Marked with the Holy Spirit

Yesterday the online Upper Room’s focus verse was Ephesians 1:13, “When you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in [Christ, you] were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” What an appropriate text the day after Ash Wednesday as we boldly navigate this Lenten journey.

I love how the Holy Spirit shows up in the unexpected. Actually, sometimes I’m most surprised when the Holy Spirit shows up in the obvious places. Like a worship service. Dinner. Even a board meeting. Tonight we had our Wesley Board Meeting and our fellowship dinner and program night, followed by a joint prayer/worship service with BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministry) and CRU (Campus Crusade).

I admit that I started off the day pretty well. One of the students even said I looked more rested and alive today. (Pretty good praise for a Thursday.) But by the afternoon as the students went to enjoy a game of sand volleyball by Winthrop Lake, my sinus infection had turned into a monster of a headache and I was just D for Done.

I can’t say that the headache went away or that everything went exactly smoothly and perfectly but I could definitely feel the presence of God as Jon talked about his calling into ministry and we as a board got to send him with our approval to the District Committee on Ministry to be a certified candidate. I could tangibly hear and see the wonder of this special community as students shared over dinner, relaxed, hung out and chatted everywhere, and generally looked like they were right at home. And then as we began to make our way to the Winthrop Amphitheater for a joint prayer service with BCM and CRU – none of us knowing exactly what this would be like – but coming along anyway – I was struck in wonder by the beautiful night sky, a chance to worship with fellow believers on campus, and an opportunity to not be the one in charge, but a participant.

You see we were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. Even with our sinus headaches, our thank God it’s Thursdays, and our exhaustion, God still shows up, guiding and leading us in the midst. It’s not just something that’s a maybe – it’s a promise.

Where did God show up for you today? Was it when things were going super smooth or a little rocky?

Drawing Closer – Lenten Journey

I have been being slack in my blog posts and I promise to do better in Lent. Below is a post I wrote on the Winthrop Wesley blog (wuwesley.wordpress.com) that I am posting here as well because in the days to come I may need some accountability as I am led by the Holy Spirit of what this 40 days of wilderness will be.

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Our text at this past week’s worship service was James 1:19-27 which is a familiar part of James. Verse 22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

It’s a passage that is lifted up in a lot of Protestant congregations and we looked at it in particular leading up to today, Ash Wednesday.

Last week I had the honor and joy to speak at a conference for young adults in ministry. Relevance LEAD was a great time of talking with other pastors and lay people in ministry that were my age, to dream about the possibilities and life of the church, and to share in friendship, community building and collegiality. It was a special time. And something completely different than a typical conference as the speakers were part of the conference just like everyone else and we all have a vested interest in sharing these ideas and musings.

I liked that it was set up to dream big dreams and engage but there was another part of me that kept itching for the nuts and bolts, what would happen when the rubber hits the road. Each person was wrestling with similar things and were living out their faith and that of their community in mighty ways, but it still begged the question of what this means for our greater church. I felt a bit like James – let’s not just talk about this and know that we all feel in similar ways, but let’s do it.

It’s all well and good to talk the big talk, but if we go back home from this conference and it doesn’t change how we think or how we do things, if we don’t take away friendships that will continue as we journey together, if we don’t actually begin the first steps of these big dreams – what’s the point? It’s good to know that you’re not alone, but if we stay completely in the theoretical, than it can sometimes just be hot air and words.

Just like this Lenten season. I’ve heard students buzzing about what they’re giving up for Lent and that seems like the big question of the next couple of days. I admit, I didn’t grow up with a huge emphasis on giving things up or adding things to my life and I didn’t really do it until college. One of those years I gave up popcorn, which was my current obsession. The next year, I gave up M&M Mcflurries. Now that was all well and good and I think I could rationalize them as a step to be healthy but even that would be a stretch with all of the rest of the junk I eat.

You see, it’s not just about what we give up or add – it’s about whether those things draw us closer to God. Several of our students have talked about giving up facebook. One is giving up three hours a day with her phone – not just class time or when she’s asleep, but three hours where she won’t be checking it all the time. She plans on this being time where she can draw closer to God. Another student has covenanted to intentionally pray three times a day for the season of Lent. If you’re just giving up chocolate or ice cream or coffee for the heck of it and it’s not something that’s drawing you closer to God – what’s the point? I get the idea of sacrifice but I also think if we just do the sacrifice and we’re not adding things like reading scripture, doing a daily devotion, writing down things that we’re thankful for, renewing an old friendship, sending words of encouragement to friends, or walking in the outdoors with God in nature – than we’re fooling ourselves into thinking that we have this thing covered. It’s not about choosing something so that if someone asks us about it – we can give a ready made answer, but choosing something because we have invited the Holy Spirit into our lives and have opened ourselves to see the areas that we might need to work on.

One of the students Monday night after worship described it as a giant Pinterest board where you’ve “pinned” all these different things and they look nice and easy and like things that you would like to do “one day,” but you never actually get around to doing them. James is saying – do it now. Lent is calling us forth to realizing that yes we are dust and to dust we will return, but in the meantime let us draw close to God and walk this road.

My brother Josh is doing a Lenten series called “Holy Walkabout” and I love the idea of Lent being this special time where we’re walking with God into the wilderness. We don’t always know what we’re going to discover or the ways that God will reveal God’s self. We don’t always know what areas we need to work on in our lives because I don’t know about you, but I’m a pretty good rationalizer. I would say that I’m exceptional when it comes to finding ways to eat junk food. It defeats the purpose of Lent for me to negotiate back and forth if this counts or if that counts. Because when we open ourselves to the Spirit’s leading and we actually go all in with this thing, we realize that it’s not just about us or having something to say when people ask, but it’s about wanting to be part of this larger story of God’s love and grace for us and how we can best live that out so that the world may know God.

So are you going to keep pinning the things that you want to do on a giant to do list to do eventually or you going to actually start chipping away at some of these possibilities right now?

God’s not going to hand out gold stars for those that participate and unsmiley faces for those that don’t. It’s not about that. But it is about deepening that relationship and trusting that real change, habitual change can take place in 40 days.

So think about it…ask the Holy Spirit to come and guide you…what are some ways you can draw close to God this Lenten season? What are some things that hinder or road block your relationship? What are some ways that we can intentionally live out our faith right now?

Dig in.

Everything I Learned From Soap Operas

My grandmother was a long time devotee to soap operas. Some of my earliest memories of spending time with her had us playing, making cakes, and running errands, but it never failed that in the afternoon, we were going to sit down to watch her “stories.” When I was younger it was the Bold and the Beautiful, Young and the Restless, As the World Turns and Guiding Light. As I grew older she still faithfully watched As the World Turns and as she called it THE Guiding Light. It was something that she and I shared and throughout high school early release or in college or on holidays or breaks or sick days, I tuned in. You definitely don’t have to watch every day to know that Josh and Reva are still together or Carly and Jack were hitting another rough patch.

I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t enjoy soap operas and think it’s cliche to watch them. I would then ask you if you watch Revenge or Gossip Girl or The Good Wife or any other tv drama, because it’s pretty much the same thing with just a little less crazy.

Ganny started listening to As the World Turns and the Guiding Light when it was on the radio and she could tell me all of the characters family histories and back stories back when they read the Bible and prayed on air. Even though I only watched sporadically, I would look at that little soap magazine headlines as I waited in the checkout line and when we would talk on the phone or I would see her for an extended visit, I would always check in on the story lines. 1. because I wanted to know and 2. she really enjoyed and got excited telling the stories. Who doesn’t want to know the latest with the heroes and the villains of the show?

So what did I learn from watching soap operas? The first thing I learned is that you might as well go ahead and tell the truth, because if not, it will be dragged out for close to a year and there will be lots of angst and drama and if you had just told the truth to begin with, oh my golly, you would have saved a lot of time and plotting. The truth always gets found out eventually, whether it’s in the next episode, a couple months down the road, or years later when in crazy soap opera fashion someone comes back to life or the true paternity is revealed. In friendships, in relationships, as I’m working with students and colleagues – I know I’m better off even if I’ve royally messed up to just go ahead and come clean, apologize, and take the repercussions. I know this would wipe out a ton of story lines and what would soaps be without good drama, but wow it would make much more sense and things would work out better for the characters. Well, except the villains.

I learned that you always need some sort of sidekick or someone helping you along the way. When you go all vigilante on someone and you have no back up, you should just hang it up. Everyone needs a confidante or someone on their team. That’s the only way your plans are going to actually happen if you’re the villain, and that’s the only way you’re going to stay strong, safe, and sane if you’re not. I’m an avid watcher of Once Upon A Time (love it and that some of the LOST writers are writing it) and although I know they have to draw out all of these stories or it would be a nicely written movie and not a tv show, I still think Emma, the main character, needs some sort of ally. She has some allies right now, but no one to share her story and passion with that’s not also morally compromised or a kid or someone already distracted by their own stuff. But then again, that’s life. The ones who journey with us, our allies, are usually in the midst of their own story arch and sometimes they, like the people in our shows, have their own motives and agendas. That’s the importance of surrounding yourself with those you trust, who know you, who like the quote says, “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you” when you’ve lost your way. We all need those people. We need that community. It’s a powerful thing watching those kinds of friendships unfold and it’s such a treasured gift.

The third thing I learned from watching soap operas is how important stories are. I can talk up and down the countryside about words and thoughts and catch phrases or whatever, but what often resounds with others is a story. The thing that I most liked about my Dad’s sermons growing up is the stories that he would use. I remember a lot of the points he would make, but much of that memory has to do with the stories that he told that helped me make that connection. There’s a different part of us that awakens with story. Maybe that’s the English major in me creeping out but there’s something that grabs our attention and opens our mind when we start in story mode. I can see it when I preach or when others preach, we know the cadence of the voice and the way the beginning of a story goes and even if we’ve zoned out before, our ears perk up when it’s story time. It can take us to another place. It can teach us things without having to beat them over our heads. It makes us think about things differently from different view points. The stories themselves are not just the important part but it’s also that awesome thing about the community sharing in the story. Part of the fun and sacred part of sharing the story with my grandmother was that we shared it. Part of the gift was asking her to explain it and update me and the interaction of that sharing. Even Josh, my brother, after seeing it on as we watched it over the years, would ask – okay, who’s Reva with now? What’s going on with so and so? It’s not that he necessarily even wanted to watch and he would often be exasperated when he did, but there’s something that drew you in and because Ganny loved them, it was pretty contagious.

What do we learn from our stories? What makes us who we are? How have we shared our stories with others? What does story have to do with our faith? I would argue that much of our scripture is story. It’s chock full of them. And I often think that we understand those better than some of the exposition. Jesus didn’t often preach. A lot of them time, he told stories. There’s just something about it that connects to a deep part of us. And I think that’s because when it all boils down, we are all human. As different the time or context or drama level, there’s always an essence of the human condition that is shared between each of us. As my Dad says, “There’s nothing original about original sin” and there’s nothing original about people lying, stretching the truth, trying to cover something up, or being found out. In big and small ways, we watch these things because it’s our life too. Not with the Grayson’s on the Hamptons, but in that we’re all searching for meaning and joy and hope and what we’re supposed to do with our lives or who we’re supposed to be with.

The thing that makes us as people of faith different, is that we have someone that’s always on our side. Not saying that we can do whatever we want and there’s not consequences, but there’s someone who is seeking to offer us the most beautiful story just for us. Someone who is guiding and leading us in all that we do, not just on the good days, but on the bad days as well. That’s pretty powerful and a little scary at the same time. It means that we can take comfort and confidence and reassurance but it also means that we don’t have some grand giant excuse to go running around like crazy people on soap operas. We make some pretty big mistakes, but we know that coming up with a master plan to cover them up doesn’t change that we know the truth, God knows the truth, and whatever mistake we’ve made will only make us stronger and more open to others as we realize our own weaknesses.

My grandmother passed away in the beginning of September and Guiding Light went off the air a week later and As the World Turns the year after that. I know she would love Revenge and would be very interested in how this new Dallas is going to turn out. I have no doubt that she’s still listening and watching her “stories,” and I’m thankful that she passed on this love of stories to me.

Why do you think stories connect with us so much? What are ways that we can open ourselves to God’s story swirling all around us?

** By the way – tidbit – Guiding Light ran from 1937 to 2009 and is credited by Guinness as the longest running drama in television.