Acts Chapter 19 says that the Apostle Paul wandered into Ephesus and found some believers in Jesus. He asked them, “Have you received the Spirit since you believed?” They said, “ No, we haven’t even heard that there was a Spirit!”.
The Acts 19 story certainly parallels my own life. Neither my family or church talked about the Holy Spirit in my youth.
In part one 1 of this series I explained that even though my church went through a theological reformation in 1994-95, and adopted the evangelical doctrine the trinity, the person of the Holy Spirit still continued to be a mystery. After living as an evangelical thereafter and being immersed in the traditional evangelical community it is apparent they deemphasize the Spirit when compared with the attention that they give to God the Father and God the Son. Even though they embrace the trinity as co-equal branches of God, clearly the Spirit is more vague and opaque.
Furthermore, how they teach us to receive the personal indwelling of the Spirit is put forth as a merely intangible silent experience that automatically happens to you when you believe in Jesus. To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is something you don’t need to even think about. And the miraculous act of being “baptized in the Spirit”, as Jesus told us he would do (Matthew 3:11), is only taught as a type or shadow. We are taught that Jesus’s words are not literally in that He was only describing the moment at which you hear the word, first believe in Jesus and turn from your sins to God and enter into the Christian community through faith. This is the evangelical interpretation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Notwithstanding the evangelical teaching I received, I had a different experience with the Holy Spirit. Before I go into my personal encounter let me first give you some back story about my relationship with God prior to the event:
I was different than most kids. I was a true God-a-holic. The kind of kid that a fundamental Christian parent would dream of in regard to zeal for God. I was well trained in the Old Testament. My cult-like church ingrained just about every Old Testament Bible story into my little head. I tried to read the Bible as kid and diligently memorized scripture. I took sermon notes from the time I was 7 years ago and even took my own briefcase to church containing Christian paraphernalia. I prayed in public school openly and would often get on my knees to pray in class (especially before tests for all to see). I talked to God with my parents and my non-believing friends constantly and never doubted God’s existence. I had believed from a very young age that God had sovereignly elected me into His Kingdom apart from all others and that He was calling me to be a tele-evangelist. That zeal waned a bit when I hit my early teens but even though I fell into some reckless behavior I would still talk about God and faith to all my friends in the midst of us getting drunk, getting high, or what not. I came to a full faith in Jesus as Lord at the latter years of high school and whole-hardheartedly believed in the gospel. In college I continued seeking God, evangelized to those around me, and would often read the Bible for all to see. I enjoyed quoting the many passages from memory I knew to anyone that would listen. I distinctly remember a time in the middle of college when a marijuana pipe was going around at a house party. When it got to me I chose to abstained. Someone in the group asked “Why?”. To which not only did I tell them it was because of my faith in God but I then proceeded to give a passionate speech about my love for Jesus.
But, despite my childhood upbringing in God and the evangelical faith I embraced as a young adult my everyday life was miserable. I was depressed and lonely. I was trying with all my strength to be a good boy for God and to not do things I knew were wrong with no success. I felt I carried a weight that I could not throw off. Despite my best efforts and white knuckling it in my own strength frustration and sadness always seemed find my way. I was sincerely devout to the Lord but living out my faith was arduous with mixed results at best.
In my third year of college my mother started placing preaching/teaching cassette tapes on the kitchen counter at home. She hoped I would take some with me and listen to them on my 1 1/2 hour weekend drives back to college. Knowing that I was a believer, my parents were encouraging me to get water baptized as well. I had been resisting that for a long time, which is whole another story, but after a few months of baiting me with these cassette tapes I finally grabbed a one. I popped it in the cassette player listened to it in as I started my drive back to Eau Claire, Wisconsin in my red 1979 Chevy Nova. The tape was entitled “Water Baptism”. The teacher on the tape described what water baptism was and how it looked like as it found in the pages of the book of Acts. The part of the teaching I remember the most was when he taught about the different baptisms found in the Bible. He talked about being fully immersed into water as a public proclamation, but then he also talked about the baptism into what Jesus called the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:16).
I don’t remember the depths of what the teacher said specifically about the baptism of the Spirit, except that it is different than water baptism and that it is something that Jesus does to us and not something we or others do to ourselves (like as we do during water baptism). I remember thinking, “Hmmm, I’ve never heard this before? This sounds awesome.” I was totally open to the idea of being baptized in the Spirit. It was the first I heard of such an experience – and I can remember exactly where I was when I heard this teaching: on a bridge on interstate 94 gong over the St. Croix river.
I continued to listen to more teaching tapes and hearing more about the goodness of God and the Spirit-filled life. A few months after I started digging into the tapes I met a girl – and to make a long and beautiful story short I married her 18 months later.
A month or so after we were married I was in our apartment by myself. It was a absolutely gorgeous sunny day outside, my last year of school was going great, we were newlyweds in love, the birds were chirping, and I was very happy! I got on my knees and started thanking God out-loud for the day and all of His awesome blessings. And then, as probably most Christians do when they pray, after a few minutes of praying I totally ran out of thing to say. I mean, how many time can you say, “Thanks God!” until you get bored or feel like your just repeating yourself. But even so, I was just so content and happy about life I didn’t want to stop. I was in so much joy I didn’t know how to express it and I felt like I had more to say. So, again I opened my mouth and and when I began to speak a few words more words spilled out – but to my surprise they weren’t in the English language.
“What the heck was that?” I thought. Shortly thereafter I got up off my knees and went about my day.
I later came to figure out that I must have been worshiping God in what the Jesus and the book of Acts calls tongues. But being the thinker kind of a guy that I am this experience made absolutely NO sense to me when I tried to analyze it logically. The words sounded like total gibberish and nonsense. And when my ears listened to what I was saying my brain just couldn’t wrap its head around what my mouth was doing.
As the weeks and months progressed I would practice and say a sentence or two in tongues. But that’s as long as I could go until my head would try to talk me out of it and tell me this jargon is total crap. I wasn’t involved with a church that believed in tongues so I was on my own. Because of that, it took definitely me over a year to really let this experience let loose to where I could bypass my brain and pray in tongues at great length. The rewards since have been off the chart – see my other post: Tongues – The Gift of Intimacy with God
At the time I didn’t formally label this experience. When I graduated college I deiced to apply to work at a church as a music minister. I remember that during the application process I had to write my testimony of faith to accompany my work resume. In doing so I gave my life’s story and faith journey. When I arrived at the part of my testimony that I just mentioned I simply wrote that prior to this point I had a “dead spirit” (whatever that meant) and that after listening to some teaching cassettes tapes I had some sort of a transformation. I didn’t call it the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” because I wasn’t familiar with that term yet. The testimony I wrote said that I was living my life as a Christian for years but my life was pretty much dead until I had this transformation. So, based upon my own written testimony give at the time, it would be correct to say that this experience I had on that sunny summer day in Eau Claire, WI on my knees was key in having success in my faith, joy, further understanding into the Bible, and deeper intimacy with God. It was a powerful event!
The experience went counter to what I was both taught by my childhood church and in the evangelical church. There was apparently more out there about the Spirit than what I had been hearing on the airwaves and from behind the pulpit. I had some learning to do. I prescribed myself a health dose of study into the scripture. It’s AMAZING what I found out.
Let move onward to part 3 and talk about what I found in the Bible about the Holy Spirit. It gets more fun!!
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!