Thursday, September 17, 2015

Spirit-Filled Ministry

The Tribe in which I travel often thinks of Spirit-Filled ministry in terms of what is described in Acts chapter 2, that Day of Pentecost when the Church was born in that Upper Room. They were waiting just as Jesus had promised, and they were baptized in the Holy Spirit; they spoke in tongues, and boldly proclaimed the Gospel.

While I agree that Acts 2 is vitally important, it isn’t by any means the first time that the Holy Spirit shows up in the Bible, not the first time people were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The way I read it, the first time that the term “filled with the Spirit” shows up in the Bible is in Exodus chapter 31. It isn’t ascribed to Adam or Noah, not to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Joseph, not even to Moses or Aaron. It isn’t ascribed to a prophet or priest or any other clergy the first time; the first one “filled with the Spirit” was Bezalel.

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel… and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” (Exodus 31:1-5)

When it comes to church work, it seems we generally think of the clergy as the ones really filled with the Spirit, those who preach and teach and prophecy and pray and sing and such. All of these should be filled with the Spirit, of course. But isn’t it interesting that the first recipients of the Spirit’s infilling are those who work with their hands? Bezalel was filled with the Spirit to lead and design and work. Oholiab was filled with the Spirit to stand at Bezalel’s side to help him. And a presumably large number of workers were filled with the Spirit to accomplish all the work set before them by the Lord.

And so it is should be in our congregations. In our church I trust people sense that those who pastor and preach and teach are filled with the Spirit. But it isn’t merely the pastors. When Mark runs cables to repair the projector, and makes plans to improve our sound system, Mark is filled with the Spirit. When Gail bakes cookies, pouring love into each morsel that will be enjoyed by friends and tangibly welcomes our guests, Gail is filled the Spirit. When Eugene shows up at just the right time to lend a hand, Eugene is filled with the Spirit. When Charlene lovingly folds and collates bulletins every Thursday morning so that they are ready to welcome folk on the weekend, Charlene is filled with the Spirit. When Merlin artistically captures an image that so wonderfully communicates what it can mean to be part of our congregation, Merlin is filled with the Spirit. And on and on it goes.

Let’s be sure to acknowledge the Spirit’s filling and the Spirit’s work through all that we do. Let’s encourage it in those around us. And let’s be sure to open our own hearts and heads and hands as the Spirit fills each of us for the Lord’s good worth through us.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Not Just Wheat and Grapes

I was talking with my friend Merlin a while back when he said something along the lines of, “I think it is significant that when Jesus instituted Communion, he used bread and wine; it requires a great deal of skillful work to make bread and wine.” I’ve been thinking about that ever since, and I think Merlin is right; there is something really significant there.

I suppose Jesus could have chosen wheat and grapes, or maybe even something found in the wild. He could have made his point without any objects at all, or He could have miraculously produced the bread and wine Himself, like He had with other miracles in other circumstances before. But Jesus picked up the bread and the wine from the table that was prepared before Him, the work of the hands of others.

While this certainly isn’t the main point of Communion, I’m glad that Jesus ordained this rich practice of the Gospel with these objects produced by human hands. In doing so, Jesus made a profound statement about the dignity of our work.

Apart from the miraculous, I doubt Jesus could make bread or wine. He could probably apply the skills of a carpenter when needed, but the skills of a winemaker or baker were outside of His experience. In order for this Holy moment to take place, Jesus had to rely on the skill and labor of others. Skilled farmers had to produce the wheat and the grapes. Others had to prepare the raw ingredients, skillfully storing them and perhaps transporting them. And yet others had to apply the crafts they had learned, likely passed down through generations and practiced for years before perfected. Countless skilled hands, and hours of labor, were represented as Jesus took the bread and the cup in His hands. The work of hands like ours, then in the hands of Jesus, all present as Jesus taught His Disciples, as well as us followers through the ages, the glorious Gospel. 

And so it continues today. While I believe there is still room for the spectacularly miraculous, Jesus usually operates the same way, picking up the result of our work from the table prepared before Him. He takes it into His hands, and puts it into the work of the Gospel. We ought to consider all of our work like this. Whatever it is we work at, we should think of it as something that will ultimately be placed in the hands of Jesus for His good purpose.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Don’t Bother Washing Feet

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus took a towel and basin and taught His Disciples a profound lesson. Before their meal, before their celebration of Passover, before He took bread and wine and said “this is My body and blood,” Jesus washed feet. He wanted to demonstrate that in order for His friends and followers to be great, they must be servants of all.

It was a gross job. These feet were dirty in ways most of us could not imagine. These were feet that came out of well-worn sandals… feet that walked hot streets… streets that doubled as open sewers for both men and beasts. It was expected that feet would be washed before a meal; they were filthy and stinky… and dinner tables were much closer to the floor in those days. But foot washing was reserved for the lowliest of servants, not the Master.

If Jesus showed up at one of our churches today, we might expect Him to want to teach the same lesson. But I doubt that Jesus would walk into the church building, grab a towel and basin, and head to the pastor’s office to wash feet.

Some Christian traditions still do ceremonial foot washing. It can be a powerful symbol that commemorates what Jesus taught and demonstrates servant leadership; I’ve witnessed such a service a few times, and it was meaningful. But let’s face it… washing a couple of feet these days, in our culture, really isn’t that big of a deal. Most feet get washed at least once a day, and then they are placed in clean socks and clean shoes and walk relatively clean streets. There might be a bit of foot odor, but it is nothing close to what Jesus dealt with. I’ve often enjoyed stinkier cheese.

No… if Jesus wanted to teach a lesson about servant leadership, I think he would skip the feet; He would more likely grab the pastor and head to the men’s room. I doubt Jesus would say “let’s wash feet”; He would more likely say “let’s clean urinals.”

Most urinals stink; in my experience, church urinals are often among the stinkiest. I’m not sure why that is. It could be that church bathrooms are often old, often cleaned by volunteers or the lowest bidder, and often left to the bottom of the list when it comes to spending money. There are many excuses when it comes to stinky urinals; I’ve heard lots of them, including: poor ventilation, old fixtures, low water pressure, or not enough urinal cakes (who decided to call them “cakes”?).

Truth is… if urinals stink it isn’t likely due to ventilation or water pressure or urinal cakes; urinals stink because of urine. There is no quick and easy way to clean a urinal; a once over with Windex is a waste of time and energy. And you can’t do it from a safe distance with a brush on the end of a long stick. Much like washing feet in the days of Jesus, cleaning a urinal takes some expertise and it is an up-close-and-personal experience.

Check it out on the Internet; there is a science to urinal cleaning. It usually requires at least three cleaning agents: a disinfectant for the bacteria, an acid to break the minerals, and an enzymatic to get the proteins. But if you do it right, even the stinkiest case can be conquered.

So… for us stinky urinal cleaners (whether literal stinky fixtures or figurative stinky jobs), take heart. Do the work and learn from Jesus. Attention to such details might play a part at winning some, and will (at the very least) build our own character (the stuff theologians call sanctification).