Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Square One

There are times and stretches of time in our lives when it seems as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope of something better.  Or, even if we can envision something better, it appears to be forever out of our reach.  God seems distant and disinterested as we view our faith as more of a nice thought than anything of substance.  What do we do when everything seems so messed up and out of joint with both ourselves and the world in general?

What I wish to offer here is not any sort of quick-fix solution to magically solve all problems or a list of platitudes that just tell us to feel better, for hope is not built upon such things.  Instead, what I aim to do is present starting points, a series of “square-ones” as it were.  These are facts that help us to take our next step in the right direction and, just as important, help us to not give up.

1)  Jesus Christ is in Heaven.

 Yes, this seems like a rather vanilla statement, but we ought not to lose sight of what it entails.   Christ has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven:  He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world and was elevated to the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 8:1).  There, having returned to His place at the Father’s side and opened the way for us to be reconciled to our God, Christ makes intercession for us to the end that we share in the fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Hebrews 7:25, John 17:20-26).  We are never so far removed from God that we cannot reach Him and He cannot reach us.  When we come to God and throw ourselves upon His mercy, we have Jesus Christ as our Advocate, to speak for us and support us.

2)  The Spirit dwells in us.

 Though Christ is in Heaven interceding for us, we have not been left alone.  He, Himself, promised that a Helper, the Holy Spirit, would come to us and abide with us (John 14:15-18).  Through the Spirit’s indwelling, God dwells in our hearts so that He is always near.  The Holy Spirit comes alongside us in life to help and to guide us.  He is our advocate as we live on earth, reminding us of our true North and directing us closer to God.  In the midst of our weakness, in our hours of darkness, He also helps us by speaking on our behalf when we do not know what to say (Romans 8:26).  God is near to us even in the thick of the fray and is active in our lives even when we feel far from Him.  The Spirit helps us, speaks to us, and makes God known to us (John 16:13-15).

3)  We have the power to choose.

Because of what God has done for us, we are no longer slaves to sin or ignorance.  Instead, we have the help and tools before us to make meaningful decisions in our lives.  We can choose what kind of person we are going to be and what we are going to make of our current circumstances.  We can choose to remain faithful even when we feel so distant.  Even when we feel powerless, we are still able to make choices of eternal significance.  When we stumble and fall or are plain knocked down, there are always at least two options:  to stay down, or to get back up.  This is a choice that we and we alone can make.  We make it countless times throughout our lives and we make it especially often when we are struggling with sin or facing a difficult life situation.  No matter how many times we have to make it, it is always ours to make.

The points above remain constant, regardless of where we find ourselves in our Christian walk.  The worst thing that we can do is give up and succumb to despair, for then we have shut out hope ourselves.  However, if we can keep the above in mind, it will help us to remember the eternal hope we have and, in light of that hope, continue to put one foot in front of the other in our current situation.  This may be seeking out the help we need, it may be continuing in prayer despite being pressed by desolation, it may even be as simple as choosing to smile.

In spite of the darkness that may surround us and give us a bleak outlook on life, there is a light and power within us of great and eternal significance.  It is a light and power that is cared about by God and that He wishes to nurture and grow.  He has given us a key role in this process.  We can choose what to do with it at any given time and the hope that is thereby placed before us is a solid footing.

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Living Art

It seems that many times our spiritual life falls into one of two extremes.  On one hand, we may shove it to the outskirts of our mind and hope that as long as we keep it happy with the weekly trip to church or Bible study it won’t bother us.  On the other, we may hold visions of using it to ascend to a veritable Christian utopia in which we have reached the pinnacle of spirituality and can at last bask in the warm glow of victory.  This utopic vision of our faith both drives and haunts us.  We feverishly pursue the glittering image of having the perfect spiritual life while also rebuking ourselves for not having already attained it.  Though this pursuit may have the appearance of being good and beneficial, its gently sloping path threatens to lead us to a very different destination than we expect.

But why?  Aren’t we supposed to seek to grow closer to God?  Aren’t we supposed to imitate Christ?  Yes, we are.  However, we must pause to reflect on whether that is truly what we are seeking to do.  This isn’t a question of checking our motives as much as checking our goals.  If our chief aim is to draw closer to God and live out the Gospel message, then we will find ourselves on the right track.  However, if we are seeking to achieve a state of spiritual utopia, we’ll find ourselves going nowhere fast.  In fact, the word “utopia” literally means “nowhere”.

The images we chase are just that:  images.  They do not exist in substance as something for us to grab and possess.  Rather, just like light streaming through a window, the more we attempt to hold them, the more they evade our grasp.  The more we try to be the person we are imitating, the more we find ourselves drifting from God.  This is because our relationship with God is between us and God, not this other person and God.  As we are shaped into Christ’s likeness, we grow into a unique reflection of Christ.  In trying to be someone else, we are fighting against God’s shaping of us.  He created us to be us, with our own personality, talents, and gifts.

Let’s use Ignatius of Loyola to construct an example:  he developed a spirituality that has influenced and helped countless people grow closer to God.  Following the path of Ignatian spirituality provides a way of proceeding that helps us to be shaped into Christ’s image.  It does not provide a way of proceeding that aims us at being Ignatius of Loyola.

In Christ’s example, we see how to live our lives with God.  He showed us what it looks like to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind as well as to love our neighbor as ourselves.  This example is given to us to the end that we grow towards Christ-likeness and that we become able to show others who Christ is, not that we should become Christ.  After all, we must remember that Jesus was fully God and fully human, living a sinless life to the end that He might offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for all.

It will be helpful to reflect on the words of Paul as we wrap our minds around this:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  -Galatians 2:20

Paul is writing about the new life he has in Christ, being justified by faith and not by works of the Law.  It is interesting to note the phraseology that he uses here, stating that it is no longer he who lives, but Christ lives in him.  Christ is the vivifying power which guides and directs his life.  When we were dead in our sins, there was no life in us and we were compelled as undead minions to serve our whims under the direction of our sinful nature.  In Christ, we have life and have it abundantly:  we are made free from the dictatorship of sin and are able to live and to grow and to give our lives, not as compulsory tribute, but as love offerings to God in a renewing, life-giving relationship.  Through this relationship we are shaped by God as His love works in and through us, forming us into the unique person we were created to be.

Consider an artist and painting as a metaphor:  a painting is given life and meaning by the artist acting through their brush and each painting is a unique expression of the artist’s heart, so that no two are the same.  Each life is a masterpiece which God has a vision for, a unique expression of love and beauty that He wishes to create.  What’s more, He includes us in the creative process so that we are not a passive canvas which is acted upon, but rather a fellow artist who works in cooperation with the divine maestro upon the canvas.  The end result is that the person we are is a unique work of art:  an expression of the heart of God that is unlike any other.  In attempting to be someone else, we try to become nothing more than a copy.  A copy is a lifeless duplicate of the original work:  the artist is unable to put any heart or expression into it because it is simply a retracing of lines.  Similarly, when we set out to live a utopic vision of picturesque Christianity, we are doing nothing more than sitting down to copy an image.  Because we are tracing lines, our focus is on attempting to recreate each stroke and we have no time for interaction or relationship with the artist Himself.  We do not allow God to have any input or to help us put any of ourselves into the work, and so our copy remains lifeless no matter how well we trace.  That enlivening and animating power of Christ which Paul wrote of is absent.

Rather than an empty duplication, our life and relationship with God is a vibrant work-in-progress during our time on earth.  It will only reach its completion when it becomes a part of the glorious mosaic in Heaven.  The life of Christ is a foundation to us.  The lives of our fellow Christians, both those who have gone before and our contemporaries, serve as influences and inspirations to us.  We work with God to have ourselves formed into a portrait of Christ that is uniquely ours, one in which our heart beats with God’s as they are both poured out onto the canvas.


Escalators

Escalators are interesting devices. They allow us to climb stairs without lifting a foot and, as one comedian noted, they don’t break: they just become stairs. Escalators also provide a good illustration for our spiritual development. As we go through life, we seek to draw ever closer to God. However, we are unable to accomplish this by our own power. All of our spiritual growth comes by God’s grace alone. Even though we are given a part to play in this process by preparing ourselves to receive this growth, God is the ultimate mover and driver in this process. As the parable of the growing seed illustrates, God gives the growth.

When on an escalator, we are asked nothing other than that we stand on the escalator. Granted, this doesn’t mean that we are passive in the process. We have to step onto it and stay on our feet after all. However, many times we are in such a hurry to get to where we are going that we walk up or down the escalator we are riding. Doing so is not only dangerous, but it also takes our attention away from what is in front of us. One of the neat things about escalators is that they allow us to make progress while being in the present moment, taking in our surroundings. In a lot of ways our cooperation with God’s growing us is dependent on what we do in the present moment: Will we remember God? How will we respond to this error? What will we say to this person? Many times, we are so focused on quickly arriving at what we perceive to be our next “spiritual checkpoint” that we completely miss the blessings and invitations to serve God right in front of us. The Jesuit priest Jean Pierre de Caussade referred to this as the “sacrament of the present moment”. Essentially, we offer each moment to God. We look within and without in order to see what God would have us do or how we can serve God right now.

The habits and attitudes we build by following God moment to moment serve to move us closer to God, often without us realizing it at the time. Just like an escalator draws us up to our destination even while allowing us to really look around and see what’s going on around us, the action of God’s grace draws us closer to Him if we take the time to be present to Him and His leading in our lives moment to moment.


The Great Commission Abridged

One of the core values of the Church and of Christianity as a whole is the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to the disciples just before He ascended into Heaven after the Resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) I think that much of our understanding of this passage boils down to something along the lines of “get people to join the church” or “get people to convert”. However, such an understanding is inadequate because it amounts to putting butts in the pews and nothing more. Other times we cut it down to the baptism part and even that we reduce down to formalities and bestowing certificates (never mind the schisms that have arisen surrounding the mode of baptism, i.e. immersion vs. anointing, discounting baptisms from different denominations, etc.). If we make the Great Commission strictly about winning converts we would do well to also consider Christ’s admonishment in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

There is much more to the Christ’s words than a mere numbers game. First we are told, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Before equating disciple-making to adding to the church membership list, let’s reflect a moment on what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In basic word-sense, to be a disciple is to be a learner or a pupil. As disciples of Christ, we are His students learning from Him. We strive to follow His lead and to imitate Him, hence the term “Christian” (Little Christ). As it relates to sharing Christ with others, Paul sums it up well when he writes to the church in Corinth, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) For we are all fellow disciples seeking to be more fully conformed to Christ. Just as we are invited to share in the loving relationship that overflows from the Triune God, we allow that love to overflow from us and we invite others to join in this transformational journey of growing in God’s love and grace. To make disciples of all the nations is more than just handing out certificates or trying to increase Sunday morning or Bible study attendance, it is about inviting others to travel with us as we all follow Christ.

Next, we move on to baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.   Baptism is an important part of our Christian walk. It is a vital milestone in our spiritual development because it is in baptism that we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,” (Romans 6:3-5) In baptism we are unified with Christ and, in Him, with each other. It is a public witness of our accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, but what’s more, it is a spiritual witness of our new identity in Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and accounted righteous through the shed blood of Christ. With this in mind, we see that baptism is not something that we get, but it is an ordinance that we receive in harmony with the transformation that has already begun to take place in our lives by the grace and working of God. Baptism goes hand in hand with being a disciple of Christ: as imitators of Christ we identify with His death and resurrection. As such, we ought not to treat baptism as if it were a stand-alone event. We ought rather to keep it in a holistic perspective, recognizing it as a flower of grace, an outgrowth of our being in Christ and He in us.

Finally we come to “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” We ought not to construe this as merely handing down and enforcing a set of rules. In John 14:15, Christ says “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Since our minds are conditioned to think in terms of “do this in order to achieve that,” it is often our first instinct to read Christ’s words as “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commands.” This, however, is to get the flow backwards. Our love for Christ is prompted by God’s love for us. (1 John 4:19) Our obedience arises as an expression of our love: it is a way that we go about loving God. Instead of issuing an ultimatum, Christ is helping us to respond to God’s love. (I don’t think it is an accident that in this passage He immediately proceeds to promise the coming of the One who helps us to abide in God, the Holy Spirit.) So when the topic of obeying Christ’s commandments comes up, it is not about exerting control or being controlled. It is about teaching and learning to love God as a way of life, to live our lives with God. To essentially give someone a set of rules and say “do this” is an immense disservice to the Gospel message. One might think of the giving of the Law in the Old Testament as God’s giving us a set of rules and saying “do this,” but even then God was with the people of Israel and was in relationship with them as they struggled to keep the Law and to remain in God by their own power. God is relational and teaching to obey Christ’s commands is an invitation to join in living our lives with God.

The Great Commission is much more than the missional boilerplate we often take it as. It is much deeper and something that we all take part in in various ways, beyond our typical picture of a missionary. It is Christ handing over to us, as His friends (John 15:15), His work of sharing God with others. As the commissioned, we invite and help others to be fellow pupils of Christ; with faith blooming into the flower of baptism which gives rise to the spiritual fruit of life lived with God. However, we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves or others for abridging the Great Commission. As we have seen (and speaking from my own, I believe, not uncommon experience), the Great Commission is a rather scary investment of time, effort, and, most poignantly, our heart. However, we can take peace and encouragement from Christ’s closing words, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Following Christ requires that we become vulnerable, so it is inevitable that we will get bumped and hurt. That is part of why it is so important that we, ourselves, remain anchored in and sustained by Christ. The other part is that what we ultimately share with others in fulfilling the Great Commission is our own relationship with God. Our abiding in Christ is the light that we share with others. As we walk with God together, our lights strengthen and rekindle each other, all fed by the Lord. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

Chibi Abridged


Slowing Down

We live in a fast-paced world that continues to accelerate. As a result of living in such an environment, we have become exceedingly good at multitasking. It’s almost become natural for us to have our minds scattered across several things at any given time. Granted, in older, more primitive times, splitting our attention was vital to our very survival and the ability remains both useful and valuable today. However, we are stretching our finite cognitive resources further than ever before and there are consequences that necessarily arise. Though the human mind is as vast and mysterious as the oceans, like the oceans, it also has boundaries and limits. The greater the area over which the mind is spread, the more shallowly it must be applied. In short, ill-managed multitasking impedes our depth of thought.

This becomes especially troubling in matters of faith and religion. We must dwell on the truths of the Bible in order for them to soak into us and transform us. In order to abide in Christ (John 15:1-8), we must spend time digesting and being nourished by Him, by the True Vine. This should not be equated to punching our time cards each week with church-related activities, for without taking time to dwell on God, on Christ, on the Bible, etc. these are like so many unopened books which never do us any good for having them. There is much to be gained from taking time to slow down and really attend to and be present to God.

Here is an exercise to help cultivate a habit of slowing down when we spend time with God:

Start by finding a place where you are able to concentrate. Generally speaking, this is a place where you can find some level of mental solitude (i.e. it doesn’t have to be devoid of people but you should be able to be undisturbed and able to focus entirely on one thing).

Pray and ask God to help you to slow down and focus on Him, to help you to listen to Him and what He has to say to you.

Take some time to just focus on your breathing. Take relaxed, full breaths. Become aware of the air as it passes into and out of you. Try not to think about anything else. It may be handy to have a paper and pen nearby as sometimes we can bothered by thoughts of what we are going to do after this. Writing them down on the paper allows us to set them aside for the time being without risking forgetting them. Feel your body begin to relax. Continue in this until you feel calm and still.

Once you have reached a calm, clear state of mind, read Psalm 4. Take your time and fully register everything that you read. When the Scriptures say “Selah”, pause from reading and reflect on what you have just read. After this, return to the psalm and continue, pausing at the next “Selah” to reflect as before. When you have finished reading the psalm, take another pause to reflect on what you have read, dwelling on what the Scripture is saying to you. From there, you may wish to repeat the reading again or perhaps there is a particular thought that has arisen from your reading that you wish to spend more time with.

Conclude the exercise with prayer. Pray out of the time you just spent in God’s word. You may thank God for some blessing you have received or recalled during the reading. You may ask God for forgiveness for a sin that came to mind. You may ask for His help and grace to stand up under some trial or temptation that came into focus or the Psalm spoke to. After praying, tuck away a bit of the quiet from this time into your heart and mind to carry with you throughout the rest of your day.

(Note: You can use this sequence when reading any selection of Scripture.)


Skills and Abilities

One of the things I enjoy doing in my spare time is playing League of Legends, an online game in which teams of players work together to destroy the opposing team’s nexus (essentially capturing their base). One of the game’s most prominent features is the sheer number of characters (champions) one can choose to play as. There are 124 champions currently, and the roster continues to grow. Each one of these champs has four abilities that can be activated and one passive ability that is always in effect. These abilities further define the character and shape their contribution to the team. Doing a little math:  124 champions, with 5 abilities each, means that right now, in-game, there are 620 unique skills potentially in play. Yet, from this dizzying variety, an order and strategy emerges that brings a team together as a unit able to accomplish goals and secure objectives.

Thinking about this, I am reminded of what Paul tells us about the Church body:  the diversity of gifts within it and its unity in the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes of how there are many different gifts in the Church but one common denominator:  “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works in all.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) We each have things that we are talented at and things that we have a passion for. These are also things which we can and should offer back to God and share with Him. What I mean is that these gifts given to us by God are things which we can do with Him and honor Him with. Are you a fitness buff? Praise God for the marvelous machinery of human physiology. Help others to be good stewards of their bodies. Do you delight in reading? Give God glory for the power and beauty of written words. Give freely out of your experience with books to help others. Do you love cooking? Honor God for the complex challenges and simple joys of food. Share with others the delight to be found in the kitchen.

Above all else, though, the most important thing that any of us can do with our gifts is to grow closer to God and share that joy with others. It is easy to forego the spiritual impact of our gifts and turn into the dreaded “know-it-all” or to look down on others who don’t share our interests. However, God gives us these gifts to be a stepstool to reach up to Him, rather than a stumbling block for ourselves and others. The joy and delight that we have in God in the exercising and pursuit of our gifts is the crux of what we share with others. It is what overflows from our well to fill others.

When we step back and turn this perspective upon the Church, the roster of 124 champions and 620 skills found in League of Legends seems simple in comparison. However, the joining together of these diverse characters and abilities in a common goal can serve as a small example of how the Church body comes together in a common Spirit. Paul later writes of spiritual gifts:

“And He Himself (Christ) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature and fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

-Ephesians 4:11-16

In loving God in what we do and sharing with others out of that love, we are built up in God and help build up others.

Chibi Abilities


A Clear Center

In a previous post, we talked about seeking to settle the waters of our internal life so that we can more clearly see and hear the Holy Spirit as He works within us. Now this all sounds like a nice, spiritual, thing to do, but how does it translate into “real life”? After all, we can’t spend our lives perched on a lofty dais. We have to come down at one time or another to tend to less spiritual things in the midst of the daily grind.

During our devotional times, such as when we are meditating, we are cultivating an inner stillness and attention to God. However, the aim of these activities is not only to become practiced at spending time with and listening to God. Rather, we could think of these times as a re-centering of ourselves on God. The motions and forces we encounter in daily life (temptations, frustrations, inundations, etc.) tend to pull us away from God so that our center is no longer on Him. They also tend to disturb our inner life, making it rough and choppy.

Because we are so accustomed to living our lives in this hubbub, it has essentially become our state of equilibrium towards which we are drawn by default. This is part of the reason, I think, why things like silence or stillness are so uncomfortable to us at first. They go against our grain. However, as we persist in spending quiet time with God, through the working of His grace, our equilibrium begins to shift towards an inner peace that comes from God alone. This being centered on God becomes the shading and color of everyday life. Not that everything will be sunshine and lollipops, but we will be living out of and viewing things through a heavenly perspective. With this becoming the norm for the rest of our time, the times we set aside for devotion and focusing on God shift in functionality from strictly being time blocked out to pay attention to God to being time in which we are refueled and refreshed for everything else.

We might think of it as visiting the gas station. While most car-business consists of driving and transporting, the periodic visits to the petrol pump are necessary for all of the driving and transporting to happen. Likewise, the periodic times spent refocusing on God are necessary for the rest of our Christian lives to happen (as opposed to forgetting about our spiritual life as soon as we return to our daily life, as if the two were separate).

In much fewer words, by spending time settling our internal life, we cooperate with God’s work to shift our default setting to a heavenly perspective. The times we take for devotion serve as a base out of which we live the rest of our lives because it is there that we are refreshed and resupplied for the journey. It is also there that we are reminded that there is no separation between our spiritual life and our daily life.

Chibi Clear Center