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Beliefs to Believe In: The Holy Spirit Helps Me
Visit any typical Sunday School class of any typical church and you will probably find only a smattering of adults and high school students. The students will seem bored and uninvolved, the teacher burned out and ill-equipped. Then follow some church members through the week. Few will show any signs that they are Christians. They won't read their Bibles or pray. They won't work in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. They won't participate in rallies to fight injustice or discrimination. People in mainline churches live lives unaffected by their faith.
That's the alarming conclusion of a major new study conducted by The Search Institute and funded by the Lilly Endowment. Evidently they didn't visit our Sunday School because our adult classes are exciting, and led by informed and gifted leaders! We are blessed! The study surveyed 11,122 people in 561 congregations in six denominations: Lutheran, Disciples, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, United Church of Christ and United Methodist. The study concluded: For most adults, faith is underdeveloped, lacking some of the key elements necessary for faith maturity....Many adults don't experience a sense of well-being, security or peace in their faith. They have trouble seeking spiritual growth through study, reflection, prayer and discussion with others. And they do little to serve others through acts of love and justice.
Perhaps we can take uneasy comfort in the fact that Methodists are not the only denomination having difficulty leading its people into a dynamic, living faith relationship with Jesus Christ. The survey does help us see why we no longer understand ourselves to be aliens on a strange planet, different from the culture around us. Too few Christians understand what Christianity is, what it believes, and what it is trying to do.
Hence, this series of sermons. I'm going to solve all the problems of this generation with one sermon series! Well, at least, this series recognizes that we have a faith problem. And, this series is presenting in brief, summary form the BELIEFS TO BELIEVE IN.
We are presently looking at the Trinity, how we know God in three primary ways: Creator, the person Jesus who was both fully human and fully divine, and the Holy Spirit. John Killinger in his new book, You Are What You Believe, reports an experience that illustrates the shocking and disappointing results of the survey I mentioned. He surveyed five people and asked them, "Who or what is the Holy Spirit?" Here are the answers: "Should I know the answer to that?" "It's the same as the Holy Ghost, isn't it?" "Sounds scary to me." "I don't know; I'm not into all that New Age stuff." "It's the Spirit of God, I think."Of particular interest is that these five people were not random pedestrians approached on some street corner of the city. They were all members of a Christian congregation encountered in the halls of their church building. Four were adults, one was a teenager.
When Paul first arrived in Ephesus, he met some Christians. During the get acquainted conversation, Paul asked them, "Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?" They answered, "We haven't even heard about a Holy Spirit?" Evidently, much of the modern church is also ignorant of the Holy Spirit? Indeed, who or what is the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, and what does the Holy Spirit do?
The Holy Spirit is God present with us right now. God the Creator creates. God the Son walked on this earth. God the Spirit is with us right now. Jesus, in our lesson this morning, told the disciples the night before he died that God would send a counselor, a helper. Simply stated, God made you. Jesus loves you. The Holy Spirit helps you. John Killinger calls the Holy Spirit the mothering side of God. Think of a mother holding you, hugging you to her bosom, protecting you, encouraging you, forgiving you, whispering, "It's okay. You can make it now. You can do it. I'll be with you." The Holy Spirit mothers you, comforts you.
The Holy Spirit heals, puts lives back together, marriages back together, puts the body and mind back together. The Holy Spirit meets your deepest needs. At the very tender, vulnerable age of 13, Jamie overheard his mother, in a moment of exuberance, say to his father, "I'm so proud of Clay. He's the finest son we have." Convinced that his mother loved his brother, Clay, more than she loved him, Jamie was crushed and that night a door slammed shut between his mother and him. 25 years later Jamie was still struggling with the closed door. So firmly had the door been slammed and padlocked, so deep was the alienation from his mother and the feeling of inferiority towards himself, Jamie had difficulty relating not only to his mother but with all women. Then, the Holy Spirit touched his life. Jamie reports receiving this insight from God, Let me show you something about those kinds of doors...None of them are real. Once a door like that is bathed in the blood of Jesus, it disintegrates. True, it may look as if it is still there, but it's only in your imagination. I have set you free. (The Helper, p. 136, by Catherine Marshall.)As a result, Jamie was healed. He rebuilt the relationship with his mother, as well as his feelings about himself .
In healing, God often uses the prayers of others. One of our church's ministries is a Healing Service held the third Sunday of each month. I believe the Holy Spirit or Energy can combine our spirits and focus on the need. Sometimes there are 25 of us gathered, sometimes only three. But, at every service, deep hurts and pains have been shared, and the loving, comforting, healing presence of the Holy Spirit has been experienced.
The Holy Spirit comforts, the Holy Spirit heals, and the Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray. Romans 8:26, 27, "The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words." An omnipotent, all-powerful God can heal, meet our needs, without our praying, can't God? After all, doesn't God know what we are going to ask before we ask? Yes, but God has given us all free will. God rarely enters where not invited. God rarely acts when not asked. But, God doesn't leave us entirely to our own resources. God teaches us how to pray, and even does our praying for us when we can't. Ask the Holy Spirit, lean on the Spirit, wait on the Lord, and you will be shown what is blocking your prayer. Sometimes you want to be in control, and won't surrender. Sometimes there is resentment, bitterness, or anger blocking the Spirit. Sometimes there is unconfessed sin, something you need to admit, confess, and receive forgiveness. When you have a concern and want to pray for God's help, wait on the Lord. Ask for insight. Ask for direction. Do you take everything to God in prayer? Lay your concerns on the Lord, give them to God, let the Holy Spirit take over, and teach you how to pray.
The Holy Spirit sanctifies. Have you noticed that in each sermon so far I have discussed the work of each person of the Trinity? We associate a specific act with each godhead of the Trinity: creation, redemption, and sanctification. You are created by the Creator, redeemed or saved by Christ, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. These are the words traditional theology has used. We don't often use the word "sanctification", but when I was a youth, I went to the Red Rock Camp Meeting on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota where old-time Methodists preached the second blessing. You went to the altar to get saved by Christ, and then you went a second time to get sanctified.
Sanctification means the Holy Spirit sanctifies you, sets you apart, consecrates you, makes it possible for you to belong to God wholly, without reservation, without restraint. Sanctification means the Holy Spirit empowers you to live and to act as a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit makes you a spirited Christian, full of life and vitality. The Holy Spirit makes you an inspired Christian, undaunted, unafraid, able to handle whatever happens.
Catherine Marshall in her book, The Helper, lists some questions for self-examination. I shall paraphrase a few. Your answers to these questions will help you understand what is your relationship with the Holy Spirit, and what is lacking.
Have you evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in your life? Has the Spirit made Jesus real to you? Are you beginning to hear the inner Voice of the Holy Spirit guiding you?
Are you seeing in yourself a new kind of love for other people? Is your love for others growing, especially those you would not ordinarily choose as friends?
Are you experiencing power in living your life and doing the work of God?
Are you receiving help from the Spirit in praying?
I might add a question. Is there increasing evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in your life? Gentleness, joy, peace, self-control?
And, lastly, have you ever asked God for the gift of the Holy Spirit?
This last question is perhaps the key question. Have you ever asked God to fill you with the Holy Spirit? Have you asked God to make you, wholly and completely, a child of God, a friend and disciple of Jesus Christ? My prayer is for the Holy Spirit to make you hunger for the Spirit, to yearn, long, and thirst. Then, turn to God, and ask. The Holy Spirit helps you, comforts, heals, teaches you to pray, and sanctifies, empowers you.
Will you say with me the creed we have designed so far through this sermon series. Memorize it, teach it to your children and grandchildren, let it speak to your unconscious. GOD MADE ME, JESUS LOVES ME, THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS ME.
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris