Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Little Pentecosts

While crowds of people followed Jesus during his earthly ministry in Judea, the spirit of Jesus worked through the disciples to give birth to a body of believers that has been growing ever since as the fire of the Holy Spirit spread to the ends of the earth.

Once again, Peter and the other disciples provide a significant model for us. While Jesus was on earth, they were followers, students. They didn’t always understand the message or the methods of Jesus’ ministry, and they certainly were not able to perform even a single miracle in Jesus’ presence. Their failures and weaknesses were most apparent.

In fact, Judas betrayed Jesus and then killed himself in despair; and when the pressure was on, Peter denied he ever knew Jesus. Finally, in the wake of the Crucifixion, everyone took refuge behind locked doors, hiding in terror, expecting reprisal. Yet these terrified followers didn’t remain students, and they didn’t remain terrified. Instead, they were transformed.  

They were empowered by the Holy Spirit to be more than simply followers of Jesus; no longer students, they became messengers of the gospel. This transformation didn’t take place because of the bodily presence of the Jesus they had followed those many months; it didn’t happen because of his teaching or through the witness of his miracles and healings. The disciples were transformed into messengers by the presence of Jesus in real time, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  

We call the event of the disciples’ transformation Pentecost, that miraculous event that took place fifty days after Easter and launched the spread of the gospel throughout the world. What we don’t always realize is that the Holy Spirit has been responsible for a myriad of little Pentecosts ever since.

A pivotal event in my own life occurred in 1996 when I had been in ministry only a short while. Due to the young age of my children, I had been appointed part-time to a local church as an associate; and while my work was focused mainly in the important areas of children’s worship and teaching, I had very little responsibility overall. Then I was invited to attend an evangelism conference, the Order of the Flame. With its emphasis on evangelism, the focus of the entire conference was on reaching others for Christ. It was a powerful time, and I was surrounded by many talented people who were doing exciting things for God’s kingdom.

The last event of the conference was a worship service. There was dynamic music, great preaching. It was an awesome worship experience. We closed our time with prayer. Everyone stood, and people spontaneously offered their prayers aloud.

As the praying became more intense, I suddenly felt the powerful presence of God’s Holy Spirit—not just in the service itself but within me. As I continued to listen to the prayers being lifted, I was overwhelmed by the spiritual depth that surrounded me, feeling out of my league. It didn’t seem possible that I could do the types of ministry these folks were doing with such power. I began to feel intensely unworthy, ill-equipped to do whatever it was God was calling me to do. In that moment, I was ready to bolt out of the room. It was truly a crisis, not necessarily of faith but of calling.  

As I began to follow my instincts and leave as quickly as possible, I felt the full weight of God’s power upon me. I couldn’t move. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t. I sat down, convinced there was no way I could do what God was calling me to do.

Then suddenly I heard the voice of Jesus within me, saying, “you are ill-equipped; you don’t have all the ability. But that doesn’t matter; because I am not ill-equipped. You can do this—you will do this, because I am your source of power; and it is I who will work through you.”  

God moments—“little Pentecosts”—times when we experience Jesus in real time. From that time on, everything changes—who we are, how we live. These aren’t events that exist only in the stories of our faith. They happen every day to believers all over the world, and following in the Jesus way requires that we be open to those life-changing, faith-shaping little Pentecosts.  

Being open to experiencing our own little Pentecosts is about recognizing that each of us has a life mission. It’s that purpose for which God created you, for which God has placed unique gifts and talents and passions within you. And often, you can trace your “God mission” back to some particular passion that has been in your life for a long time.

Are you open to the Holy Spirit bringing a little Pentecost into your own life? What do you feel ill-equipped to do? 

When the Holy Spirit Reaches Us through Others

Early in my ministry, I was responsible for a Sunday worship service that met in a local theater. Because it was unconventional, it was attractive to many people who had for a variety of reasons felt unwelcome in or disaffected by the church. Many were only nominally Christian; others were not Christian but were interested in exploring faith. I ministered among these people for eight years, and many of them had a profound effect on me. As I sought to extend open arms to them, I felt their response, and it was often a surprising experience of “being held” by them as much as my “holding them.”

Several years after leaving that position, I encountered a woman who had attended regularly. As we spoke, she recalled that she was in a confused and unhealthy place in her life during those years and sensed that I knew this about her and in some ways disagreed with or even disapproved of some of the ways in which she was coping. Much to my relief, she continued that this was a good thing, because even though we might not have agreed, she felt there was a place for her no matter what. The security of that space had challenged her to seriously reevaluate her life. And, she added, it was important to her that despite our differences, I took her seriously, always open to the possibility that she might have something to offer me. Our embrace, physical and figurative, was reciprocal. 

Have you experienced a relationship in which you did not feel reciprocity? How did the uneven nature of that relationship make you feel? Have you had a relationship in your life that was marked by reciprocity, in which you felt that you were both holding and being held? 

In a full embrace, the identity of each self is both preserved and transformed.  The integrity of each is intact. Each sees both themselves and the other in a new light. A gentle touch allows the other space to freely respond. Integrity as a core value of authentic evangelism is not only about our integrity, but about the integrity of others as well and allows space for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. 

Most every Christian believes in the Holy Spirit’s power to transform; however, when we engage in evangelism, often we assume that the one being transformed is the other rather than us. We evangelize, spreading the gospel with expectant hope that others might be transformed, at the bare minimum, into persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. At times our assumptions can go a bit further and involve others being transformed into Christians who resemble us, thinking and believing exactly like we do. Thus, recognizing the transformative power of embrace for both selves is crucial. The will to embrace must always involve openness to the power of the Holy Spirit to continually work not only through us toward others, but also through others toward us. In this way God works for integrity and wholeness for all.  

Embracing Holy Spirit Power

From the Wesleyan perspective, the transcendent Creator God, the one who at times seems larger than our ability to understand, is also the ever-present, enabling God, the one who at other times seems closer to us than our breath. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to continue Jesus’ mission of self-sacrificing love in the world. Without Holy Spirit power, we lack the boldness and courage necessary to live in the “not yet” of the kingdom.

That enabling God – the Holy Spirit – inspires our prophetic witness to Jesus Christ (Luke/Acts), and resides within each of us (John). Yet the Holy Spirit, though focused in Jesus Christ and concentrated in those who follow him, is not contained solely within the church. The Holy Spirit is present, active, and involved with all of creation in a life-giving way. (Psalm 139.7; 2 Corinthians 3.6; Romans 8.1-27). The Holy Spirit is the Person of the Trinity through whom God gives Godself away to us, sharing our sufferings, joining us in our misery, binding Godself to us in joy and sorrow, conforming us into the image of Christ.

The grace of the indwelling Spirit allows us to participate in and gives us power through the life of God. This grace is our saving strength. When we ground evangelism in the Trinity, we open ourselves to being both transformed by the indwelling of the Spirit of God, and to becoming vehicles for that transformative power in others. In the space created within us, and between us and others, the Holy Spirit is invited to act for the transformation, not only of the other, but of us as well.

Because God’s kingdom has not yet been made fully known, our experiences of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are presently incomplete. Yet, these experiences lead to our hope for the future, when God will indeed live completely and fully in God’s creation. As we are enlivened by the Spirit, we have hope that everything God created – human beings, nature, all creation – will be able to share in the fullness of God’s eternal life. The presence of the Holy Spirit, then, gives evangelism its future focus. We look forward to the future, already begun in Jesus Christ, when God will be all in all.

Adapted from Dr. Kim Reisman’s “Embrace” faith-sharing study.

Visible Tokens: Communion through a Chain Link Fence

Migration, borders, citizenship. These are ongoing topics of emotion and debate. Yet, people live at the heart of most weighty issues: men, women, and children whose lives demand that conversations move beyond the hypothetical. That’s what I experienced while in Tijuana, Mexico, teaching at an evangelism seminar with our WME Institute.

**Take a deep breath, this is not a post about policy or politics. It’s a post about people. And the Holy Spirit.

While I was in Tijuana, I had the opportunity to visit the wall that separates Mexico from the United States. To the west is the Pacific Ocean – a beautiful sight from either side. Jutting inland from the Pacific is the border wall, brightly painted with wonderful, urban art. A garden runs beside the wall, edging a plaza with steps leading down to the ocean. A wonderfully cheerful atmosphere until you begin to gaze more deeply.

If you look closely, you’ll notice a locked gate. It leads into a “no man’s land” about 30 yards wide between the barriers that separate the two countries. Once a month, the Mexican government opens the gate and allows families to enter. They cross those 30 yards where others – family members or friends – wait beyond the US barrier.

There is no gate on the US side. But for a while, though separated by wire and watched by US border patrol officers, families can talk, clasping fingers through the small gaps, connecting across the barrier that divides them.

Every month, on the day the gate opens, the Methodist Church is present – on both sides of the wall. There is conversation. There is prayer.

And there is Holy Communion.

Together, the pastor in Mexico and the pastor in the US lead people in an act that transcends borders and walls, division and separation. Simultaneously, they all share in the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.

I talk often about the importance of signs, all those visible tokens of unseen realities that are spiritually significant, all those things – sometimes miraculous, but often ordinary – that point to Christ and his healing, reconciling, redeeming love. I believe these Holy Spirit-infused moments, when the thin veil of reality billows ever so slightly and we gain a glimpse of something larger and deeper than ourselves, are the moments that form and strengthen and sustain us in faith and in life.

Jesus told us the poor would be with us for a long time. Because following Jesus is a long haul, full life project, it’s the same with the good work we do on his behalf. That is why signs are so important.

Though the issues encountered by a visit to the Mexico-US border in Tijuana are larger than any one person, as followers of Jesus we work for God’s justice in our world. And amid that work, we gather, month after month, open to power of the Holy Spirit to move aside the veil, as we embody through the bread and the cup our faith in the One who transcends all barriers and levels all walls.