Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Mind of the Holy Spirit

I've been writing recently about the Holy Spirit, as Jesus told his disciples, living in us (John 14:23) as a new gift from God, part of the New Covenant between God and people initiated by Jesus (see Matthew 26:27-28).  God has always wanted a relationship of love and trust with people.  He created Adam and Eve, gave them the garden to live in and seems to have spent time with them regularly (Genesis 1-2, and especially 3:8-9).  It was our own rebellion and short-sighted selfishness (Genesis 3:1-7), failing to trust God, that broke the relationship.  We've had trouble trusting and following God ever since.

God pursued that loving relationship with us (that's the story underlying the whole Old Testament), and re-started the personal contact by coming to us personally.  The Son of God, whom we know as Jesus, "became human and made his home among us" (John 1:14).  As Jesus came to the end of his earthly ministry, he said that the Holy Spirit would continue God's presence with us:  "But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you" (John 16:7).  Jesus taught the disciples in person, but it was time to greatly expand his impact by sending out these men, and many others like them, to preach and serve others in the name of Jesus.  

How did that work?  Through the mind of God in them.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2  that he trusted in the power of God rather than his own ideas:  "My message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God" (verses 4-5).  Further on in that chapter, Paul explains that "God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets."  And "we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us."  And "we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths."  And "we have the mind of Christ" which of course is also the Father's mind, since God is one. 
So, what is the mind of the Holy Spirit?  His driving purpose is to initiate and deepen a personal relationship in each of us with our Creator.  Some call that 'evangelism' and 'discipleship' and 'growth' but it's the same thing -- we humans coming to know God and follow him out of love.  The Holy Spirit is the initiator and conduit for that relationship, in all of us.  How can we hear and follow better?  We'll start looking at that next time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Holy Spirit's Work

Last week I wrote about the Holy Spirit, the mind of Christ, whom Jesus said would come to live in his disciples (John 14:23).  That was a new thing, because in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit rarely came upon anyone; and sometimes the Spirit left again, like in the case of Saul:  "Now the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and the Lord sent a tormenting spirit that filled him with depression and fear" (1 Sam. 16:14).  This may have led to David's plea "don’t take your Holy Spirit from me" later, in Psalm 51:11.

In the New Covenant, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come to live in his disciples, and he and his Father "will come and make our home with each of them."  How is it that by one Person coming to live within us, the other two also live within us?  It's because (in ways we can agree with but not really understand) God is one, and yet God is three, Father Son and Spirit.  The three-ness of God never creates any division or separation in the one-ness of God, and the actions of either Father, Son or Spirit are always the actions of the one God.  (Like I said, we can agree, but it's hard to understand.)  

But here's the mind-boggling truth: in the Person of the Holy Spirit, the one God has come to make his home in us, as a natural next step in his love for us -- the love that he showed us in his Son, whom we know as Jesus, coming to live with us, to die for us and be resurrected for us.   And when the Spirit of God comes to live in us, being active in our minds, then we have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16) by which we can understand the things of God.  So Peter can tell us to "be of one mind" (1 Peter 3:8) -- not that Christians are in lockstep, but that we all have the mind of God in us.  

Having the mind of God in us, then, we are able to perceive the love and intentions of God, not just for us but toward those around us also.  (One might ask, how could we have the love of God for someone, unless the mind of God resides in us?)  So the challenge is to discern and surrender to the mind of God in us, and the spiritual disciplines are an important tool.  You can learn more about applying them on this blog, or by reading from Henry Nouwen, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard and many others.  Let's keep exploring that.  Are you ready to hear from God?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Holy Spirit of God

Pentecost is in just a few days (May 27).  This celebration, which started out in Israelite life as a harvest festival (Lev. 23:15-21) came to full life in the New Covenant era when the Holy Spirit was given to the assembled disciples:  "On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.  And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability" (Acts 2:1-4).  It was clear that a whole new era was beginning, and the church continues to celebrate the Holy Spirit's person and role on this day.   

But the Holy Spirit seems mysterious to us.  There are only a couple of dozen references to the spirit of God in the Old Testament, and none of them is very clear as to what's going on.  For sure, this spirit comes from God, and when the spirit appears, God's will gets done (see for example 2 Chronicles 24:20).  But there's not much more until Jesus talks about the Spirit in John 14-17, and quite a few more descriptive comments in Acts and in the epistles.  So today, let's look first at some of what Jesus said.   

In John 14:16, Jesus says "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you."  The Greek phrase used here is allos paracletos.  The word "allos" means “another (in this case, Advocate or Helper) of the same kind.”  Jesus had been teaching them, correcting and encouraging them, helping them know the Father, for three years or so.  Now he would send another just like himself to the disciples -- which includes you and me, of course. 

In John 14:23, Jesus continues "All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them."  And in verse 26, "But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you."  The Holy Spirit's role is to continue teaching, leading, correcting and encouraging us, by bringing the Father and Son to us in a living, ongoing interchange of love as they make a home in our minds and emotions.  We gradually learn to "hear the voice of God" and follow.  

There's a lot more, but let's remember:  the Holy Spirit is "another one just like Jesus" and is "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16).  So it's important we learn to recognize and follow his voice.  We'll keep looking at that for awhile. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Balanced Diet

I like hamburgers.  And ice cream.  And carrot cake.  And coffee.  I can justify eating them because after all, hamburgers supply protein, ice cream supplies calcium, and carrot cake and coffee are both made from vegetables.  Right?  Well, although that is true, these are not necessarily the most healthy way to get those nutrients in my diet, and if I only ate those, I would be unhealthy.  I have to conquer my temptations to just eat what appeals to me today, in order to have a more balanced diet. 

Isn't the same true in our spiritual diet?  It might be simpler and easier to read only books about the Bible instead of the books of the Bible. It is tempting, and easier, to read only the books of the Bible I am more familiar with, rather than working my way through genealogies or psalms or the more obscure prophets, to see the lessons they have for me.  And it's easier to read some scripture, pray a little, and pretend I've done my duty -- but that is hardly a balanced or complete diet.  

I was taught as a youth that "prayer is when we talk to God, and Bible study is when God talks to us."  But I've learned that prayer can be a time of stillness before God, and that he sometimes talks to me when I'm listening for him.  (If you want to see an example of that in the prayer life of the apostle Paul, you could read 2 Cor. 12:8-10.)  I've also learned there are many different ways to surrender myself to God's work in me than just prayer and Bible study. 

Here is a partial list of spiritual practices from the book "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook" by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun.  These are a few ways of presenting ourselves before God, so he can form us into the image of Christ:  Celebration; holy communion; rule for life; worship; contemplation; examination of consciousness; journaling; rest; retreat; self-care; simplicity; slowing; teachability; unplugging; confession; discernment; silence; solitude; submission; accountability; chastity; community; discipling; hospitality; and the list goes on and on. 

One way to expand our ways of relating to God would be to explore one new discipline a month, for the rest of this year, and see what God teaches us.  Once your personal portfolio of disciplines is expanded, you'll have a much broader way of being taught by God, or of stopping during a difficult time and regaining your spiritual footing.  Why not give it a try?  And please let me know how it changes your life.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fatigue and Rest

Life seems like a never-ending list of projects, chores and work sometimes.  Now that the taxes are done, I'm behind on the lawn and garden, and there are several home projects I wanted to finish last year...maybe I'll get them done this year!  Yesterday's chores tired me out, and it makes me tired just thinking about everything I have stacked up ahead of me.

Jesus had a lot of demands on his time.  As I've said sometimes, even his interruptions were interrupted! (See Mark 5:21-43.)  I guess preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and casting out demons can keep a person busy.  But even when he had a lot to do -- probably because he had a lot to do -- Jesus took time out to rest and to spend time with his Father.  He told the disciples to do the same:  Mark 6:30-31 tells us "The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'”  They went off in a boat to "a solitary place" but the crowds followed them and they didn't get as much solitude out of it as they should have.  

Later that day, after teaching the people and feeding at least 5,000 of them, he "went up into the hills by himself to pray" (v. 46).  It was hours later that he finally rejoined the disciples.  What was he doing?  Praying.  For hours?  Well, why not?  We have a hard time imagining that these days because our lives are so hectic.  But praying for hours would be a refreshing spiritual journey, an encounter with God that would change our thinking.  

This Saturday, a bunch of us are gathering to practice prayer and other spiritual tools.  It's going to be a time of refreshing, of challenge, of growth and of new joy in following Jesus, surrendering ourselves to him and being "formed in Christ."  In the meantime, I need to go pray.  Will you join me?