Posts Tagged spirit

Women as Pastoral Leaders Render a Different Vision of God

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Holy Stirrings – Rev. Stephanie McLeskey* – Mars Hill University

“Stop stirring.”

stephanie02 (1)It’s one of those phrases that takes me right back to childhood.  I hear it clearly in my mind, in my mother’s voice.  As a younger sister who was very interested in my older sister’s doings, and who wanted to be sure that my parents were adequately informed, stirring was one of my favorite pastimes.  I had quite the impressive streak of melodrama, and I took great childish pleasure in turning a relatively peaceful household into a bubbling mess.  Sometimes it worked.  More often I just got that look and a quick phrase: “Stop stirring.”  Stop stirring up trouble.  Stop stirring the pot.

Now, it often feels as though the bubbling mess is everywhere, and I so wish that there were some magical wand to wave that would bring about a more peaceful world.  I wish I could un-stir the pot.

The truth of the matter, though, is that sometimes things need to get stirred up so that we don’t forget they are there.  The desire to return to some mythical “good old days” is a desire to return to a time when issues of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality were locked down – when anyone who was different from the perceived and celebrated norm was supposed to settle quietly to the bottom of the pot.  This needed to be stirred.

So then, if the stirring is necessary, what is the responsibility of a Christian who is holding the spoon?  My belief is that our central responsibility here lies in taking our calling to partner with God in bringing about God’s kingdom very, very seriously.  I suggest four ways of checking ourselves in this, before we make a grab for the spoon:

  • When we get a chance with the spoon, do we handle it with integrity? Integrity is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but at its root it is about wholeness and unity: a person with integrity is who they say they are.  Their actions match their words.  Their character matches their claims.  We say we are followers of Christ, and that we want to become more like Christ.  Do our actions demonstrate this?  When we loosen the cords of our own self-righteousness (an affliction that touches most of us to some degree) and stand vulnerably before our God, can we still claim that we are doing our best to live and love like Jesus?  Can we still claim that the first guidance that we seek is that of the Spirit?
  • When the spotlight is on us, do we reflect the light of truth? When we write, when we speak, when we share Facebook posts and forward emails, do we check our words for truth?  Truth can be such a tricky concept in a world where we all see things and understand things differently, and where our own individual experiences shape our understanding of what is true.  However, we can take responsibility to check the facts of what we say and what we pass along, and we can take responsibility not to misrepresent or, worse, demonize those who see a situation or issue differently than we do.  We also, as Christians, can do our best to reflect the truth of God: the truth of God’s love for all the world, and the truth of God’s image stamped on all people.  When we have the opportunity to speak, write, or share, we can honor God by keeping those truths in mind.
  • Do our words demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit? I feel sometimes as though this should go without saying.  Perhaps it should.  But at least in my own life and my own interactions, I find that it is good and necessary to pause and ask myself these questions.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul suggests that if we are working in the Spirit, then the fruit of that labor will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22, NRSV).  Are our words fruitful in that respect?  Do our words increase the good in the world?
  • When we stir, do we stir up grace? It may be that stirring is inevitable.  It may even be that stirring is part of our calling.  But when we stir the pot, are we stirring up trouble for the sake of trouble, or are we stirring up trouble alongside grace?  God is in the business of troubling the waters, and so, therefore, are we – but God’s troubling the waters is about bringing grace, healing, and wholeness.  When we stir it up, are we making the waters safe for people to wade in and find that grace?  Are we creating spaces for healing and reconciling, looking to a time when we will remember that we all are made in the image of God, that we all carry that stamp of sacredness, of holiness?  And when we (inevitably) make mistakes – when we do use hurtful or untruthful words, when we do lash out in quick, angry reactions, are we restoring grace by returning to the situation with humility, and by asking forgiveness from those we have harmed?

We are already blessed.  We are already grace-filled.  We are already beloved.  May we remember that about ourselves and others, and may our holy stirring glorify God.

*Stephanie McLeskey is the University Chaplain at Mars Hill University in Mars Hill, North Carolina, where she has served for five years.  She is currently working on a DMin in Justice and Peacemaking at McAfee School of Theology.

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Spread Joy in this Season of Joy

This year during this season of joy, we are confronted as never before with the savage reality of terrorism. This reality has caused many to desert their basic beliefs in the goodness of people and freedom of religion. Some would cover the Statue of Liberty with a dark veil. Others would burn The Constitution in order to enjoy a false sense of security. Our security rests in our faith and in the great principles that have made us the envy of the world. Terrorism is by no means the only concerns that darkens the season for many people.

During this hectic holiday season many people are concerned and embarrassed that they cannot match their generosity of the past again this year. There are many people out of work and those that are working are often helping those who aren’t. There is a lot of anxiety in the land.

This year calls for an extra measure of consideration, patience and prayer. We should be careful about depicting those who are out of work as lazy or as just wanting a handout. There is a small number that fit that category, but no more than usual.  There are always those who cheat, but does that excuse my bad behavior? Many among us have lost family members and friends and are still grieving.

Our attitude needs to be one of graciousness and thankfulness. For many of us it is much harder to be a generous receiver rather than a generous giver. We need to develop an attitude of gratitude. Those of us who live in this great land are blessed beyond measure. Our leaders are men and women of great ability, great courage, and a love of country.

It is easy for nerves to become frayed and attitudes to become judgmental. Resist the temptation. Let’s make it a joyous time for everyone. Make an extra effort to be upbeat and uplifting. Let the spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas fill the air. Say Something Nice to every person you meet. Try to lift the spirits of those around you. Hadn’t you rather be remembered for what you scattered than for what you gathered? Remember love is a verb.

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Where’s Barnabas? : Doyle Sager: Baptists News


It is impossible to measure the positive impact we can have when we develop the habit of encouragement.

By Doyle Sager

One of my favorite scenes from the movie Christmas Vacation has Clark Griswold standing in his front yard with wife, children, parents and in-laws. They are shivering in the December cold, admiring the gaudy but brilliant Christmas lights which Clark has just strung all over the house. But this light display has come at great cost. He has had many disappointments with dead bulbs and tangled wires. He has fallen off his ladder and worked late into the night while others were nestled in their beds. But finally, the lights are on! And yet, at this moment of pride and accomplishment, the only words which come from his father-in-law? “The little lights aren’t twinkling, Clark.” Ugh! What a kick in the gut!

Perhaps you feel like Clark Griswold. You work hard on a project and all you get is criticism. You labor lovingly to prepare a meal and your thanks is, “The roast seems a little tough.” You preach or teach your heart out and the only feedback you receive is, “You don’t mention the Holy Spirit often enough.”

Have you noticed how criticism and a negative spirit can virtually suck the energy out of a meeting, a conversation or a relationship? Have you taken the time to tally social media to see whether there are more encouraging or discouraging posts? (Don’t do it; I don’t want you to be discouraged!)

For those who follow the Christian calendar, June 11 is St. Barnabas’ Day. Acts 4:36 introduces us to this man, whose given name is Joseph. But the early church gave him the name Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” This begs the question: If I allowed my church to bestow a descriptive moniker on me, what would it be? Mr. Grouchy? Rev. Always Right? Dr. Sad Sack? Mr. Negative?

Barnabas lived up to his name. In Acts 9, when Saul of Tarsus, a new convert to the Jesus Way, was having difficulty getting anyone to believe him or give him the time of day, it was Barnabas who intervened and used his considerable influence to welcome Saul. Barnabas saw the Saul-Paul glass as half-full, not half-empty and said to the church leaders, “Let’s take a chance on this guy. Something tells me he has potential.” How different would Christian history have been if Mr. Encourager had not stepped up.

Here’s the simple truth: It is impossible to measure the positive impact we can have when we develop the habit of encouragement. Many years ago, I attended a pastors conference and had braced myself for the usual fare — lots of bragging sermons about how the speakers were doing it right and I was doing it wrong (whatever “it” was). I was prepared to feel both guilty and inadequate.

Instead, a very successful pastor preached a sermon of encouragement. The message was in the indicative, not the imperative (I was loved and valued vs. I ought to be doing this or that). I went away lifted and refreshed, framing my many weaknesses in the larger truths of God’s provision and power. That sermon was delivered 25 years ago, and it is still nourishing my spirit.

If we’re all so starved for encouragement, why is it in such short supply? Where’s Barnabas when we need him? Sad to say, the secular world sometimes has a better grip on encouragement than the church does. In business and industry, a relatively new model for strategy planning has emerged called Appreciative Inquiry. AI begins with what is right in the organization, using strengths to leverage problem areas, thus keeping the visioning process from veering off into quick fixes or discouraging self-deprecation.

In yet another area, the mental health field offers “positive psychology” as an approach, not as a replacement for other emphases, but to augment them. Researchers have discovered that human beings are more drawn to the future than driven by the past. We more naturally grow by building on our virtues, positive experiences and pleasant memories.

May I offer a modest proposal? Let’s begin to cultivate a reputation for encouraging others. Wouldn’t it be great if someone would give me the nickname Encourager? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful word on my gravestone someday? Perhaps we could all begin June 11, on Barnabas’ day. I challenge you to spend that entire day encouraging others — in person, by way of handwritten notes, over the phone or through social media. Don’t let a discouraging word come from your lips all day long!

Here’s hoping Barnabas shows up at your place — and mine — on June 11. And here’s hoping he stays awhile.

Doyle Sager is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo.


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