Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Holy Spirit and Me

Faith is personal. No doubt, my attempts to describe my faith are as unsuccessful as when parents try to articulate the experience of their first child's birth. It's an honest process, but certainly not an adequate one. I don't want to suggest that it's futile to express ourselves with words, but it's certainly imperfect. At best, we can appeal to the empathy of others; words are capable of that much.

Having said all this, I would be remiss if I didn't post about this morning's Easter service. I can't do it justice, but I can try. It was transcendent, transforming, enlightening, surreal--I could go on. It happened in stark contrast of my recent sentiment. That, too, bears mention.

My faith started as an intellectual journey. Since I was a child, I've felt a spirit inside me. I didn't like to indulge it because I was afraid of it. Being afraid makes it no less real, but acknowledging and submitting to it can be a process that requires one to forfeit all previous expectations. It can require a person to feel his way through the world, ignoring what logic suggests. To quote the Stills song "Gender Bombs": "Logic will break your heart." It broke mine many times. After reading the Bible in its entirety, as well as a few books on science and historical validity, I've concluded that it was the true Word of God. I will swear by this. Let me be forever accountable to that truth. But the decision to accept Jesus Christ as one's personal saviour, while it is very liberating, is only the beginning of a very challenging--though rewarding--journey.

What's the challenge, you're wondering, if God is supposed to grant comfort? It's this: because we live in a broken world, a world that not only hates but crucified our Lord, the world also hates those who trust in the Lord. The world looks upon believers with disdain. Consider these verses:

1 Corinthians 3:18-20
Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"; 20and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile."

1 Corinthians 1:20-21
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

There are countless people who think that their 21st Century observations serve as a witness to the nature of Creation, history, nature, etc. These people look upon believers as fools. If you know anything about human nature, we tend to treat people in accordance with the way we view them. Jeremiah, with whom I greatly sympathize, often lamented about the burden one endures for the sake of carrying out God's work: Jeremiah 20:7-18.

I've been feeling like this lately. I knew in my heart that God is the only true purpose, but I grew weary of the internal conflict it stirred. It's tremendously hard to see with the heart instead of the eyes, to rationalize with the conscience instead of the mind, to be a willing servant instead of a selfish creature. In all cases, we must suppress the very nature that compels us, the very flesh in which we feel so grounded and "normal." For the first several months, my Christian experience was very, very isolated. Lately I've been privy to Bible study groups and a few ministries, but for a long time the picture of me as a believer looked much like I did before accepting Christ: me in a claustrophobic room, deliberately shut in with an idle mind and idle hands and a lot of dangerous thoughts. As if to compound the problem, there I was studying theology and Biblical questions, debating for myself issues like dualism and morality. Oftentimes, my prayers were the only advice I had to bank on. And I was so young in my journey that my inclination was to lean on my old ways of thinking, but whenever I did I felt like a rope in a spiritual tug-of-war. On several occasions, I asked God to rid me of these pursuits, to give me a different cross to bear that wasn't so mental and analytical and... dangerous. But, like Jeremiah, I felt as if my very being was going to explode whenever I denied the Lord. And so, with a heavy heart and chin, I persevered. This morning was different.

I could attempt to paraphrase Pastor Jim's message. I could try to recreate conversations I had this morning. I could speak of how I woke up at 6:00 a.m. to partake in a pre-[formal] church service at Frost Park some two hours later. I could speak of all the friendly faces, my church family, whose cheeks were red from the cold and whose eyes had an icy glaze from the unforgiving gusts that pierced us through our jackets as we stood and sang to the Lord under a rising sun. It took about one minute in that setting to look like we'd slept on the sidewalks, but our hearts were warm. And I meant it. To the best of my knowledge, I was sincere. Still a little trapped in my mind, but I sang honestly in between stutters and shivers.

At Sunday school, I was feeling like Jeremiah again. I had determined not to speak, because my mental skeletons had me convinced that all I could do was lament. That the spiritual warfare around me wasn't the cause of all my internal strife, that I was a filthy, unworthy creatured. None of us are acceptable to God; we are all sinners. But He accepts us all because of Christ's sacrifice. Christ is the one who forgives us and speaks to God on our behalf. And I felt like I wasn't receiving this. And this morning, as Jim was preaching, I was contemplating, as I often do, the extent of Christ's sacrifice--to the capacity that I can comprehend it. And God reached out to me.

It was like God said to me, "James, I can't change the nature of this world until the appointed time. I can't keep you from sinning, no matter how much you beg me. I am a perfect and holy Judge, and there are many things about you that are unclean before me. But know this: you are mine, for now and forever. Your suffering is my suffering. Your pains of separation from me, they pain me also. But I will finish the work I began in you, and I will keep you. We WILL be together again, as close as we were when you lived in my consciousness--long before you were ever born to this earth. As surely as Christ died, you will die. And as surely as I raised Him from the dead, you will be raised with Him."

You just had to be there. I could have sworn the room was going to burst. It was as if the air was sponge thick, like I could have rested my Bible on an invisible pillow in middair, and it would have floated. And my body... wow. I felt as if I was constantly at the brink of exploding. I felt God fill my spirit with His presence, and I've never cried so openly for so long in the presence of so many people. It was the most cleansing experience of my life. It was as if all my mental beliefs finally opened the floodgates of my heart. And so, my brother and sisters, I say this: Easter is not just Easter because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. It's true that He is the ONLY sure way to eternal life, but there is something I fear many Christians never experience. The miracle of Easter is not just Christ's victory. Perhaps the Godhead are the only warriors who drew their swords and claimed the prize of life; perhaps God is the only one capable of vanquishing sin and conquering death, but DO NOT IGNORE this important part of the mystery: on that day some 2000 years ago when they accomplished this, all believers of all generations were simultaneously raised along with them. I'm not saying we should be arrogant or claim any glory in this, but I pity the one who is alive in Christ and doesn't have a soul that remembers that precise moment. This is the trick to it: your mind has absolutely nothing to base this on; it's either an intrinsic part of your spirit, or you'd best start praying for a real, genuine conversion. I kind of wonder if I had one before today, but I'll never question this point again. Ever.

Glory to God for ever. Amen.

1 Comments:

Blogger Slave Morality said...

Sounds like an awesome service. Happy Easter b-man!

24/3/08 09:02  

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