“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” - Albert Einstein

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Holy Spirit is Weird

There's been an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at IHOP (International House of Prayer) in Grandview, MO. I heard that Bill Johnson was coming to visit along with other leaders who have been involved with various revivals in the past few decades. I really had hoped to see Bill Johnson speak in person. I've been listening to his podcasts for many months.

The IHOP was packed. They had to shuttle people from a satellite parking lot. The main sanctuary was standing room only. I made my way to the overflow room and found an empty spot on the back bleachers. I had picked up snippets of a conversation between friends talking about a third friend that had been "manifesting" earlier in the day. It had been a while since I heard the term, but I wasn't surprised by it. I'm familiar with some of the weirdness that comes with the moving of the Holy Spirit.

As I read about the history of revivals, there's always an undercurrent of weirdness going along with it: people falling down, shaking, rolling. In the revivals of the 1990s, people laughed and made animal noises. I don't know how far the IHOP revival will spread, but the manifestation I saw in several people was a "turkey walk". It's a twitch forward, a hunching of the shoulders and the neck being pulled down into the shoulders. But my assessment is only based on casual observation. The "turkey walk" may be only limited to a few and will not become the "signature" manifestation of this outpouring. I also saw a familiar manifestation of the back bend: leaning over backwards at the waist. This manifestation was one I've seen in a friend years ago.

I've witnessed these kinds of things before. I've experience being put on the floor by the Holy Spirit and the manifestation that came with one of those experiences is still with me. I twitch when I get in the presence of the Spirit. I wasn't there for curiosity or even out of a desperate need for a touch from God. I sensed that I was supposed to be there, and I was looking for what God had for me. Someone did pray for me and gave me a word from God. It was later confirmed by a prophet who came to our church this week. That's a different story.

What I've been thinking about is why God chooses to move in such strange ways. I even see suggestions of this in the Old Testament prophets. If you read carefully it seems that the prophesying was sometimes accompanied by weirdness. For example, when the Spirit of the Lord came on king Saul & he lay naked on the ground, prophesying. The wonder was in the recipient of the prophecy, not the process. It seems that the Holy Spirit has been putting people on the ground for a long time.

It is from Bill Johnson that I received an insight about all this weirdness. We are to seek the peace that passes understanding. But that means we have to let go of our need to always understand. The 12 disciples didn't understand Jesus sermon about eating his flesh and drinking his blood any more than the thousands who turned away. But they went beyond their understanding to recognize that there was life released to them that went beyond what they could comprehend.

I've come to believe that the Holy Spirit is weird so that we have to get past our intellectual offense and grasp a level of understanding that is spiritually grasped. That is what I'm chasing after. If I have to walk like a turkey to get it, so be it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Life is What Happens To You When You're Making Other Plans

Life happened to me yesterday as I smoked a brisket on the grill. As I tended the fire and put packets of soaked wood chips over the burner, Michael came outside & we sat down and talked. The girls were grocery shopping. We guys were just hanging around the house--smoking a brisket.

The conversation was one that cannot be planned or orchestrated. I can't even remember the question that started it. But we spent the following half hour or so talking about what life had offered us or, more often, thrown at us in the past several years. We talked of lessons learned, God's grace and mercy, and wondered at the opportunities for which God is preparing us.

This morning I realized that this conversation was one of those moments that I've so often missed because I was distracted or doing something else. Whenever I write goals, one that always comes out is that I want to share the lessons God teaches me to my family. But whenever I try to create such an opportunity it never seems to work. A skilled writer would likely add a significant metaphor at this point to brilliantly illustrate his thesis, but alas, I can think of none. I know there's one out there, but right now it eludes me. Perhaps an elusive metaphor is the point I want to illustrate. I can't force it to appear. It alights as if unbidden and if I force it to come, it sits in the sentence stilted and awkward.

So it is with conversations of significance. They appear and offer their opportunity for a depth of connection that cannot be forced. I shared with Michael the lessons of the last 5 years that led up to a turning point in my life this August. He shared his own journey and what God was up to in his family. We don't know for sure what it is for which God is preparing us, but He's up to something, that's for sure.

It is telling that the value of such moments in our lives can only be seen in retrospect. Sometimes I've looked back and saw times I've missed opportunities. I'm glad that this time I didn't.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why? Because it's there.

The Question sometimes comes as a statement that you're crazy. Sometimes it's just a subtle shake of the head in conversation. Sometimes it's just the tone of voice. But The Question is there and it lies beneath the other polite questions people ask about my trip. The Question: Why would you get on a bicycle and ride across the state of Kansas? Why face the heat, cold, rain, and wind and then end the day with a cold shower and a night of sleeping in tents or a gym floor? Even Brenda shakes her head in wonder that so many of us take on this quest every year.

I asked myself The Question on Day 4 when we had 75 miles of riding into a strong headwind. On most days we are able to coast down hills and get a break from pedaling. On this day, we pedaled almost every mile. We all looked shell-shocked as we slowly walked around Halstead. That night, as I updated my Facebook, I noticed a post from my friend, Dale: "I'm sitting on my boat watching my wife take a nap in the sun." I asked myself, "So why am I sitting on a bicycle struggling to pedal into the wind instead of being on a boat or a beach somewhere and sipping a cold beverage?" One advantage of traveling at 13.4 m.p.h. is that you have time to ponder such questions. By the end of the following day I had my answer.

The classic answer mountain climbers give is that they climb the mountain because it's there. I think there is a need inside all of us to overcome a challenge. Most of the time we do this vicariously through following the adventures of others or rooting for a sports player or team. But some of us are not content to sit on the sidelines. We need a real challenge to find out if we've got the stuff inside us to survive the difficulties and the danger. Most of us don't take on extreme challenges such as mountain climbing or trekking across Africa. But danger and difficulty are the essence of what we crave.

I spoke with a friend along the way and he pointed out that we always love the days of riding in mild, sunny weather and tailwinds. But we remember and talk about the days we struggled: running out of water, flat tires, killer hills and headwinds, and semi trucks that miss us by inches. Even though BAK has great support for us, we still have to pedal the miles. And the danger along the road is real. Riding along the white line at the side of the highway is a place where a half-second of inattention can lead to being crushed by a car on your left or dropping a wheel off of the pavement on your right. Either one can lead to a painful and quick end to the day's ride.

I came back from my week tired in body but refreshed in my soul. Could I have been a refreshed by a week on the beach? Perhaps, but I think not. Challenging myself and overcoming the difficulties of the week reaches deeper inside of me that just relaxing. And the challenges are new and different each year. The 75 miles of wind took more out of me than I realized. The following day my legs felt like wood. I wasn't alone. A lot of us struggled that day. I saw lots of bikes on the back of the SAG wagons--people who had to drop out. This year I challenged myself to ride a century--100 miles in a day. I'd attempted a century and failed last August.

I don't foresee mountain climbing in my future. But I'm going to keep looking for ways to challenge myself. Succeed or fail, I need ways to find out what I'm made of. It keeps my soul whole.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hungry Kids

Who would leave a 6-figure job to work as an inner city school nurse? The kids at New Stanley grade school call her nurse Margie. Her job as a wellness consultant took her all over the country teaching school faculties how to live healthier lives. In Texas, a principal brought her a little girl who had been beaten: either in a fight or by a parent. Margie said, "I'm not licensed in Texas." The principal wouldn't take no for an answer. After the girl was patched up, the principal said, "We don't have a school nurse. Why don't you come work here?" Margie said, "I live in Kansas City." "You could move," the principal replied.

Margie didn't move to Texas, but knew God was calling her to work as a school nurse. She ended up working in a grade school in Kansas City, KS. She resisted the idea more because she thought school nurses only put on band aides. What she found were kids complaining of headaches and stomach aches. When she asked them if they had eaten breakfast, they said "no". She started keeping granola bars in her desk. She would ask if they had eaten supper. "What's that?", the kids replied. "Well, did you eat anything last night after school?" "No." Nurse Margie knew that more than granola bars would be needed.

She contacted Harvesters, to see what help she could offer to these hungry kids. They got her connected with the backsnack program. It provides weekend food for kids who receive free or reduced lunches at school. But there was a hole in the Harvesters' program. It ended before the school year did.

Enter one of the guys from the Caffeine Crew Bible Study. Our group is already involved in feading kids in South Africa and helping orphans in India. But there are kids in our own back yard in need. Several of the guys met with Nurse Margie and said we would help fund and provide the manpower to fill the backpacks for the remaining weeks of the school year.

The need is ongoing. Nurse Margie has a waiting list for kids wanting to be in her "backpack club". We're just a small group of men meeting at the Country Club Coffee Shop early on Fridays. But how can we not reach out and stand with such a one as nurse Margie.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sanitized Society

"Death and taxes are the only certainties in life." I'm sure you've heard this before. But an alien visiting our planet would argue that in this country it's only taxes. Rarely do we have to confront the reality of death. One reason this is so is that people live much longer now. I read a statistic that the average life expectancy was 47 years in 1909. I'm glad for the good health and sanitary systems we have in this country. But we've done more than just sanitize our environment. We've sanitized our life to the extent that we've isolated ourselves from having to face the reality of death.

We know the meat we eat comes from animals who were once alive. But we only see the package of steak in the cooler. People who are terminal are sent to hospitals and hospices to die. And our pets are "put to sleep" in the vet's office. We get to leave the room before the final breaths are taken. We don't have to face death until it comes to someone close to us and even then it usually takes place somewhat removed from us. . We are informed our loved one has died. We have a chance to get ourselves emotionally ready and then we're ushered in to see the lifeless body for a few moments and then we move on.

I've come to believe that the way we deal with death in our culture has deprived us of a deep human need; we need to be confronted by death. And since we've sanitized the real thing our of our experience we feed on imitations through television, books and movies. A good murder mystery holds our attention. And crime shows and war stories may horrify us, but we are still fascinated by them. But we know it's not real. Still, deep within us is a need to be reminded of our mortality. So our media culture has invented a "safe" way for us to do that. It's like riding a roller coaster. We get to feel the danger without really facing the danger. We get our "fix" of death and then go on about our lives.

These thoughts have been rolling around in my head for several years. But the discrepancy between "fake" media death and the real thing came clear to me this afternoon as I sat with Q--our dog--and watched death slowly take him. He hadn't eaten for days, and we watched him get weaker and weaker. Our days became times of a death watch, wondering if he would die in the night or while we were at work. I was glad I got to be with him at the end, although, I don't know if he was aware of anything at all.

And even though death ended his suffering and I knew in my head it was inevitable, deep inside of me something cried out that this was wrong. Today, seeing him up close, I know in my bones that death is my enemy. He may be welcomed at times, but an enemy he remains. Of course, I know the theology. I know the story of our fallen world and how death came to be. But true knowing is intimacy, not merely concepts.

Our sanitized society has removed us from this intimacy of knowing and facing real death. Perhaps it was a noble idea to spare us from pain. But I believe we are robbed of a vital part of our humanity--fully facing the result of living in this sinful world. And, in contrast, we are robbed of fully embracing the message of the Kingdom of God: that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. I've had the concepts in my head that death is my enemy. But today I know it in my heart. So I pray "Thy Kingdom come" and look forward to the time when both death and hell are thrown into the lake of fire.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Why Are Greenies So Annoying?

I don't want to pollute the earth. I really don't. But I find that the environmental movement attracts people who are boorish, rude, and egotistical. In conversations they never have a clue that some of their dogma may be doubted or in error. Even if you have facts on your side, there is no disagreeing with them. If you raise an argument, they make you feel as if you alone are responsible for toxic waste, global warming, and the loss of the snail darter.

I encountered just such a person a few weeks ago at a Chamber of Commerce networking event. His second sentence after our introduction was a launching pad to a 5-minute monologue on the environment. When he got to the part of how wind and solar power was the future salvation of the planet I began looking for how to get away from him. His idea was that we'd all have wind and solar generators so we could be free from the evils of carbon emissions. Never mind that my house would have been dark and cold that day because of heavy overcast and no wind.

I didn't argue. I knew it would be useless. He was a true believer. He didn't care about my opinions. He really didn't care to learn anything about me. He only cared about himself and his cause. I noticed that other people avoided him as well. Perhaps they already knew what I was just discovering: this man was a conversational black hole.

The environmental movement seems to attract these kinds of people. They're devoted to their cause and believe it's their mission in life to make everyone agree with them.

Funny thing is that I've met Christians who were the same way.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Shack

"How do you like the book?", the flight attendant asked? She saw I was reading The Shack, by William P. Young. I said, "It gives words to a song that has been playing in my heart for many years." She smiled and said she had stopped reading about three-fourths the way through. She told me a story of a "religious" mother who had rejected her homosexual son. She went on to say that she too had a homosexual son. "I could never reject him," she said. It appeared to me that she had found an entirely different meaning from the book than had I.

Her comment may be why this book has stirred such controversy in Christian circles. If you search Google for "the shack heresy" you'll find plenty of opinions. I didn't read any of them, except for a few headlines. I don't care much if others think it's heretical. As I said before, it's the words to a song that's been in my heart for a long time. I believe this book contains a timely message to Christians. But, as I saw in my conversation with the flight attendant, this message can be easily misinterpreted.

I think this quote summarizes for me the heart of The Shack's message:

"Paradigms power perception and perceptions power emotions. Most emotions are responses to perception--what you think is true about a given situation. If your perception is false, then your emotional response to it will be false too. So check your perceptions, and beyond that check the truthfulness of your paradigms--what you believe. Just because you believe something firmly doesn't make it true. Be willing to reexamine what you believe. The more you live in the truth, the more your emotions will help you see clearly. But even then, you don't want to trust them more than me (God)."

This paragraph describes the deep and sometimes painful process that God has been working in my heart for the past decade. In short, God's been showing me that I too often put my faith in my religious upbringing, my theology, my knowledge of the Bible, spiritual disciplines, tithing, and a whole list of other self-important foolishness. Like other Christians, I've been fond of saying, "Christianity is a relationship, it's not a religion." But the way I live my life says differently. And when I reduce God to theology and following religious rules it's idolatry as surely as reducing God to a golden calf.

Now I'm sure some people will turn the message of The Shack into yet another theology or popular movement within the Church. Or, like my flight attendant, use it to excuse sin. Some may say that such a familiar portrayal of God diminishes His majesty and glory. But it's vital to see that this message is merely one facet of a highly complex fractal that is God's nature. God is known my many names in the Old Testament for good reason; He cannot be comprehended. And I'll bet we now only know a small fraction of the names by which He will be known.

The heart of God is for relationship. The Shack gives a creative picture of the intimacy God has within Himself and the intimacy He desires with us. The reason we trade this intimacy for dead religion is that such dynamic freedom is terrifying and messy. But such a life is what God desires for us. As I walk with Him, I learn what pleases or displeases Him. Freedom is not doing whatever I want. Freedom is giving myself to Him.

I pray we all opt for the terror and the mess so we can learn to live in His freedom.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Traveling Alone

Whenever I travel by myself I feel an odd feeling of disconnection upon arrival. Part of this feeling is from just being in a new place and trying to find my way around. Part of it is that whenever I fly in to a place I don't have an orietation of where north, south, east or west is. Part of it is the fact that I'm in a city full of people and I don't know a single one of them. For me, it's not a frightening feeling. It's more of an emotional vertigo. For me this feeling is part of the adventure of traveling. And it abates in time as I become familiar with the place I'm staying and the surrounding geography.

But even if this feeling subsides a bit, I still feel the tug of the connections to home. I'm just a visitor here. I'll meet other travelers and share stories, but all of us know that any connections we might make will be long-distance ones. I enjoy the adventure of travel, but the knowledge that I have a familiar place to return to makes such an adventure possible.