Start with the Basics
If you have made your way to this page and this site, I can presume you are interested in matters involving the Holy Spirit.
There's a lot of talk going around about the Spirit. The Holy Spirit and worship. The Holy Spirit and our personal relationship with God. The Holy Spirit and miracles. The Spirit and revelation. The Spirit and freedom. The Spirit and new things. The Holy Spirit and manifestations. The Spirit and spirituality. Where there's a lot of talk, there tends to be a lot of confusion. And a lot of deception.
The best way to break out of confusion is to be the persistent little brat who keeps asking 'Why?' after each answer, tracing it back down to what really is at the core. Maybe you're a Christian, and your confusion has caused you to back away from being a part of a congregation. Perhaps you're not a Christian, but have questions about what Christian faith in Jesus the Christ and in the Holy Spirit is really about. Perhaps you're interested in the history or the mystery, or the unseen realm, or perhaps there's something intriguing about Christian spirituality amidst the various Eastern and New Age and Native American spiritualities one sees nowadays. So let's get down to Christian basics.
The first Christian basic to learn is that Christianity has a story, a narrative. This story was lived out in real life 2000 years ago, and in some way every day before and since.
The Christian story is about a God who created all human beings and loved them, but those creatures were so marred by sin that they could not do their part in having a relationship with God. This was making misery for those whom God made and loved. So God could not sit still for such a situation.
So, God set about to start putting the shattered state of the created order back to where it belongs. But God was not a human, not bound by a body into a time, a place, a culture, a society, as God's creations were. So God 'incarnated' -- took on those very same limitations and frailties, as a baby laid in a animal feeder, born to ordinary people, to an artisan and his betrothed who lived in Galilee in Palestine during the rule of the Roman Empire. Jesus of Nazareth lived much like the rest of us did. Yet not only was he without sin, but he taught and lived a life of full compassion and holiness. This Jesus was put to death by the powers-that-be of his time and place. Then, he transcended his death, refused to stay buried, emptied his tomb, and then left our presence. For those who put their faith in this Jesus the Christ (the One 'anointed' or designated for the task), their broken relationship with God would no longer be broken, but be healed and restored. His goodness would be our goodness, too. When Jesus left, he sent the Holy Spirit to be the presence and power of God among his followers, knitting them together and building them up as a community of believers, empowering them to spread the good news about what this Christ has done and to do great works of healing and reconciliation and love. That community is the Church universal, not a particular earthly organization but a spiritual collective of all believers in all times and all places and all sorts. Christ promised to come back someday, and then the human relationship with God and each other will become complete, and those who have faith in Jesus Christ will live continually with God as friend and family. Until then, believers live by the leading of the Holy Spirit, using the gifts given by that Spirit, foreshadowing what is to come.
Where Does This Take Me?
There are many things which stem from the core Christian story.
One is that the value of each and every existing thing hinges on setting right all of creation's relationship with God. Since God did the restoring work in Jesus Christ, we have more than enough to be thankful for. If Jesus did the restoring, then for our deeds to be meaningful, they must go to and through Him.
Thus, the Holy Spirit's work today can be found by how people are led to the Spirit's sender, Jesus. Whatever miracles, signs, wonders and manifestations the Spirit does are done to honor Christ, and they have their root value in how they help make the community which spreads Christ's good news stronger and truer. Miracles and unexpected joys can and do happen, in places where the Church is on the move. Gifts of all kinds and surprising outbreaks of power are still being given, and will keep being given until the Kingdom comes and the task is complete. God has neither gone deaf nor fallen silent. Indeed, at times God chooses to shout over the clatter, so the deaf of mind have no excuses.
Remember These Christian Basics
There are some other core spiritual truths to bear in mind as you explore matters of the faith, here and anywhere else.
If you seek fireworks and thrills, you get entertained. If you seek Christ, you get changed, and that can be thrilling.
The fact that a leader makes you feel good does not mean the leader is being led by the Spirit. There are other spirits which can do that, too.
God's not against feelings, not in the least. God wants you to feel loved, because you are loved! Your worth is not based on feelings, but your emotions are a part of what makes you so worthy. God gave them to you ourt of love. Yet, many good feelings aren't really so good in the contexts they're found in. Trusting in the emotions alone is like marrying someone just because you have the hots for that person: when the feelings fade, you realize what an awful mess you've gotten yourself into. Like any good love, your relationship with God is built on trust.
Your core value does not depend on what others think about you, or how good you have behaved, or how many children you raised, or how much wealth or knowledge you have, or even how much control you have over your life. In fact, all such things are irrelevant to your actual value as a person, though they do affect how much worth you feel. Your true value comes solely from the crazy, over-the-top love your Creator has for you, so much love that he gave his only Son in order for you to live, restored, forever with God. Is there any higher value than what such a love bestows on you? But remember that all other people are given the same gushingly high value; do you treat them accordingly?
The whole Christian way of life is set into a context. It is lived prayerfully, devotionally, and biblically. It is lived knowing that our sinfulness, and thus our lives, are beyond our ability to control or set right, and that it takes a Power greater than ourselves to restore us. It is lived with an eye toward doing right by other people, and most especially doing right by those who the world at large isn't doing right by. It is lived knowing that it is the Holy Spirit that makes us able to live it, by what the Spirit gives us. Knowing this Christian basic helps you do the un-basics, the complex things which make for greater good.
What Does the Spirit Give?
Since the Spirit can give any gift to anyone, gifts do not mean anyone is holier than anyone else. Since everyone is special to God, gifts are not a sign that God favors any specific person over others. The Spirit will not force someone to do anything; the Spirit seeks cooperation, not slavery.
Spiritual gifts mean nothing if they are:
- used for fame, power, attention, or wealth;
- used outside of the context of the good news of Christ;
- used in a way which divides and weakens, or that aims to bring harm to others;
- used without love;
- left unused.
If you find that you have a spiritual gift, ask yourself some questions:
- Am I serving God with it?
- How do I know if I'm serving God the way God wants me to serve?
- How can my gift make the fellowship of believers (and in particular, a local church or cell) stronger?
- How can my gift really help someone? What must happen so that it can?
- How can this gift further the good news of Christ?
- What opportunities has God made for me to use the gift? Or are those doors only now starting to open?
- Am I trusting God to lead me in its use, or am I instead trying to control the gift myself?
We can ask for signs, but seeking them is not what builds the faith. Signs themselves are a gift given as God sees the need to give them. If you keep looking for them, you are not trusting God to guide you in more basic and ordinary ways in your life.
Christ is closest at hand when we gather to do the specific acts He started. These are baptism (marking a person's becoming a part of the gathered believers) and communion (the presence of the promised Christ, murdered but alive again). Christians do these things together, as Jesus Himself told us to.
Misunderstandings Of Core Christianity
Holiness isn't about being good or being the winner or becoming the boss or obeying the law. It's about throwing our whole life into the arms of the risen Christ, no matter what happens, and to live as part of His mission. Our holiness is living in Christ's holiness, and because of that, we become distinct from the world we live in.
The Church isn't about institutions and structures and officials and rules. The Church is a people on a mission. It isn't about buildings, maintenance, classes, or worship services. Its people gather to worship because they love their God and need to express that love, as all lovers do. It gathers in the form of institutions to carry out the various parts of its mission together, and be a witness of visible unity in Christ to the world and to each other.
Church renewal isn't about glorious experiences or sound doctrine, and it's clearly not about the victory of a political faction or philosophy. It's about having the Holy Spirit at work and active in us and among us in ways which change the world we touch and feel and sense, and thus the way we live. With the Spirit at work, things start coming together, working right and adding up for Christ and for us.
Doctrine isn't about stuff to obey, or about rules that, if not followed, will damn you eternally to rot and burn in hell. It's about teaching ourselves and others about the basic truths of Christ, so we better understand what we do as Christians and why, and better know what it means to follow Christ.
Forgiveness isn't about letting someone off the hook, or getting rid of guilt, at least not directly. It's about getting on with following God even as we screw up. It is about what Jesus did through His death, and staying focused on Jesus no matter what we feel like, no matter what our mental state is, and no matter what the situation appears to be, even when it seems to belie such a trust. Losing the guilt follows from that.
In Christianity, mysteries aren't how we describe what we don't know. A mystery is something too great, too big, too complex for us to wrap our minds around. Some of us are called to probe the mysteries; all of us are called to live within them.
Christians turn to a book (the Bible) to learn about God and about following Christ. It is where we learn of God at work on earth among humans, it's where we come to know Jesus. It is of high value to us for that reason. But we worship, follow, and love not the book, but the God behind the book.
Wealth is not a basic goal for Christians. There are those who name and claim and pray and even pay for wealth. When they do so, they are not following the way of Christ, but are following those who are leading them away from Christ for their own gain. It's not a sin to be wealthy or poor, but wealth makes it harder to follow Christ and easier to think too much of yourself.
We can talk of "core Christianity" and "Christian basics". Such matters are crucial to know. But you must understand that when you love Jesus, 'basic' is not enough. Your faith, your knowledge, and your relationship with God will and must grow and change and go through ups and downs. To love God is to want to get closer, to feel the pull of God's purposes on all parts of your life, to become more of what God wants you to be. It's a journey. You may have the basics as the ground beneath your feet, but the ground is there so you can do something on top of it.
End Notes on the Christian Basics
Please keep these basic truths in mind when you read the rest of this site. You can choose to believe them or not believe them, but these truths are what lies behind anything that a Christian says or does regarding the Holy Spirit, spirituality, and church. Take your questions and doubts first of all to the Bible, and to God in prayer. Maybe talk them over with a pastor or a church-going friend who you trust with such things. You'll probably be asking questions about spiritual matters throughout your life. God doesn't zap you with lightning over that. God treasures your questions; it's part of your worth to God. It's said that we stop wondering about such things when they start shoveling the dirt over us. So we never stop wrestling, and we're never really 'there' yet, as long as we're alive. And the Spirit never stops working on us and in us. Trust the Spirit.
A Prayer by Isidore, written for a provincial council in AD 619 (found in *Documents of Vatican II*, p. xxii)
"We are here before you, O Holy Spirit, conscious of our innumerable sins, but united in a special way in your holy Name. Come and abide with us.
Deign to penetrate our hearts. Be the guide of our actions, indicate the path we should take, and show us what we must do so that, with your help, our work may be in all things pleasing to you.
May you be our only inspiration and the overseer of our intentions, for you alone possess a glorious Name together with the Father and the Son.
May you, who are infinite justice, never permit that we be disturbers of justice. Let not our ignorance induce us to evil, nor flattery sway us, nor moral and material interest corrupt us.
But unite our hearts to you alone, and do it strongly so that, with the gift of your grace, we may be one in you and may in nothing depart from the truth. Thus, united in your Name, may we in our every action follow the dictates of your mercy and justice, so that today and always our judgements may not be alien to you and in eternity we may obtain the unending reward of our actions. Amen."
For other angles on what the Christian basics are, try: