Holy Spirit

The Year the Spirit Carried Me

As I woke up on my 45th birthday I knew that I had to make one of the most important decisions in my life. One that would change me from the person I was “before cancer” to one that I would become “after cancer”. On that day, I gave myself the most important gift I could: the best chance to live another 45 years. I called my doctor and scheduled my mastectomy. Thankfully, I did not have to make this decision alone because God had given me and all of us a very special gift to help us get through whatever life throws at us.

In John 14, Jesus is trying to prepare the apostles for what is to come as the prophecy of His death gets closer. He is telling them that when He leaves them, he will not leave them orphaned, God will provide another friend, the Spirit of Truth, so that they will always have someone with them. I am so grateful that I had that same spirit in me to help me get through one of the most difficult years of my life. It took 3 weeks, but the Holy Spirit stayed with me and helped me make the decision to have a mastectomy. I had three options to consider that caused me many nights of lying awake praying for guidance to make the “right” decision. Thankfully, the cancer was caught early and did not require me to have any chemo. I felt like I got off easy because I didn’t have to go through months of sickness or losing my hair, but I only needed to sacrifice a part of my body. During this time the Holy Spirit was with me; the wonderful thing about of having a friend like this is that I was never alone. I was able to get through every test, MRI, and hospital visit without being anxious, worried or scared. It was truly amazing! The Holy Spirit was there with me every step of the way holding my hand hand telling me that I was going to be OK. Three surgeries and I year later I am happy to be cancer free!

 “After cancer” Allison is now a very different person. Just hearing that C word made me stop dead in my tracks and caused me to reevaluate my life. It made me change how I viewedall aspects of my life; family, friends, work…It was a wake-up call for many areas of my life. I felt like the Spirit was Cher in “Moonstruck” when she slaps Nicolas Cage and screams, “Snap out of it!” I needed this wake up call to prepare for what was to come, for the new plan that God had for me. I probably would not have listened if it weren’t for the Holy Spirit being right by my side.

One of those wake-up calls for me was the stress related to my job. I had taught in the public school system for the previous 17 years and I can honestly say that I loved going to school every day. Unfortunately, the job also came with a great deal of stress with curriculum changes and increased regulations and requirements. I had seen research that showed links between cancer and stress, and I needed to eliminate some stress from my life.

That year I prayed non-stop for guidance on what I was going to do if I left teaching. I considered going back to school for something totally different–hair stylist, massage therapy for cancer patients, accountant so I could work for my husband’s company–but nothing seemed right. I read books, looked online, and prayed and prayed and prayed for some sort of sign or clarity about where I should go. And that’s when I had another “Snap out of it!” moment.

A meeting with the principal of Eastern Christian Elementary School about math curriculum turned into an aside about a position opening in the 3rd grade the next school year. As soon as I got into my car, I could hear the Holy Spirit’s voice: “This is it! This is what you were praying for! You don’t need to go back to school, or do something different. You can do what you love, and what you were meant to do.” About a year had passed from the day I heard the most devastating news of my life to the day I signed my new contract.

I have been teaching at ECES for 3 months and this, too, has been a gift from God. There have been so many wonderful ways that this has made me a better person and teacher. Most importantly, I have grown closer in my relationship with God. I get to praise Him and pray every day with my students. My Monday devotions with staff is so amazing, I don’t know how I have gone through life without it! I get to participate in Chapel every Tuesday and witness God’s children praising Him and learning about His word. Every day I witness and see the power of the Holy Spirit in my students, my colleagues and myself.

Looking back, I don’t think I would have listened to the Holy Spirit whispering to me if I hadn’t had cancer and taken time to reevaluate my life. I was usually caught up in “life” and didn’t take a lot of time to stop and listen. And the truth is, I wouldn’t have gotten through any of it–through cancer, tough decisions, and bold career moves–without the Holy spirit guiding me and being with me every single day.

This is the best kind of gift! The kind that doesn’t cost a thing, keeps on giving, and most importantly is a gift from God. During this season of Advent, take time out of the hustle and bustle of buying and wrapping gifts and spend time listening to one of the greatest gifts that you were already given: the Holy Spirit!

The Spirit Speaks

"And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit."

Mark 13:11

Working in an environment where you are one of few Christ-followers can be very difficult. In our culture, I am taught to stick to my own beliefs and respect other's differences. At church, I am taught to share the Gospel, advance the Kingdom, and plant seeds in people's lives. I wrestled with this for awhile until I decided to try to show my love of Christ to my coworkers and see what would happen. I spent so much time stressing over what to say and how to say it. I worried about people treating me differently if I spoke about the Lord too much and often wondered how to approach conversations in a Christ-like fashion. I learned years ago that the Holy Spirit lives inside of me, but I never fully understood what that meant. Many of us are like that; we live our lives hearing what we're taught, but it's not until we experience it ourselves that we are transformed. Honestly, I was so consumed with figuring it out on my own I forgot about the Spirit. That is, until fall of last year.  

Last October, my friend and coworker, Aubrey Pappas, was tragically killed driving home from school. She was 5 months pregnant with her second child.

When a person experiences sudden grief, the mind goes blank. It's such a shock that the words have trouble formulating. Usually, going to work helps distract the pain and momentarily takes their mind off of the suffering. But when that grief is joined by 120 other coworkers and 1,000 students, it's hard to escape it. I knew going to school was going to be very difficult. I knew that there were coworkers that have known her for years and were going to need support. But what do you say in a public school where practicing religion is not allowed? "...for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit." 

That first morning back, Substitutes were placed on standby to cover our classes if we needed to leave the classroom. I managed to make it through first period, but once second period started, a phrase kept going through my mind. I kept thinking, "You need to find Laurie. You need to see if Laurie is okay." I found myself leaving my room and following my coworker, Laurie, through the halls all morning while she checked on Aubrey's former students. Laurie and Aubrey had been teammates for 10 years and shared the same kids. In that moment, I had no control over what I was thinking or doing, all I know is that something inside of me told me Laurie needed me by her side.

I remember crying the entire way to school. I remember crying during homeroom. But when I was with Laurie, I was so focused on getting her water, making sure she ate, following her as she hugged her students that I don't remember my own emotions. I kept thinking, What am I doing here? These aren't my students. This is so painful watching the kids react. Laurie is fully capable of doing this without me. But I couldn't leave.

The Holy Spirit does amazing things in our lives. Last week, I met Laurie for dinner and we found ourselves sharing memories of Aubrey. Out of nowhere she says, "You know, that morning after, when you were with me, every time I started to crumble I looked over and you were right by my side. You gave me the strength to be strong for the kids. I will never forget that." 

In Mark 13, Jesus is explaining all of the situations that will happen to the disciples before He returns to Earth. Jesus tells them that many people will put us on trial and expect explanations of our actions, but to not fear because the Holy Spirit will speak for us when that time comes. I believe that the Spirit not only helps us during times of trouble, but throughout our every day lives.

Losing Aubrey was devastating. At first, I had no idea how the school would be able to function without her. There are still some hard days among faculty members a year later, but I no longer stress about what to say to them. I've learned that God has a secret weapon that can be so powerful and purposeful, and I am simply a vessel for His word. God doesn't expect us to always know what to say or do in situations, because it's not about us. It's never about us. He knows what needs to be communicated and how to help us. He wants to help us so much, He put the Holy Spirit inside of each and every one of us! It is one of the most amazing gifts we will ever receive, and we need to use it more. That gut feeling you have? That voice inside of your head? Those aren't you. That's your Helper, the Spirit; and He's telling you that you are not alone in this.

Here is a prayer you can pray every day to remind yourself that the Helper has been sent to you: Heavenly Father, I pray that moving forward, you will allow your Helper, the Holy Spirit, to speak and act for me when words come up short. I pray for opportunities for the Spirit to show through, use me as a vessel for your good. Amen.

Pushed into Joy

I was in my early twenties, sitting in a conference with a bunch of other Youth Pastors, listening to Andy Stanley speak on leadership. I’ve never forgotten what he said. 

In talking about organizational change, he said that every person–and every decision–has a certain risk quotient. As it relates to people, he meant that every person is wired differently and a decision that may seem perfectly clear to one person may seem overly risky to another; we are all hard-wired to need a certain level of information before we can make a decision, and that level varies based on the individual. Of course, the decision itself can also affect the risk-quotient. Big decisions require a significant amount of information in order to limit the risk; on the other hand, we may make small decisions–like driving to a store just to check if something we want is “in stock”–without much concern for the risk at all. Even if the store doesn’t carry what we are looking for, there wasn’t much loss associated with the decision to drive out and check.

Several years after hearing that talk on leadership I was asked to take a test as part of my assessment for church planting that would indicate my level of comfort with taking risk. The results came back, solidly in the “average” territory. What I’ve discovered over the years is that for me to be comfortable with a decision means that I need a reasonable amount of information before making a choice. I’ve made what others may consider to be risky decisions, but as far as I was concerned, I had all the information I needed.

At least, most of the time.

My desire to have just the right amount of knowledge, mixed with just the right amount of certainty, means that I am not typically swayed by how I feel about something in the moment. Unfortunately, it also means that I am not typically swayed by things like “the Holy Spirit’s voice”. If the Holy Spirit wants me to make a risky decision, he has one of two choices, as far as I’m concerned: either he can give me the knowledge and the certainty, or he can make it so obvious that it’s Him that I’d be a fool to resist, even if I don’t know how it’s all going to work out.

It’s that second one that scares me, and it happened to me on January 31st, 2010.

Christi and I were visiting a rag-tag group of people in North Jersey who were trying to have a church service together and just needed people to preach. We didn’t know what to expect. Our life was recently in disarray. We had entered the New Year looking for new opportunities, trying to determine where God was leading us. We thought we were supposed to stay in New York State, where we lived, near family. I hadn’t preached in a while and was nervous. I had slept on a friends floor the night before. I had to drive through Dunkin' Donuts because there were no Starbucks on the way to the church. It was rough.

The service ended up going fine, but it’s what happened afterwards that changed the trajectory of our lives.

We got in the car.

We looked at each other.

And we knew we were supposed to be at Restore.

At that particular moment, the “risk quotient” of making a decision like that would have been the equivalent of “foolish”. We had…one percent, two percent?…of the information that we needed to be able to say that this was where we were supposed to go. But the voice of the Holy Spirit was unmistakeable: just call them and see what happens.

Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. Most of the time, the way the Spirit does that is by guiding us through the process of planning, discovery, and ultimately confidence in decision making. He uses our “hard-wiring” to achieve his results. But sometimes, the Holy Spirit pushes more than guides, and says, “Here. You probably couldn’t have figured this out on your own.”

And what a gift that is. The Spirit, dwelling in our hearts, prompting us forward to obey God’s call on our lives, leading us into joy. That gift is worth the risk any day.

Putting Words in my Mouth

Some years ago, my passion for horses found me riding several days a week at a stable near our home. During my hours there, I became friends with an older man named “Jerry” who served as a general caretaker and repairman around the property. Jerry was a gentle soul and mostly kept to himself, but over time we had some fairly meaningful conversations, some of which occasionally veered into topics related to religion. Jerry’s religious background included an upbringing within a very stern Catholic culture, and it became clear that he still struggled with issues of guilt and reward. For the most part, I listened to his stories and laughed with him, and tried to share some “Reformed wisdom,” even while I wasn’t sure how much he wanted to hear or, for that matter, what more I could say.

During those years, I was also involved with worship planning activities at our church. For one particular sermon series, our pastor was going to be patterning his messages after Phillip Yancey’s book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” and those of us on the planning team were encouraged to read it as well. It was the week of one our planning meetings, and I had fallen a bit behind in my reading; I still remember sitting up late on a Wednesday night trying to get caught up, power-reading through chapter after chapter about the incredible scope and power of God’s grace, available even to those who by societal standards seem so undeserving…Jeffrey Dahmer…members of the KKK…Nazi soldiers who partook in the holocaust…the thief on the cross…how Mother Theresa needs grace as much as each one us and God does not grade on a curve.

The next morning I was back at the barn, and soon bumped into Jerry, who seemed especially serious: “I need to talk to you.” It was like he finally allowed something in his soul to uncork and he started rattling off questions. Questions about—of all things—GRACE. His very first question: “So do you mean to tell me that a serial child molester can just accept Jesus at the last minute and go to Heaven?” 

And guess what, I had unknowingly crammed for this “examination” just 12 hours earlier, and I knew just what to say, illustrations and everything! For the next 30 minutes, I am certain Jerry heard exactly what he needed to hear about grace and I could answer every question he threw at me.

Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say.” (Matt. 10:19)

I know it’s true.

God had a plan to share His good news with Jerry, and prepared the road that led to the conversation on that Thursday morning, equipping me with both the content and confidence I needed. The same Holy Spirit that was poured out on the disciples has been gifted to each and every true believer, what awesome power lives in us! So go boldly into any situation that God may lead you; you’ll not face it alone!

The Promised Holy Spirit

“I’m leaving”, Jesus said to his disciples.

They looked at him incredulously, waiting for the punchline. Waiting for him to explain it to them, in the way that he always did, when they were confused by something he said.

Jesus didn’t flinch. “You seem sad.”

Sad? Maybe. Scared? Definitely. Confused? No question. If Jesus was going to leave them all–and where was he going anyway?–then what was the point of having followed him all these years? What was all this talk about the Kingdom of God, if Jesus was leaving? 

The disciples stood there silently waiting for Jesus to finish his thought.

“I’m going back to my Father”, Jesus said. “But here’s what I want you to know, and you know I’m telling you the truth! It’s better for you if I leave. I’m going to send you another Helper. And if I don’t go away, I can’t send him. He’s going to give you all the power you need to continue to carry out my mission in the world.”

The disciples still didn’t understand what Jesus meant, but they trusted him enough that this simple promise gave them hope.

Soon enough, Jesus really was gone. They had walked through the darkness of his death, rejoiced with him in his resurrection, and now they stood, staring up into the sky, where Jesus had just ascended into the clouds. He had said it again: I’m sending you my Spirit.

It wouldn’t take long until they understood–not just in theory, but in experience–what he actually meant. They were gathered in a room, praying, waiting on God, when the Spirit finally came. It was more powerful than they had anticipated. They were driven from the room. The people in the courts of the temple were shocked when Peter, a lowly, uneducated fisherman, stood up and began speaking in a way that they could all understand.

The crowds of people from all over the earth listened as Peter told them about Jesus, about his life, his death, and his resurrection. About how Jesus was the one who was promised. And, sadly, about how Jesus was the one who was crucified.

The people were devastated when they heard this news, and begged Peter, “what can we do now?”

“Turn back to God!”, Peter said. “And you’ll receive the same gift that I received, that drove me from that room and brought me out here. It’s the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Every person who follows Christ has been given the same gift of the Holy Spirit that compelled the disciples to face their fears, go outside, and begin preaching the Gospel. But what does that mean? Join us tomorrow in person at 10:30 am, or live online at live.restoreworship.org as we consider what it means to have been given the Gift of the Holy Spirit.