Pentecost is often considered the birthday of the Church. It’s the day when the Jesus’ disciples—some say almost 120 of them—were visited and gifted by the Holy Spirit. But who or what, exactly, is the Holy Spirit, besides being probably the most misunderstood and misrepresented person of the Trinity. Well, we often say that the Holy Spirit is the presence of God among the people of God, or—as a five-year-old once told me—“The Holy Spirit is God inside us.” We talk a lot about the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but only pay any real attention to the first two. There isn’t much talk about the Holy Spirit, but the truth is there’s very little we or our church—or any church—can do without it.

Author and Pastor Francis Chan has called the Holy Spirit the “Forgotten God.” Sadly, even though the New Testament mentions it by name over ninety times, and over 300 passages in the Old Testament speak of the Spirit, we fail to understand “who” or “what” it is. We’ve neglected to study it, and talk about it, for many reasons. So I believe we need to re-consider the Holy Spirit: who it is, what it does, what it can do, what it can enable us to do, and how it’s often missed in churches. But—why? Why is this so important? Well, for starters, it’s because of what the Spirit is able to make possible. It’s because of the difference it can make in our own lives and in our church. It’s because of the courage and passion that it’s able to ignite in us. Fine—but where to we start? Well, I think it starts with what we mean when we talk about the Holy Spirit. I’m thinking is that part of the problem lies in the improper translation of the original Greek word “pneuma.” The earliest English Bibles used the word “ghost.” Unfortunately, that particular word has some baggage.

Ghosts, say the logical among us, aren’t real. And in our minds, images run the gamut of cartoon characters like Casper the friendly Ghost, to Halloween with children running around in white sheets with eyeholes cut out, or people speaking in tongues, all of which we have a tendency to dismiss. Besides, most of us have been taught that God is spirit, so the whole idea of a separate person in the Trinity seems redundant, if not entirely irrelevant. But on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is on full display for all to see, and fills the disciples, who’ve now become apostles—learners who’ve now become messengers—we should probably pay attention because we too are recipients of that same Spirit.

“Sadly,” says Chan, in his excellent book Forgotten God, “most believers and churches are known for talent and intellect, rather than supernatural power. What’s worse is that we’re okay with it. But God put His Spirit in us so we could be known for our power.” Well how about that? We can be known for our power! And don’t you know that most human beings crave power, particularly the power to control. Unfortunately, this isn’t what we’re talking about. No, the Spirit’s power is a different kind of power altogether. Think back to John’s gospel, and his account of the Last Supper. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit—the Advocate—“…whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you…he will guide you into all the truth.” Then, in Luke’s gospel, in his final words to his disciples just before he ascended, Jesus said, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Power from on high. You have to like the sound of that. This power can—and will—fill us and transform us. It will enable us to respond to God’s call, and guide us to be the people God’s called us to be, the people we should be, the people we’ve been created to be, the people the world needs us to be. All we need to do is accept it, allow it to do what it does.