Before I start - the last few posts have been unintentionally in two sections, Studied Stuff and What Is Happening To Me Right Now. So I'm going to keep going with that, but intentionally this time!
Today I want to share some of the things that appeared to me to be saying - BE CAREFUL. I've been stuck on the extreme of being very skeptical in the past; while I read about the Holy Spirit in the Bible I found myself being quite challenged about this. Here's some of what I found:
Matthew 12:30-31 He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
I wanted to put this first because in the past I've avoided this verse like the plague, worrying that it means that if I've ever been slightly flippant about the Holy Spirit in the past it means I'm destined for hell. When I read it through, though, it seems clear to me that this is not saying that at all. In context, Jesus seems to be saying that the only sin that cannot be forgiven is never choosing to stand with him and accept him. In other words, ignoring the Spirit's voice whispering to us the truth is the only thing that keeps us from God. Still, this verse isn't completely clear - but a renewed thoughtfulness about it helped me move on to a fairer understanding of how the Spirit works.
Nehemiah 9:30 God was patient with Israel for many years; By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid you no attention.
Hebrews 2:3-4 How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
Revelation 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Repeated several times in the next few chapters.)
Shall I paraphrase? Don't ignore the Holy Spirit. In one sense here, the Spirit is talking to nonbelievers who have not accepted Christ. In another, he is talking to the churches - those of us who are already saved. And he repeats this message for each of the seven churches spoken to in Revelation - it's important. Growth, constancy and vigour are not possible unless the Church listens to the Spirit directing them - and I wonder how much attention we pay to the Spirit in our individual churches and as one entire body?
A verse that seems one of the most serious to me:
Hebrews 10:26,29 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left… How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
Acts 5:3 Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?’
In both these cases - ignoring the Spirit brings consequences - none of which we can blame anyone other than ourselves for. In the passage from Acts, Ananias' ignoring of the Spirit goes as far as lying to him, and in Hebrews, to refuse to change one iota after initial salvation is to insult the Spirit of grace, the Spirit who brought us to the Lord out of bondage. It is like saying "thanks for removing my chains but I'd quite like to keep toiling, please".
On the other hand:
Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
This is perhaps a more positive side of the coin. If we do listen to the Spirit, and do our best to please him, there is nothing he will not give us. Eternal life. A phrase that is used so often it loses some of its power sometimes, but nevertheless a powerful phrase.
And in summing up, this is the verse that seemed to put it all together for me and undo all the tangles and contradictions in my mind:
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
Here, I in my earlier position am warned not to treat prophecies contemptuously at risk of extinguishing the fire of the Spirit by my negativity. But I am also encouraged to 'test everything' - not to treat everything I hear Christians assert as the gospel truth willy-nilly. This passage deals with both extremes, and I feel a bit more comfortable now as to where I am on the spectrum.
What is happening to me right now
I only have about six weeks left before I go back to New Zealand now, and only four of them will be in Australia. As it suddenly seems so close, I've been thinking a lot about what I am going back to. I have really enjoyed attending my sister and brother-in-law's church, a fairly evangelical and laidback Anglican church called St Philip's in Cottesloe. There is a huge range of people there, a lot of whom are very open to experiencing the Spirit in ways I never have. Some of them have taught me really interesting new ways to think about things that would never have occurred otherwise. I feel challenged and stimulated there.
Whereas my church at home is a wonderful, really wonderful church that is like my extended family. It's not big but not tiny, and I know that a large number of people there will be praying for me regularly and fervently. What made me most moved was that for my birthday last week I received a card in the mail that someone had taken round the church and everyone had signed for me. To know that you have all these people who really care about you and would put themselves out there for you even when they don't see you every week is just amazing. The sermons are meaty and we still sing the really good old hymns (along with some of the really bad old hymns).
My problem is that I've been there forever. I am so used to being the same person and thinking the same ways while I'm there that I'm beginning to feel like I'll be stuck in the same Me when I'm back. I do get challenged and so on while I'm there but I can predict exactly what people will think on some issues, not least the Holy Spirit. The kind of accepted view at my church at home is that the Holy Spirit is very active in our lives and in our reading of scripture but he doesn't need to make us talk in tongues etc. I don't know what I think about that yet. But I want to find out, and I think if I ask people at church I will get the same answers as always but without any proof. I may come to the same conclusions eventually but I want to know that they have been my own, and I have found out for myself. Another small but influential issue is that there is no one my age there except a few people who come very irregularly.
I am pretty sure that people at my church would understand exactly why I was leaving if I left, and would not blame me at all. In fact, I think some would advise me to leave, as much as they like having me there to play piano and so on. But I feel a very strong loyalty to the church that has raised me up as a Christian and given me such a strong foundation in the faith, and I think our church is in such a crucial position in a needy neighbourhood, so I don't want to weaken it by removing myself, one of the only young adults. So I don't know what to do and I mean to pray a lot about it before I return. Any prayers you might like to pray for the subject would be so much appreciated. I would also like to go and talk to some of the people at my church who I really trust and see what they have to say.