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  • Adam Schell

Afraid of No Ghosts

Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s the time of year when the sun starts to set a little earlier each night and it gets just a little cooler each day. It’s the time of year when leaves start changing colors and falling from the trees. It’s the time of year when just about every store you visit has out costumes or candy because Halloween is just a few weeks away.

Now, when I was growing up, it seemed like Halloween was a holiday that was only celebrated by kids. But today it seems like more and more people get in on the celebrations every single year. Last year, Statista found that about 70% of Americans were planning to celebrate Halloween.

But, of course, all of these people weren’t going to be throwing on a costume and grabbing an empty bag so they could go trick or treating through their neighborhood. Some people were going to celebrate Halloween by going out to parties, or watching scary movies, or getting together around a campfire to tell good old-fashioned ghost stories.

And, if you were paying attention to the bumper video that we just played, you probably noticed that we’re starting a new series today at Melbourne Heights called “Ghost Stories.” And, after this introduction, you might be a little worried that we’re going to spend the next few weeks talking about Dracula, Frankenstein, or the creature from the Black Lagoon.

But those aren’t the kind of ghost stories we’re going to be talking about this Halloween. No, this Halloween feels like the perfect time to take a closer look at stories about what the King James Version of the Bible calls the Holy Ghost.

Now, when you hear the words Holy Ghost they might sound a little spooky to you or they might make you think about the bad guy in old Scooby Doo cartoons. But the translators of the King James Version weren’t trying to scare you because we shouldn’t be afraid of the Holy Ghost.

We shouldn’t be afraid of the Holy Ghost.

Instead, we need to remember that language is constantly evolving and changing. Like if you heard someone talking about the Amazon 30 years ago, you would’ve known they were talking about a river in South America…but today if someone talks about Amazon they almost always mean the online platform where you can buy anything and everything.

Well, just like the meaning of the word Amazon has changed over the last few decades, the meaning of the word ghost has changed over the last few centuries. Today the word ghost refers to spooky specters or supernatural beings, like the characters in the ghost stories we tell around campfires. But back in the 1600s – when the King James Version of the Bible was written – the word ghost referred to the living essence of a being, something that we would more commonly refer to as someone’s spirit today.

That’s why here at Melbourne Heights we prefer the term Holy Spirit to Holy Ghost. But whether you prefer using the term Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, it’s still really hard to explain what – or more accurately, who – the Holy Spirit is. The truth is that I’ve found that trying to describe the Holy Spirit with theological and doctrinal statements is a little like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. No matter how hard I try to nail down who the Holy Spirit is, it just keeps slipping away.

So if we want to understand what we believe about the Holy Spirit, we can’t focus on simple statements. If we want to better understand who the Holy Spirit is, we need to try a different approach. And that’s what I want to do throughout this series. Over the next few weeks, I want to take a closer look at stories about the Holy Spirit to see what they can teach us about who the Holy Spirit is and how the Holy Spirit works in our world and in our lives.

And I want to get started today by taking a closer look at a story that comes from an unexpected place. I want us to take a closer look at a story that comes from the book of Joel. Now, the book of Joel is found in the Old Testament, and that’s what makes this a place where a lot of us wouldn’t expect to find a story about the Holy Spirit.

When a lot of us think about the Holy Spirit, we think about stories that we find in the New Testament – especially in the book of Acts. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t come into existence in the New Testament. Remember, the Holy Spirit is one of the three persons in the Trinity. And that means that the Holy Spirit has been around from the very beginning…and I mean that literally.

The first reference we have to the Holy Spirit can actually be found in the very beginning of the Bible, all the way back in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1:1, we’re told:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Genesis 1:2 (New International Version)

So even though we tend to think that the Holy Spirit only shows up in the New Testament, we can actually find plenty of stories about the Holy Spirit throughout the Old Testament too. And that brings us back to the book of Joel. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by or a Bible app on your phone go ahead and open it to Joel 1.

Now, I know that a lot of us aren’t really familiar with the book of Joel because it’s tucked away in a section of the Old Testament we refer to as the minor prophets. But that name is a little misleading. We don’t call Joel a minor prophet because his ministry and message weren’t as important as someone like Isaiah or Jeremiah. 

No, we call Joel a minor prophet because his book is nowhere near as long as the books of Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel. The book of Joel is only three chapters long and it’s less than 2,000 words. Which means you can read the entire book in less than ten minutes. But even though the book of Joel is one of the shorter books in the Bible, that doesn’t mean its message isn’t important.

But to truly appreciate what happens in the book of Joel, it helps if you can picture yourself in the most lush and fertile farmland you’ve ever seen. Imagine standing in a field of wheat that comes up to your chest and stretches as far as your eye can see. Imagine walking through a vineyard where every vine is weighed down by clusters of grapes that are as big as your head. Imagine walking through orchards filled with every kind of fruit imaginable – from apples, to figs, to pomegranates – and it’s all ripe for the picking.

But, as you’re standing there looking at the beauty of God’s creation and the abundance of this farmland, you notice a bug that’s about two inches long that looks a lot like a grasshopper…only it’s yellow instead of green. The bug seemed to come out of nowhere, but as it landed on a ripe, red apple you can see it quickly starting to eat. You get so caught up in watching that little bug gorge itself on that apple that you fail to notice that that bug wasn’t alone.

When you finally glance up, you see the tree you were staring at is completely covered with these same little bugs. And when you manage to pull your eyes away from that tree and you look toward the horizon where you can barely see the sun because a swarm of these little bugs – which are called locusts – are heading your way.

As you stand there watching the locusts descend, you realize this isn’t just a minor nuisance. This isn’t a random bug that can be squashed and forgotten about. No, this is a swarm of biblical proportions, quite literally. These locusts are going to devour every green thing in sight. These locusts are going to destroy every bit of food that has been grown. 

Now, depending on the way you feel about bugs, that might seem like a scene straight out of a horror movie. But it’s actually what happens at the beginning of the book of Joel. In Joel 1, we read about the absolute devastation these locusts bring. Joel 1:4 tells us:

4 “What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the devouring locust has eaten.”

Joel 1:4 (Common English Bible)

Everything that Joel’s people – the people of Judah – had worked for, everything they were counting on, everything they needed to survive was being wiped out by this plague of locusts. Swarm, after swarm, after swarm, after swarm of locusts were destroying their wheat fields, their vineyards, and their orchards. And that’s just the start of what Joel tells us about the devastation that was happening in Judah. A few verses later, in Joel 1:10, we’re told:

10 The fields are devastated, the ground mourns; for the grain is destroyed, the new wine dries up, the olive oil fails.

Joel 1:10 (Common English Bible)

And with all the crops destroyed, you can just imagine what that meant for the people and the animals across the land. No wonder Joel 1:18 tells us:

18 How the animals groan! Herds of cattle are in distress because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep pant.

Joel 1:18 (Common English Bible)

Joel goes on to tell us that people were wailing and crying out to God. He tells us the priests were weeping at the altar. He tells us the land was laid waste and the people were desperate. Everything they knew and loved was being destroyed before their very eyes. 

Can you picture all of that? Can you imagine living through something like that? Can you imagine watching helplessly as everything falls apart around you? The people of Judah were experiencing a complete catastrophe. Their lives were being upended in a way that we can’t even begin to imagine. 

But even though we can’t begin to imagine what the people of Juda were going through, even though we haven’t seen all our crops destroyed by locusts, we’ve still experienced moments that shook our lives to the core. Moments where it felt like everything we cared about was being destroyed. 

It may have happened to you when you got a phone call in the middle of the night letting you know someone you love has been involved in a terrible accident. It may have happened to you when you received a diagnosis that felt like a punch in the gut. It may have happened to you when your relationship with your spouse or kids started to crumble and your dreams for the future started to slip away.

No matter how it happened, we’ve all faced moments that upended our lives. And in those moments, when it feels like everything is wrong in our world, we need someone to tell us that things are going to be all right.

When it feels like everything is wrong in our world, we need someone to tell us that things are going to be all right.

And that’s part of what the Holy Spirit does for us. 2 Corinthians 2:4 tells us:

4 He’s the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble.

2 Corinthians 1:4 (Common English Bible)

When we’re facing troubles, the Holy Spirit comforts us.

When we’re facing troubles, the Holy Spirit comforts us. But we need to take a minute to talk about what it means when we say the Holy Spirit comforts us. Because the Holy Spirit doesn’t comfort us by offering us a warm beverage or a pat on the back. 

Now, when the Bible talks about how the Holy Spirit comforts us it uses a specific word, and that’s the Greek word parakaleó. And the word parakaleó means to call someone to your side. So the Holy Spirit is the one that we call to our sides when we’re going through tough times.

But that’s not all that the word parakaleó means. You see this word is also commonly used in a legal context as a way of referring to a person who comes to your side in a legal proceeding. This is someone who testifies on your behalf. And this is someone whose testimony will hold up in court.

So how does all of that help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and how the Holy Spirit comforts us? Well, knowing that the Holy Spirit is our parakaleó means that we know we have someone by our side no matter what we’re going through. 

But the Holy Spirit doesn’t just walk beside us in troubling times. No, the Holy Spirit also testifies that we’ll make it through whatever troubles we face. The Holy Spirit testifies that things will get better, and this isn’t just some generic promise that things will get better. No, the Holy Spirit offers us promises that will stand up in God’s court.

So the Holy Spirit comforts us by walking beside us in life’s most difficult moments and by reminding us of God’s promises…promises that cannot be broken, promises that will be fulfilled.

And this is exactly what happens in the book of Joel. In Joel 2:28, God tells the people of Israel:

28 I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.

Joel 2:28 (Common English Bible)

God promises to pour out his very Spirit to comfort his people. But that’s not all that God has to say in Joel 2. God promises to do more than just comfort them. God promises to restore everything that was lost, everything that was destroyed. God promises: 

21 Don’t fear, fertile land; rejoice and be glad, for the Lord is about to do great things! 22 Don’t be afraid, animals of the field, for the meadows of the wilderness will turn green; the tree will bear its fruit; the fig tree and grapevine will give their full yield.

23 Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the Lord your God, because he will give you the early rain as a sign of righteousness; he will pour down abundant rain for you, the early and the late rain, as before.

24 The threshing floors will be full of grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and fresh oil. 25 I will repay you for the years that the cutting locust, the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the devouring locust have eaten.

Joel 2:21-25 (Common English Bible)

God sees the pain his people are experiencing. God hears their cries for help. And God promises to comfort them by pouring out his Spirit on them. No matter what they face, no matter how devastating life becomes, God promises that through his Spirit God will be with them, God will restore them, and God give them hope again.

And God makes us the same promise today. No matter what you face in life, no matter how difficult things become, God promises to pour out his Spirit on you. God promises that his spirit – the Holy Spirit – will walk beside you and help you make it through whatever you may face. So there’s no reason for us to be afraid of the Holy Ghost

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