Pentecost 2015

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Why do we celebrate Pentecost?

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.      (Genesis13:3-4)

Abram had previously had a significant encounter with God at Bethel. When he came this way again, Abram took time to build an altar and call on the name of the Lord again.

Our faith is not a faith of incantations, rituals and recipes – our faith is a living relationship. But just as it is healthy in relationships to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, it is helpful in our spiritual journey to celebrate significant days. Although my birthday is not really any different from any other day – it is a helpful moment for me to give thanks to God for the life He has given me and to enjoy the love and attention of my family.

Pentecost is our annual remembrance of the coming of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing magical about this time, but rather an opportunity to remember.

When we worked through the creed, we noted that the early church said very little about the Holy Spirit. There were probably two reasons for this: Firstly, the early church regularly experienced the prompting and moving of the Holy Spirit – they didn’t need to write about it – they were living it. The second reason is probably best captured by Jesus’ words in John 3:8 “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – The early church were still learning and discovering how God’s Spirit would lead them. The whole of the book of Acts was a journey in discovering how the Spirit would work in their midst.

Since the dynamic days of the early church, we’re a lot more settled. We have the completed New Testament and the Bible as a whole is finalised. We have Denominational structures and practices and years of church tradition to rely on. Where the early church was dynamic and Spirit-led, we tend to be structured and routinised. (And, if we’re honest, sometimes stuck.)

Remembering Pentecost is an important reminder to be a dynamic Church: aware of and open to the guidance of the Spirit.

Over the next few days we’ll revise some of the most important aspects of who the Holy Spirit is and hopefully this will bring us to a place of building an altar and re-committing ourselves to a personal and intimate God.

Not orphans

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.      (John14:16-18)

If you had to ask me what I think the single most important idea about the Person and work of Holy Spirit is, then I think this verse would consistently come out at the top of the list.

We… are… not… orphans!
We… are… not… alone!
God is with us!

The disciples were appalled at the prospect of Jesus returning to the Father. Jesus promises them something incredible.

God’s Spirit – the third member of the God family will come and live in and with them, you and me. I am not alone. I am not forsaken. God is with me.

As invisible as the wind, like the still small voice heard by Elijah, like a stream of living water flowing in my soul, like fire in my bones, like a seal of ownership on my heart – this is who the Holy Spirit is and this is what He does. He is the presence of God in my life and this makes me a temple. And this temple has a torn curtain – the holy of holies is open and I can worship because God has chosen to be with me.

Even as I write these words, the beauty of this truth wrecks me: As I sit here, I am known and loved so much by God that He sends His Spirit into my heart. As I sit here, God is at work in me and in you. Even when we try to hide big parts of our heart from the Spirit, He is patient and perseveres with us. Even when the chaos of life threatens to overwhelm me, I can follow the Psalmist’s advice and “be still and know that He is God.”

I am not alone – Thank you Holy Spirit!

The Wind

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”      (John3:5-8)

Human beings are created in the image of God. Genesis pictures this as God breathing into us. “Breath” and “Spirit” are the same word in Hebrew (“Ruach“) and Greek (“Pneuma“). To be in the image of God is not that we physically resemble God, but rather that we are able to have a relationship with Him.

Sin put a wall of separation between us and our holy God. But sin also resulted in us dying spiritually – we, although we had capacity to relate to God (Pascal called it “a God-shaped hole inside us”) could no longer relate to Him.

The Spirit, the “Breath of God”, breathes into the collapsed lungs of our Spirituality – He fills the sails of our stationary ship – and we live again, we move again…

The Spirit is the breath of life, the wind that fills the sails. Sometimes it’s just cobwebs that must be moved, sometimes it’s a sail that needs filling and sometimes it’s life that must be restored. Sometimes it’s even the mighty power of a gale that is needed, but the Spirit is God’s breath, God’s wind.

He is God, closer than a whisper, the breath in my lungs, the wind in my sails. I can’t control Him, I can’t predict Him, but I need Him to help me breathe and to move.

I love singing that old chorus:
Wind Wind blow on me, Wind Wind set me free.
Wind Wind the Father sent the blessed Holy Spirit.

The River

(Ezekiel is seeing a vision of a stream of water flowing from the temple….) As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in–a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”      (Ezekiel47:3-6)

This beautiful image is also picked up by Jesus in the New Testament:

To the broken Samaritan woman at the well: “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John4:14)

Then at the Feast of Tabernacles: On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. (John7:37-39)

  • Thirst quenched.
  • Dry land watered.
  • Paddling in the shallows and then swimming in the deep.
  • Streams flowing and bringing life.

Could this be what our lives look like?
Not by ourselves – but by His Spirit!
———————————————–
“All Who Are Thirsty” (Brenton Brown)

All who are thirsty
All who are weak
Just come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of His mercy
As the deep cries out to deep, we sing…

Come, Lord Jesus come
Come, Lord Jesus come
Come, Lord Jesus come
Come, Lord Jesus come

All who are thirsty
All who are weak
Just come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of His mercy
As the deep cries out to deep, we sing…

Come, Lord Jesus come
Come, Lord Jesus come
Come, Lord Jesus come
Come, Lord Jesus come

Burns but doesn’t consume

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.       (Exodus3:1-2)

While there are various references to the Holy Spirit as fire (see below) and while this passage is not strictly a reference to the Spirit, I do find this a very powerful image of calling and I believe that responding to God’s call is to walk in the Spirit.

Moses is called to God’s service. The image of this call is a bush that burns without being consumed. There are so many things that we can chase after that will consume us: Materialism, alcohol, drugs, fame and power are just some of the things that will leave us depleted, diminished and destroyed when we give ourselves to them.

When we give ourselves in the service of God we are not consumed but renewed.

Zechariah had a vision about this. It was of a lampstand with seven lamps being fed with oil that flowed along channels from two olive trees. When he asked about the meaning of the vision the angel declared: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty.

When we serve God, the Spirit blazes in us like a flame. We burn brightly bringing light and warmth to our world and we are not consumed, we are renewed.

It was Wesley who said: “Every morning I set myself on fire and invite people to come and watch me burn!!!”

Thank You Spirit that you are all the might and power I need and then when I walk in Your ways I can burn and not be consumed.

—————————
Acts 2:3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

1Thessalonians5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;

Paraclete

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. 20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”      (Isaiah30:19-21)

The word “paraclete” (parakletos in Greek) literally means “one who is called” (kletos) “alongside” (para).

Jesus spoke extensively about the Spirit as the paraclete in John 14-16. Bible translators have used words like “helper”, “companion”, “advocate”, “comforter” or “counsellor”to translate and explain the Spirit’s work. These words are all helpful to colour in this beautiful picture of God’s Spirit being with us, in us, helping us, strengthening us and guiding us.

Isaiah’s prophecy reflects the same tender presence. Listen to the intimate words that preface our passage:

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!
(Isaiah 30:18)

Although one might argue that this prophecy was partially fulfilled in the teachers of the law who taught the Scriptures to the people, I still have the sense that the coming of the Spirit really fulfills the full and intimate picture offered to us by Isaiah (and Jeremiah promises something similar – see below): to be able to hear God’s gentle guidance: “This is the way; walk in it.

——————————————
JER 31:34 No longer will a man teach his neighbour,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

Sealed

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.      (2Corinthians1:21-22)

This idea of being sealed as God’s property, with the Spirit as a deposit (down-payment) guaranteeing what is to come (our inheritance) is an incredible and beautiful thought.

Paul takes this thought further:
Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son or daughter; and since you are a son or daughter, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:6-7)

The Holy Spirit is our guarantee that:

  1. We belong to God – In fact, we are His children and can call Him “Abba” (An Aramaic word which means “Daddy”) It is a word of intimacy and affection. It is a term that indicates security and trust. The Spirit helps us to have this intimacy.
  2. Our salvation is assured – we have been saved and forgiven
  3. We have eternal life.

The God of the universe sees fit to live in the junkyard of my heart.
– I was created in His image – to know Him – but I fell away.
– Jesus took my punishment and set me free from my brokenness.
– His Spirit lives in me so that I can know that I am His.

A few years ago Shawn Fouche helped us put this video to the words of a beautiful song by Mark Schultz it describes the Spirit’s work as a seal so well: We belong to God!

YOU ARE A CHILD OF MINE – Mark Schultz

I’ve been hearing voices
Telling me that I could
Never be what I wanna be.
They’re binding me with lies,
Haunting me at night,
And saying there’s nothing to believe.
Somewhere in the quietness,
When I’m overcome with loneliness,
I hear You call my name.
And like a father You are near
And as I listen I can hear You say

[Chorus:]
You are a child of Mine
Born of My own design
And you bear the heart of life.
No matter where you go,
Oh, you will always know
You have been made free in Christ.
You are a child of Mine

And so I listen as You tell me who I am
And who it is I’m gonna be.
And I hang on every word,
Knowing I have heard
I am Yours and I am free
But when I am alone at night
That is when I hear the lie
You’ll never be enough
And though I’m giving into fear
If I listen I can hear You say

[Chorus]

I am calling..
I am calling..
I am calling..

Language

4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?      (Acts2:4-8)

The account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is a lovely reversal of the tower of Babel story in Gen 11. We don’t know if it was a miracle of speaking or hearing, but the bottom-line is that the Spirit closed the gaps between people miraculously bridging the language divide between all the language groups gathered in Jerusalem on this major festival day.

God still does this today. Louis Giglio is in his fifties but speaks effectively to the one of the biggest Christian student movements in the world. He is able to cross a generation gap that many would consider unbridgeable.

What about those who are able to help those whose marriages are in trouble? Or those who comfort the grieving? Those who help people who have depression?

I believe the Holy Spirit is still at work in us, helping us to cross over chasms of language, culture, age, pain and trouble. He gives us language, empathy and connection. He guides us, prompts us and gives us wisdom, knowledge, insight and guidance.

The scriptures provide lists of the gifts of the Spirit. In these lists we find things like knowledge, wisdom, healing, faith, leadership, service, generosity, teaching, speaking in other languages, being able to interpret other languages, discernment, apostleship (being a pioneer) and evangelism.

These gifts are not for our own benefit. They play the same role as the language gift on the day of Pentecost: A way to cross the gaps. Especially the gap between people and God.

  • In what ways is God working in you to build bridges to others?
  • In what ways could God work in you to build these bridges?

 

Transformation

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.      (Romans8:5)

How long do your new year’s resolutions last?

Most of us will admit that we promise to do all sorts of things: Eat less, exercise more, stress less and so on… but we struggle to act on our good intentions. We tend to struggle to cultivate good habits and easily fall into bad ones.

While many of us would argue that we are generally good, it seems that brokenness is like a gorilla that hides in the cupboard and jumps out when we least expect it. We want to be pleasing to God, but then we do things that sabotage the progress we have made.

It’s easy to get depressed and frustrated by this. Paul calls the cupboard gorilla the “old man” and he wrestles with the brokenness and darkness that his sinful nature brings into his life. In Romans 7 he comes to the peak of his frustration and exclaims – “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Then, in ch.8 he introduces us to the beautiful and comforting truth that we do not have to try and be good and righteous and holy by ourselves, but that we can live by the transforming power of God’s Spirit. We can make better choices and answer to a higher calling.

This doesn’t happen instantly and it isn’t that the Holy Spirit is a body snatcher, but rather that we learn to walk in step with the Spirit, listening to His prompting and waiting for His strength.

And so the promise in Philippians 1:6 is very apt: [Paul prays...] “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Yes, but how??

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.      (Ephesians5:18)

Leading up to and following Pentecost we’ve looked at the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. We’ve explored various images that help us understand His work in our lives.

The question that remains is, how does this happen?
How do we experience the working of the Spirit?

The biblical answer is that we must be filled with the Spirit.
Paul uses a helpful analogy: Being filled with the Spirit is similar to intoxication. To be full of alcohol is to be controlled by it – to a great degree you don’t have the alcohol, it has you. To be full of alcohol is to keep drinking.

The same is true of the Spirit.
Being filled with the Spirit is to let Him have control in your life.
To be filled is to keep drinking.
To be filled is not so much how much of the Spirit you have, but how much He has of you.

Other biblical concepts are: trust, waiting, abiding (remaining), being baptised (immersed, soaked, saturated) and keeping in step. That’s what these verses are about:

  • Isaiah 30:15: This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
    “In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.
  • Isaiah 49:29-31: He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
    30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
    31 but those who hope (wait) in the LORD will renew their strength.
    They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.
  • John 15:5-7: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains(abides) in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
  • Acts 1:4-5: On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
  • Galatians 5:25: Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

It’s all about a relationship. About responding.

  • Letting the wind blow in your sails,
  • allowing the stream to flow from your life
  • giving the fire space to burn in your heart because it won’t consume you
  • trusting the One who walks beside you
  • being confident that you are sealed as a son or daughter
  • knowing that He will give you the language to cross the gaps
  • being transformed by His love.

You’ve had the theory and some idea of the practice – no recipes and no incantations – now take the risks and invite Him in.
Raise your sail and see where the Wind takes you!!!
———————————————
That concludes our Pentecost series. We’ll take a break until Tuesday… Any suggestions for the next series?


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