Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

A prayer for worship after “This is the Day” was sung.

This is the day that you have made, God.
permeated through and through with your beauty,
full of your faithfulness
full of your holiness.

We give you thanks.
We open our hearts and our minds and our spirits
to your transforming presence.

It is not easy to open ourselves to your presence, God:
our hearts are restless,
finding it hard to settle into your love;
our minds wander,
caught up in urgent cares and worries;
our spirits are uneasy before the mystery of your holiness.

It is not easy
and we are grateful that you don’t give up on us.
Even as we turn away from you,
you keep turning toward us.

So, here, now, for this time together,
we ask you to move among us,
awakening us to your Spirit reaching out to us,
calling to us,
showing us your new creation in our midst.

This is the day that you have made, God.
We are open
to your grace
your love
your summons to join your holy work,
in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Read Full Post »

All praise to you, Lord Almighty.
At the beginning of time,
you hovered over the chaos
and gave every living thing the breath of life.

Through your holy prophets,
you enflame your people
with a passion for your truth.
You call us to the ways of justice and compassion.

By the Spirit of your Son Jesus
you pour upon us
gifts of faith and goodness and love.

O Spirit of the living God,
with the whole church
we wait for you.
Come to us,
come among us:
come as the wind
and blow far from us
all dark despair,
all groundless fears,
all false values.

Come as the fire
and burn away
all selfish desires,
all false pride,
all readiness to play the victim.

Come as the dew
and revive your people.
Grant us the forgiveness
that sets us free,
the passion of Christ
that draws us into the world you love,
the faith and courage
that speaks your redeeming truth.

Breathe on us, Breath of God.
Transform us into your faithful people.

Read Full Post »

God of our salvation,
in Jesus Christ
and through your Holy Spirit,
you promise to be with us through
all that life may bring us.

We are grateful for signs of your faithfulness all around us:
for the work of your Spirit in the lives of
those who commit themselves to your mission;
for the presence of your Spirit
carrying us in times of crisis and trial;
for the creativity of your Spirit
opening new channels of peace and reconciliation
after all our best efforts have failed.

Teach us who bear the name of Jesus
to live into and out of his grace
with such passion and commitment
that other people’s lives are blessed
and our communities flourish.

Let your healing waters flow over us
that we may be instruments of your grace
wherever you send us this week.

Read Full Post »

Draw me in

Life-giving God,
God of blessing and of joy,
you have come among us in Jesus of Nazareth
to draw us into the wide, expansive world
of your grace and love.

Long before we are aware of it,
your Holy Spirit is moving in us and through us,
Pulling us out of ourselves,
setting us in relationships
where we can learn the lessons of love.

Search my heart and mind.
Show me the ways
I resist your work.
Open me to the work of your Spirit,
tearing down that which diminishes Life;
building up that which makes me more fully
the person you have created me to be.

Set your holy truth within me
that I may live in the world
aware of your love,
open to your transforming grace,
dancing in your light.

I pray in the name of Jesus,
who is the the Way, the Truth, the Life.


Read Full Post »

The stained glass windows in many churches portray the Holy Spirit as a gentle dove but the ancient Celtic Christians named the Holy Spirit an Geadh-Glas: ‘the wild goose’. The name conveys the sense of unpredictability that Jesus talked about in his conversation with Nicodemus: “You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” (John 3: 7-8, The Message)

Alan Roxburgh, in an article entitled “Join the Wild Goose Chase” (no longer available online) wrote, “The wild goose is unpredictable (like the wind). Taking seriously this sense of God, Celtic missionaries went on wild goose chases, entering the spaces, towns, hamlets, and villages of the 7th century England in the conviction that the wild goose was out there ahead of them. They were open to being surprised by the wild goose, prayerfully asking what God was doing and joining there by naming the name of Jesus, dwelling among people and opening the story of God’s love and grace”.

The adventure on which the Spirit is leading us is taking the church past some familiar landmarks. Congregations are forming regional clusters where ordered ministry personnel function in ways similar to Methodist circuit riders. People are being formed as disciples in small groups, a format John Wesley used. Ancient Christian practices and disciplines are being adopted and adapted for new contexts. The sacraments of baptism and communion are being re-visited and taking on new significance. Congregations are recovering their identity as baptized and baptizing, Spirit-gifted communities.

From its beginnings, the Church understood that, when someone is baptized, that person is ordained into ministry by the call of God. Hands are laid upon the person being baptized to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit and empowerment for God’s mission. Baptism makes every Christian one of Christ’s representatives and witnesses in the world. It gives all Christians the gift and responsibility of functioning as priests to one another and as evangelists in the world.

Baptism is the entrance into a way of life that is all-embracing and life-changing. However, the significance of baptism as commissioning into a high and holy calling was largely lost in Christendom. When the majority of the people already considered themselves to be Christians, evangelism was reduced to a concern about ‘accepting Christ as your personal Saviour so you can be sure you are going to heaven when you die’; mission became something done by specialized agencies and persons in distant places, financially supported by churches in North America; ministry, both pastoral and priestly, was something done by the paid professional minister to meet the needs of consumers of religious goods and services. Baptism became merely a cultural rite of passage, a one-time action that did not have a significant impact on the rest of one’s life.

Christendom churches may have been able to function with a majority of their members treating baptism as merely a cultural rite of passage. That is no longer adequate. In the dying days of Christendom, the church faces an indifferent and increasingly hostile culture. The mission field is no longer in distant places. It has moved into the neighbourhoods and workplaces and of every member. In the face of despair and brokenness, hurt and loneliness, people need evangelism to be something more than eternal life insurance. They need good news of authentic hope. Churches that are engaging the mission field around them need the active participation of every minister that the Holy Spirit has given them.

The way forward for congregations includes a recovery of baptism as a significant event that has ongoing effects on each Christian’s identity and practice of their faith.

Read Full Post »

This is the second in a series of post in which I will be sharing some of the research I have been doing on lay leadership training in the United Church of Canada. That work was made possible by a McGeachy scholarship grant from the United Church of Canada Foundation.

The impetus for the research stemmed from an awareness of a growing number of congregations that were relying on lay people to provide leadership on an ongoing basis. I was also becoming aware that there were a number of forces that were making our current model of church and ministry less and less viable. The models of church and ministry with which most congregations operate were created to serve Christendom churches. Christendom began in 313 CE when the Roman Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan pronouncing Christianity as the favoured religion of the empire. That was the beginning of an alliance between Christianity and the political and social powers in the culture that continued in the West for over fifteen or sixteen centuries.

In Christendom, the majority of the people considered themselves Christian. They supported the church either through voluntary offerings or, in some times and places, through taxation. There was a coherence between the values and mores of the dominant classes in the culture and what were generally understood to be Christian values. In the Canadian version of Christendom, stores were closed on Sundays; the Lord’s Prayer was said in schools on a daily basis; churches were at the centre of social life (literally and figuratively); politicians consulted with church leaders before making major policy announcements; parents sent or took their children to Sunday School so that the children would learn good moral values and grow up to be good citizens.

In such a context, the normative model for a “successful” mainline church in Canada was a congregation that could afford to support a seminary-trained professional minister and the costs of maintaining a building. Centralized denominational structures had been developed to connect such congregations and provide accountability for them. Para-church organizations emerged that focused on mission outreach, evangelism, and youth ministry. Candidates for ministry had often been nurtured throughout their lives by extensive youth programming, e.g. Sunday Schools, CGIT, TUXIS, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, church camps.

Within our lifetimes, that alliance between Christianity and the culture has been disappearing. Christianity has been disestablished as the official and dominant religion in our culture. (Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall has written extensively about the disestablishment of the churches and what this means for the way they function).  It has been pushed to the margins in power and influence and popular support. As Christianity settles more and more deeply into its minority status in North America, many congregations can no longer afford to pay for full-time, seminary-trained ministry personnel. People contemplating ordered ministry often cannot afford the cost of the formal seminary education that is required by many denominations. Personal circumstances may also make it difficult to leave their families for extended periods of time to get that education.

The current models of church and ministry are becoming less and less viable. At the same time, new forms of church and new ways of leadership are emerging across the country. Faith communities are finding new ways of being led. More accurately, the Holy Spirit is raising up new leaders for new forms of church. These leaders have often not been through the officially sanctioned pathways of education and credentialing. They do not plan to do so. That does not mean that these people are uninterested in being trained and equipped for their leadership. It signals that the institutional requirements no longer fit the realities of the post-Christendom context.

As has often been the case in the history of the Church, the Holy Spirit is on the move and the structures and systems are struggling to catch up. Sometime the system tries to manage the disconnect between the structures and the new realities by attempting to fix the existing structures. What is needed instead is to discern what new life the Spirit is creating and, therefore, what kinds of structures will most faithfully nurture and nourish that new life.

Read Full Post »

New Life

Lord Jesus Christ,
our living Lord,
you have entrusted us with
a great and precious treasure:
the message that you have power
to create and to give new life.
Your Spirit moves among us
shaking up what has become settled and shut down;
stirring new life in the midst of our dying;
making a new creation in places where we have given up.

We yearn for your presence,
but we’re not sure we want your new creation.
Your newness sets us off balance.

It is awkward, unnerving
to step into your future
without knowing
without being sure
without seeming more than the next step in front of us.

The only assurance you give is that your Spirit will breath new life,
that you are the Way we are to take
that your steadfast love and faithfulness,
your mercy and your grace
will meet us in every step.

You promise that that will be enough.
So, here, now,
we dare to trust you to make all things new,
including us.
Teach us to sing your song
in this time,
in this place,
for your sake and to your glory.


Read Full Post »

2 Corinthians 4: 7-17
John 3: 1-10

Why do you participate in the life and mission of your church? There are lots of other things you could do with your time and energy. It is a difficult time to be the church. You could be giving your time and energy to something easier, something that looks more successful, something more popular. Yet, you show up; you give what you feel you can. Why do you do that?

When I have asked that question, the most common response I get is that people participate in their church because of the friendships they have there. The relationships keep them coming.

Those relationships are very precious gifts. We live in a time when many people are profoundly lonely. They are thirsty to feel welcomed in a community. They are looking for some place where they are treated with dignity and kindness. They want to believe that they matter to somebody.

Some of you have found those things among the friendships you have developed in your church community. Those friends have seen you through some of the worst times in your life. You have shared some of the best times together. You speak readily about how grateful you are.  “Why do you participate in the life and mission of your church?” Many of you answer, “Because of the friends I have here.”

Yet, as true as that answer may be, something more needs to be said. The Church is not just a social club. As William Willimon is fond of saying, “The Church is not just the Rotary Club meeting at an inconvenient time.” We gather in Christian communities not just for the friends we have. Lots of people have good friends without the trouble of being part of the Church.

We gather in Christian communities because something more in happening in and through your relationships with each other. Often God meets you through these other people. Someone says something at just the right time that helps you find your way forward and you discern that it is the Spirit of God working through that person. You are on the receiving end of some undeserved kindness or generosity and you realize that you are catching a glimpse of the grace of God that permeates all our days. Someone sits with you when you are going through a dark time and you feel God’s steadfast love and faithfulness flowing through him or her into your life.There is more to the church than just friendships with each other. Our friends become channels, conduits, through which the living God reaches out to you.

As great a treasure as all of that is, there is something beyond even that going on. Jesus promises, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).  It is not just that other people are channels of God’s grace. It is that, when we gather together, the risen Christ is here. He shows up. He joins the gathering.

Often we do not recognize that he is present. Seldom do we acknowledge his presence. Yet, he is here, with us, beyond our ordinary human sight.

When the apostle Paul tried to describe this, he said, “In Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17)  In Christ, there is a new world: a new dimension to this world. Now that God has raised Jesus from the dead, there are two worlds that exist in the same continuum. It is like two notes playing at the same time. The one world is the visible world that we are used to seeing and touching and hearing — the everyday world. There is another world as well. It is invisible to our ordinary senses but it is still real and it has its effect on us.

A new creation came into being when God raised Jesus from the dead. This new creation is teeming with God’s mercy and God’s grace and God’s resurrection power. Because it is not visible, many people tend to overlook it or dismiss it. That would be a mistake. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “It is the invisible that moves the visible” (John 3: 5-6).

Much of living by faith is a matter of developing eyes to see and ears to hear God’s work. There is more going on here than what we are in our own selves and in our relationships with each other. There is the risen Christ saving and healing and bringing us into the power of the resurrection that is at work in our world. The risen Christ is bringing new life in places and situations that we have given up on as dead, as hopeless.

That is why in our lives and in our churches, we always need to remain open to surprise. We need to be supple, ready to change direction, ready to consider new possibilities. Our resurrecting God keeps showing up.

Often, when the risen Christ show up, he breaks open things that we had nailed down tightly. There are things in our lives that we have tried to keep so tightly controlled that all the life in them has been shut down. Jesus shows up and breaks them open so that there’s room for the Holy Spirit to blow through our lives again and bring new energy and new life.

That can be a very painful process. We like things the way they are. We have organized them that way. They work for us that way. At least, they did. Even when they no longer do, we hold on to them because they are familiar. There is a certain comfort in that.

God will not let us settle for comfort. God has something far better in mind for us. God wants to give us life, real life, abundant life. God want that abundant life not just for us but for our children and grandchildren and for the children of this neighbourhood and this city and the whole of God’s beloved creation. God’s Spirit moves against structures that stand in the way of God’s good purposes. The Spirit is in the process of dismantling them, of letting them die and disappear.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “When God’s Spirit shows up, it’s like the wind that blows where it will. You don’t know where it is coming from or where it is headed next.” The Spirit is a wild and powerful presence. Sometimes the Spirit-wind is like a hurricane that clears out the present order and makes room for something new to come. Sometimes the Spirit-wind is the kind of wind that catches the sails of a sailboat and takes us on new adventures.

Much of the New Testament was written to small Christian communities that we hanging on by their finger tips. Yet, Paul writes to them with amazing hope:
Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we are not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we are not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The thing we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4: 7-17, The Message).

We are not on our own. Our life together draws its energy and vitality from the greatness of God’s power. So, the church lives on tiptoe. The church is a community that is open to the impossible becoming possible. It is determined to live in the impossible possibility of the reign of God in our midst.

Why do you keep showing up? Thomas Long tells of being part of a spiritual formation class in a church where the question was asked, “Why have you stayed as part of the Church?” One man replied, “I’ll tell you what keeps me coming. it’s strange, I know, but I get the feeling here, like nowhere else, that something is about to happen” (Something is About to Happen, p. 9)  That, my friends, is a great gift. Thanks be to God.

Read Full Post »

This is the sixth in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral to a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.


The fifth difference is described this way:

When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the minister in a pastoral church asks:  “How can I meet this need?”
When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the minister in the missional church asks: “How can this need be met?”

The shift from a pastoral to a missional church is not merely a matter of a congregation doing different things. Neither is it a matter of doing things differently (e.g. offering ‘better’ programmes; offering groups that target a different kind of people; minimizing bureaucratic rules). The shift from pastoral to missional entails being different: a change in the culture of ‘being church’. Included in this is a move away from such hierarchical distinctions such as ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’.

In Liberating the Laity, R. Paul Stevens writes: “In the Greco-Roman world, the municipal administration had two parts: the kleros (clergy), the magistrate and the laos (layperson), the ignorant and uneducated citizen”(p. 21). At some point, the church adopted that kind of structure in its leadership — the clergy administering, or running the church; the laity working as assistants to the clergy. Along with that kind of structure, came a “mentality of [the clergy] feeling responsible to provide the vision for the church, of leading the church, even running it” (Stevens, p. 23).

A missional church recognizes that Christ breaks down such distinctions. All the baptized all called into and gifted for ministry. The work of ministry staff is not to run an organization in which they are indispensable. The work of ministry staff is to cultivate an environment in which each person knows that s/he is indispensable to the Body of Christ. As Elizabeth O’Connor describes such a community in Call to Commitment, “Everyone was needed and everyone was aware of the point at which he was needed” (p. 43).

Each person is a gift to the community. Each person has a call from God. Each person has been gifted by the Holy Spirit for that work. Ministry staff nurture the life of the community so that each person is helped to discern his/her call and gifts. “Ordained clergy equip and release the multiple ministries of the people of God throughout the church . . . Pastor[s] ask questions that cultivate an environment that engages the imagination, creativity, and gifts of God’s people in order to discern solutions” (The Missional Leader, Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, p. 12). They help the community and its people develop the habits and practices, the capacities and skills that open people to the work of the Holy Spirit who is at work in and among them.

They nurture structures that assist people in living into their calling and gifts. Such structures will not be focused on finding people to help perpetuate the structure ; they will function to support people discern their call, identify the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given for that call, and provide the supports that enable that call to be lived in faithful obedience to the living Christ. The pressing question stops being, “Who can we get to serve on existing committees?” and becomes, “What can we do to set this person free to be what God is calling him/her to be?”


Read Full Post »

A reflection on Galatians 5: 1, 13 -25 and Luke 9:51-62


“For freedom, Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not submit yourselves again to the yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

Many people lead very busy lives. How often do you feel driven by a sense of having too many things to do and having too little time to do them in? Do you feel pulled between what you have to do and what you should do and what you want to do? Faced with unlimited options, do you feel tangled in a web of duties, obligations, commitments and desires?

If finding some balance were simply a matter of choosing the important things and leaving some unimportant things undone, most of us could manage that. However, life is often not that clearcut. So often the choices are not between the important and the trivial; between something that must be attended to and something that can be left for another time. You get caught between too many important duties and obligations and commitments, all of which have merit and legitimate claims upon your attention.

In Pastor, William Willimon tells of leading Bible study on temptation. He was trying to relate the topic to the lives of those who were participating. One man burst out, “I’ll tell you what temptation is. Temptation is when your boss calls you in, as mine did just yesterday and say, “I’m going to give you a real opportunity. I’m going to give you a bigger sales territory. We believe that you are going places young man.”
“But I don’t want a bigger sales territory,” I told him. I’m already away from home four nights a week. It wouldn’t be fair to my wife and daughter.”
“Look, we’re asking you to do this for your wife and daughter. Don’t you want to be a good father? It takes money to support a family these days. Sure, your little girl doesn’t take much money now, but think of the future. I’m only asking you to do this for them.”

Whether you believe the boss or not when s/he says, “We’re only asking you to do this for them,” you can get caught between wanting to do what’s best for your family and wanting to do well in your job and doing your part in serving the community and supporting your faith community. How do you live in such a way that doesn’t leave your soul withered, your strength depleted, your mind spinning? What does it take to ‘hold firm’ to the freedom and  joy which Christ has won for us?

In today’s gospel story, Jesus invites people to follow him and they respond with a litany of other commitments and important obligations: “Let me bury my father first.” “I need to say good-bye to my family first.”   Jesus doesn’t flinch: “Let the dead bury the dead. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent. Announce God’s Kingdom.” “No procrastinating, no backward looks. You can’t put off the Kingdom till tomorrow. Seize the day!” (Luke 9: 60, 62, The Message)

These were not trivial excuses that these people were making. They were not asking for leave to go to one last party before they gave up ‘the good life’ and started taking religion seriously.  They were responsible people, trying to juggle family, job, and Jesus’ call. Yet, even to them, Jesus is unyielding: even of them Jesus demands that they put him as the priority over every other claim in their lives. Why? Why should he be so adamant and firm? He is adamant and firm because what is at stake is freedom, joy, and peace. Those can be found only when you live out of God’s choices for your life, not out of your own. And, you can only know what God’s choice, God’s agenda is, when you spend time with God.

You keep free, says Paul to the Galatians, when you let your life be grasped by God. You hold onto Christ’s freedom not by knowing which choices to make but by knowing yourself chosen by God. There is a story about Mother Teresa speaking with a young man who had joined her order. He had been complaining that his superior was insisting that he spend more time in prayer. It was keeping him from the lepers whom he had been called to serve. She told him, “Your call is not to serve lepers. Your call is to belong to Jesus”.

The most important choice in your life has already been made. God has chosen you. God is active in your life. God longs to have love and joy and freedom permeate your living. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control are fruit of the Spirit — the outgrowth of letting God’s Spirit dwell more and more deeply in your heart and mind and life. In the midst of all your important obligations and valuable commitments, take time to be known by God, to belong to Jesus. Let God lead you into the wide open spaces of salvation. Let Jesus teach you the ‘unforced rhythms of grace‘.  ‘For freedom, Christ has set you free’.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: