Caffeine and the Spirit

One morning this week, Pastor Dan and I had just left the meeting of the Clean and Safe Committee. It’s the working group of civic leaders, business owners, police, and civil servants who try to keep downtown “clean and safe.” Dan and I were pleased that our Tuesday night meals for the homeless, with our friends at Outreached Arms, were part of the discussion. This ministry lifts people up while helping address needs for health and safety.

I started to head straight back to the church, but Dan turned right, wanting to get coffee first. Standing next to the coffee shop, waiting for a bus, was a lady who yelled when she saw me: “It’s the pastor of First Presbyterian Church!”

Carla was beaming. She reminded me that my wife and I had helped her one Sunday after church to connect her with the services she needed. Now she was working, had her own place, and was enrolled in school. She said we had helped her when she was new in town and didn’t know where to turn.

Dan prayed, we all hugged, and we went on our way after telling Carla that her joy had made our day.

Dan drinks a lot of coffee, so you could say it was his need for caffeine that caused us to take the longer route back to the church. But I doubt it. It was the Spirit. It was the Spirit who allowed Jana and me to help Carla months before. It was the Spirit who filled her with joy. It was the Spirit who brought the tears that morning on the sidewalk.

Led by the Spirit

Over and over and over, God tried to get through to Peter. “Go to Cornelius’ house.” God sent visions. Cornelius sent messengers. Finally, the Spirit told Peter to get up and go.

For his entire life, Peter had been steeped in the conviction that the Jews were God’s chosen people, and that being faithful to that identity meant staying away from Gentiles like Cornelius. But God was making it possible for anyone, not just God’s chosen people, to have a relationship with the creator.

So of course it was hard for Peter to grasp that God was doing something new.

I think something like that is going on here and now. Our culture has been running away from church and organized religion for a long time, but God hasn’t given up on his people. God still wants to have a relationship with us, and so he’s making that possible through our relationships with others.

The meaning and impact of this movement of the Spirit is just as radical and just as hard to comprehend for many of us today as the Spirit’s direction was to Peter. We’ve been steeped our whole lives in our convictions about what church is supposed to look like.

People are suspicious of churches and church programs. They’re wary of making commitments, being asked for their personal information, and being asked to join. People crave authentic relationships. They want to be part of making a real difference in the lives of others.

The church must shift from administering programs to building relationships. We’ve got to make it our job to greet people and invite them to lunch. We’ve got to volunteer. We can’t expect to make a difference by showing up at a meeting and lending our opinion.

Like Peter, it’s hard for us to grasp that God is doing something new. But I’m convinced that God wants to reach out to the world not through programs, but through us.

Peter finally got it. Will we?

Holy Breathing

When I was in grade school my Dad had a heart attack. After he came home from the hospital, I remember that when he took a nap, I would sometimes just go in and watch him breathe.

Breath means life.

The Bible says that the breath of God is creative, powerful, and life-giving.

In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, there’s only one word for wind, breath, and spirit, the word, ruach. We have three separate words, they had one. In the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma means nearly the same thing.

In Genesis 1, one of the first things we’re told is that, at creation, the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the water. God spoke and things started to happen.

In Genesis 2, God reached down into the dust and water and formed a man. God breathed into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.

Every single one of us has the very breath of God in us.

God’s breath is the creative force behind all of life. So it’s not surprising that the risen Jesus commissioned his followers and sent them out by breathing on them. What God did at creation, breathing life into the first human being, God did again after the resurrection. The breath of God is what gives power to life and mission.

And yet we can miss the power that’s available to us. There are lots of reasons, but I think the main one is that we’re so busy with our own agendas. Breathing is such a good metaphor for the work of the Spirit because it is integral to life, but we can do it all day and not even notice.

After my Dad’s heart attack, I no longer took his breathing for granted.

Are you breathing right now? It’s the power of God in you.