The big story starts in the garden but then flounders as it makes a left turn down my street. The big story of a big God with a heart reaching out in love toward His creation seems to run out of steam when it reaches my street. Here, on my street, the evidence of His heart fades behind red bricks and mortar, children waiting for the bus, neighbors swearing into their phones in cars, and gaggles of teens in the middle of the street, extensions long down their backs. These aren’t scenes of tragedy or mayhem, but scenes of quietly compounding desperation.
The garden … my street. The garden’s promise of fruit and health, of rewarding work and evening conversations, has been reduced to a fistful of bills and contracts, only gently assuaged by the new-car smell enabled by a 60-month lease.
And yet, there’s this allure of the garden, isn’t there? Modern people don’t long for the garden. They long for vacations, but it’s the same desire. We modern people go to TripAdvisor to check out cruises and exotic hotels with bungalows suspended over turquoise lagoons to momentarily escape the red brick-and-mortar realities of the streets on which we live. Fifty weeks of drudgery and snow and unfulfilling jobs are offset by the promises of a website for a bungalow over the lagoon.
But the sad reality of those two-week vacations is that they’re more disappointing than the other 50 weeks. We look forward to them, and then they’re riddled with letdowns and, somewhere in the middle of them, we find ourselves dreaming about home; about our streets where we live. The final days of a vacation are filled with dreams of home.
We are always dreaming of vacations while the real possibility of true satisfaction is hovering nearer than the next mouse click.
Hovering over my street is an ever-present benevolent friend. Hovering, that’s what this big friend of ours does. He hovers, always just accessible. He’s not a “force” or a genie inside us all, but a real presence with a real identity … the good Spirit of God hovering over our streets, over our hearts. And, best of all, He’s good! Remember when we used to call Him the “Holy Ghost”? But that got muddled up with Casper the Friendly Ghost, so now we better name Him the “Holy Spirit.” That “Holy” only means He’s pure and unlike us.
This benevolent friend is how God is active among us. Followers of Jesus can’t opt out of the Spirit’s activity, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. We don’t have the option of somehow stopping short of a Pentecostal experience because the Holy Spirit is not some “Level 2” gaming experience. The Holy Spirit is one with the Father, one with the Son. They are all three, one! These are not three gods; this is One God.
Although, to be sure, like the Ephesians, we can have a partial knowledge and a limited experience of the depth of God’s fullness for us, brought by His Spirit. But make no mistake, the relationship that begins with a transaction (which is what the Ephesians had understood, “the baptism of repentance”) doesn’t end with that transaction. The restoration of all our relationships, the health of all things, the going-forward to well-being … these are also the work of the Spirit and the expected course of our growth in Christ. This is a delight to be expected by each follower of Jesus.
The big story of the garden, the Spirit hovering over my street and my heart, the co-linking of the transaction of salvation with the relationship of salvation — all of these bring us to spectacular wonderment. When the realization that the Holy Spirit of God is available to us — no, more like wooing us toward a complete overwhelming of everything desperate and unfulfilling in our lives — that realization sweeps us into a euphoric optimistic assurance of a vacation-like release from the oppression of all that is dark and tragic in our streets.
Like viewing a majestic herd of elk or a pride of lions, or standing dumbstruck before Niagara or Half Dome, glimpsing the present reality of our big friend — the very One who hovered over the inky darkness before creation — floods us with the light of expectation and the assurance of goodness. Regardless of how dismal the situation may be on our local street, there’s a vacation-like healing of mega proportions for us, those on our street and around the globe. Real bungalows for all!
David Roller served for 17 years as a Free Methodist missionary in Mexico and then for 10 years as Latin America area director for Free Methodist World Missions. He was first elected a bishop in 2007.