Loving the Spirit
We don’t even have to think about what it means to love Jesus; he is God as well as human after all. Loving the Father is a little more difficult, but we have all had human fathers, even if they were imperfect and difficult to love. But if we are to love God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it must make sense that we are called to love the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, the Bible is clear that the Spirit isn’t just some great supernatural power, but a “love-Person”. The Holy Spirit is a carrier of God’s love. “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:5) and “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal 5:22). Paul freely speaks of “the love of the Spirit” (Rom 15:30) and “your love in the Spirit” (Col 1:8). Therefore, at least one motivation, an important one for the St Mark’s community, in getting to know the Holy Spirit better, would be that it would produce a greater love for one another. This is not however the primary reason or way to love the Spirit of God.
The best way to love the Spirit is to love whom he most obviously loves, and he loves Jesus. The Spirit was Christ’s closest companion on earth. He was present at the Lord’s baptism (Luke 3:22), temptation (Luke 4:1-2), miracles (Luke 4:14-19), cross (Heb 9:14) and resurrection (Rom 1:4). Christ described the core of the Spirit’s ongoing ministry, “he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26), and, most importantly, “he will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14). More than anything else the Spirit shows his love for Jesus and for us and to the glory of God by revealing what Jesus has done in his saving power. This is exciting news and it makes loving the Spirit simple; just agree with him about what he most loves to do – to glorify Jesus. Ask the Father in the name of Jesus to pour out the Holy Spirit into your heart with power that you might have a greater revelation of who Jesus is, and more authority to share him with others. Nothing could be more wonderful. What do you have to lose?
What is the best group glue?
What makes a group stick together? Some stick together because of outside threats - until the threat is over at least. Some are united around a cause - as long as the cause is still a cause and continues to hold their attention. Sometimes an exciting leader can help unite a group - unless there is more than one exciting leader.
Or an activity, hobby or sport. The group is held together by their common interest. As long as other things don't get in the way.
Like personalities. Like differences of opinion as to the best way to do something. Like power groups that struggle for control. Like people with limited social skill or personality disturbances, or personal traumas that mess up the way they relate to others.
Being part of a group can be a challenge. In fact not everyone belongs to a group. Twenty years ago Robert Putnam published a book called Bowling Alone which described the decline in belonging and the social disconnection experienced by many people.
This social disconnection may provide a partial explanation for the appeal of mass protests - the sense of belonging to an important group for an important cause, even if temporarily.
But what keeps groups together in the long term? Causes, personalities, friendships, social bonds, and more perhaps.
However when it come to the church there is something unique. Certainly causes, personalities, friendships, social bonds, and more can sustain the life of a church. But not as a church. Only as a social group.
Church is Christ's body. It is an embodiment of Christ himself. Formed and held together by the Spirit of Christ. It's essence is not the people but Jesus.
Since that is the case, what is it that keeps the group together? What is it that binds them to each other? Not the social factors mentioned above. Because church is Christ's body, it is Christ who unites them. And it is his love that binds them together. Indeed the love they have together is the way they experience the presence of Christ among them. Christ's love is the bond.
What time is it?
So many changes. So much danger. So much disturbance of what we are used to. An unsettling of the earth. A shaking of the foundations. Jesus talked about people’s ability as weather forecasters: you see clouds rising in the west and you know it will rain. The south wind starts blowing [east wind in our case] and you know it will be a scorcher (Lk 12.54). But, he said, you don’t know how to interpret the present time.
How shall we interpret our time? On one view fires, floods, cyclones, pandemics, droughts are just part of a regular cycle. Well, yes, of course they are. That makes them more significant not less.
Significant signs pointing to what? To the future. To the present.
All these so-called disasters, calamities, emergencies, catastrophes are pointing to the end. They are warnings and foretastes in miniature of the great and final judgement which will happen when Christ returns. As such they are warnings to get ready. To change our ways. To know that God loves his creation so much that he will one day root out all that is evil and rebellious and corrupt.
The signs also point to the present. This is the time between judgments. Between the death of the Lord Jesus when he took on himself all the judgement for the sins of the whole world, and the time when he will return to bring those who believe in him into his Father’s kingdom and to bring final judgement on those who refuse to obey him. This in between time is the time for change. For repentance, for trusting our lives to the Lord Jesus.
Not only for us. This is the time for salvation for the whole world. These last days are the time when the gospel continues to spread and grow.
These are not times of despair but of hope. Times of opportunity. Not times to retreat or be afraid. This is the time for gospelling. For announcing the great news that the Lord of heaven and earth who is giving us warnings of impending judgement is, at present, only warning us. Now is the time to be saved. Now is the time to find freedom and life with the Creator himself.
Now is the time for good news.
Race has been in the news a lot lately. Continually perhaps. Every new episode of racial violence or hatred brings up similar stories from the past. Go back as far as you like, the stories are still there. Some of us have been reading through the Acts of the Apostles and the conflict is there too – different ethnic groups but the same prejudice and ill-feeling.
Many want justice. Or reconciliation. Or harmony. Or unity. Or just to be left alone in peace.
The future doesn’t look too hopeful. Especially when you consider the self-focus and tribalism of the world.
Maybe all the so-called races need to be superseded and a new race begun that is just one. Maybe a new start with some kind of human couple who could start a race of their own that wasn’t conflicted like ours is.
We would need a human who lacked the self-interest and independent nature of the rest of us. Unlikely. However you know that this has happened. The Creator who set up the first human has set up a new version. The first humans were made in the image of the Creator. The new version is the image. He is the image in such a way that he is the Creator and a human at the same time.
Now this is very helpful because the new human can deal with the inbuilt corruption of the old humans.
This happens because the new human has taken on the old humanity and done to it what ought to have happened a long time ago. He has killed it. Buried it. Put it to death. Put himself to death in fact.
Which seems a bit pointless if that is the end of the story.
But this dead human who is the image of the Creator was brought to life by his Creator Father. And it is this resurrection of the old/new human that allows a new race to develop free from the old corruption.
The wonderful thing is that people who are still one of the old humans can join this new race. They do it by deciding to abandon their old life, believing the promise of Jesus (who is the new human) that his death included them, and that it rescued them from the judgment of futility and foolishness that is their life and from the impending much more serious judgement of death that is hanging over them. Not only that but by an amazing change in their inner being, they are given a heart and spirit to love and obey Jesus. God in his grace has brought them to start a new life with a new heart (a kind of inner resurrection – actually a new birth is the way it is described). More than that Jesus comes and lives his life in them. Actually they now have their life in him.
This new race grows and increases. But wonder of wonders it is not left to grow on its own like the old humans were. Its life comes from Jesus. Its life is Jesus. It turns out that the new race is actually the new human.
This is the hard bit to understand. The new race (you know we are referring to the church) is somehow one with Jesus. Jesus embodied in a body of people. Jesus and his body. So united that the life of Jesus fills his body. So one as to say that the complete being of God the Son fills it in every way. Jesus and the church: distinguishable but inseparable.
That is the great story of Jesus’ new race. And this is where the only hope lies for an end to human conflict and violence and futility.
Women and Men of the Spirit
Pentecost Sunday celebrates the first outpouring of the Spirit on the Church. Whilst prominence is given to power to witness (Acts 1:8), there were many other dimensions to the influence of the Spirit. The 120 original disciples of Jesus (Acts 1:15) who all filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:5) were suddenly faced with at least 3,000 new converts to disciple (Acts 2:41). After the miraculous healing described in Acts 3, another 5,000 men were added to the Church (Acts 4:5). Total numbers the numbers must have exceeded 10,000. Whilst this group seemed gather as one mass in the temple they also met daily in homes (Acts 2:46; 5:42). With the average house at the time possessing a capacity of under 40 people there must have been 100’s of house churches in Jerusalem. Each of these needed a leader or an elder, someone to give guidance in the Word and prayer (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1-4). Whilst for eldership qualifications of character are paramount e.g. well thought of by outsiders, and the ability to teach is essential, everything is dependent on the enablement of the Holy Spirit. Character after all is an expression of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-24) and it is the vocation of the Spirit to instruct the believer in the things of Christ (John 14:26). These are reasons why all Christians are exhorted, to “keep on being filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18).
If it could be said of the Old Testament servants of God, “the prophet is…the man of the Spirit” (Hos 9:7), this must be the case for all Christians who have “the testimony of Jesus…the Spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10). To be a Christian is to be a woman or man of the Spirit out of whose mouth will proceed spiritual truths to help others grow to be like Christ (1 Cor 2:13). The Spirit who lives in us longs with a deep longing to speak/act through us to bring others to a more mature Christ-likeness. To be a follower of Jesus is to be naturally supernatural in helping others to look and live like Jesus (1 Cor 11:1). This is the call of God which fell on all the people of God at Pentecost. Accept this call, own it, grow in it. Our whole future of at Mark’s depends upon this.