I was asked to speak at a camp this past summer. I was given the theme and was encouraged to run with it. I had never been to this camp, so I had very little context. I was told that I would be speaking to people ages 12-100 and that many of them were long time believers and leaders in the church. Long term Christians can be a tough audience.
Lifelong Christians (myself included) can easily treat pillars of faith as historical facts. Jesus died for my sins. Fact. Jesus rose from the dead. Fact. Jesus wants to have a relationship with us. Fact. If we choose Jesus, we get to go to heaven. Fact. These incredibly powerful, life changing truths integrate into our daily lives. The Bible becomes a good book. Prayer becomes habit. Our faith no longer is the wind in our sails. Our faith becomes a noun, instead of the verb that it was intended to be.
What could I possibly share that would capture their attention and challenge or encourage their faith journeys?
I felt like God spoke to me and said “Talk about the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit?!?!?!
The Holy Spirit.
Before moving forward, I want to put out a disclaimer. I am NO expert on the Holy Spirit. In fact, I’ve often been confused by the Holy Spirit’s role. When I was in high school I would often join my neighbor at her charismatic youth group. I was a strong believer at the time and I would sit back and watch my friend do the weirdest things while being “overcome” by the Holy Spirit. As soon as she was done being “overcome” by the spirit, almost in the same breath, she would begin to gossip about her friend sitting a row or two down.
Later in my life, I heard about “speaking in tongues”. It wasn’t necessarily part of my faith tradition, but people I respected said it was a regular part of their prayer life. Apparently, when you are speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit overcomes you and you start speaking in a different language, that really no one around you understands. But I was told that when you speak in tongues, you felt closer to God, and I knew I wanted that. So I tried, several times. Sometimes by myself, sometimes with other people. I even faked it once to get someone to stop praying for me. Apparently I didn’t have a spirit language.
Needless to say, I’ve had a lot of learning to do in regard to the Holy Spirit.
I came across John 16.
John 16:7 says (as he is speaking to his disciples) “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
Okay, I have read this scripture tons of times in my life, how have I missed this? Jesus said it was better if he goes?!? Can you imagine what the disciples were feeling at this point? Why would Jesus say that?
Jesus uses several names when he references the Holy Spirit. In this context he is referring to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate. I looked up the word Advocate and the simple way to describe what it means is “One that walks alongside.”
I started to see.
Jesus came down in the body of a man. He submitted to the boundaries of a body. Jesus can only be in one place at a time. But the Holy Spirit is different. He is boundless. The Holy Spirit can be anywhere and everywhere, anytime. Jesus is saying to his disciples, it is better for me to go, because I am only one man – I can only be in one place. But if I go, I will send one that can walk alongside each one of you. I will send my spirit who has no bounds and who will live in you and alongside you, guiding you the whole way.
That is a powerful concept, one that demands our attention. Jesus said it was better for him to go. He has sent someone to walk alongside you.To live among you. He’s given you the Spirit of God, the one who came to make dry bones dance.
There is a powerful story in Ezekiel about the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. In Ezekiel 37 God gives Ezekiel a vision. In it, God sent Ezekiel to a valley that was full of dry bones and asked Ezekiel if the bones were alive. Being the smart man Ezekiel is, he replied with reverence, acknowledging that only God knows. God continued to talk to Ezekiel and told Ezekiel to tell the bones to come to life. God tells Ezekiel he would attach tendons and muscles. He will give the dry bones flesh and breath. Reluctantly I’m sure, Ezekiel repeated to the bones (Yup, I said it, Ezekiel was talking to the bones) what God had spoken to him. And to Ezekiel’s surprise, It happened. Tendons, muscles and flesh appeared. Skin covered the bones and they had breath. They stood up.They could dance.
God gave Ezekiel this vision to share it to God’s people as a promise of restoration.
A promise of what the Spirit of God can do.
He can make dry bones dance.
I mentioned earlier that I have been confused by the role of the Holy Spirit. I was confused by friend and how she acted when she was “overcome” by the Spirit. I wanted to know God and be filled with his Spirit, but instead I felt pressured and overwhelmed. The Holy Spirit is a confusing concept. I’m going to spend the next month or so talking about what I’ve learned about the Holy Spirit along the way. I encourage you keep digging into it with me. Its worth the dig.
It’s worth it because Jesus said it was better….
It’s worth it because the Spirit of God breaths life into historical concepts….
It’s worth it because the Spirit turns nouns into verbs….
It’s worth it because we can see dry bones dance….
And once you see that, there is no going back.
So let’s continue to learn together,