Baptism of the Holy Spirit – Part 2

April 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

Today I would like to talk about my personal experience with the Holy Spirit.  I apologize ahead of time for how long this is -

I grew up listening to my Grandmother talk about her relationship with the Lord.  She had been a missionary to Mexico for a Pentecostal church for some time before I was born, and after I was born she made sure I went to church every week.  We lived in a lot of different places when I was very young, but no matter where we were, we were in church.

I spent a lot of time in Harrah, OK growing up.  My Great Grandma lived there in a little farm house that I lived in more than any other place in my life.  She was a great Christian woman as well.  I remember being in her garden with her and my Grandmother, pulling weeds, tilling the soil, planting seeds.  My Grandmother told me that the seeds were like life.  You had to die before you could be born, and you had to be born before you could grow.  You had to be watered and fed and pruned and when all that occurred, you would grow strong and produce fruit.

She prayed over me often, and sometimes I didn’t know what words were coming out of her mouth.  She had lost her husband to cancer several years before this, and my mother was never around.  My Grandmother was all I really knew at that time in my life.  She often told me that I would be a servant of God.  I didn’t know what that meant, really.  I remember thinking that maybe he was hungry and I would have to take him a tray of food.  I tried to imagine if God would like corndogs as much as I did, or if maybe he preferred grilled cheese.

What I did understand was that I was loved and cared for, and that my Grandmother loved the Lord.  Many times I would go into her room and she would be praying beside her bed.  I would get on my knees and just listen.  Sometimes I understood what she said, sometimes I didn’t.  If there was a better Christian woman, I haven’t met her yet.  She gave sacrificially to me, to the church, to God.

Several years later I was adopted by my Grandmother’s brother and his wife.  He had been my “daddy Dan” and now he really was my daddy.  When I went to live with them, they were active in a Baptist church.  We went often and I learned to love singing hymns from the tattered old books in the back of the seats.  My dad was a deacon, and my mom was active with her Sunday school class.  I asked my mom and dad why nobody prayed like Grandmother, and they told me that nobody really did that anymore.

Years later, after moving many times, we found ourselves back in Harrah, OK.  I had attended FBC Harrah off and on for many years, and when we moved back, it was just like I never left.  I had many friends there, and felt at home.  It has always been a great church and I love it to this day.

When I was 14, during a revival service, I felt something I had never felt before.  I knew about God, I read the bible, I prayed all the time – just like my Grandmother taught me.  But I had a feeling like I was alone, or empty.  After the service ended, I was still sitting in my seat.  The janitor came to clean up and shut off the lights and he saw me and asked me if I was ok.  I told him I thought I was dying.  He went to the office and got the pastor and he came and talked to me and gave me a ride home, since I had been sitting there and missed the church bus.

On the way, he told me all about Jesus, about how I could know God, how I could be a child of his.  He came into my house and there in my room on that night in March 1980, I accepted all that he was telling me.  I said my own prayer, I repented, believed, I confessed, I became a child of God.

I was baptized at FBC Harrah about a month later after going through a class for new Christians.  I already knew the answers in the little book they gave me.  I knew most of the bible verses by heart already too.  I tried not to be a know it all, but there you have it.  It’s just how I was raised.  From there I started going to discipleship classes on Sunday night and Youth on Wednesdays.  We hired a new youth minister named  Vernon, whom I admire and love and who was a great mentor to me.  A few years later, he transitioned to music ministry and we hired a new youth minister, Jeff, who also took an interest in me.  These were the greatest men in my life, then and now.

These two great men poured themselves into me.  I was at the church office every day after school.  I was the first one there on church days and the last to leave.  I would come to the church at 4 pm on Sundays, before anyone got there, and I would stand behind the pulpit and imagine I was preaching to a full house.  It excited me to think that I could do that some day, and I even prepared sermons and would preach them to the empty pews.  Once I was in there, really laying it on to nobody in particular, and Vernon came in and asked me what I was doing.  I was so embarrassed I just ran out of the room.

About 2 weeks later, I was with Jeff and Vernon, driving around in the church van, I can’t remember what we were doing.  Vernon told me that I should seriously consider that God was calling me into ministry.  We discussed it again and again over the next few weeks and months, and during youth camp I went down front to talk to a counselor about it.  I discussed the crazy dreams I had been having, the strong desire to preach the word.  That night I accepted God’s calling in my life.  That night I knew that he was calling me to be a pastor.

The next 20 years were a whirlwind of activity.  I preached some at my church, taught classes, even led music.  I went to Oklahoma Baptist University, then Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and served in several churches as a youth minister, associate pastor, music minister, and whatever else they needed me to be.  Things changed over time.  I never really was happy doing what I was doing.  I wanted more but there wasn’t anything more.  I taught, led people to Christ, baptized, discipled.  And I was really good at it, believe it or not.  But I was never fulfilled, never content, never happy.

Now you might be asking, “I thought this was about the Holy Spirit?”  Right.  He was never really mentioned.  From the time I was adopted at the age of 5, until 2 years ago when I was 45, I went 40 years without knowing anything about the Holy Spirit.  I knew he was a part of the Trinity, I knew we baptized in his name, I knew he was in some of the songs we sing.  Outside of numerous and sundry spiritual gifts inventories that are basically worthless that was it.  I never learned about him at church, in college, or in seminary.  He was the third wheel of the Trinity.  The weird one nobody ever mentioned, like that uncle you have from Schenectady.  I knew “Holy Spirit” people.  They wore weird suits, floor length denim skirts and kept their hair pinned way, way up.  I had been to a Carmen concert and that’s all I needed to know.

What I didn’t know was how much my life was about to change.  Everything was ok – not great, but ok.  I was working, and it seemed like God was using me to do good things.  Then things got really bad.  Health issues, job issues, several surgeries in just a few years time, a high risk pregnancy (not my own lol).  My wife and I lost just about everything including the people in our lives.  We were devestated, and we ended up turning in on ourselves and against even each other.  Then one Sunday, seemingly for no reason at all, we went to Gateway church.

If I had known what was going to happen I might have chosen to stay at home.  I was comfortable in my hatred toward God and everybody.  He broke through all my defenses before the singing was over.  The new message series was on The Wilderness.  I cried through the whole thing.  We were on the second row, and the lady in front of me got me a box of kleenex, then another.  I talked to a great guy named Bob afterward.  He never met me, didn’t know me.  He said, “The Spirit is all over you, my friend.”  And I cried some more.  A lot more.

Over the last  two years I have learned about who the Holy Spirit is, what he is all about.  He is everything about heaven and he’s sitting right inside you.  He’s the down payment.  He’s who God gave us so we can function in this world until this world ends.  We don’t need anything else, and for so long I never knew he was all I needed.  I needed friendship with him, and when I realized that, everything changed.

I told you it was long – sorry.  I’ll talk more later on specifics, but I had to get to that point through my testimony on where God has taken me.  Until next time, think about where you are in your relationship with the Holy Spirit.  Do you talk to him, pray to him, interact with him in any way?  It may seem weird, but try it – pray to him, give him some attention.  Things can only get better if you do.

Rich Nifong

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I love Jesus, my wife Cheryl, my girls Trinity and Zoey, Gateway Church, long walks in the rain and anything on Discovery.

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