Experience Needed

cat by tailMark Twain once said:  He who carries a cat by the tail, learns something he can learn in no other way.

The point?  Experience counts in a way that other types of learning don’t.  Experience is not the only way to learn.  Books, ideas, theories matter a great deal.  But a cat scratch leaves an impression that the idea of a cat scratch can not.  We learn by our experiences.

No one is going to argue that carrying a cat by the tail is a good idea – either for the cat or for the carrier – but we need to learn by experience in other, more profitable ways.

When it comes to God, the principle holds just as true.  Books, ideas, theories matter a great deal.  (if you think they don’t, you’re wrong)  But experience of God leaves an impression that the idea of God can not.

To those wary of books, doctrines, theologies, ideas of God I would say that they are absolutely necessary for cultivating a life that grows closer to God.  Everyone is going to form ideas about God, and they’ll either be good or bad, so it is the opposite of humble to assume we ought to go at such formation alone.

But to those wary of the search for experience of God, I say that God Himself invites us to seek in this way.  Taste and see – that’s an invite to experience – that the LORD is good – that’s an objective fact about His nature. (Psalm 34:8)   Taste and then see.  He who tastes and sees God’s goodness, learns something that he can learn in no other way.

God’s Gift of God – Pentecost Meditation

Pentecost

What are we given when we are given the Spirit?  We are given everything.  As Peter Leithart has said, Pentecost is God giving God.  The Spirit of God is God Himself, God’s gift of God.  While the Spirit is called the 3rd person of the Trinity, He is the first we meet as it is by and through the Spirit that we receive all things from the Father and Son.  The Spirit was at Creation and has been with God’s People since the beginning.  But at Pentecost, God’s gift of God came to fill and be within His People.

This Sunday is where Christians have traditionally remembered the Day of Pentecost.  As with all special days, they are not special in themselves.  The realities of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and even Pentecost are such that they should be with us every day.  So the day is not special in itself.  But a day can give us opportunity to do specific reflection upon a certain spiritual reality.

Pentecost was a pre-existing Jewish festival to remember the giving of the law to Moses at Mt Sinai.  That, though, is not why Christians remember it.  On Pentecost, God did something profound.  He sent His Holy Spirit to fill and empower Jesus’ disciples.  Those small group of disciples became the new-born Christian Church.

The entire story is spectacular and almost impossible to imagine what it would have been like (although it’s fun to imagine!)  Noise like rushing wind, tongues of fire on their heads, speech in foreign languages they would have never been able to know naturally.  But then the true purpose of Pentecost happened.  Whatever was happening in that room burst out into the public realm, the ethnically diverse crowd from many nations around the world heard them tell the mighty works of God.

This was not the only filling of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts – being filled is a continual command and joyously repeatable! – but it was the first.  And it shows what the great purpose of the Holy Spirit is.  Not to give gifts and experiences to God’s People so they can enjoy them like toys.  But to cause them to burst out into the world and make Christ and His Gospel known.

Making a strong case, Graham Cole recently said that the filling of the Spirit is never for it’s own sake in the New Testament.  Experiences are given and should be enjoyed and testified of.  Spiritual gifts should be sought and used.  These, however, always are in service to the greater purpose – the expansion of the Gospel into all the earth.  The Spirit fills, and empowers, and gifts, for that grand purpose.

Pentecost is the Anti-Babel.  To reverse the sin caused division and confusion of the peoples of the world.  It is God’s People filled and empowered to let all peoples hear of God’s mighty works.  It is to bring the Good News of Jesus Messiah to all those who need to hear.  God’s Spirit gives power for God’s Mission.

It’s Pentecost – drink deep, be filled, and let us get to work.

Touch this Mountain…

The idea that everyone is strong enough to bear immediate contact with God is false, and conceivable only by an age that has forgotten what it means to stand in the direct ray of divine power, that substitutes religious ‘experience’ for the overwhelming reality of God’s presence.  Romano Guardini, The Lord.

 

from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, 1907

from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, 1907

Also…  Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it.  Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.  Ex 19:12

You cannot see my face, for man shall not see my face and live.  Ex 33:20