Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Spirit is in the community of faith

This morning, on the eve of Pentecost, I was poking around online and pondering the Holy Spirit. I found a few lines of Barry Litfin that are worth mulling over. A few years ago he wrote a book entitled Getting to know the Church Fathers in which he addressed his concern that evangelicals of today tend to cast aside and important part of their heritage. In an interview at, Litfin was asked about the role of the Holy Spirit. His response offers an appropriate reminder for evangelicals. Here is that response and, remember, "pneumatology" is the study of the Holy Spirit and "ecclesiology" is the study of the church:

The Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity who indwells the believer, but also believers collectively as the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity who indwells the church. What you have to do is
intertwine ecclesiology and pneumatology.

The role of the Holy Spirit that evangelicals typically tap into is "the Spirit in me." So I've got the Spirit and I can sit and look at the text, and I can figure it out. But that's not really the only way to think about the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, but he is also indwelling the fullness of the church.

What a proper pneumatology does is move us away from pure ndividualism and move us toward a high ecclesiology that is willing to then look at the collective witness of the church, which I would define as tradition. The Holy Spirit's role, as much as it is to illumine my personal understanding of Scripture, perhaps even more is to illumine the body as a whole. At which I can partake of that gift of time-honored inheritance.

What do you think? Do we tend to overemphasize the indwelling of the Spirit in the individual believer and downplay the role of the Holy Spirit in the the church as a whole?

Monday, May 10, 2010

God lives here

Terri and I are trying to decide where to go during an upcoming vacation. One of the options under consideration is the Ellerbe Springs Inn in Ellerbe, North Carolina. This facility is now a bed and breakfast and restaurant. I believe several buildings have been added down through the years, but the original house was built in 1820.

I called the folks at the Ellerbe Springs Inn and asked a few questions about the place. Locals have told me that Eleanor Roosevelt once stayed there so I asked which room she stayed in during her visit. I was told that the First Lady stayed in room 4, which has a queen bed, a full bath and a fireplace.

I don't have a historian's account of Roosevelt's visit to Ellerbe, but locals have told me that she didn't stay overnight. According to the story relayed to me, she rested for a little while in room 4 as her party was passing through town. If this is not an accurate presentation of the facts, perhaps someone familiar with this bit of history will correct me.

Ellerbe locals still talk about Eleanor Roosevelt's visit. Last month Lottie Ussery of Ellerbe celebrated her 91st birthday. According to the local paper, Mrs. Ussery's claim to fame is that "she was secretary at Ellerbe Springs during the time that Eleanor Roosevelt visited Ellerbe." Decades later, the fact that a famous person paused for a few minutes in Ellerbe still generates buzz.

We all tend to get excited when we have contact with famous people. I know someone who had a summer job at a restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia as a student and she was thrilled that she once served lunch to Robert Redford. I know someone else who was elated that she ran into Julia Roberts on a city street. As a teenager I got to meet Jimmy Carter in the White House Rose Garden and I still remember the event vividly. (If I live to be 91 is that the fact that will make the paper?)

If we get so excited over brief encounters with celebrities you would think the followers of Christ would be ecstatic over a constant spiritual reality in their lives. According to John 14:23-24, God makes God's home with those who love the Lord. We're not talking about a chance encounter of a few moments with an earthly star. We're talking about the almighty God of the universe making God's own dwelling place with those who love the Lord.

That's a reality worth staying excited about. Do we live like we believe it to be true?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why I love and don't love Mother's Day

As a son, I love Mother's Day. I have a great mother and I love her and I will tell her these things on the second Sunday in May. As a pastor, however, I confess that I don't like Mother's Day because it is a day that is more hurtful than joyous for many.

I think it was 21 years ago when I was an associate pastor in Texas that I had to handle the recognition of mothers in worship on Mother's Day. The senior pastor was absent and I had been told specifically how to handle the task of honoring mothers in keeping with the tradition of that church. Each mother was to receive a flower and I was to read a sentimental poem about the greatness of mothers.

As instructed, I asked the mothers to stand and the flowers began to be distributed as I began to read the poem. But, only seconds into the flower distribution and the reading of the poem, the church organist on the front pew sat back down and began to sob uncontrollably. Her obvious grief could be heard all through the sanctuary. Her son had died a little less than a year before. Smiles evaporated and tears began forming in the eyes of many in that place of worship as we all connected with the sorrow of one mother.

In my faith tradition many churches, on Mother's Day, recognize the oldest mother, the youngest mother and the mother with the most children. I've never quite understood what was being honored in this practice. Why do these mothers deserve to be singled out above others? How does the age, youth or number of children of a mother merit special recognition? And what about the mothers like that church organist for whom Mother's Day, rather than being a day of celebration, is a day of intense sadness? Should these mothers be ignored?

As a senior pastor I have never followed the typical pattern of recognition on Mother's Day. For many years I asked worshippers who were either mothers or who were born of a mother to stand. Of course everyone stood. I then pointed out that all of us were touched in some way on Mother's Day and for many it is a very difficult day for a host of reasons. I always encourage the congregation to be sensitive to and supportive of those for whom Mother's Day is hard. Often I have made available copies of articles written by mothers and others who had a tough time on Mother's Day.

Over the years I have known numerous regular worshippers who make a point not to go to church on Mother's Day because it is just too hard for them. I am well aware that the second Sunday in May is a joyous celebration for many families. But I also know that Mother's Day really hurts for many. The family of God must attempt to effectively and equally "rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15, TNIV).

It is interesting that the mother who inspired the creation of Mother's Day, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, was a crusader for positive social change. As an expression of her love for Christ she organized Mother's Day Work Clubs that raised money to help needy people obtain medications they could not afford and promoted peace during the Civil War and healing between the North and South after the war. When her daughter succeeded in establishing Mother's Day as a national observance, the younger Jarvis was appalled that the day established in honor of a woman devoted to social change quickly became a day of profit for flower retailers and greeting card sellers.

I wonder if recovering some of the spirit of Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis in our Mother's Day observances might make them a little less painful for many.