A sermon on Psalm 22 and the Geography of the Soul

By Joe LaGuardia

Here at the Tapestry blog and the ministries Daphne and I run, we encourage people to pray the psalms.  In fact, our prayer life follows the rhythm of seasons of life and the journey of a faith lived out in a mix of uncertainty and deep abiding faith often exhibited in the psalms.

Did you know that there is a “geography of the soul,” a pattern of contours that follow our highs and lows, joys and sorrows.  But what does this geography look like?  How do we read the maps and the signs of the Spirit’s presence in our life?

I had the privilege of preaching on the geography of the soul at Trinity Baptist Church last month.  Perhaps you will find encouragement in the words of hope of Psalm 22–an unlikely source for victory and a blueprint for navigating the interior space of our soul.

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Scripture encourages self-care

prayerBy Joe LaGuardia

Paul’s first letter to churches in Corinth encourage Christians to remember that their bodies are not their own.  Rather, a Christian’s body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit…bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).

Apparently, Christians in that community believed that God’s salvation liberated them from the fragility and limitations of the body.  This resulted from a wide-spread Greek philosophy that the body and spirit were separate, and that spirit was of the higher order of creation.

Paul, steeped in Jewish rabbinic theology, argued that both body and spirit are liberated unto God, and that there is no separation between the two.  Instead, a triad of a person’s whole being–mind, body, and spirit–were wrapped up in the redemption of Jesus Christ.

If our bodies are just as important as our spirits, so the argument goes, then we must care for both.  Spiritual and physical exercises are as worship unto the Lord, and both must be nurtured for a life of holiness and compassion.

One commentator, J. Dana Trent, writing for the 2015 Disciplines devotional, wrote, “Affirming and caring for our bodies as part of our spiritual self-care helps us experience the one who created us.”  We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

This week, make an effort to care for the mind, spirit, and the body.  Take a few minutes today to read a chapter from a book or from the Bible (mind); spend five minutes in prayer by using a timer (spirit), and take a brisk walk on your block to stretch those muscles and get outside a bit (body).

In so doing, perhaps we too will remember with conviction and clarity that all of our faculties are “members of Christ” (v. 15).

Surprised by the Spirit: A New Year reflection

holy-spirit

By Joe LaGuardia

When Paul laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

I remember the first time I got a taste of the charismatic movement inspired by the Brownsville and Toronto revivals of the mid-1990s.  I was walking into a family friend’s healthfood store when I interrupted the friend and another person in prayer. She looked up at me and said, “Hi, Joe, we’re glad you’re here.  Come and catch my friend as I pray for her.”

I was fifteen at the time, and I didn’t know why I had to “catch” someone during prayer.  Nor did I know why I had to catch a strange woman.  I was very uncomfortable.  Nevertheless, my friend prayed for the woman, she fainted in my arms and I obediently lowered her to the ground.  She was, according to my friend, “slain in the Spirit.”

Shortly after that time I started attending a charismatic Presbyterian church.  Slaying of the Spirit, speaking in tongues, and other gifts became commonplace in weekly worship.  Although I did not have these same experiences (“manifestations,” as some call the gifts) as others in the church, I appreciated the Spirit’s movement in the congregation.  I did not have the same prayer language, but it was that same Spirit that nurtured my faith and inspired my calling.

Charismatic gifts are the things of controversy, but the fruit of the Spirit’s mysterious presence is abundant despite what some may believe.  As a Baptist who has walked with two different camps–one in which charismatic gifts were a way of life, and the other in which “private prayer languages” were all but banned for denominational leaders and clergy (the Southern Baptist Convention had issues in 2007 on the subject)–I know that it is better to give the Spirit room to work than to quench the Spirit by denying Her power.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian community encouraged readers to “not quench the Spirit” and to “test all things” (5:19-21).  Paul argued on behalf of moderation: To claim that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” as expressed by tongues and other manifestations was necessary for salvation was just as erroneous as denying that these same manifestations existed whatsoever.

One thing I learned in my home church is this: The Spirit works differently among Christians and Christian communities.  Only when we deem our own perspective as the “only way” that God works do we start to deny the Spirit’s power in God’s kingdom agenda for all creation.

The Bible also affirms the importance of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity.  The Spirit births creation and life itself according to Genesis.  It’s the Spirit that drove Jesus to the wilderness and anointed him for ministry to the poor, oppressed, captive, and blind (Luke 4).  It is the Paraclete (Greek for comforter) that consoled the disciples in a time of persecution and gave them the appropriate words to say to defend the Gospel.  It is the Spirit that motivated missions, inspired visions, and promoted the work of God in the early church.

The Holy Spirit continues to work in our life even when we forget to acknowledge the Spirit’s presence.  The Holy Spirit continues to impart gifts that grant us power for ministry and missions.

Catching that woman so long ago did not necessarily inspire me to become “slain in the Spirit,” but it did impress upon me a timeless, surprising truth: That my relationship with the Spirit is necessary for an effective life as a Christ-follower.

This year, as you make your New Year’s resolutions, I encourage you too to provide room for the Holy Spirit to work in your life, and to surprise you along the way.