Come, Holy Spirit, Come

A scripture on the Holy Spirit:
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)

I wrote earlier about praying not to be overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, but merely to be “whelmed.” In the interaction between the angel and Mary, it strikes me as interesting that the angel never brings a request for Mary’s permission, although Mary does humbly and piously submits to the overshadowing. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” is the message, not “The Holy Spirit, with your permission, will come upon you.” Similarly, when Jesus goes into the desert, he is driven by the Holy Spirit to do so (See Matthew 4:1 in The Message translation).

“The Holy Spirit is a gentleman,” some say (perhaps first said by evangelist David Watson), and will not go anywhere uninvited. Perhaps. But Jesus himself said wind and spirit “blows where it wills.” It is perhaps easier not to resist the Spirit, but I wonder about the complicated relationship between our will and the Spirit’s will.

Come, Holy Spirit, come;
Let thy bright Beams arise,
Dispel the Darkness from our Minds
And open all our Eyes.

Chear our desponding Hearts,
Thou heav’nly Paraclete;
Give us to lie, with humble Hope,
At our Redeemer’s Feet.

Revive our drooping Faith;
Our Doubts and Fears remove;
And kindle in our Breasts the Flames
Of never-dying Love.

Convince us of our Sin;
Then lead to Jesu’s Blood:
And to our wond’ring View reveal
The secreat Love of God.

Shew us that loving Man,
That rules the Courts of Bliss,
The Lord of Hosts, the mighty God,
Th’ eternal Prince of Peace.

‘Tis thine to cleanse the Heart,
To sanctify the Soul,
To pour fresh Life on ev’ry Part,
And new create the Whole.

If thou, celestial Dove,
Thine Influence withdraw,
What easy Victims soon we fall
To Conscience, Wrath and Law!

No longer burns our Love;
Our Faith and Patience fail;
Our Sin revives; and Death and hell
Our feeble Souls assail.

Dwell therefore in our Hearts;
Our Minds from Bondage free.
Then shall we know, and praise, and love,
The Father, Son, and Thee.

–Joseph Hart, Hymns, & c composed on various subjects

The Annunciation

The Annunciation


The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)

Usually this section of scripture is used in worship or in spiritual direction. It is cited in support of how we should greet and accept the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to consider it as evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Just what does it mean then to be “overshadowed”? I would guess it means having something happen to you that is outside of your range of experience and abilities. The mental image I have is of a large cloud passing over you and stopping right above you. And then it would descend upon you and enclose you. If one did not know this cloud was benevolent, it might be scary.

We often refer to the working of the Spirit as something that happens within one’s mind or soul. It is inner work. But this verse takes about external workings. My concordance pinpoints the word “overshadow” having shade cast on you or being enveloped. That reminds me of the time our family was picnicking up in the mountains, and the day was cool enough up in the high mountains that the area where we were was in the clouds. It was chilly and unworldly. Because of the chill we as a family huddled together for warmth and to feel the sense of security that we were not alone. It is like that sometimes when the Holy Spirit ‘comes upon’ you. It is good then to be in community, to share with each other what this experience is like.

As we seek the Holy Spirit’s presence, let us uphold one another and share our experiences. Whether it be with a trusted friend, a spiritual director, minister or someone in your congregation, share with them and be present with them in this journey. May we all feel the presence of the Holy Spirit according to God’s plan. Shalom, Carole


Forever Buildings

“He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” ( 2 Samuel 7:13)

As I read this verse, I was very aware that it is taken out of context. And I must confess that I wrestled with meaning of the verse in this context, and the new meaning it is given when taken out of context. But I believe there is a way to mediate this duality. Consider along with me.

Nathan was given a message by God to tell to King David. David was not to build a house for God; but one of David’s offspring would. Now this verse is used to point to Jesus’ role, and the Confession of Faith cites it as a verse supporting Jesus fulfilling the messianic promises given to Israel. But it was first said to David by God through Nathan’s prophetic role.

David had grand visions of building a house for God because David lived in grand style, but the Ark was still in a tent. David was going to build a monument to God, but in this passage God is the one who will establish David and his family. The inference is that one of David’s descendent will build a house for the Lord. Interestingly though verse 14 says, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him.” But Jesus was said to be without sin. So, whom is this passage talking about? And what are we to take from this?

I think it is a reality check, both for King David and for us. The “he” who is talked about I think is Solomon. But Solomon’s kingdom, and the house he built, did not last forever. David’s kingdom and palace did not last either. In the same way, nothing that we build with our human efforts will last forever either. But God is building through us, the same way Yahweh was building a nation and a people through David. The building stones for God’s house are not made of rocks or wood or even cedar timbers. It is not what humanity builds that is forever; it is what God builds with us. God’s house is made of faithful believers, and the cornerstone, the foundation of that house, is Christ Jesus. Amen!

Happy anniversary

Today is the first anniversary of “a simple desire.” I started this weblog as a spiritual discipline to get me (re)engaged in reading and meditating on scripture, and as an attempt to find my place as a Mennonite voice on the web. Being the kind of person I am, I counted up the number of words I’ve written in the past year here, and it came to over 10,000 words. Being the kind of person my wife is, she counted up the new friends I’ve made.

I’m happy to officially announce what has been true for a while, that two of my new friends, Carole Boshart and John Thomas, will be writing commentaries for “a simple desire.” John has, of course, been doing so for some time, and I appreciate the honesty and life experience he brings. In fact, Carole has been writing for a while too. I could count on her to write thoughtful comments, especially if I asked a question that I hoped people would respond to. I’m glad that Carole will be joining as a co-author.

The other new writer is someone I’ve known for a while now–Bess Fitzgerald, to whom I am privileged to be married. I won’t get all swoony here, but I always look forward to reading what she has to say.

And I would be remiss unless I mentioned one other new friend; the Sip of Scripture editor, Melodie Davis. Melodie has been unreservedly supportive of “a simple desire,” writing us up, patiently answering questions, even commenting on occasion.

Part of the discipline for me has been to write a commentary for every day’s scripture, in season and out, whether I particularly wanted to or not, and to write honestly and without a lot of rhetorical flourish–that means a lot of typographical errors, for the most part. And, praise God, I believe that this goal has been accomplished over the past year. Bess and I have felt led to start a house-based church in Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship, and currently I am doing most of the teaching during worship. Preparing for teaching and writing this commentary are starting to compete for time and brain-space, and so I am relieving myself of the discipline of daily commentary. This, of course, is another reason for me to be glad that John, Carole and Bess will be writing for “a simple desire.” I won’t promise there will be commentary every day going forward–in fact, I’ve tried to make clear to all involved that I’m laying no burden on anyone. But it will be interesting to see what rhythms develop.

So, thank you John, Carole and Bess for joining as co-authors; and thank you Melodie and the other folks at the Third Way website for such good support. It has been a blessing to write “a simple desire,” and I pray God that it will be a blessing to read in the coming year.

(And, I extend an open invitation to any readers of “a simple desire” to consider joining us as a writer. If you are interested, send me an email at will-dot-fitzgerald-at-pobox-dot-com, replacing the -dot- and -at- with the usual symbols).

Loving God, loving neighbors

A scripture on God’s Nature:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)

This is, of course, the Shemma, the great command of the Law; and it, along with “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is enshrined by Jesus as the cornerstone of righteous living. They who are able to love the Lord God with all their heart, soul and strength, and love their neighbors as themselves, do everything that God asks of them. This furthermore provides a lens for understanding all of scripture: Ask how a passage helps you love God and your neighbor, and you understand what the passage has to teach you, at least with respect to your actions and behavior. May the Spirit of God strengthen our love for God and our neighbor.

Loving God Completely

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)

Hear O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. To the Israelites, it was important to know and understand that there was only one God. God stood alone as sovereign Lord, apart from all other things. The Israelites had been led back to the land that had been promised to them. They needed to be reminded of what was to be most important in their lives. The Shema is one of the most important and one of the first prayers learned by Jews, even in this day and age. It is central to their understanding of who God is and who they are in relation to God.

We need to remember that too; that God stands alone and apart from all other considerations. Whatever other things are happening in our lives and in our world, this is a unchangeable truth. And we have to consider what we are using our energy, our heart, soul and strength, for. Are we putting everything we have towards showing God love? And as a consequence of that love, what are our actions showing?

We are to use everything that is within us to love God. But this does not just mean saying the words loudly and often. If we were just to use our voices, the verse would say with a loud voice at the top of your lungs. But it does not. It says with all your heart; all the feeling and emotions you have. It also says with all your soul; with all the believe and fortitude that is in your psyche. And it says with all your strength; with all the muscle and sinew that is in your body. And it should be obvious that you are doing it. All your actions should shout the love you have for God. And loving God is also praising God. So let us, you and I, praise God a little.

Praise God for the mercy shown to us! Praise God for the love and compassion shown to us! Praise God whose patience and compassion knows no limits! Praise God “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, not things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (Romans 8:39) Yes, praise God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Praise God, Amen!

Dear Lord,
We have heard of you, O Lord. We love you with all our heart, soul and might. And we seek to love our neighbor as you have loved us. But we are a people whose actions have not always shown the love you have shown us. As we strain to hear your message of love, hope and mercy, give us the power to praise you, and the certainty that you are Lord of the heavens and our strength in our hours of need. Be with those who rejoice in your creation and praise your name. Form us into a people who can hope in the days to come, and praise you in the difficult hours.

These things we lay before you, in your name. Amen.

Who is king in the kingdom of God?

A scripture on The Reign of God:

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name. (Zechariah 14:9)

It’s easy to forget that when we talk about the importance of the message and reality of extending the reign of God that there is a monarch behind it all–God really does have rights to rule, and what it means for God’s reign to be extended is for more and more people to truly acknowledge that rule. Much of that has to do with the way we treat one another, of course–these are the “rules” of God’s reign, but I think there is such a thing as doing the right thing for the wrong reason. This is better than doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason, but it’s not the best we can do.

Consider an example: you want to see, and work towards getting, a school built in a poor part of the Sudan. If it’s done for one’s own glory, or even (patronizingly) just to help the poor starving Sudanese, it’s not the best. Rather, to give God the glory God deserves, and to work in partnership with people in Sudan, creating a link between peoples, a link that goes both ways, creating a sense of community–this is more in the manner of extending God’s reign.

Prophets Old and New

“The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.” (Zechariah 14:9)

The writer of Zechariah had great faith and great hope in the coming of God. All the things that were wrong would be set right. But Zechariah and the other prophets during the time of the Old Testament were not always heeded. They must have felt their words were being blown away on the winds.

In a world where leaders of nations come and go, and nations themselves change from one era to the next, something that will last is of great value. And I think it was the hope of this consistency that gave the prophets of old and the prophets in modern time the energy and fortitude to keep speaking God’s holy word.

Where, you might ask, are these modern day prophets? I would imagine there is one present in most gathering of the faithful this morning. And more than likely, he or she is the one giving the sermon or message this morning. You might be one, or you might know of one. Furthermore, I would imagine, in one way or another the words these modern day prophet are speaking to their fellow believers is based on this biblical truth. That the Lord will one day reign and that this reign will be the only one on earth and in heaven. Don’t let their message fall on deaf ears. Shalom, Carole

The Lord is king

In a recent NOVA segment, a scientist was explaining physics at a chalkboard. He was trying to speak clearly, simply and hold his temper as his unseen audience struggled to follow him and failed to respond with any evidence of comprehension. The camera pulled back to reveal his lone student to be a dog. Some beings have no chance of insight. Already today the Lord is king. Someday everyone will know it for a fact, but now Christians live with a different perception than most people. It is bewildering to both unbelievers and believers to see decisions based on wholly distinct viewpoints about who is in charge.

Meek, grieving, persecuted, hungry – these seem key times to show God, ourselves and the world about whom we believe to be in charge. “Blessed are you…” These trials are chances to show whom we trust. And these experiences being common to all, are cracks through which we can share with non-believers. The Lord is King!

Pondering Citizenship

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

There have been many times in my life when I have been asked what my citizenship is. Some of the times that stand out are those when the inquiry has been official, and I have answered truthfully and straightforwardly, accompanied by the appropriate documents. But the answer I like to use the best is that I am a citizen of God’s world. As much as I like being a Canadian citizen, and that I appreciate the fact that the U.S. government has given me a very “permanent” permanent resident alien status, I dislike being labeled as being part of any particular citizenry.

Just a few generations ago on my father’s side, my ancestors were new to this country. And on my mother’s side, they are staunch Mennonites having deep roots in the Anabaptist way of thinking about citizenship. So there is great precedence for me to have a unique form of patriotism. I also have some good friends whose citizenship is not American or Canadian, and I have privileged to see the world and consider national allegiances through their eyes.

What binds us all together, my forefathers and foremothers, good friends and fellow Christians is a common belief that the hereafter (what will come after this life) is more important than the here and now. And what we accumulate and accomplish in this world has value only in terms of what it will mean and translate into for world to come.

God’s kingdom is an awkward concept. It is here and now only because we as believers make it here and now. Its true arrival and being established will only happen when Christ returns. So we live now, but we live for the future. We are here now, but look to what will come. Truth to tell, I am not sure how all of this is supposed to work. But then, I do not have to know. All I have to do is live day by day following God’s word and Christ’s example. And work for Shalom being a reality for all people in all the world.

Shalom, Carole