Keeping it Between the Ditches

by Elaine Maust
John 14-16
May 15, 2005

When I was a little girl my family lived in Noxubee County, MS. We lived on a dirt road a lot like the one you drove on as you came into Pine Lake Camp. Actually the dirt road in front of our house was wider, a regular thoroughfare, two lane dirt road. But the gravel roads I took to school, to my baby-sitting job at the Weavers or to the fields where I drove our family’s 40/20 John Deere tractor, all those roads were just one dirt lane. On each side of those dirt roads were deep ditches. Designed perhaps to weed out the least cautious drivers among us. But there were also used to direct the water from the rains we had every spring and winter. The deep ditches beside the road became a pair of little creeks. That way the water wouldn’t completely flood the roads. Unless of course, we had a real gully gusher. In which case the road turned into a muddy canal. But that’s a different story.

I learned to drive on those gravel roads. It was great for my developing prayer life. “Dear God, don’t let me wreck this car. Dear God, don’t let me meet a car. (or worse yet, another tractor!) Dear God, don’t let me wind up in the ditch.”

Which is exactly what I did on at least one occasion – wind up in the ditch, that is. You see, when they dried out completely, these gravel roads developed a washboard effect. (bump, bump, bump, bump…) And if one drove the slightest bit too fast, which I did one day on my way to the Weavers, one could lose control of the vehicle completely. For me that meant driving our big brown bear of an old Buick right into the ditch. Lord have mercy!

All of this came back to me a few months ago. A designer that we work for at the cabinet shop called. I knew that her business had become completely overwhelming. “How’s it going, Monica?” I asked. She said, “I’m just tryin’ to keep it between the ditches.” I knew exactly what she was talking about. And I have a hunch she might have grown up in a place a little bit like the place I grew up in. “Keeping it between the ditches.”

My parents tried to help me to keep it between the ditches. I remember my mother teaching me to drive a standard shift in our old blue GMC pickup truck. It was on the one-lane dirt road on which I later landed in the ditch. Actually it was the one on which I would later drive into the ditch. It was not pretty, me learning to drive a standard over those washboard ridges. Hoping that I would not meet another pickup truck around every curve. I distinctly remember my mother sitting on the seat right beside me, at my elbow in the middle of the pick up giving commands. God bless her. While my little brother crouched on the floorboard of the passenger side pleading for his life.

“Just trying to keep it between the ditches.”

On this day, Pentecost, the Christian church around the world celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. And we pray that God will pour the Spirit into pour out on our lives and our churches. On this Pentecost I will describe only a few the Spirit’s colorful dynamics. As we consider how the Spirit helps us keep our lives between the ditches.

1. Counselor (John 14:15-18)
Turn with me to John 14. Jesus is getting ready to die. John 14-16 contains some of his last words to the disciples. Now Jesus is going to leave the friends he has been loving and training to do God’s work in the world. All these years he had been with them to say “don’t be afraid” during the storm on the lake. To straighten them out when the got out of line, like the many arguments they had over who was the greatest. To help them understand what God is like, with all his stories about the kingdom of God. He was leaving. Now what?

(14:16) Jesus says, “I’ll send you another Counselor.” Someone else, just like me, only someone (v17) that is not seen. The Holy Spirit. That’s who the Counselor is.

The Bible was not originally written in English. Right? The New Testament was written in Greek and then over the years has been translated into all the languages of the world, like English and Congolese. The word “Comforter” means person called along side to give comfort, advice and encouragement. It comes from the Greek word parakletos meaning, the one called alongside. It is translated into many English words. Some of your Bibles may say “Counselor.”

Dianna Schiedel is a counselor. That’s her job title at work, but it is also her gift and how she lives. Sometimes when someone is going through a really hard time, I’ll say, “I know someone who might be able to help you, listen to you and pray for you.” And then I give them Dianna’s phone number. Sometimes I call her number when I need a counselor. She’s someone I call alongside to help.

That’s what the Holy Spirit is. The one called alongside to counsel and encourage.

Another way parakletos is translated is Comforter. Duane’s mother, Erma, is a quilt maker. She makes beautiful pieced quilts for the beds of her family. She also makes something called a comforter. Any of you have a comforter on your beds? Big, soft, warm. Good name, isn’t it? Comforter. It comforts us when we are sick or cold or tired.

That’s what the Holy Spirit is like. Jesus called him to walk along side us through life to comfort us. To keep us out of the ditches of loneliness and sadness. Remember a time you were terrified and then you slowly began to recover your peace and gratitude? That was the Holy Spirit, comforting you.

2. Teacher (John 14:25-26)
While Jesus was with the disciples he taught them so many things. Remember the Sermon on the Mount. It was the sermon in which Jesus said amazing things like, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Did the disciples understand everything Jesus was trying to teach? Of course not.

Instead of giving them final exams before he left, Jesus sent them another teacher (v25) who would continue to explain the ways of God to them. And remind them (v26) of everything Jesus taught them in their three-year ministry training program.

John 15:26 says, “The Spirit of truth… he will testify about me.” The Holy Spirit is a teacher. The Holy Spirit is the one God sends along side of us to teach us.

If we had been male children in the homes of the wealthy ancient Greeks and Romans we would have been assigned a paidagogos, a companion educator. This trusted family servant was the constant companion of the little boy. The paidagogos taught manners and how to live in the world. They walked to school with the child through the dangerous city streets. The paidagogos was not the teacher, he was a sort of tutor, explaining the child’s lessons to him. He was sort of like a British nanny, disciplining the child and protecting him. The paidagogos was a mentor, selected to show the child by his example and advice how to live in the world.

That’s how I think of the Holy Spirit, a companion educator. The one Jesus calls along beside us to teach us. (John 16:13,15b) We Christians always have so much more to learn. It is just one of the reasons we need the Holy Spirit.

It’s not easy to know what is right or best, is it? Name any issue in religion or politics or ethics or theology and I believe you will find a ditch on either side. An extreme we can fall into on either side of any issue if we are not careful. Like the little Greek boy needed his paidagogos, we need the Holy Spirit to come and walk along beside us, teaching us, protecting us, showing us how God would want us to live in this world. Saving us from ignorance and error. (John 14:18)

Remember a time when all of a sudden something became clear? You started to understand something new about God or the Bible or yourself? That was the Holy Spirit, teaching you.

3. Helper (John 15:26)
The Holy Spirit is hard to describe with just one word. Some of your Bibles might translate the name for the Holy Spirit as Advocate or Helper. There is no one way to translate the Greek word for Holy Spirit, parakletos, into English because that word wraps up so many meanings. Comforter, counselor, teacher. And here’s another, helper.

If I had been arrested in ancient Greece, when I stood to face my charges, I would have called for my parakletos, my advocate. This person would have, hopefully been able to witness to my good character. He would have pleaded that my sentence be shortened. Sounds a little bit like a lawyer, doesn’t it?

Well, in John 15:26, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will be witness for him. His parakletos.

The Spirit also speaks to Jesus on behalf of us. Hallelujah! (Rom. 8:26) Have you had a time when you were in such trouble you couldn’t pray? But even then you knew God was with you? Well, the Holy Spirit was being your helper.

That time I drove into the ditch, I don’t remember getting out. The way I remember it, I was up in my room talking to my pillow. My dad must have pulled the car out with the tractor. He came to help.

And so the Holy Spirit is our advocate, our helper. The one called along side when we are in trouble who pulls us out of the ditches and gets us back on the road.

4. Convictor (John 16:7-11)
One last name for the Holy Spirit. Jesus said called he the Holy Spirit along side to convict us. (John 16:7&8). We know that the ditches of sin and excess flank us. We are tempted to break every one of the Ten Commandments. Even good gifts God gives us like work, sex, food and money threaten to steal our hearts away from God.

Remember a time when you were about to tell a lie, pick up a pornographic magazine or break a promise you made to God? Remember that just when you are about to sin you heard a voice in your head saying, “stop.” That is the Holy Spirit.

I think that sometimes the Holy Spirit sounds like my Aunt Mabel when he talks to me. Here’s what I mean. I remember a time when I was about to sin and suddenly I felt as if the Holy Spirit put his hand on my arm and said, “Be careful. Be careful.” Reminded me a little bit of my Great Aunt Mabel, gently but firmly redirecting me when I was a little kid about to get in trouble yet again.

Another meaning of the one called alongside is the challenger. It was like a military leader or a coach called in to inspire a group suffering from poor moral. The Holy Spirit doesn’t only comfort us when we are in trouble, he picks us up and starts us walking again. He’s right beside us giving us courage, challenging us to be brave. “Go ahead,” he says, “Keep going.” And so with our Helper beside us we get up and start following God again.

Jesus knew that the disciples (and us too) would have ditches of sin and addition in our lives, so he sent the Holy Spirit to convict us and give us courage to be true to God.

This week I imagined a conversation between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they are on the phone. “How’s it going down there on the earth?” Jesus asks. “How are all my folks?” And the Holy Spirit, our teacher, counselor, comforter, helper and convictor, the Holy Spirit smiles and says, “Well, well, down here… we’re just keeping it between the ditches.”

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