It doesn't even seem real Amelie and I are in Kona, Hawaii. We are eight weeks in, with four to go, before we head off to the Middle East in March, Germany in April, and to Italy for the summer.
I still grapple with the fact we are here; that I am willfully in a tropical climate, homeschooling and in the middle of charismatic Christianity. Albeit fruit in my belief in the sovereignty of God, these are all things I have historically refused to enjoy, participate in or approve of, and God is using my discomfort to shape me more into the image of his son, from one degree to the next.
As I walk this out, I have asked the Lord daily to help my unbelief and remembered that no matter who teaches what, God is good, he does good, and he uses all things for the good of those who love him and are called to his purposes.
These are my three takeaways.
1. GOD CALLS ME TO HIS PURPOSE
He created and has known me since the very beginning. These are things we can, as Christians, say easily, but if we slow down and think on it, its a remarkable thing. Daily, I must set my sights on the Lord who made and is through all things, not on my circumstance or especially, my feelings.
In Genesis 12, God blessed Abraham in what we call the Abrahamic covenant. When we read the text, its mind blowing, really. God didn't bless Abraham for his comfort, happiness, wealth or health. He blessed him so that he could be a blessing to others, as a father of a great multitude, more numerous than the stars in the sky (something to think on since in Moses' day there were no telescopes and Jesus, the greater Moses, had not yet come).
What does this have to do with me or you, Believer? We are to go and make disciples of all nations, and here I am in Kona Hawaii, with a group of people I wouldn't normally be with, whose core belief is to know God and make him known. And it is truly beautiful.
Our first day of class, there was a framed picture on the welcome table that read, "The beginning of life is the end of your comfort zone." We came here to be stretched, but I had no idea just how much that would be. You see, ours is the one organization I said I would never work with because they are more on the charismatic side. Charismania makes me uncomfortable because I value authenticity and have seen fanaticism abuse and deceive the faithful, lost and hurting.
This picture of Ephesians 3:17-19 is one of the foundational reasons we are here, truth the Lord will not allow me to let go.
Unless our identity is in Christ alone, in whom all things hold together (including all the nitty gritty of our personalities, like what we fear and what we trust), we cannot do that honestly. We cannot walk in the fullness and authority that Christ gave us, or allow the Spirit to ignite our hearts and lives to be lights in the dark, to be a people in cities on hills, to bless others in love with the Good News that invades dark places - unless our hearts are wholly his.
I am learning where I have trouble with Charismatic characteristics, I must go to scripture, and look at the indicative and imperatives. My wrestle is not what kind of people believe and engage in charismatic leanings like 'living in the Spirit' and spiritual warfare, but rather, if it's biblically true (thank you Sam Storms for helping me see that). I have come to recognize this is symptomatic of the hurt I have endured from charismatic christianity and that Jesus is enough to hold me together through it, and free me up to even be able to rest in my blood bought identity in Christ. This is a must in order to love others without an agenda wherever I am, but especially as we prepare to lay roots down in Italy.
3. REALITY of the HOLY SPIRIT
Over and over since we have arrived, the Holy Spirit keeps showing me in little ways that I need him as we go forward. When I am triggered by words like 'spiritual warfare' and 'anointing' and 'breakthrough,' it doesn't mean I can just shut down and continue to deny the fullness of God in the Trinity. Jesus himself said, "Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven." It's like want to pack that away in a nice and tidy airtight box right along with those who believe, keep and protect the "God is a Genie Who Sprinkles Fairy Dust" box. Both are ridiculous. God the Father and the Son were present in the beginning in perfect, glad communion with God the Holy Spirit. Just because I have seen people make the Devil their scapegoat and act horribly unloving and cruel in the name of Jesus, in or outside the throws of what they called the Holy Spirit, I cannot continue to deny the Spirit's presence or purpose, nor can I be unwilling to hear anything outside of my reformed theological box because I am called according to his purpose, not my comfort. If I shut down, I cannot love people, I can only judge them, and that is not my job. I do not need to protect myself in withdrawal or denial because in Christ all things hold together, and he is enough.
I realized there is no way I can do what God has called me to unless I deal with these things. This is another reason we are here. In Italy, out of the less than 1% of 61 million who are Bible believing Christians, the majority are pentecostal/charismatic. Unity in Christ is what matters most.
A GENTLE WAVE
To prepare my heart to understand these things he knew would be difficult for me, the Holy Spirit was incredibly gentle. Since arriving here, I have discovered a love for snorkeling. Last weekend, I went to the local beach, and despite the water being rough, my friend invited me to swim in a different spot that was in part, open ocean. I was unsure and even fearful of this, but with a willing spirit, despite not having flippers or being a strong swimmer, I decided to try.
I got about halfway there, and began to get scared. The water was murky due to the waves, which seemed to be so much larger once in the water. I continued on for a bit, attempting to be rational, and then I saw (mostly) open ocean. I knew for me, it would not be wise to go out on my own strength, so I turned back toward the safety of the beach. Along the way, because you can hear yourself breathe, fear became greater and greater as my breathing and my heart beat harder and harder. And then I realized: I was swimming with all of my might, and I was not going anywhere.
That is when I thought my heart would pop out of my chest and fear grew exponentially.
But then, a wave.
It came, and it was like it scooped me up and pulled me back - carefully, and not in danger to drown, but to simply thrust me forward. As that wave had its hold on me, it was like I was free. I was moving. I was taken care of and fear was gone. When I realized that, my arms instinctively began to push water back, just as I had been taught when I was a child. I worked with the wave, and headed safely toward the shore.
In the middle of all that, it was like the Lord told me to hold onto this moment, to remember it (knowing I forget everything) because it was important.
Here is what I know: I couldn't see that wave, nor could I control it, and the same is true of the Holy Spirit.
Because of this, I have been able to trust where he has me, even when it's hard. He knew the week would be hard for me to hear because of all the places I have been hurt.
All I can do in response is marvel at his generosity not to throw me under the weight of that water and crush me with my unbelief, but rather, prepare my heart to know him more and make him known.
That is remarkable.