what would come after school. I dreaded the hurt feelings and the hard hearts that may present themselves.

Some days it seems like facilitating is my primary job, and I know a lot of you other parents feel this way, too. We are settlers of disputes, facilitators of personal crisis management, overseers of Young People Growing Up, training them up in the way they should go so that when they are old they won’t depart from those ways.

Without God’s intervention, that’s all we can do (and I’m not very good at it a lot of the time).  My natural abilities don’t necessarily bring heart change to my kids. So, I prayed that day that God would give me wisdom, but mostly I prayed that their hearts would be soft, that they would desire peace and restoration and the things God desires.  And that God would release his Spirit over them and draw them together.

After school it looked for a moment like things were going to go south quickly, but I was happily surprised to see Sibling A so readily contrite, so willing to repent, and Sibling B ultimately willing to forgive and apologize as well. And in a matter of ten minutes they were laughing like old friends and one was helping the other with homework.

It doesn’t always work that way. And I don’t always remember to pray like that.  But that day was a reminder that we parents are in such a unique position because we see the problems and  have the opportunity of inviting the Answer, the Answer that defies reason and Who Did What and Who Deserves What and It’s Not Fair.  God’s presence and work in their hearts defies all the rules of tit-for-tat and an eye for an eye. We can invite Him in and he calms all that down, softening hearts, moving them toward forgiveness, and making those law-based parameters irrelevant, making them not matter anymore. Because His love wins; love always wins over any of that other stuff.

How Do You Eat an Elephant? (Or: How Do Married People Stay in Love?)

Here’s what our First Impressions coordinator, Jeff McCaughey, has to say about the BIG ‘Til-Death-Do-Us-Part: Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 8.38.49 AM

After listening to the message at church on Sunday and thinking about the BIG question (“Is it possible for two people to remain in love for life?”), I have to say…yes!  I agree that it is possible!

I feel very fortunate to be able to say that I am married to someone who I have only grown deeper in love with over the nearly 20 years that we have been together.  All clichés aside, the truth is that I love her, I like her (there’s a difference), and I can’t imagine my life without her.

All that said, I really appreciated the fact that Sunday’s message didn’t imply that it is easy to stay in love.  I mean, two different people from two totally different family backgrounds–both of whom have different expectations and  different vantage points on life–put together sounds like a recipe for disaster when you think about it.

It is a complicated thing to merge two lives with the expectation that lasting love will result. However, I remember hearing someone once beg the question “How do you eat an elephant?”  The answer is, of course, one bite at a time.  As silly as it sounds, I think this represents a really good point.  How do we accomplish the huge task of remaining in love?  One intentional act of love at a time!

I think that as ordinary people we can accomplish really amazing things, including having a long lasting, in-love marriage, by simply taking the really small but important things seriously. Also, inviting God’s wisdom as we take daily steps into the unknown territory of marriage (or life or whatever we are facing) helps makes the mundane, ordinary relationship into a thriving one.

Casting Call: Need “Brothers” and “Sisters”

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 9.15.44 AMWe’re on to Casting Call—the series where we look at God’s view of the roles we play as married and single people, parents, and friends. And…it just so happens that as I was alphabetizing books in the church office a few weeks ago, I ran into a very eclectic old friend of mine (a book, rather) that, long ago, was able to articulate something that forever shifted my own thoughts about brother and sister relationships between believers.

Let me back up about twenty years. When I was growing up, I had the Jesus bug in me: I was overseeing a ministry team at church when I was 16; I started attending a young adult small group and led my first Bible study when I was 17. I cared about the life of the church and the people in it (or as many people as I could really fit into my peripheral vision at the time—I was sixteen, remember!).  But one thing seemed abundantly clear, it seemed like there was this unspoken division between men and women in the church when it came to doing the “stuff” of the church, and unless a man and a woman were married, there wasn’t much working together going on.  Some of the reasoning for this was unspoken and indirect, but I picked up enough over the years to understand that there was a lot of fear drifting around about all the things that could go wrong when men and women worked together, from inappropriate emotional attachments to full-on affairs (not to mention that there were some things women just shouldn’t be doing in the first place).

Before I had an opportunity to be actually left out, I felt it. I knew that women weren’t going to be senior pastors because (it was said) there was something deficient in our make-up that disqualified us, and I knew that I wasn’t going to get to go to a certain conference or training seminar with a male ministry partner because it would mean riding together, and good Christians didn’t do such things in the late ‘90s. Being a sister of a biological brother six years my senior, I felt again like my big brother was going off to do really cool stuff that I would never be old enough to do.

I noticed this lack of connection generally between men and women in the Church, whole worlds of believers cut off from one another. It didn’t seem right, didn’t seem like a representation of God’s kingdom where Jesus traveled with, was supported by, and discipled many women.

About ten years ago, a guy friend lent me that book—the one I ran into on the church shelves—where Rodney Clapp* had written something so insightful about the problem of gender segregation in the church that it still affects how I think even a decade later:

“Men and women have been taught to see one another only in the most starkly contrasting, black-and-white-terms: either as lovers or as the most casual of acquaintances….[Rigid] separation serves only to reinforce the impoverished, overly narrow idea that a member of the other sex can be only a love object or casual acquaintance. When people saddled with such cramped imaginations have any feelings at all for a woman or man, they are faced with only two options: go to bed or never see each other again.  This isn’t freedom. This is tragedy.” 

I was living and witnessing the tragedy Clapp speaks of all around me. I had only an inkling of a template for quality brother-sister relationships. And if my only options really were to have affairs or never speak to a man I wasn’t married to about anything significant ever again, that meant I was avoiding a lot of men on a regular basis, and avoiding about half of the body of Christ. And then there were singles in the church—unmarried women systematically cut off from almost all relationships with Christian brothers (and unmarried men from their Christian sisters). It is tragedy when anyone misses out on the gifts and strengths that half the population of the Church has to offer.

So, Clapp suggested we “expand our imagination and affirm the possibility and practice of cross-sexual relationships, both between singles and by married Christians welcoming singles into their lives.”  Could we collectively articulate a new vision for these relationships? It’s true that people make crappy decisions; people have affairs and they break their covenants, but Lewis Smedes writes that when we are living as our best selves before God, when we are “covenant-keepers,” we don’t have to “worry much or moralize a great deal about the proprieties of relationships outside of marriage.”

I know that everyone reading this has a unique past. Maybe you have made bad choices when it came to relational boundaries; maybe you have violated one of your marriage vows, or you have a spouse who did, and have reaped untold pain and heartache as a result.  I understand that different histories and vulnerabilities require different considerations and applied wisdom. But, how Smedes’ principle worked out for me (and how I think it can work out for many of us) is this: because I walk around with a very holy sense of my commitment to God and my husband to uphold our marriage vows, I also walk around with a lot of confidence that interacting with someone I’m not married to doesn’t have the power to undo all of that.

I have two brothers through my family of origin. One, a half-brother, was fairly absent from my life for about a decade before he died five years ago. And my other (little) brother is off making his way in Colorado.  One of the biggest gifts to me in the last ten years has been a handful of men who’ve been in my life as week-in and week-out brothers and friends that I’ve co-labored with, joked with, eaten meals with, had kid playdates with, and/or grown with as servants to the church. There have been places deep inside me (where family-of-origin relationships didn’t demonstrate the best of what God intended) that God chose to heal and restore through relationships with these guys. There were skills, values, and truths imparted to me, tough questions I was asked, conversations that engaged my heart in ways it hadn’t yet engaged–and God used spiritual brothers to do that!  Twenty years ago, I might have worried a truth like that to be borderline heretical; now, I think it just comes with the territory of the Gospel.  Would that we all be blessed by relationships in the family of God, regardless of our roles and our gender and our marital statuses. And may the Holy Spirit work in our imaginations to expand any boundaries we’ve put on the fellowship He wants to establish in His Church.

*Families at the Crossroads: Beyond Tradition and Modern Options, from the chapter “The Superiority of Singleness” by Rodney Clapp.

After the trip

Our guest blogger, Jeff, is back from Puerto Rico. This is the afterword to his post a couple weeks ago…

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Puerto Rico was above and beyond anything I could have expected!
We got to be out on the streets talking to,  praying for, feeding and providing basic necessities of  homeless people.  We spent time sharing the love of God through acts of service for people who couldn’t believe we would accept no compensation.  One day one of our team members was given a used pencil from a women in her 40s who lived under a tarp on the the side of a downtown sidewalk.  This woman looked like any pretty mom that you would see at the grocery store but she was completely trapped by her addictions.  The pencil that she gave was the best item she had to offer.  It was very touching!
We also had the opportunity to speak at churches, in housing projects as well as in a rehabilitation center–all with a mission to express that Jesus gives hope for brokenness, healing for those who are sick and freedom for those who are in a dark place in life.  One day I even got to make balloon animals as some others on our team painted the precious little faces of children in one of the largest housing projects in all of the US.
All that to say–What an amazing experience!  Now… although my heart aches as I miss our team and the people of PR deeply, I guess it’s time to let God use what I saw in Puerto Rico to make a difference right here where I live.
I’ll never forget what I’ve seen!

A girl named Juliet

village girls and unaLast summer my 10-year-old daughter and I trekked halfway around the world to Mozambique, Africa. In the coastal town of Pemba, we stayed in the Village of Joy, one of Iris Ministries’ many bases throughout Mozambique. People from all corners of the world had found their way to this base, which provided support and assistance to the local community as well as a home and school grounds for hundreds of children who, for varying reasons, could not be supported by biological family members.

One of the missions of the base is to provide a meal to local children daily.  Children from nearby villages walked onto the base barefoot in the red Mozambican dust, the older with the younger in tow, carrying containers of varying shapes and sizes so that they could take their leftovers home to the rest of the family. One of these children was Juliet, a quiet 12-year-old who slipped her hand into mine and sat beside me with contentment while many of the other children climbed (quite literally) over my shoulders, yanked my straight, unkinky hair into braids, and grabbed wonderingly at the small digital camera in my purse.

I saw Juliet many times in our two-week stay as my daughter and I served food, but the last time she came to get a meal she had a baby boy wrapped onto her back. “Oh, is this your brother?” I asked her in broken Portuguese while she stood in line to rinse her hands with a pan of water.  “No,” she said, smiling shyly, “My son.”

When I go to bed in the evening and look out into the city-lit night, I am often reminded that there is a girl named Juliet looking up at a very different piece of sky that bursts with the clarity of flaming white stars above her home, most likely a simple hut that is shared with many family members. Thirteen now, she is too old to get a meal with the other children, but she has a child, a toddler now, who she will soon send in her place.

One of the inevitable outcomes of being “on mission” is that the lives and circumstances of our fellow brothers and sisters become undeniable. And while my two-week stay most likely did not make a statistically significant impact on the long-term availability of food or water or peace for many people, I am reasonably sure some children felt my love and the love of God because of my simple actions of service. But beyond that, I am ruined for living my ordinary-Iowa-life by the knowledge that a girl close to the age of my own daughter is raising a child of her own, that a boy I knew lost his father during the floods this past year, and that another 12-year-old boy we befriended was left to find food for himself and his brothers and his sisters while his father and mother worked far away from home for many days. Another conscientious young man who (anachronistically) has access to Facebook at irregular intervals is praying fervently for his school to be outfitted with one computer to enhance communication and education of the students.

This knowledge is as undeniable as my own infant crying for attention. And it begs for my response, mostly prayerful but sometimes monetary and practical. The G.I. Joe public service ads from the 80s quipped, “Knowing is half the battle.” In the case of my mission trip, knowledge has become a responsibility I’m wearing these days like a heavy jacket.

And I’m all right with that. In fact, I think maybe that’s how things are supposed to be.

-HW