Tag Archives: Signs

Maturing into Child-like Wonder

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 (NIV)

It’s fascinating to study the progression of Pablo Picasso’s artwork. He attended art school at an early age and his prodigious talent immediately revealed itself. He could paint with the  beautiful realistic style that his teachers instructed as they copied masters like Raphael. The further he progressed in his life journey, however, and the more he produced, Picasso found himself having breakthroughs that would change both art and culture forever. Instead of becoming more realistic, his art became less so. Rather than following the art world’s prescribed path of the artistic beauty of realism, Picasso embarked on a very different journey.

Wendy and I both have our “God stories.” We each have moments in our journey when God did something rather amazing, and I would in some cases call miraculous, to direct us on our respective and mutual paths, to encourage us in our journeys, or to give us a glimpse of what was to come.

Just last week Wendy was looking through some old journals and ran across a prophetic word that had been given to her during her long, depressing slog through singleness (she was 33 when we wed). She was struggling through a time when all of her other friends were getting engaged and married. It was a brief sentence, and she can’t even remember who gave it to her, but it encouraged her that marriage was, indeed, in her future. It also described me, and our situation, rather aptly. She showed it to me and we both just shook our heads with amazement.

I have other, similar stories. I was raised in Mainline tradition and with believers of conservative theological persuasions who dismiss the signs and wonders experienced by the early church as extinguished realities from a another time. I was taught to value knowledge of scripture and conservative theology above the experiential and often mystical work of the Spirit. As one teacher in my local gathering of Jesus’ followers described it, we were raised in a tradition in which the Holy Trinity was “Father, Son, and Holy Bible.” The further I get in my journey, the more I’ve come to confess this as “quenching the Spirit” that Paul tells the Thessalonians to avoid.

And, then there are all these God stories that I’ve experienced along my journey. I had a vision the day after I made my decision to follow Jesus, and that vision changed my life forever. So, I’ve always known it could happen. It did happen. Yet I was taught to dismiss, or at the very least to diminish, such experiences by my early instructors and get back to focusing on proper doctrine. I have a different view of things from my current waypoint on my Spiritual journey. The further I have progressed the less beholden I am to the iron-clad “that was for then, not now” theology I was taught in my youth. The willing I am to explore the mysteries of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The more open I have become to the power of the Spirit in the here and now.

Jesus said, “unless you change and become like little children, you’ll never enter the Kingdom of heaven.” I think this is at the heart of the place I find myself in this journey.  Which brings me back to Pablo Picasso.

How many people have looked at his later works and said, “My child could paint that!” Exactly. Picasso himself said that when he was young he could paint like a master, but it took him a lifetime to learn to paint like a child.

Image result for picasso self portrait

That’s exactly what I feel about the things of the Spirit. When I was young I memorized scripture and learned theology, both of which are important. Yet, now as I’m getting older I find myself following Jesus down this path marked with the bread crumbs of our God stories in all their mess and mystery. I find myself increasingly pushing into childlike wonder and openness to the power and presence of the Spirit in every moment.

When I was young man people said that I had the wisdom and spiritual maturity of an adult. It’s taken a lifetime for me to learn how to seek the faith and Spirit wonder of a child.

Shifting Wind

Pope Francis“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” Acts 28:28 (NRSV)

I have watched with keen interest the past few years and have noticed a trend. It began with the world’s largest and oldest institution of Jesus followers in Rome when they elected a humble outsider from South America to be Pope. Pope Francis has been shaking things up, and this Protestant will admit being a fan. One of the things I’ve noticed in my study of Jesus is that he was an equal opportunity offender by speaking truth and raising the ire of people on both sides of the spectrum. I’m seeing Jesus’ heart in Francis. He has been appointing more and more Bishops from the Third World into the upper levels of leadership in the Roman Catholic church.

A few months ago I received an e-mail from our friend who has, for several years, been the President of a large international ministry organization called the Navigators. Founded to reach out to men and women in the U.S. armed services, the group spread to college campuses and has since grown over the decades into a world-wide mission organization. Mike’s e-mail described the Navigators’ leaders from around the world gathering to pray for guidance in selecting his successor. Their choice to lead the Navigators was a couple who are natives of Kenya in Africa.

This morning as I read the chapter I found it interesting that Paul told the Jews in Rome that God, in response to the Jews unwillingness to believe, has sent salvation to the Gentiles. God uses the metaphor of wind to describe Holy Spirit. The wind moves, changes course, increases to gusts then falls back to a gentle breeze. It is not tamed nor controlled. Paul observes that the Spiritual winds are shifting and blowing away from Jerusalem and to the rest of the world.

Jesus said to be aware of the signs and the times. Paul was aware that God’s Spirit was shifting in his time. In our time I believe I have seen a shift in Holy Spirit wind moving and gusting through the Third World. I see it in Rome. I see it in the Navigators. I am seeing other weather vanes turn in headlines and news reports. I am not a prophet and I can’t see the future, but I want to be aware of what God is doing on a meta-level even as I struggle to fulfill my bit-part on a micro-level here in the middle of fly-over country America.

Today, I find my heart echoes the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “May your will be done on Earth….”

Living in This Time and Place

2015 Pella Tulip Time 039Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Acts 6:1 (NRSV)

I spoke with my parents last night on the phone. Just this past week they put a deposit down on a retirement apartment that is part of a larger community and care facility. Over the past couple of weeks I have toured three different facilities with them. We have discussed their options and their preferences as well as the major shift life is taking for them.

It has struck me in the midst of this process how our relationship has changed over the years. It seems like yesterday I was seeking their help, their wisdom and their insights as I made major life decisions. This time around I find that they have sought my help, wisdom, and insight in their major life decision. I realize that we are at a very different stage of this life journey.

Along my spiritual journey as a Jesus follower, I have heard some who speak in idyllic terms regarding the church as described in the book of Acts. They speak of the events, the miracles and the outpouring of the Spirit as a pinnacle from which we have fallen; an ideal for which we should strive. The further I get in my journey the more foolish I find this line of thinking.

We live in a different chapter of the story, in a different time, and a different place. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but human civilization is ever changing. How our heavenly Father relates to we His children will naturally change across time just as my relationship with my parents will change across time. Looking back across the story from Genesis to Acts we find that the way God intersected, communicated and related to humanity changed from creation, to the Exodus, to the period of the Judges, to the time of the monarchy and the prophets, to the period before Jesus was born, to the time of Jesus, and to the time we are studying in Acts. To say that the church today should be like the church in the book of Acts is like saying that the time of King David should have been more like the time of Noah.

I found it interesting this morning that Dr. Luke is sure to mention that things were not all signs and wonders. The Jesus followers who were Hebrews from Greece were hacked off because their widows weren’t getting their share of the communal welfare program. The more things change, the more they stay the same. People are people. “Where two or three are gathered,” Jesus said,  “you’ll find me in their midst.” That is a good thing. We need a referee because where two or three gather you’ll also find conflict.

I’m grateful for the times we are living in. I’m grateful for my relationship with God. I’m grateful for my relationship with my parents. We are blessed to experience some really great things in our day and age, and at the same time we face unique challenges that those living through the book of Acts couldn’t possibly fathom. Such is life. I am not called to live in another time and place, but to walk the journey set before me in this time and place.