Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Be filled with the Spirit.

John Stott from his Commentary on Ephesians.

When Paul says to us, ‘Be filled with the Spirit’, he uses a present imperative implying that we are to go on being filled. For the fulness of the Spirit is not a once-for-all experience which we can never lose, but a privilege to be renewed continuously by continuous believing and obedient appropriation….

To the defeated Paul would say, ‘Be filled with the Spirit, and he will give you a new love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control.’ To the complacent Paul would say ‘go on being filled with the Spirit. Thank God for what he has given you thus far. But do not say you have arrived. For there is more, much more, yet to come.’

 

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Language

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Very few of the young people with whom I work are comfortable talking openly about any so-called religious experiences. This, of course, does not mean that people today cease to have such experiences. It points, rather, to the fact that we tend to frame and explain such occurrences in a very different way to how we might have done in the past. (Trystan Hughes in The Compassion Quest)

Some time ago I was visiting Niagara Falls with my wife and my in-laws. We’d parked on the Canadian side in glorious sunshine, walked along the riverside and made our way to the Maid of the Mist launch point. We’d experienced the power of the falls close up on the boat and we still have our blue plastic raincoats to remember it by. After the boat trip we climbed back up to the top and found a table at a chicken restaurant overlooking the falls. As we were sat there we saw the storm roll in from the East. Big dark threatening clouds with the occasional crack of lightning. As it got closer the rain began pounding down, and the thunder got louder and the flashed got brighter and closer. We moved to a table inside. A few minutes later – CRACK – lightning struck the building we were in. This all continued for a half hour or so. My American in-laws expressed regret that I had to see Niagara in such weather. There was no need to apologise. It was exhilarating. We don’t get weather like that over here.

Whilst I’m not suggesting that this was an overtly religious experience, it was certainly transcendent – one in which I felt very connected to the environment around. In fact, what I’ve outlined above is mostly a description of the facts involved in the day, with very little about my emotions or sense of connectedness. Perhaps due to being British or middle-class, my emotional vocabulary doesn’t quite do the experience justice. Trystan Hughes contends that the same is true of religious experience today. John Wesley describes his first major experience of God as having ‘a heart strangely warmed’. Those of us who have had such experiences will recognise such a thing, but many others in today’s society with struggle to find the appropriate language to describe it, or may even fail to recognise that such transcendent experiences are from God. It is not that these experiences don’t happen anymore, but that they are seldom spoken about.

I remember attending a Christian youth event and as part of the ‘call’ I went forward to receive prayer. As I was being prayed for a felt, as clear as anything, a hand being placed on my head, which remained there for the duration of the prayer. I had presumed that during the prayer, the person ministering to me had placed their hand on my head. But when I opened my eyes I found that their hands were by their side. This was undoubtedly an experience of God.

Many may have had such experiences but have no opportunity or language to describe them. God is not in the business of hiding himself away. Hughes again:

Perhaps, then, one of our faith’s roles in today’s society is to affirm such experiences, as one of out greatest gifts is that we can provide a language to frame such ‘encounters’.

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Spirit.

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The air is all around. We know it’s there. It sustains us, revives us, enables us to keep on living. But it is only sometimes when we are aware of its presence, such as a cool breeze on a hot day, or a stiff wind chilling us to our bones. Very occasionally, we can see it, when the clouds seem to descend upon us in a mist. We can see the thing that keeps us alive.

The Spirit is all around us. We can know he is there. Usually he is imperceptible. Occasionally the winds of refreshment, revival, or encouragement can be felt, or his effects can be seen. But he is around us, always, just like the air.

This post was the third in the Lent Photos series, from Day:29 Spirit.

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Desire

desireDesire is a word that has featured a lot in the book I’m reading – The Good God, Mike Reeves’ offering about the Trinity, which is short and dense and well worth the effort.

Psalm 37:4 says “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”

This is not exhortation to the property gospel. It is not a promise to health, wealth or happiness. I am most probably not going to own a Ferrari. I had always interpreted this verse thus: as we delight in the Lord, with our focus on him, our own desires will slowly transform to match his desires. We will want what He wants, and we will want to be used in the way that he wants to use us. And in that, we will most likely find fulfilment, peace and joy, although perhaps these will come alongside suffering.

Desire is wherever our minds and hearts are focussed.

Reeves goes back to creation and looks again at the fall. A story that is often interpreted as the breaking of a rule, or the breaking of a relationship has it’s origins in the shifting of desire. They sinned because they loved something else more than god, and that something else was the desire to be like God. Since then, the fundamental make-up of humans has become flawed, so that misplaced desire is at our heart. Our desires clearly matter.

Ok, so I know I’m flawed. Now I want to change. I desire to change. But then I get distracted. My desire is not something I can consciously control. It is like lust, attraction. (Of course, I can choose not to act on it, but that is another post).

Thomas Chalmers wrote, “We will always love what seems desirable to us. Thus we will only change what we love when something proves itself to be more desirable to us than what we already love.” What, then, could be more desirable to us? Only someone who shows us something better….

“I will, then, always love sin and the world until I truly sense that Christ is better.”

God in his overflowing love provides himself to draw us to himself. It is only the Spirit who can effect this heart-change. The Spirit is not bringing us into conformity – right-living, but bringing us into affection for God. Our desire will be the Lord and his reward will be himself. To echo my conclusion to a previous post – God says “i am all you need and want”

How do you maintain your desire on the Lord? How do you stay in tune with the Spirit?

Three promises for this week.

My Bible passage for today came from Jesus’ farewell discourse in John’s gospel (14:12-21), with the help of NT Wright’s ‘John for Everyone’. Three great promises stood out.

1. “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (v13-14). This is a promise that if we can ask for something in Jesus’ name, then he will do it. Of course, we can’t just ask for anything in Jesus’ name – only those things that are representative of him and in keeping with his character and mission. But once we’ve understood that, the ‘anything’ is still rather powerful!

2. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (v16-17) Jesus has not left us alone but has left us with the Holy Spirit. The word advocate (NIV) is often translates as helper or comforter. All three are correct. The Spirit assists, guides and is alongside us, encourages and stands up on out behalf for the gospel – He gives us the words to say.

3. “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (v19-20). Jesus is referring to his death and resurrection – the world sill not see him anymore…. But because of the resurrection and the giving of the Spirit those who come to him can still see him at work, active in the world and alongside us. In this way, Christian’s participate in the relationships of God found in the Trinity. We can know God’s presence. The future heavenly resurrection life has begun.

So, my questions to apply to this week are, what, in Jesus’ name, can we ask him for? This will likely be something to further God’s mission. How can we actively seek out the Holy Spirit and know his as comforter, advocate, helper? Do we know we are participating in the Trinity?

The future of Church?

Ok, so I know the church of the future won’t just look like one particular church, but I visited St. Paul’s Onslow Square in London last week (a congregation of Holy Trinity Brompton) and had a number of thoughts:

A very simply format, with worship led by a very competent band which was situated in the centre of the church. The band stood in a circle facing inwards (presumably to take everyones attention off them and to divert it onto God). I did miss having something to focus on – usually in church your eyes are diverted to a cross or a window or eve a candle, which can be both helpful and unhelpful. Here there was nothing easy to focus on from where I was sitting.

Many young people were engaging with God throughout the worship. One young man who I saw was singing with absolutely all of his might. This was great, especially as engaging with God is what church is supposed to be about. The congregation was very young, possible with an average age of about 24 (made me feel old). I think the other congregations of HTB have a greater age range.

After quite a good half hour (maybe more – i didn’t notice as I was enjoying it) the band left their places and there was a sermon. The sermon wasn’t great but i know that was out of character for HTB as I’ve heard a number of other sermons given by podcast. It concetrated on giving – giving of your whole self to God which works itself out in giving of time and skills and resources to help build the kingdom and aid the mission of the church.

Surrounding the small stage in the centre were no pews and not even any chairs. Everyone was sat on cushions on the floor (with the exception of a few sofas round the edge). Very informal, very relaxed, a party atmosphere with coffee and cakes available.

After the sermon there was another chance to worship and also for people to be prayed with or simply wait upon God. This type of prayer minsitry seems to bee integral to the service and not just an add-on.

It was vision sunday. Inside the church they had set up stalls each giving information about a different area of the ministry of the church. People afterwards could go up and find out about this area of ministry, what is involved, whether it fits their gifts, and how to get stuck in. They do this twice a year which helps people easile get integrate with the church and serving in it.

The whole thing had the feeling of a (good) youth service in it’s simplicity and accessibility. Anyone could easily come and know what was going on. There are many excellent youth programmes around but many of them see a great drop out rate after the youth programme ends, as the young Christians try to integrate with a traditional church service. This service reduces the culture gap between youth work and adult services so it is easier for young adults to continue with their faith.

So, a few minor gripes about this or that, but very enjoyable nonetheless!

Todd Bentley and the Florida Outpouring

There’s been lots and lots written about the so called Florida Outpouring in Lakeland, some by people who have been, some not, some by those sympathetic to this sort of thing, others not. I thought it was about time I documented my thoughts and rounded up what I have read.

How are we to make sense of them? My concern is not with what is happening – God is certainly able to heal people and he does it a lot more often than we might think or see. But I worry about the showmanship of Todd Bentley – why does he need to push people in order for them to be slain in the Spirit? I also worry if there is a theme of money that seems to go with some of the visions, the significance of angels in what is happening, and whether the Jesus is really central  – is he being worshipped and is there biblical input. And are the recipients of the outpouring actually being changed? I do not know the answers to these concerns, and perhaps it is still too early to say

So anyway, here’s some stuff that I have read about it:

First, a very-pro-Todd charasmatic from the UK defends Todd Bentley’s ministry.

An American charismatic makes some great points in expressing some reservations.

Maggi Dawn’s overview is here.

The Church Times carried an article some time ago about the lasting effects of the Toronto Blessing.

Also what is this phenomenon of people travelling to a place which is having a so-called revival in order to bring them back to wherever they live? Does God’s Spirit really work out of locations like that? I don’t think the Welsh revival of the late 1900s had many people travelling to it in the same way as we have seen with Kansas, Toronto and Florida. I’m sure TV (which has been invented since the Welsh revival) is having some effect here.

Yes, it is important to think about how God may be working in other places and learn from that. But fundamentally, whatever we think of this, it seems clear to me that wherever we are, our job is to get on with God’s work in our location by following the leadings of the Spirit as He leads in the appropriate way for our culture.

Total Church (i) – Whole life discipleship

I’m currently reading Tim Chester and Steve Timmis book, Total Church, so I thought I’d blog my way through it.

The first chapter mentions the role of the Word and the Spirit in the church. They quite rightly point out that not all that is remarkable is from the Spirit, but that the Spirit convicts through the Word. God has acted through Word and Spirit together  all throughout the Bible, from Genesis, to Jesus (the Word), on through Acts and the early church – the word continues to spread through the power of the Spirit. Even today, Christians are convicted through the words of Jesus brought to them by the Spirit through the Bible. One required the other. (Perhaps there is stuff here to say about Todd Bentley and Lakeland – is it word centred or is it entirely amazing spirit based show. – That is another topic)

At the end of the chapter, Chester and Timmis question the role of churches in enabling regular congregants to be a part of the mission of God. Oftenw e think of mission as an add on, only for the super keen. This, he claims, comes from a tendency for churches to convert and retain new members, rather than train and release. He cites the example of overseas missionaries. When they are sent, sometimes to be full time, but often to do secular jobs in other countries so that they can engage in mission in that place (this is often called tentmaking after Paul the apostle’s example), the church (rightly) makes a big deal of it. We test their vocation, pray and commission them before they go, expect regular updates so the prayer can continue. Sometimes groups from the church visit and encourage them in their new setting.

But what about the Christian teacher who is the sole Christian member of staff responsible for 40 mostly non-Christian children? What about the Christian electrician of plumber who spend every day in other peoples houses, fixing essential services and making conversation? What about the Christian lawyer who ends up counselling or defending victims or perpetrators of crime? Don’t they deserve prayer and attention from the church?

This is one of the big problems of western Christianity, Chester and Timmis say. We don’t train and equip people to live as Christians in their whole lives. We have a two tier heriarchy of what ‘Christian mission’ means – namely, those people in other countries or in full time paid Christian work. We are all Christian missionaries and the church must take ‘whole life’ discipleship seriously.