Alive in the Spirit: Part 3

This week, Jason Riddell shares his reflections on the Holy Spirit and Clive Calver’s Alive in the Spirit:

 

How did I get here?
 
In the past two weeks, I’ve taken my car for an emissions test, earnestly compared health benefits between four different providers, talked with my insurance agent about potentially saving money by switching plans, experienced a passing fancy in the stock exchange, and participated in a conversation centered around the mortality of family members and the dividing of assets.
 
Apparently I’m an adult now.  I just don’t remember becoming one.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bemoaning my childhood becoming an ever-diminishing speck in life’s rearview mirror.  I never wanted to stay there.  Besides, I’m 28 years old- I’m not out of my depth here.
 
I’m more interested in the fact that somewhere along the way, without realizing that it was happening, I began to identify myself, to myself, as an adult.  Somewhere along the way I started caring about budgets and framily plans and miles per gallon and the look of a freshly mowed lawn and cooking meals that weren’t cheese fries.
 
And somewhere, what are you going to do with your life turned into what are you doing with your life.
 
Did this happen to anyone else?  Have you all come to the realization that, man, everything I do with every second of every day contributes to who I am, to what difference I make, to how I am remembered?
 
That stuff matters to me.
 
In reality, it always mattered to me, but somewhere, in passing from youth into adulthood, thoughts about my life and future turned from hopeful dreams into something resembling a mandate.
 
I need to be making something out of me.
 
Gosh, that’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it?  Unfortunately, I’ve never been very good at avoiding applying pressure on myself.  That’s why I always got annoyed when my Dad would come over when I was waiting in the on-deck circle at a baseball game.
 
I would see him walking over from the bleachers and grimace before he even made it over to me.
 
‘Keep your eye on the ball,’ I’d think.
 
“Keep your eye on the ball,” he’d say.
 
“Got it, Dad.”  I wouldn’t look at him.  I was busy, thinking.  ‘I can’t let another curve by me.  I got fooled last time, I’ve got to stay back.’
 
“You got froze by that curve last time.  Be sure to wait on it.”
 
“Got it, Dad.”  Still not looking.
 
‘I’ve gotta look for him to miss with a fastball.  I shouldn’t waste a swing on junk.’
 
“Make sure you get your pitch, okay?  Something you can stroke.”
 
I wouldn’t even say anything at this point.  It’s not that I was disagreeing with anything he was saying- I was saying the same thing to myself, after all.  I just wanted it known that I knew enough to handle myself.  That I could think through everything, be ready for anything, on my own.  That I didn’t need my Dad’s help.
 
Sometimes- a lot of times- I’d think so much I’d make myself nervous.  Then, I’d be so nervous I’d do something stupid, like swing at a first pitch curveball and hit a dribbler to second base.  Then, because I did something stupid, I’d be mad.  I’d be mad at myself, and I’d be mad at my father.
 
I don’t play baseball anymore.  But I do go through the same routine.  And I’ve found it’s much harder to live by these habits with life in general.  
 
Life happens so much more slowly, and it takes more time to see the fruit of what you’re doing.  In baseball, you immediately know the fruits of your efforts.  Either you got on base, or you didn’t.  And if you didn’t, there’s another chance coming in a couple of innings.  
 
Still, the principle remains the same: don’t overthink it.
 
I’ve found my self-condemnation- like the anger I’d feel after striking out- often stems from an incorrect perception of myself.  I’m too smart to do something that stupid, I’d think.  Well, obviously not- I did it.  It’s the same thing in the broader scope of life.  I can do anything, I think.
 
Except I can’t.
 
The way I think of myself can become a hindrance to the Holy Spirit’s ability to do his work through me.  If we believe ourselves to be capable of anything, we will attempt to plow our way through everything, and eventually become tired of crashing through wall after wall after wall after wall, and we’ll wonder, why, God, does life have to be so painful?  Conversely, if we don’t think ourselves capable of anything, then we never try, and we’ll sit and wonder, why, God, doesn’t anything good happen to us?
 
And anywhere in between.
 
Really, the only truthful way to look at ourselves is that Christ is capable of anything, and we are capable of whatever it is that he wills for us exclusively by the power of the Holy Spirit who resides within us.
 
If we approach life from any other perspective, we’ll only find frustration, or worse.
 
But the crucial thing, the thing I often forget, is that there’s a second piece to that truth.  And if you don’t have the second piece, you can become just as tired following God’s will as you can following your own, even if you are following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
 
Clive Calver mentions this truth on Day 8 in the Holy Spirit book:
 
“The living God is no arbitrary deity just trying to get His own way, but He longs to bring fulfillment to our lives.”
 
It is so, so, so easy to resent being told what to do.  Especially, I think, as an adult, where it can go beyond annoying an become an assault on our identity.  Truth be told, I learned to how to hear the Spirit’s voice at a young age.  But I don’t always listen, because it’s important to me that I “make” it.
 
That I’m somebody.
 
That’s such a lie of the enemy!  That’s exactly what we were given the Holy Spirit for- because no matter what we can make it look like to other people (and some of us are better at looking more together than others), none of us have within us everything we need for this life.  We are ill-equipped without the guidance of the Spirit.
 
And yet, we need even more than that.  The Holy Spirit is not simply a life GPS, the Holy Spirit is the manifestation of the loving God within us.  The God who named us, planned for us, cares for us, sent His Son to die for us.  The Holy Spirit is not your boss, emailing you the stuff he expects you to get done today.  He’s bringing you the plan that God has for your life- he’s showing you the path that will lead to the most fulfillment and happiness for you, and all you have to do is listen and obey.
 
It’s like the situation with my Dad and the on-deck circle.  I was trying to prove to my Dad that I didn’t need him.  I got annoyed because I felt like he didn’t trust me to do what he asked of me, and yet, all along, my performance was never the issue for him.  He was going to love me no matter how I performed, and all of his advice- no matter how obvious it seemed- came from that place of unconditional love.
 
If I don’t get anything beyond that out of Calver’s book- just the simple reminder that every thing the Holy Spirit is asking me to do, no matter how strange or unorthodox or uncomfortable, is designed upon the foundation that my Father in Heaven loves me and wants the best for me- then it will have been a worthwhile read.
 
I might feel like a grown-up, but I’ll always be my Father’s child.
 
And children do what their Father says, because they know that He loves them.

Alive in the Spirit

This week, Brandon Hawk shares his reflections on Clive Calver’s Alive In the Spirit:
 
One image that I particularly like, and that I think intersects well with Clive Calver’s study, is in a sermon by a medieval monk named Bede. He lived in England, from about 672 to 735, and was a monk in the twin monasteries of Wearmouth-Jarrow from the age of seven until his death. Over the years, Bede had a lot of time to study the Bible, and he wrote a lot about it. Among his works is a series of sermons on the gospels. In his sermon for Pentecost, Bede gives the gospel reading from John 14:15-21, and says this about it:
 
Truth [Jesus] says to his disciples at the commencement of this gospel reading, “If you love me, keep my commandments, and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete.” Paraclete means “consoler.” The Holy Spirit is correctly called a Paraclete because, by producing a desire for the heavenly life, he raises up and restores the hearts of believers lest they falter amidst the adversities of this age.
 
I really like this multi-faceted image (and Calver talks about this, too, in different parts of his devotional): in our love for Christ, we receive both a spiritual longing for heaven–here in our present time on earth as well as in our eternal future–and a hope and comfort in the Holy Spirit. Christian love, longing for heaven, and spiritual peace all converge in the Spirit.

God’s Call: Suffering and Happiness

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:15-16

Sometimes I think we’re a bit more poor than we think we are in the United States’ Church.

It’s easy to look at other places in the world and feel sorry for them, to look at their poverty and feel pity, send money, and think that we’ people with so much money, so much material wealth, so many good things in our lives, are somehow more blessed, that we won the cosmic lottery because we were born in this country. We say: “We are blessed. These people are not blessed.” We draw a line between us and them, and mark ourselves as the givers of mercy, charity, and help.

While I certainly don’t think I’ve got my theology all together, or that I know a whole lot about what the Bible really means or anything, but I cannot help but think this line demarcating the blessed and those who are not blessed is a bit more difficult than this. After all, Jesus did say it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Wealth does not necessarily equal blessing. Material goods do not necessarily equal being in God’s good graces.

This week, during Pentecost, it can be easy to slip into the triumphalist attitude, that as long as we’re with God, as long as we’re following Him, everything will be fine. If we’re doing His will, everything will work itself out, and be smooth sailing. When we follow God, we’ll be happy.

But this only leads to another question: what does it mean to be happy? What does it mean to follow God, to be in Him, and to have Him in my life in a “real” way?

Cognitively, we would say that has nothing to do with shallow blessings, such as cars, clothes, nice homes, a good job, popularity and the support of lots of people around us. And yet, from the way we bemoan the fact that we don’t have those things in our lives and ask God to give them to us, along with security, safety, a comfortable life, means that’s what we believe in our heart of hearts. When we pray and ask for these things, make our prayer life about what God can give to us and not about what God can do in us, we’re equating God’s call with our own comfort and sense of happiness.

When the Spirit of God fell on those people on Pentecost, it did not suddenly erase all their problems and make their lives more comfortable. It instead dismantled the lives of those in the early church, radically turning them upside down, inside out, people who lived in closer community than ever before, people who did not have possessions, people who went to the ends of the earth, speaking in languages that they didn’t even know.

When Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul was struck with blindness. And when Ananias was sent to Paul, to deliver God’s message, it was not a message of comfort. The glory of God that Paul preached throughout the world was also the source of his suffering in death. And yet, Paul in the same breath is able to account his suffering as blessing; he finds joy in God, regardless of the fact that he has been deserted by his people, has been sentenced to death, has been stoned. The plan God had for Paul was fulfilled:

Paul was an instrument of God.

Paul suffered (and died) for God’s sake.

When we align ourselves with God, we can expect the same. When we pray for God’s spirit and work in our lives, we are not requesting an easier or more comfortable life that melds with the rest of the world. In many ways, we become failures in the eyes of the world, cursed, the unfortunates, the people who are labeled “crazy,” “dangerous,” or “pitiable.”

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Something I’ve been challenged in lately is smudging the border between black and white ways of seeing the world and understanding that a lot of life exists in the gray areas, and this is one of those places. Because we live in a broken world, a lot of the work we do for God, a lot of our efforts to do His will looks a lot like unhappiness and misery, the curse of God. But at the same time, I want to see the beauty in that struggle, the beauty of life pushing through the dirt, stretching out its tendrils and leaves through the refuse, the stifling garbage that’s all around us. We may be scraggly, we may be a bit crooked, a bit broken, but that doesn’t make us an object of scorn, an example of failure. And it doesn’t mean we need to get dug up, transplanted to a place that’s sunnier, prettier, nicer, more comfortable, easier to grow in. Because God sees that scraggly plant as part of something beautiful; he sees beauty even in the refuse.


Alive in the Spirit

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On Sunday, Vince gave everyone a copy of Clive Calver’s book Alive in the Spirit (if you didn’t get one and you’d like one, you can pick one up this Sunday as well). Clive is the senior pastor at Walnut Hill Church and the former president of World Relief and his book Alive in the Spirit is a very accessible and practical fifty-day devotional that will help us all better understand and better connect with the Holy Spirit.

As we read this book together, each week we’ll have some different people from the community share on the blog about what is interesting, challenging, or raising questions for them as they read. (If you’re interested in blogging, e-mail Emily: emily@stpaulswired.org)


Father’s Day BBQ and Potluck

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Plans for Father’s Day?
Join us for our Father’s Day BBQ and Potluck after church.

And if you’re joining us, please click here to sign up and let us know if you’re bringing anything to share