Spirit of Paul

The movement of the Holy Spirit can be found throughout human history, from creation, through Jesus, the disciples, the apostle Paul, and up to today in the here and now, through people like you and me.  This five-part series is a retelling of those stories, and starts when the beginning begun.  Missed the beginning?  Rewind to part 1

While God was thrilled with all Jesus had done on earth, and the disciples seemed to be making inroads forming the early Church, God knew those disciples had their limitations.  For one, they formed councils and groups for almost any major decision, sometimes crowding out the chance for the Spirit to do her thing.  For another, on occasion they could be such a motley, indecisive crew, especially Peter, who was best known for being a bit brash, cutting off ears and denying Christ at the most inopportune times.

Then there was the writing.  Or said differently there was the lack of writing.  These disciples were great fishers of men, but most couldn’t read, much less write.  Their stories would be carried on for decades orally before being jotted down.  God was looking for someone to start this New Testament sooner than that.  And looking for someone to see the risen Christ with a fresh set of eyes, be deeply moved, and write letters that leapt off the scroll when read, all to encourage these early communities of faith.  And to help document, for eternity, what exactly the Holy Spirit was up to in a post-resurrection world.  Yes folks, God knew what was needed next: God was looking for a writer.

And not just any writer, but one willing to go to cities big and small, near and far, be embraced, be shunned, be imprisoned.   And of course be willing to jot it all down for the world to see.  God searched and searched for the right person, eventually settling on Paul.  To seal the deal God asked Jesus to meet Paul, who went by Saul before seeing the Light on the road to Damascus.  You can read more about this encounter, and the early adventures of Saul turned Paul, in Acts chapter 9.

The next turning point for Paul, after meeting Jesus, was when he was infused with the Holy Spirit in Acts 9:17.  Once blind, now he could see, and began to preach of Jesus, and the work of the Spirit he saw all around.

Paul, a learned man, spoke of the Spirit differently than anyone before him.  For one, Paul, being both Jewish and a Roman citizen, could connect with many and varied audiences in person and in his letters.  This broad perspective led him to famously tell the church of Galatia that, in Christ, there is “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one” (Gal 3:28).  It’s almost as if Paul is reaching back to the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, describing how Christ has broken even more barriers that separated God’s people.  It wasn’t just language barriers the Spirit was removing, it was the barriers of race and ethnicity, affluence and poverty, even gender.  Paul, guided by the Spirit, moved from an encounter with Christ, as orchestrated by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and was about to change the world.

One approach Paul took to explaining the movement of the Holy Spirit – one among many — is through the concepts of faith, hope, and love.  He builds a case for faith from the Old Testament, writing in Romans 4:13 that “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” He expands on this to consider how one lives by faith, saying in Galatians 2:20 that “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” For Paul, living by faith is an essential ingredient to experience this new life in Christ.

Paul too was man of hopeHe reaches a rhetorical climax on the implications of hope in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, concluding that “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Why all the optimism, Paul? Aren’t you constantly in trouble with the law, often ending up behind bars, wasting away? He gives us a hint about the source of this optimism in Romans 8:11, reminding us that “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”  No wonder you’re hopeful Paul, the Spirit of Christ is in you. And in all of us.

When it comes to understanding the importance of love in Paul’s Spirit theology it’s hard to top 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. In modern terms it’s easy to envision the apostle walking around in a tye dye shirt, Jesus sandals, giving lots of hugs and high fives and passing the peace pipe. The love chapter first describes the importance of love, with Paul suggesting you can be the best speaker, the brightest visionary, the most giving philanthropist or even a martyr, but if you don’t have love, well, you are nothing. Whoa, that kind of sounds important. Paul continues, telling us in chapter 13, verse 7 that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Does that understanding of love remind you of anyone?  Remind you of any particular event? Reflecting on this my mind wanders, ever so slightly, to the cross.

Spirit of the Disciples

The movement of the Holy Spirit can be found throughout human history, from creation, through Jesus, the disciples, the apostle Paul, and up to today in the here and now, through people like you and me.  This five-part series is a retelling of those stories, and starts when the beginning begun.  Missed the beginning?  Rewind to part 1

But Jesus was only on the earth for 34 short years.  After he left the Holy Spirit would need to change yet again, God realized.  For one thing, the disciples were always getting scared, especially after Jesus had died.  At one point they huddled together behind locked doors, gripped with fear (John 20:19).  It certainly seemed like the apostles could use some comfort, God thought.  Jesus knew his disciples well, and fortunately knew they’d need a hand when He had left them.  Jesus promised his disciples a helper, a comforter, telling them that the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, will teach you many things and remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).  If only it were that easy.

The disciples, in typical fashion, didn’t remember this promise, and continued to live in fear.  This fear subsided, at least for a time, as the disciples huddled in the upper room after Christ had ascended to the heavens.  God decided to fulfill the promise his Son made to the disciples by again using some elemental flair, this time through wind and fire.  First a wind came from heaven, filling the house.  Tongues of fire then descended and came to rest on each and every one of them.  What’s more the disciples were guided by the Spirit to speak in other tongues (Acts 2), which must have surprised just about everyone gathered there that day.  The Spirit of the Disciples now helped people connect with each other in new tongues and in new ways, all through the language of the divine.

Perhaps most importantly, not only did the Spirit descend on the disciples, but the disciples believed they were now endowed by the Spirit, sent from God, and mediated to them by the risen Christ.  It is this belief, that the Spirit was with them, that enabled the early Church to first form, then flourish.

The Spirit in Jesus’ life reminds me of the Parable of the Sower found in Mark (4:3-20), Matthew (13:1-23) and Luke (8:4-15).  In the parable the sower scatters the seeds, but not all fall on fertile soil.  While we model Christ in sowing seeds of the kingdom, could where they fall and what comes of them be considered an action of the Spirit?  In this way the Spirit is the wind that scatters seeds from Christ’s hands, the fertile soil it falls onto, the rain that draws life from a tiny pod, and the sun that grows us upward.  Upward, and upward, bringing us closer, once again, to our Creator.

Spirit of Christ

The movement of the Holy Spirit can be found throughout human history, from creation, through Jesus, the disciples, the apostle Paul, and up to today in the here and now, through people like you and me.  This five-part series is a retelling of those stories, and starts when the beginning begun.  Missed the beginning?  Rewind to part 1

While the Spirit moved throughout ancient times in varied and powerful ways, parting waters, and bringing life from dry bones, still, God felt sad.  These children of mine, God thought, even with all this help they have from my Spirit, they do awful things.  They rape, they pillage, they plunder.  They keep destroying this creation I love, hurting me, hurting each other.  They are selfish and greedy, God realized, always wanting to do things their way.  God reflected on the rules given to God’s children to help them live and knew, deep down, that nothing had really worked all that well.  God had given over 600 rules through the priests, and the people failed to keep them.  God had given the 10 commandments through Moses, really easy rules, God thought.  I mean, how hard is it not to kill? Or to keep your hands off your neighbor’s wife?  But still, God noticed, the people couldn’t keep those either.  It’s time for a new approach, God concluded, time to do something new.

First God streamlined the rules, settling on just two.  Love me, and love each other, that should be simple enough.  God also realized that when it had gone the best was back in the Garden of Eden, when God had walked and talked and taught alongside Adam and Eve.  They had rejected God after these perfect moments, yes, that’s true.  But maybe they could learn something instead from God’s son, Jesus.  It was certainly worth a shot.  But for this plan to work Jesus would have to be different than God, both fully divine and fully human (1 Tim 2:5).  Jesus, sent by God, in the form of a man, gave God the chance to walk and talk and teach humanity once again.  Maybe they will listen to one of their own, and yet one of my own too, my Son, God pondered.  It was a chance God was willing to take.

This God-become-man, in the form of Jesus, created another challenge; God’s Spirit would need to evolve too.  This Spirit now makes Jesus the kingdom of God, in person, God thought.  It’s the power of the Spirit, moving Jesus to perform amazing acts like driving out demons, healing the sick, and bringing the kingdom of God to the poor.  The Spirit would not be something Jesus possesses.  Rather, it would be the power to make the Christ ready for anything he would experience in human form.  Ready, even, to surrender his own life.  And it is this Spirit that moves Jesus to voice, not my will, but thine, be done (Luke 22:42). With the Spirit guiding Jesus, and the divine walking alongside humankind once again, all things were now possible.

Spirit of Creation

The movement of the Holy Spirit can be found throughout human history, from creation, through Jesus, the disciples, the apostle Paul, and up to today in the here and now, through people like you and me.  This five-part series is a retelling of those stories, and starts with Part one, when the beginning begun.  

Once upon a time, before the beginning begun, there was God.  And God was all, and was in all.  But after being everything there is for trillions and trillions of years, as you might imagine, God got lonely.  And in that moment God thought, you know what?  It’s time to play.  It’s time to create.  So God got going.

When God got going, God brought along something very special.  Something that was also there before the beginning begun, and is the very essence of Godself.  God brought along God’s Spirit, and the Spirit of God, in the midst of nothingness, hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2).  The Spirit then moved at God’s command, busily drawing light from darkness, separating water from sky and then land, splitting sun from moon, planting vegetation of all kinds, and filling the earth, the air and the waters with all sorts of living and breathing creatures (Gen 1:3-25).  Then God then asked the Spirit to create humankind, making man and woman in God’s own image.  God then gave them a very important job: tend to all that has been created, for it was created for you.  (Gen 1:28).

God, for a time, walked among creation, chatting at length with Adam, telling of all the tips and tricks that would be needed to tend this most beautiful garden God had created.  (Gen 2:8-25).  Adam and Eve were God’s children after all, God loved them, and eagerly looked forward to spending time with them each and every day.

But this perfect family, this perfect arrangement would not last forever.  One day Adam and Eve decided that perhaps they didn’t need their Father.  Or at least they didn’t need to listen to the one rule that Father God had given them.  And even worse than that, finding themselves now naked and afraid, God’s children were ashamed (Gen 3:10).  This break in trust, break in relationship, between created and creation, made God very, very sad.

But God just couldn’t leave well enough alone.  What good parent could? I love those kids, and all the creation I’ve given them too, God said.  They may not want me.  They may think they can do without me.  And do without this perfect garden, but oh boy, what a mess they will make on their own out there.  What shall I do, God thought?  Then God had an idea.

The kids may not want me around, but still, they need my help.  With that God decided, that, while God and the kids were going through some troubled times, God’s Spirit, in ways great and small, could help the kids along their way.  And the Spirit could move in God’s world, and in all of God’s people, teaching, encouraging and inspiring all that God had created.  And all that God had deemed good, from when the beginning begun.

And, from that moment on, the Spirit came to be the embodiment of the creative work of God in our world.

Learning From (and for) Our Children

As the alarm went off this morning at 6am on this, the day after November 8, 2016, my wife and I awoke to a certain sadness.  If you are one of the 65 million people, or 52.5%, that participated in yesterday’s general election whose candidate will not be our next president perhaps you feel the same.

My wife and I wondered aloud the night before how best to explain the election results to our six-year-old daughter.  We excitedly took her with us to vote yesterday, in the hopes she’d remember the day as a moment of history.  Of when as a people we’d decided that yes, women truly can be and do anything they set their minds to.  The day of girl power was not to be.

My daughter, predictably as ever, walked into our bedroom shortly after the alarm went off, and my wife gave her the news.  “Why do some people say he’s mean?” she asked.  Still groggy, and not quite ready to answer with the honesty and care her query deserves I reply, “that’s a good question, let’s talk about it tonite.”  These are teachable moments, for sure, but for now that perspective, and those words, remain elusive.

I kiss my wife goodbye this morning as she leaves for work, see tears in her eyes, and resolve right then to take a good long jog, hoping to sweat a bit of this out.  The two of us bickered some last night on the couch as the results came in, and I realize now that emotion has turned to mourning.  We are grieving.  There is a certain sacredness to these tears, to this sweat.  Over time our tears, our sweat will bring healing.  Will bring wholeness.  But we’re not there yet.

As I go back into the house to make lunches for the kids my daughter notices her flowers outside look droopy.  “Daddy, can I water the flowers?” Of course, I reply, let me get you a cup.  In the next room I hear my three year-old-son stirring.  Now awake he’s playing with his favorite sound book of late, Farts in the Wild and pressing the elephant farts button repeatedly.  I hear the elephant trumpet with their trunk, which then proceeds to a loud step-fart-step-fart-step fart rhythm of humorous melodies.  I can’t help but smile.  The lunches now made, I grab a hat, and shuffle the kids into the car for school.  It’s a Chicago Cubs hat; my favorite team won the World Series in epic fashion seven short days ago.  More smiling.

Somewhere in these small, mundane moments it hits me:  I’m looking for meaning in all the wrong places.

Somewhere along the way we’ve lost sight of the Ten Commandments, which speak plainly about the ills of things like theft, lying, and adultery.  As a society we’ve misplaced the Golden Rule, which implores us to do unto others as we would have done unto us.  A quick glance at your Facebook feed likely shows ample evidence of that.  Hearing that white evangelical Christians voted for our next president by a whopping 81-16 percent margin gives me pause.  As a pastor it’s difficult to imagine how we, as a people of faith, reconcile this with our shared Judeo-Christian values.

It’s natural to want our leaders to model these values of course, to bring morality, ethics and good character into all they do.  But that doesn’t always happen.  And those choices aren’t always available to us.

But I do know this.  In the coming days, weeks, months and years there are kids lunches to be made.  Plants to water.  Fart books to read.  Our children have much to teach us.

There are also Ten Commandments and Golden Rules to discuss.  Girl Scout meetings to attend.  Cubs games to watch.  Crucial learnings to be handed down on topics like bullying, sharing, and using kind hands.  Our children have much to learn from us.

And, as a member of a faith community, there are sick to be healed.  Hungry to be fed.  Homeless to be housed.  Regardless of our politics our faith traditions call us to this.  EVERY. FRIGGIN. DAY.  We faith communities have much to teach our country.  And much to do in our world.

For now, while I find myself still mourning, still in need of healing, of wholeness, I find purpose.  Purpose as a husband, father, and Christ follower.  There is much to learn, and much to teach, in the here and in the now.  And in this unsettled moment, for me, that is enough.kids2