Advent DevotionalA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: God’s presence through the Holy Spirit

Thursday February 23 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: God’s presence through the Holy Spirit

Lent this year starts next week, on 1 March. You may be interested in the Lenten devotional I wrote two years ago, using a psalm for each day of Lent. The devotional is illustrated with beautiful paintings by Dave Baab. You can download the devotional in pdf form here: Draw Near.

In the interviews for my midlife books, many people told of their new appreciation for the daily guidance of the Holy Spirit. They have grown, they tell me, in their ability to hear the nudging and prompting of the Spirit, and they have grown in their willingness to follow what they hear. They have come to realize that God knows much better than we do what needs to be done in the world. Anyone of any age who wants to draw near to God with the heart needs to do some pondering of the role of the Holy Spirit in everyday life.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). After the resurrection, Jesus told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem “until you have been clothed with power from on high” by the coming of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). The work of the Spirit in us, leading into truth and giving us the power to obey, helps us feel a heart awareness of God’s companionship, guidance and empowering.

For me, most of the Holy Spirit’s promptings involve people I need to contact or to pray for. “Make that call now,” I seem to hear quite often, and I will find the person at home, needing to talk or wanting to share a prayer request. Often I am right in the middle of something else when I feel nudged to act. Often it’s an interruption in my life. But time after time good fruit results from my obedience. I believe that each time I hear the voice of the Spirit and obey, I am training my soul and spirit in a kind of responsive living that can only result in good things for me and for others.

This responsiveness to the Spirit can bring about a spirit of rest and peace, as we realize more deeply that our lives are in God’s hands and that God is guiding us each moment. We don’t have to strain to obey a set of distant and stringent rules. God calls us gently to obedience as a part of a tender relationship with him. We don’t have to rush around, frantically filling our lives with meaningless possessions and thrilling experiences. There is nothing as thrilling as being in the right place at the right time to help someone, and to know that we are there because we listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking into our daily lives.

We often feel we should be working extremely hard, straining to serve God and make a difference in the world. Iin contrast, this dependence on the Holy Spirit can lead us into a very different style of service and ministry. Instead of feeling like we have to dream up ways to serve God and then execute our ideas with our own energy and perseverance, we can trust that God, through his Spirit, will show us where he is working and where he wants us to be a part of what he is already doing. This view of ministry can free us from pressure to perform and enable us to rest in God as we try to serve him.

This reliance on the Holy Spirit plays a significant part in our desire to bring our hearts before God and know God deep in our souls. It is the Spirit who illuminates our hearts with God’s wisdom and values, guiding us “into all the truth” as Jesus promised (Jn. 16:13). The Spirit brings the love of God to our inner being. The Spirit guides us in our inner journey, and the Spirit calls us to intimacy and community. Without the Spirit, we cannot experience the passionate wooing of God, and we cannot know how tenderly God longs for us to bring our whole selves to him in integrity and genuineness.

This is the fifth post in a series about Drawing Near to God with the Heart. Previous posts:
Introduction: Drawing near to God with the heart         
God woos us          
A journey with the Psalms           
Praying the Psalms         

(The series continues next week with “Facing the inner darkness.” Illustration: St Clair Beach Dunedin at high tide by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

Thoughts for Pentecost: the significance of the Holy Spirit today

Tuesday May 17 2016

Thoughts for Pentecost: the significance of the Holy Spirit today

I was so angry. And it was such an odd thing to get angry about.

The setting was the Friday after Pentecost about a dozen years ago. The church staff was debriefing about the various events that had occurred as a part of our Pentecost celebration. The senior minister asked us for feedback about every aspect of the day, and I told him how upset I was that he had chosen to continue his sermon series in one of the Gospels rather than preach about the Holy Spirit.

Here’s my memory of what I said: “Pentecost is a really important day because the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity most necessary for Christians to understand in these postmodern times. I can’t believe you didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to talk about the Holy Spirit! Back in the sixties and seventies, it was really important for Christians to focus on Jesus and his character because Jesus had been neglected for so long, but for our times, the Holy Spirit is central. So we’ve got to take every opportunity to help people understand who the Holy Spirit is and why the Holy Spirit matters!”

As I look back on that day when I spoke with way too much energy, I can see that it was not appropriate to criticize this very competent senior minister for the topic he chose to preach on. Quite apart from that aspect my response, I’ve been pondering if I still believe that the Holy Spirit is the most important person of the Trinity to focus on in our time.

I wrote last year for Pentecost that I have observed that people tend to view the Holy Spirit through the lens of their perception of Jesus. I argued that our view of Jesus – wise guide, lover, healer, one who convicts of sin, or sender into mission – influences our view of the Holy Spirit. I believe that Jesus is all these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, but I have observed that each of us tends to focus on one aspect more than others.

I believe that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ presence with us (John 14:15-19), so it makes total sense that we would perceive the Holy Spirit as very closely related to Jesus. Why then did I feel so strongly a dozen years ago that the Holy Spirit needs to be emphasized in our time? Here’s what I think about that question today:

1. We need to let people inside and outside the church see the authenticity of our faith. We need to live and talk as if God’s presence in our lives matters. And the Holy Spirit is God’s presence with us.

2. We need wisdom and guidance for ministry and mission. In the face of an increasingly secular culture and enormous social and political problems, we need to serve and love and minister in focused and effective ways. Only God, through the Holy Spirit, can guide us into the best ways to do that.

3. We need power. Problems are so complex and multifaceted, and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged. We need power from beyond ourselves to address challenges, and that power comes to us through the Holy Spirit.

4. We need love. With people so polarized, with an influx of people from all around the world and with racial tensions escalating, love is more necessary than ever. Jesus’ love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is essential.

The list could go on. I wonder what you would add to it. A dozen years ago, I was thinking mostly about authenticity and power. I see the world now as even more complex than it was then, with even greater needs. Therefore, God’s empowering presence, made possible by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, is more necessary than ever.

(This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and next week I’ll write about my love for the Trinity. After that, I’m going to start a series on worshipping God as Creator. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Thoughts for Pentecost: The Holy Spirit, God’s empowering presence

Wednesday May 20 2015

Thoughts for Pentecost: The Holy Spirit, God’s empowering presence

“If there’s a God, then that God must have power. So I guess the idea of the Holy Spirit, a spirit related to God’s power, makes sense to me. Of course, I don’t believe in God. But if I did, there would be some kind of spirit of power.”

I heard those words from an acquaintance, and I thought it was interesting he equated the Holy Spirit with God’s power. I wonder if most Christians view the Holy Spirit that way. Christians celebrate Pentecost this month, on May 24, the day described in Acts chapter 2 when God sent the Holy Spirit upon the believers in Jesus.

One of my favorite books on the Holy Spirit is entitled God’s Empowering Presence. The author, Gordon D. Fee, has given a simple description of the Holy Spirit in his title. But what kind of empowering presence are we talking about? What kind of power?

I have noticed that the kind of power Christians expect from the Holy Spirit seems to be connected to their view of Jesus. This makes sense, because in John 14, Jesus talks to the disciples about going away and then coming back to be with them. Christians have long interpreted these words about Jesus’ presence with the disciples as referring to the Holy Spirit. This Jesus, present with us through the Holy Spirit, is fully God and fully human, so it’s not surprising that people view him in a variety of ways.

Some Christians see Jesus, first and foremost, as a wise and insightful teacher, and those Christians seem to view the Holy Spirit, first and foremost, as a supernatural source of wisdom, insight and guidance, giving them the power to live wisely. Other Christians see Jesus most clearly as a lover of all people, even the most marginalized and outcast, and those Christians seem to expect the Holy Spirit to give them power from God to love and care across boundaries and in difficult and challenging situations. Yet others, when they look at the way Jesus is described in the Gospels, first see a powerful healer, and they seem to expect the Holy Spirit to come into human life with abundant and dramatic power to heal.

In my experience, those three views of the Holy Spirit are the most common, but there are others. If one views Jesus primarily as a holy and pure man with exacting standards, then the Holy Spirit might be experienced mostly as one who rebukes and convicts of sin. The power to see our sin is important, but must be balanced by Jesus’ grace and mercy.

As the wider culture becomes more secular, an increasingly significant view of the Holy Spirit relates to Jesus as the one sent by God into the world to do God’s mission. In this view, the Holy Spirit is God’s presence with us to send us into the world with the power to engage in God’s priorities.

Surely all five of these views of Jesus and the Holy Spirit can be supported by the Bible: wise guide, lover, healer, one who convicts of sin, and sender into mission. I would argue that all five are relevant and helpful when thinking about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

When you think of Jesus, what characteristic comes to mind first and foremost? In what ways does your view of Jesus influence your view of the Holy Spirit?

(This post appeared on May 15, 2015 in the Otago Daily Times, my local newspaper. The newspaper has a "faith and reason" column every Friday, and recently my department was asked to provide one column per month. I was rostered on for May, to my delight. And I get December as well! I'll resume my series on Celtic Christianity next week. If you'd like to receive emails when I post on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under "Subscribe.")

Finding Home and Homes

Thursday July 31 2014

Finding Home and Homes

“Home” has been a hugely contested, even painful, term for me. My father was an air force pilot and we moved 12 times in my first 15 years. We spent six of those years in Europe. I’ve never felt at home in the U.S., and I have never really felt at home anywhere. The word “home” has often made me feel uneasy and sad. My husband, who lived in one small town from birth until high school graduation, would often say to me, “Our true home is in heaven.” I can give cognitive assent to that truth, but somehow it never helped me.

All this began to change in early 2011 when I read Crossings and Dwellings: A Theory of Religion. In it, Thomas A. Tweed argues that religion helps us create homes in four arenas: our bodies, the house we live in, our country, and the cosmos. He also says that religion helps us move between these homes.

My first personal response to Tweed’s theory was focused on my body. I’ve struggled with weight all my life and have often felt as if my body betrays me by wanting foods that are not good for me. In recent years my weight has been more stable and closer to normal, and I have become more “at home” in my body. While reading Crossings and Dwellings, I began to see that the first “home” I need to nurture is my own body. And I could see ways I’d done that in recent years, without using that language to describe it.

Of course we know that God made our bodies, but that can feel a bit distant. God, way off in heaven, made this earth and each of us. The coming of Christ tells us that God is not far off in heaven but right here with us. In fact, God is right here with us in Jesus, who lived in a physical body just as we do. The New Testament gives us no hint that Jesus felt estranged from his body in any way. Instead, he seems to have felt at home in his body and this physical world, just as he felt at home in heaven and longed to return there.

The second personal application of Tweed’s theory came later in 2011 when I had a six-month sabbatical from my teaching position in New Zealand. I split that time between Seattle, where I spent 30 years of my adult life, and Europe, where I had spent time in childhood. In those months of moving between past places where I’d lived, I realized that I have several homes, and that’s okay. Seattle will always feel like home in one sense because I lived there longest. But my current hometown Dunedin, New Zealand, is wonderful, and I love many things about my house, my town and my adopted country. Dunedin feels like home now, in a way it didn’t before 2011. And a part of my sense of earthly home will always be in Europe because of my childhood there.

For the first time in my life, in 2011 I felt at home in all these places, rather than feeling at home in none of them. My faith in God, who became flesh and lived on this earth, enables me to move between homes because Jesus through the Holy Spirit is present in all my homes. Because the Holy Spirit dwells inside me, and because my body is the home that I take with me wherever I go, God is present with me in every place creating a home for me. But actually, God is present in those places before I get there and after I leave. I can watch for his fingerprints everywhere I go, and he will enable me to feel at home there.

Immanuel, God with us, has changed my life in the past three years by helping me begin to feel at home in my body and by enabling me to experience various places as homes. My husband is right that our true home is in heaven, but Jesus brought that true home to earth in his flesh, and we are invited to dwell with him and let him dwell with us, truly at home in him, in our bodies, and in our houses and homelands.

(If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)