Monday, May 10, 2010


A recent sermon on the Holy Spirit aroused no more smiles, grunts, or sighs than the usual bit of homily. Ecstasy was not my end goal, but I wanted to keep a few of the men from sleeping. The [S]pirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.

Each Sunday I am tasked with preaching a sermon. My preparation follows a similar path. I read the text and listen. I study the text and listen. I recall my history and listen. I observe my culture and listen. Effective sermons are heard before their spoken. The Holy Spirit mutters, and I translate. Occasionally, I ad lib: insert joke here; cue the video here; word study and grammar note there. Mostly, I follow a Script.

When a series on the Church approached the topic of the Holy Spirit--its guarantee, gas, glue--I shifted my path. I compiled the list of references to the Holy Spirit in Ephesians and invited our church to listen with me. What did they hear (men snoring, not included)?

For me this was a critical moment. I wanted them shape the sermon. Guided by the Spirit and God's Word, I insisted our church did not need me to respond to God. A better Helper guided us into all Truth. I merely facilitate--a vessel, a voice, a preacher.

I set up our worship service like a laboratory for the Holy Spirit. He was the controlled element. We were the variables. But I learned a few things:
  • Every Sunday is a laboratory, but...
  • The Holy Spirit is in control of set up, not me
  • I can no more control or harness the Holy Spirit than Simon could in Acts 8
  • But I can grieve Him (I don't think I did)
  • Measurements for the ongoing Holy Spirit experiment--call it Church, God's Mission, or the Incarnational life--consist of more than grunts, chair placements, and participation.

Monday, May 3, 2010


The only time I wanted to punch Jesus in the face, he was dressed in polyester and enshrouded in fog. This was Thespian Jesus, emerging from the ark in dramatic fashion at the conclusion to Sight & Sound's production of Noah. He spoke in a British dialect. He bobbed and swept and stroked the air as he gestured. He beckoned the patrons to come; I prayed for the rapture.

As the curtains closed, one lady came forward for the altar call. The remaining spectators lined up, two-by-two, and marched to their tour buses. Liz and I waited for the smoke to clear and the flood of people to disperse, assuring our kids, "Yes, we can finally go swimming."

Vacation in Branson, Missouri epitomized the Christian life, I fear, for the majority of church people. It is a vast retreat locale boasting mediocre performances, transient relationships, a critical mass of senior citizens, and endless requests for money. In a word: Underwhelming.

Perhaps our family's problem, though, was the high expectations we had set. This was our first vacation that did not include relatives or work responsibilities. And the 100-mile stretch on Route-66 of billboards promoting Branson's Best food, Best music, Best butterflies, Best wax figurines, Best comedy, and Best Continental breakfast only heightened our expectations.

By the second day, all our optimism was dashed. It started with waffles and a rendition of Hotel California by a guy named Gary in a silk shirt and led to a four-hour (yes, four hours!) sales pitch for a time-share. From there we traveled to McDonald's, uplifting our children with the prospect of a PlayPlace, but apologizing when we discovered the PlayPlace had been converted to outdoor seating for wheelchairs and rolling walkers.

But Liz and I knew the epic retelling of Noah could not disappoint. Not with biblical endorsement. Not with Animatronics and musical score. Not for eighty dollars.

A stage manager greeted the audience, sharing her prayer that the play would change our lives. High expectations. Then the fog came. Claire cried. Margot fell asleep. Liz and I critiqued performances. No life change. No refund. We bid the theater and its florid Jesus adieu. The swimming pool beckoned us, and it did not disappoint. This was the most redeeming part of our vacation.

As for the rapture (1 Cor. 15) and the real Jesus (Rev. 1), we wait, treading water. He will not disappoint.