holy spirit

Why the Church Needs to Gain Momentum

LoloStock / Shutterstock.com

Photo via LoloStock / Shutterstock.com

Nearly every issue of national concern — from prison to education to tax reform, from healthcare to LGBT rights — has become so polarizing that otherwise civil, intelligent human beings often digress to the level of obdurate toddlers staring down a bowl of broccoli.

Even as we jeer at our elected officials who can’t seem to get their acts together, none who have spent any time in a church business meeting should be surprised at the level of strife and vitriol displayed in the American political arena. Seriously, it’s getting as scary as Jack Nicholson’s eyebrows out there.

If you live in any kind of an urban context you’ll likely have witnessed the following scene.

You’re at a stoplight in your car and up rolls a cyclist. 

Sometimes a Week is Just a Week


a katz / Shutterstock.com

PEOPLE HAVE CALLED me a lot of things: Host pastor of the #BlackLivesMatter freedom ride; student of teenage and Millennial activists; leader of a state commission advocating policy change; bail negotiator; street agitator; and militant mediator. Since the Holy Spirit was poured out onto the streets of Ferguson, Mo., and St. Louis in the wake of Michael Brown’s death, I’ve been called and challenged to play these roles—and more.

Yes, I did say the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that fell at Pentecost as a dynamic demonstration of God’s power to overcome the barriers of language, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation. The Spirit of hope that caused a community once rebuked for its broken dialect to speak with one voice. The Spirit of holiness that enabled a people dismissed for “drunkenness” (see Acts 2:15) to form the first fruits of the church.

We may have missed it because those the Spirit fell on nearly a year ago weren’t wearing robes and stoles, but hoodies and bandanas. They weren’t singing anthems and hymns, but chanting what some would call obscenities. They weren’t called saints and disciples by the media, but thugs and outside agitators.

But last summer, in the week between Michael Brown’s death on Aug. 9 and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s declaration of a state of emergency on Aug. 16, the Spirit was poured upon “all flesh” and our sons and daughters began to prophesy.

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'And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy'

Photo via Wes Granberg-Michaelson, from the Empowered21 conference.

Photo via Wes Granberg-Michaelson, from the Empowered21 conference.

Christine Caine gave a passionate and prophetic call for the church to be continually changing, even while at its core, it is “the same.” That constant change is driven by God’s continuing call to be sent as witnesses in the world. “We want power,” she told the spiritually hungry Pentecostals gathered before her. “But we don’t know what it’s for.” It’s not for ourselves, not for our own spiritual ecstasy. The power of God’s Spirit is given for us to be witnesses to God’s transforming love. And one can’t change the world without being in the world, instead of running from it. “We’re not here,” Christine Caine proclaimed, “to entertain ourselves.”

You could feel how her words stuck a deep chord within the crowd of those listening. I walked over to sit by a friend who is bishop of a large Pentecostal church. “This is the best word that’s been spoken,” he said to me. And that’s after we had heard eight world famous Pentecostal preachers.

Pentecost and the Power for [Socioeconomic] Reconciliation

R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

Men pray after Officer Darren Wilson's name released in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 15, 2014. R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

Socioeconomic reconciliation is the removal of gaps in opportunity, achievement, health, thriving, and well-being that exist between groups of people in our nation and world. In the face of myriad breaches of the common human bond and experience, a breakthrough act of the Spirit today would activate and agitate the established church in her ministry: a ministry of socioeconomic reconciliation.

The ministry of socioeconomic reconciliation will require a church empowered with tongues of fire and the gift of interpretation. These tongues must speak with a prophetic voice. But we must also have the heart and capacity to translate the words of marginalized communities into the language of policy, power, and program. That is why I thank God for the compelling, confusing roles I’ve been called into over the last nine months. This form of reconciliation requires the church to fulfill of the vocation of the militant mediator, which offers as much renewal in the streets and city hall as we experience in the sanctuary.

Thanksgiving and Ferguson: Lost in Translation

Sign on boarded up window in Ferguson on Nov. 25. R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

For me, Thanksgiving was always Christmas’ annoying little sister. Thanksgiving isn’t a festive season spanning three months that warrants its own albums; it’s a day when American gluttony reaches its zenith, and also the Cowboys play. It’s not a holy day of obligation — and in my worst moments, I complain to my preacher husband about the additional service “invading” our holy midweek day off work.

But this year Thanksgiving feels especially out of place — sandwiched between an early winter and the hopelessness of misunderstood lament. I want so badly to be thankful because I truly have so many reasons to fall on my knees in exaltation. But before I count my “blessings” — before the praise hits my lips, it’s strangled by the cry for others whose lots might only be described as cursed.

Adam Ericksen penned a great reflection this morning, saying, “God doesn’t force us to be thankful in times of grief and despair. Rather, God meets us in our honest and raw emotions.”

Bitterness seems all at once selfish and appropriate. I grieve the chasm that has been revealed between brothers and sisters. If there is anything I learned from my Monday night glued to television screens watching my former home of St. Louis in flames it’s that this “conversation” everyone keeps saying we need to have is happening in two different languages.

Listening As an Act of Love

Many candle lights. Via filmfoto/Shutterstock

The story of Pentecost always begins with a sound; the gathering of people and a sound. So often we focus on what is being said at the time in the story and ignore all the listening that takes place.

First, there's a sound.
Second, people hear the sound.
An encounter with the Holy Spirit is predicated on a sound and listening.

I wonder what Peter was thinking that day…with all that noise.

When I read this account from Acts, it’s pretty clear that Peter’s first thought was, “Oh no! Everyone is going to think we’re drunk and it’s only 9:00 in the morning!”

The story of Pentecost is often told as if the most important thing that happened was the speaking in tongues...that people were empowered to speak. Indeed, it’s important. No doubt.

But first, first, they heard something. They listened.

Pentecost and the Freedom to Be in All the Wrong Places

Sneakers on asphalt road and "Do Not Cross" sign. Image courtesy igor.stevanovic

Sneakers on asphalt road and "Do Not Cross" sign. Image courtesy igor.stevanovic/shutterstock.com

Pentecost celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit and reminds us that our story isn’t static but dynamic, alive, and unfolding. In the same way that the disciples moved out from Jerusalem after Pentecost, we are to move out of our places of comfort and complacency as we join God in the world he is making.


The First Multimedia Blowup Moment

Photo courtesy Odyssey Networks

Photo courtesy Odyssey Networks

Can you imagine sitting in a public space and all of a sudden everyone around you starts to speak in a different language? And yet somehow you still understand them? Can you imagine the cacophony of sounds this event would cause? Can you envision the power it would take to make this astonishing moment happen?

Is it a miracle? Possession? Paranormal activity? It likely would freak you out.

This moment actually happens more often than we think. A glimpse of this cacophony of sounds can be found in our everyday lives. We hear loud voices coming through network and cable news shows, on Twitter and Facebook, and through other social media outlets. We hear rising decibels of chatter around social justice issues — from the right and from the left — about issues as diverse as abortion, same-sex marriage, income inequality, biblical obedience, or defining traditional values. We hear the noise. At times, it is almost deafening. The voices seem to fly past each other so fast that neither side seems to be listening to the other at all.

But then there are moments when we all come together to speak for one common purpose.

Stand by Me: Memorial Day and the Healing of Souls

Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Reflecting on Memorial Day and Jesus' promise to be with us. Courtesy Odyssey Networks

If you have to reassure people that you’re not abandoning them, it may be because they feel you slipping away. In John 14, Jesus is responding to the anxiety of those he loves. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he says, but it is not clear how he will keep that promise. In a few hours, his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death will all have been accomplished. It will feel as if he has, in fact, abandoned them or been torn away from them.  

Jesus loses his life, and he is not the only one to suffer loss. Those he leaves behind lose him, and without him, they lose whatever security they might have felt in the world. After his death, they take refuge by hiding. They are isolated from each other and afraid of everything on the other side of locked doors. 

We rarely think of what happened to Jesus as an experience of combat, but the story of his arrest includes soldiers, weapons, and at least momentary hand-to-hand combat as Peter draws a sword to slice off the ear of one of those sent to arrest Jesus. Twenty-four hours later, those who could not watch with Jesus in the garden or save him from the enemy will themselves be lost without him.