1. What is God doing?

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 1. What is God doing?

Mt 4:19 “Come follow me,” Jesus said.     

There are high points in life, and low points. At Easter it was the other way round, there were low points and then a high point: He has risen! We live in a world full of high points and low points and for the unbeliever every day is a day of uncertainty, a day of potential worry. But there is another way. An academic-cum-poet, Minnie Louise Haskins’, in 1908 wrote a poem, “The Gate of the Year” that gained fame by being used in King George VI’s 1939 Christmas broadcast, facing the early days of the Second World War. They are still appropriate for today:

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”  So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”

Writing in Spring 2021, I find myself gazing into the future, wondering. I gaze at the horizon and wonder. What is God doing? Is He coming soon? I wrote elsewhere recently that Spring is a time of peering at the earth with expectancy. I had sowed tomato seeds and each day peered at the seed tray looking for signs of life. Eventually each seed broke the surface and so then I watched their growth with the expectancy that one day, later in Summer, I would be harvesting sweet, small, orange tomatoes. I knew what they should be, I knew it when I sowed the seeds, but would life come forth?

In March this year, we ‘celebrated’ (well the media made a meal of it!) a year since the start of the first of three lockdowns in the UK. At this point in time, optimism is strong on one hand, while realism keeps rearing its ugly head in the form of Government scientists warning or more to come. But a combination of large percentages of the population receiving their vaccine shots, the lengthening of the days of Spring, and the hopes of Summer and of coming out of restrictions, mean that many are peering at the light at the end of the tunnel with hope and optimism.

But for me and you as believers, what is the reality? The bigger question that I find impinging on my consciousness day after day, is what is the Lord doing? For some time now voices have been raised around the globe suggesting that revival is just around the corner. The trouble is that optimism can take our emotions beyond where God is at the moment. Is He coming soon in revival in the world, or renewal in the church? We can but watch and wait. Note those two things, for they are what I sense need to be behind all I write for the remainder of this month. Watching speaks of anticipation; waiting speaks of holding a right attitude until He comes. For the sake of these studies, these meditations, these reflections, can we consider ourselves ‘visionaries of God’, those of His children who will watch the horizon with a realistic anticipation, who seek His heart and will, in order to perhaps hasten the day or, at the very least, prepare for the day.  

But, I wonder, can we think of this in a wider sense, not merely in respect of revival or renewal?  Will He come to my family, my unsaved loved ones, my prodigals, the needs I have been crying out for, for so long? Will He come to the church, to my locality, my nation? Is there really hope – of an end to the pandemic, of change in my family, church, and nation? Is there really a light at the end of the tunnel?

But then I have to come back to basics, to the beginning and ponder on my calling to be a disciple. The mentality of disciples is simply to obey the call – follow me. It was those simple words that made four fishermen leave their nets, a tax collector leave his booth, and others put down and walk away from their daily activities. Where were they going? What did the future hold? It’s been a picture that has grabbed me a number of times in recent years. We like a religion that is neat and orderly, where we know what is happening because we are the ones in control, where we know what is going to happen because it is us doing it – but that is not the calling of a disciple of Jesus who takes on the name ‘Christian’.

No, Jesus’ disciples had one calling, to follow him, without knowing what was coming, without being in control. When Jesus walked, they walked, when Jesus stood still, they stood still, when Jesus ate, they ate, when Jesus slept, they slept, when Jesus performed healings …. yes, they eventually performed healings, when Jesus cast out demons… yes, they eventually cast out demons.

So what is happening today that he calls me to enter into? Well, one thing I do know, and that is what is NOT happening. Thousands of people are not turning to God in revival around the world. The church is not dramatically coming alive with revelation and power. When I pray for healing it only happens occasionally. When I share the gospel it rarely produces an instant reception and life transformation. But does that mean God has packed His bags and gone off to some other universe? I don’t think so! Every now and then, I observe little signs of Holy Spirit activity and encouragement, just like I see the shoots and buds and seedlings coming into life all over the place in Spring. So what is His call today? I believe it is to watch and wait – and DO what He gives us to do when He gives it, to take the opportunities He gives, when He gives.  It’s a call to realism and a call of hope, a call to still involve us in the work of His calling. How can we do that, how can faith rise up in us for these days? Let’s kneel and listen and watch, let’s be available and obedient. Join me in this pilgrimage this month.

16. Mystery

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 16. Mystery

Rom 15:25 “the revelation of the MYSTERY hidden …. but now revealed and made known.” 

We spoke yesterday about wisdom and revelation imparted by the Holy Spirit, and it’s especially the word ‘revelation’ that seems to call so strongly now. Revelation as we said before is disclosed knowledge, knowledge that was previously hidden. The Revelation of John, for example, the last book in the Bible, is prophetic insight shared by Jesus to John (Rev 1:1) about how things will be in the last days. In 2 Sam 7 Nathan the prophet comes and gives David the big picture of the future of both the present and the future (v.4-16) and so we read, Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.” (v.17) In one sense the who Bible is God’s revelation to us.

Hindsight is both a blessing and a bane. Having the completed Bible as we do means we have the whole picture in our hands and that is a blessing, but that means we often miss the struggles that people in the Bible had. Paul spoke of the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4, Col 4:3) or the mystery of the Gospel (Eph 6:19) or this mystery more generally, (e.g. Rom 16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:3,6,9, Col 1:26,27). Before Christ came there was this prophetic sense of a ‘coming one’, a messiah, but that was all it was, a shadow in history. The prophets longed to understand what they were sensing (1 Pet 1:10). We now know what it was. Let’s not miss out on the privilege we have of living in this time with this knowledge.

I wonder if that is how we see it – a privilege that we have of living in this present time with the complete Bible in our hands or on our bookshelves? But there we have it for so many, Bibles on bookshelves. They need to be in our hands for Paul wrote, that we are saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thes 2:13b) i.e. we experience God’s salvation as the Spirit works in us and our faith builds up daily our ‘belief in the truth’.   When Paul spoke of a ‘mystery’ he was referring to the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament that hinted at a coming one and yet it had come with different hues – he might be an abused servant, he might a mighty king (and of course he turned out to be both) that it was confusing for scholars. It needed the events to be rolled out in history and then spoken into the spirit of this out-of-time apostle before what had been a mystery became clear. The truth is that the word of God is a mystery to many, very simply because they don’t approach it in prayer and with a submissive heart, and so because it does seem a mystery, people fail to read it daily, fail to be fed by it daily, fail to be built up daily by it, fail to be transformed by it as the Spirit applies it. And so the enemy whispers, “It’s hard, you don’t need it, you can get by without it.” A lie, in fact three lies! It is the foundation of our faith and it is food for our faith and so without it we feel unstable and worry, we feel ‘thin’ and weak. I recently ran across a simple quote by a well-known Christian leader: “Anxiety comes from unbelief,” and I believe he is right and is why so many people are living in anxiety. They have not let God impart faith, confidence, and assurance through His word because they have kept the mystery book closed. Away with these lies, away with this folly. At times in history we have been known as ‘the people of the book’. May that be true again today as we cast off the negatives spoken in the world about it, and let God come again in both His Spirit and His Word and unshackle the Church.

15. To Know

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 15. To Know

Eph 1:17 “so that you may KNOW him better.”

This was at the heart of Paul’s praying for the Church. As we go into the second half of January I want us to focus on our faith, things that shouldn’t just be for theologians or Bible commentators but should be part of the library of knowledge of every Christian that can act as a resource to help them to stand strong, walk more purposefully, and run the race more dynamically to the end. They are all about knowing God, knowing His plans, knowing what He has for us, what He has done for us, and is doing in and through us and will do for us as we go with him into the unknowns of the year ahead. 

But let’s take in this verse more fully. This was the apostle Paul who was saying to the Ephesians that he had been praying for them that Jesus would give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” Note the positive, the definite article – “THE Spirit of….” All of the main versions have it; it is no accident. The suggestion must be that the Holy Spirit imparts wisdom (the know-how) and revelation (disclosed knowledge) to us, “so that you may know him better”. In other words knowing how it all works and being given insight behind the spiritual scenes, so to speak, will mean that we come to know, not only Jesus himself but all that he has for us. 

That ‘what he has for us’ is then spelled out in the next verses: “(i) the hope to which he has called you, (ii) the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and (iii) his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (v.18,19)It is almost like Paul works backwards here as he spells it out: hope, which is about the future (tomorrow onwards) which is actually the inheritance, the birth-right of all children of God which is expressed as power to live and take us into eternity. ‘Knowing’ thus means experiencing him, knowing his life flowing in us that is being worked out in daily living.

So the life we live we live today is not about human endeavor, human effort, human activity, seen as rituals in church, rules to be followed and good things to be done, all motivated by the human mind, but our lives are Spirit-envisioned and Spirit-energized activity. But how does such thing work out in practice? I think it is what we have said so many times before, having hearts that are directed towards God, open and available to God, and obedient to God and which seek God in such ordinary things as praying and reading His word on a daily basis and asking the Spirit to fill us afresh daily. It is then that these things flow naturally in us.   

7. The Divine Provision

Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 7. The Divine Provision

Zech 4:6 “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Recap: So far: return to God, don’t worry that the world doesn’t care about the plight of the people of God, He does. He will deal with all injustices, rest in that. He purposes good, blessing and growth for His people and calls them together. He comes to redeem and create a people, cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, dressed in the robes of righteousness, called to rule with Christ in the kingdom of God. Chapter 4 comes in three parts: Part 1 – verses 1 to 6, the lampstand and olive trees, Part 2 – verses 7 to 10, promise that Zerubbabel will complete the temple and then, Part 3 – verses 11 to 14, explanations of the olive trees.

Wake Up: It’s the middle of the night, – ‘visions in the night’ (1:8) – and Zechariah has dropped off; he obviously just couldn’t stay awake, just like the disciples with Jesus (Mt 26:40,43,45), and as soon as he wakens the angel draws him back to the visions: “Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?” (4:1,2a)

The New Vision: “I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” (4:2b,3) Note the two parts to the picture. First, there is a lampstand comprising seven lamps on arms receiving oil down the arms or channels from a bowl at the top. The lights are lit by oil.  Second there are two olive trees one either side of the lampstand. It is obvious that the two olive trees are the source of the oil that is used in the lamps to provide light.

Again it is not obvious what meaning is being conveyed here so Zechariah asks: “I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” (4:4) Note there is no reticence on the angel’s part, he gives an answer straight away – but with a question: “He answered, “Do you not know what these are?” (4:5a) Zechariah is nonplussed: “No, my lord,” I replied.” (4:5b) Now note what follows because it is crucial. He does not spell out, as I have above, what he is seeing but makes a simple but powerful and vital declaration: “So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (4:6) In one sense the objects aren’t important, what they convey is!

The underlying and all important lesson is that the work of God is completed by the Spirit of God, not by human might or power, not by human strength. What is being spoken about here is provision by and of the divine. To understand the importance and significance of this we must hold on to the context – the work of God’s people rebuilding the House of the Lord. The modern Church has almost lost this fundamental understanding: the Christian life and service of the Lord is empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit and without Him all we are left with is human endeavor which God does not bless.

Declaration: First of all the declaration: The angel continues to declare the word of the Lord: “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” (4:7) It is not a vision but picturesque language conveying the will of God. The Living Bible expands verse 7 well: “Therefore no mountain, however high, can stand before Zerubbabel! For it will flatten out before him! And Zerubbabel will finish building this Temple with mighty shouts of thanksgiving for God’s mercy,” or, even more simply, God will allow no obstacle to stand in Zerubbabel’s way and nothing will stop him finish rebuilding the temple. The capstone is the top stone, the stone that holds everything else in place, the final stone, and so as it will be put in place with shouts of appreciation that this is the work of God.

Next comes explanation: If there was any doubt in the preceding words, they are removed in what follows: “Then the word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.” (4:8,9) The certainty of the completion will convince everyone that this is indeed the working of God. When you read both Ezra and Nehemiah, the rebuilding of the temple and the walls of Jerusalem came with continual opposition from the enemy, but here Zechariah’s word reassures them that that opposition will not stop the work being completed. God Himself will rejoice when He sees the work being completed: “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” (4:10) Seven, the perfect number here speaks of the perfect vision of the Lord through the Spirit that sees everything. He will see this come about!

The Olive Trees: But the inquiring spirit of the prophet is not satisfied, he wants to go back and find out about the olive trees: “Then I asked the angel, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?” (4:11) He has looked more closely and seen the source of supply for the lamps: “Again I asked him, “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?” (4:12) Again the angel prods him: “He replied, “Do you not know what these are?” and Zechariah has to reply, “No, my lord,” I said.” (4:13) Only then is he given the explanation: “So he said, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” (4:14)

Uncertainty: Now there is no further explanation given here as to who these two are. John in Revelation 11:3,4 makes a similar reference about two ‘witnesses’ but again with no further explanation. For the prophecy to make sense to those who heard it, they must have taken Zerubbabel and Joshua as the two key leaders to be these two servants of God, empowered by Him to perform His will. In the long-term, in the end times, I would suggest that the Church and the believing element of Israel could be the two ‘witnesses’ but as we are not told we will have to just wait for history to be rolled out.

Certainty: THE point of this chapter is twofold: first, to declare the certainty that the temple WILL be completed and, second, that it will be by the working of the Holy Spirit, God’s divine enabling. For them that enabling will be to provide revelation, encouragement, strengthening, perseverance etc., everything that is needed to overcome the enemy opposition and thus fulfill the will of God.

And Us: I hesitate to drum home the lesson yet again, having already declared it in previous studies, but the point is made so strongly in this chapter that it would almost be wrong not to reiterate it. The life and the service of ‘the body of Christ’, the Church, is what it is by the power and working of the Holy Spirit. When He is present and manifest, then we see power and revelation. The power to do the works of Jesus (see Jn 4:12, Matt 28:20, Mt 11:5, Lk 4:18,19) results, as I suggested in an earlier study, in constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings. Nothing less fulfills the call of Jesus to his Church. The revelation that the Spirit brings, envisions the church, releases faith to serve, brings wisdom to overcome obstacles and proceed with the will of God, and personal encouragement, comfort and strengthening to individuals. If we cannot say we clearly have these two aspects of His presence and work, in the Church today, let’s pray and ask Him to come and bring them.

45. Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 45. Q.7 Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

Hab 1:2,3,5    How long, Lord, must I call for help,  but you do not listen? …. Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? …. “For I am going to do something in your days  that you would not believe, even if you were told.   

Hab 2:1  I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me

The Questions:  There are times when things happen on the earth which should raise questions in the wise – what is happening, why is it happening? The arrival of Covid-19 in the early part of 2020 is one such thing.

Habakkuk’s Experience: Habakkuk was a prophet, ministering, probably just a few years before the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586/7, who looked at the unrighteous state of his nation and asked God, “Why, why do you put up with this?”  When the Lord said He was going to bring disciplinary judgment on his people by bringing the Babylonians to deal with this nation, this left Habakkuk amazed and confused. His response: I’m going to have to go aside and listen and watch to see what He will say.”

God and Judgment (For detail go to my link ‘The Judgments of a Loving God): How God brings about a particular judgment is in some ways irrelevant. In Job we see Satan allowed to come against Job and he does it initially by stirring up the Sabeans to plunder his goods (Job 1:12-15). Howe did Satan do that? Did he make them attack? Only, I suggest, by whispering in their ears that Job was a good target. How did the Lord fulfil His word getting Nebuchadnezzar to attack Israel? Only, I suggest, by getting one of Satan’s emissaries (see 1 King 22:20-23) to go and whisper proud thoughts to him. God doesn’t need to make people do evil, He just lets Satan stir their already sinful attitudes to go that way.

Covid-19?  Is Covid-19 a judgment from God? How did it start? As one website puts it, “The source of the coronavirus is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan which sold both dead and live animals including fish and birds. Such markets pose a heightened risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans because hygiene standards are difficult to maintain if live animals are being kept and butchered on site.” It would also appear there was a Chinese doctor who warned about it but was disregarded. Careless workers plus disregard by the authorities? Sounds like the work of the enemy allowed, we have to say, by the Lord. But why?

The Effects: Consider what has happened. The world has ground to a halt, economies are under threat, proud authorities are lost as to how to deal with it, and relatively few numbers have died (over an above those who would have died in the northern hemisphere winter anyway.) Mankind has been humbled and people shut off from their usual activities given time to reflect on life. Discipline? Most certainly.

But Why? Well, what was God’s intent in bringing Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem? To discipline and humble the people, to stop the ongoing sin of idolatry that He had spoken against for so many years through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to cleanse the people of their sin to prepare them to return to the Land with a new outlook. What, if we are right and God is behind it, even if it is simply Him standing back and letting the sinfulness of mankind bring it about, is He seeking to achieve through it? Well of course only time will tell but what we have already noted might give us a clue: mankind is being humbled and people given opportunity to pause up in their lives and ponder on the important things of life. For some time now, various voices from around the globe have been hinting at the possibility of God coming with worldwide revival and such as this would appear to be a way of preparing people’s hearts to receive Him. The ministry of John the Baptist may be what should be the ministry of the Church to the world at the present time. Check out Isa 43:3, Mal 3:1, Matt 3:3 and see if they speak to you.

Revival or Renewal: But  I find a question rising in me, an uncertainty if you like: does God want to bring Revival or would He prefer to bring Renewal? We need to understand the difference and then listen carefully. Revival, history shows, is God coming in sovereign power for a limited period of time both inside the Church AND outside it bring in a great harvest of the lost. Renewal is where God comes by His Holy Spirit to reinvigorate the Church.  Restoration tends to refer to a restoring of gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit. If we have renewal and restoration together we have a reinvigorated ‘body of Christ’ that is equipped, empowered, and envisioned to continue to work of Christ as we have never seen before.

Christ’s Calling to the Body: Consider what Jesus said of himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” (Lk 4:18,19) and “report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) As we have seen previously, Jesus sent out the twelve to do these things, then the seventy-two and concluded with an ‘all-church’ commission: “go and make disciples of all nations… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:19,20) having already declared, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).

How to Pray: Praying for Revival is easy: “Lord, please come and sovereignly do all the work.” Praying for Renewal and Restoration is harder: “Lord, please come in the power of your Holy Spirit to bring us together and equip, empower and envision us to be the body you called us to be so that through us you can reach this world – that you have prepared with this virus – with your power and your revelation.”

And So? Uncertain about the days in which we live? Pray.  Uncertain about God’s intents? Pray. Uncertain about your availability? That is down to you, your act of will, just declare it and make yourself available to Him, not only to pray but to be available to do whatever He wants to do as we pray. Amen? Amen!

37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

Jn 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.’

Acts 4:8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…

Acts 4:31  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Acts 11:24   He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Be at Peace:  As I have suggested before there are often fears and doubts and uncertainties about the Holy Spirit which the Lord understands but simply warns us against speaking wrongly of Him (Mt 12:31,32). To deny the work of the Spirit is to deny God. But uncertainties are understandable, but it is the way we respond to them that is important. I testified in the previous study how I foolishly experienced the Spirit moving, backed away from it, yet was graciously drawn back in repentance to receive again. The Lord looks for hearts that are open to him, even if they are uncertain. Be at peace in all this.

Uncertainty is Natural: If a leader like Nicodemus (Jn 3) was confused, don’t be surprised if we often get confused. To take Jesus’ analogy about the wind, many of us feel fearful simply because don’t know when He is going to turn up and what He might do. We live in a world that teaches us to be in control so it is natural to be nervous when God turns up and takes control out of our hands. It is natural but we are not called to be natural, we are called to be supernatural. We are to live by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), we are to live not by human wisdom but by Holy Spirit and scriptural guidance.

Effects: I want to finish these reflections about the uncertainty of the Spirit by noting the fruitfulness that comes when we allow the Spirit to lead, inspire and empower us. In the previous study I used the analogy of a son growing into his father’s business as a picture of what God wants for us, and when we see the things He says He expects of us, we realize that these are things we cannot do by our own ability.

Boldness: Using our verses above, in Acts 4  when Peter is brought before the authorities we see him, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” (v.8) and Luke surely means us to see that it was because of this that he could answer them fearlessly and proclaim the Gospel. In Judges we have seen the Spirit come upon people to make them bold and courageous leaders. When we are filled with the Spirit there comes a new freedom to stand up and be God’s people. At the end of Acts 4 when the church are praying, the Spirit comes on them all and they were all filled so that “they spoke the word of God boldly”. (v.31) We desperately need some Holy Spirit boldness to speak into the world today.

Characteristic: When a problem of administration arose in the church in Jerusalem the instruction of the apostles to the other believers was, “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3) The experience of being filled, that results in visible changes in a person, was apparently obvious in the early church. “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.5) If you referred to someone as a ‘Spirit-filled believer’ you were saying there was something about them that stood out – a freedom in God, a love and joy in the Lord, and often wisdom – that could be seen! There was no wondering. Shortly afterwards we read of Stephen, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (v.8) Is this what caused the enemy to stir up opposition against him and yet, “they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” (v.10) This opposition was to lead to him becoming the first Christian martyr. But see all those things describing him: full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit, full of God’s grace and power, performing great wonders and signs, speaking fearlessly with great wisdom, and able to face death fearlessly. This is the life potential for those “filled with the Spirit”. If the modern church cannot live up to these descriptions, is it because we use the words but don’t experience the reality of the Spirit?

Similarly in Acts 11, Barnabas was described as, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” (Acts 11:24). He was the man we know as an encourager (v.23), the one who drew Paul into ministry (v.25,26), who clearly was a significant teacher (v.26b)

A Quick Glimpse at History: We are sometimes not very good at understanding church history but let’s conclude this study with a quick refresher in respect of history and the Holy Spirit. It is said that you can find throughout the two thousand years of church history, little pockets of believers who were open to the Spirit but the so-called Azusa Street Revival, in Los Angeles, that started in 1906, brought out into the open the place and role of the Holy Spirit, which had already started to be considered in some ‘holiness churches’. Pentecostalism was born resulting in the formation of Pentecostal churches & denominations which spread worldwide. This teaching and experience restored the Holy Spirit to His proper place, but mostly stayed within Pentecostal churches

That is, until in the 1960’s when a change came which someone described as, “individual believers seeking the Father for his promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Out of his came a fresh awareness of the existence, experience, function, and role of ‘the body of Christ’.  The Charismatic Movement was born with personal Spirit-filling and gifting, and our place within the body, being taught and experienced in new ways. Unlike Pentecostalism the charismatic movement did not create new denominations but Spirit-filled believers continued their experience within their existing denominations.

In the 1990’s a new wave of Holy Spirit activity burst out across the world with the phenomena referred to as the Toronto Blessing, where the Spirit, sovereignly it seemed, broke in on individual believers as they gathered and brought a new joy and a new freedom to the people of God. It was not revival and mostly did not appear to stir evangelism into being. It was first and foremost a restoration of the wonder of being God’s children.

Now we may not have been around and experienced these times of blessing but the truth was that in each case new life poured into and through the church. Each of these were different from revival which is a sovereign powerful moving of God inside and outside of the church to bring fresh life to believers and a harvest of souls into the kingdom.

And Us?  Wherever we stand, whatever our experience of the Spirit and whatever our feelings in respect of Him, one thing in today’s world and today’s church is obvious: we need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whether He comes in revival sweeping all before Him sovereignly, or whether He comes in renewal and reinvigorates His Church to be what He wants it to be, is down to Him and we will have to wait to see. In this again there is uncertainty. There are signs in all that is going on in the midst of the world activities that the Lord may be getting ready, thus Isaiah’s (Isa 4:3-5 Msg) call is appropriate:

Thunder in the desert!  “Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys, level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.

How can we put it even more clearly?  Speak into this spiritual desert, this wilderness that is the modern world. Put your lives right for God is coming. Do all that needs doing to set your life right so that there is no hindrance in it to prevent Him coming and working in and through you. Clean it up, get rid of things you know would not bless God when He comes, fill in what is missing in your life and experience, and open up your heart to receive all He has for you, and then look for the coming of His glory.   Amen.

34. The Uncertainty of Pentecost

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 34. The Uncertainty of Pentecost

Acts 2:4   All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

More Whaaat?  The Day of Pentecost and the record of Acts 2 is both amazing and glorious AND a source of uncertainty, questions and doubts in many.  Was this a one-off marker-in-the-sand event or did it have greater ongoing significance? Was it just for those caught up in it, or does it have meaning for us today as well?

Personal Testimony: I need to make a confession before I go any further. I come from an Evangelical, Pentecostal, Brethren, Baptist, Free Church, Charismatic, Restorationist background. I have had the privilege of having friends from each of these areas and experiences within them in the Christian Church.  I was filled with the Spirit, rejected the experience, came back to the experience, spoke in tongues and have a reasonable gift of prophecy. My biggest concern in these studies is that we study what the Scriptures actually say and if our experiences don’t match the word, we pray that God will bring us in line with His word. I believe in all the Eph 4:12 ministries and all the 1 Cor 12 gifts.

Yet today I am retired and part of a church that would like to think of itself as charismatic but isn’t. I know of Elim Pentecostal churches that would like to think of themselves as Pentecostal but aren’t. As I look around the Church I don’t think many of us are doing what Scripture reveals. When it comes to the Spirit, I believe we often talk the talk but rarely do the real stuff – and I include myself in that. It is probable that in these studies about the Holy Spirit I am going to ask some awkward questions, but I ask them equally of myself. There are rumblings in the Christian undergrowth that God may be coming in worldwide revival – and don’t we need it – but mostly although my heart feels it, my eyes see little signs of it yet. (April 2020) I am uncertain where we are going, both in these studies and in the Church. I do not stand on a high place and preach down, but I do believe we each need to be honest as we face what the Scriptures actually say. Can we try and do that? Let’s consider what happened to the disciples first.

First the Disciples: They have received Jesus’ marching orders – or to be precise his ‘sitting and waiting’ orders (Acts 1:4) – they have been waiting and wondering in Jerusalem, praying much of the time. What else can you do when the Master has left you and you feel helpless? Peter tries to bring a semblance of order and normality to reinstating the Twelve (Acts 1:15-26), according to scripture you understand (Acts 1:20). Yes, they have and know their scriptures, and they have their marching orders. That ought to be enough surely? We’ve got the completed canon, we’ve got the Great Commission, what more do we need?  They organised and appointed a twelfth apostle, so we’ve got the leadership sorted out. We’re ready to go. What more do we need? But the Master spoke of waiting for power (Acts 1:8), saying we will be baptised (immersed) in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). How long do we have to wait for that? He just said, “in a few days” (v.5). How long is that?  What does it actually mean?

The Pentecost Experience: What then followed on the Day of Pentecost….. hold on, Pentecost? There were three annual feasts all Jewish men were required to attend: the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Tabernacles. (Deut 16:16). Unleavened Bread followed Passover, as we’ve seen, and the Feast of Weeks, otherwise known as the Feast of Harvest or Pentecost, came fifty days after Passover (Gk. pentekostos means fiftieth) and celebrated the completion of the grain harvest. In God’s economy this was a day of harvest, at the end of which at least 3000 souls had been brought into the kingdom. What a harvest!

But what happened? First of all the experience: This is a preacher’s delight – there was a sound, a sight and strange speech. There was “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2) The sound is of a violent wind and wind signifies power. Then, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” (v.3) Now fire normally burns up but when, like the famous burning bush of Ex 3, it doesn’t destroy, it is a sign of the holy presence of God. Finally, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v.4) They were empowered to do something they were not naturally able to do. These ‘tongues’ were languages that visiting foreigners could identify as being their own native languages (v.8) and so they were empowered to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries – the curse of Babel (Gen 11:7) appears to be removed supernaturally.

Second, the effect: First of all note the disciples.  It is often thought the disciples were in the upper room, hence “the whole house” of v.2 but the fact that Jews in the neighborhood heard it all suggests the disciples we impelled out of the house by the Spirit into the open, out of their place of security, out of their place of quiet prayer, into the public forum. Dare we suggest that when the Spirit comes in power he bursts into and through His people into the public domain, the same domain where Jesus ministered.

But then notice, second, the watchers and listeners. They come to see what is going on, they are attracted by the noise and want to see what it is all about. Dare we suggest that when the Spirit comes in power, the world will beat a path to our door to see what is happening. But then don’t expect them to come clear-headed: “a crowd came together in bewilderment.” (v.6a) Why? “because each one heard their own language being spoken.” (v.6b) When they see the power and presence of God it will leave them bewildered. How can these things happen? Moreover, “Utterly amazed, they asked…” (v.7) This bewilderment will turn into amazement as they take it in and that in turn will provoke questions, and then more questions: “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (v.12) Amazed speaks of surprise, perplexed speaks of being puzzled, even baffled, by events that are beyond them. So don’t be surprise when some will jump to wrong conclusions: “Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (v.13)

So then note again, third, the disciples again. Questions need answers. “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd.” (v.14) The fact of Peter standing up may negate the earlier comments of being expelled from the house, but not necessarily. The fact that this experience went on and on for at least a short while, may mean it was somewhat overwhelming requiring them to sit down again. His standing “up with the crowd” may simply be a description of him moving into the midst of the growing crowd. However, whatever is the truth of the situation, the fact that the crowd are acting this way, and jumping to wrong conclusions, provokes Peter to get up and speak out loudly and boldly presenting an  answer to the questions and confusions of his fellow Jews. We are given the main gist of his ‘first Christian sermon’ but he obviously goes on – “with many other words” (v.40) – warning and pleading with them to repent (see v.38) and some three thousand responded to his word (v.41). Although the words are not there, it is obvious he is speaking under great anointing, with the Holy Spirit so empowering his words that this large number responded.

To Recap: Now before I recap, I realize this will raise many questions and perhaps it is right to suggest that this is a unique day but a day that demonstrates perhaps true revival, the coming of the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit and the effects of this, which we will need to consider before we finish. But what have we seen?

  1. The Spirit: came with the sound of power, came with the sight of the holy presence of God, came releasing supernatural speech
  2. The disciples: were empowered to do something not possible before, were expelled from the place of safety to the public arena, were anointed to preach with power that brought a great harvest.
  3. The ‘world’: heard what was going on and were perplexed, confused, amazed, asked questions and jumped to wrong conclusions, listened to anointed answers, and responded in large numbers.

Questions that Arise: The presence and the work of the Holy Spirit has always been controversial, both outside the church as on this day, and inside it, sadly, as people have struggled to cope with a sovereign work of God that bypasses intellect and opens up the supernatural power of God in and through the body of Christ, the church. I suspect many of us would respond positively to what we have read here but will question, if this happened then, why doesn’t it always happen and is there anything we can do to make ourselves available to God for Him to do it regularly? Some would describe this unique day as the first Christian revival taking place and perhaps that is true, which means it is a sovereign work of God that cannot be repeated, and we certainly can’t make it happen, only God can.  However it is not the only picture of the coming of the Spirit in Acts, so perhaps we should lay all our uncertainties on the table and simply see what Scripture says as we move on in the next study.

In the meantime, as we look at the world around us and the relative ineffectiveness, in the West at least, over the past fifty years say, of the Church, can we see the effect of that? Can we see that the world has moved steadily away from God with the result that self-centred godlessness prevails and brings behaviors throughout society that are unrighteous and self-destructive? What is the answer to all this uncertainty? It is that we pray for God to come in power again, in and through us (which means making ourselves available to Him) to change the Church and challenge the world. Can we do that – daily?

51. Obedience

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

51. Obedience

Mt 28:19,20   go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Acts 5:32  the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him

Jn 8:51 whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.

So Obvious: It is so obvious this thing about obedience that you might wonder why we are bothering to think about it. Perhaps it is because it is so obvious that we tend not to think about it. Consider: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mk 1:17,18) Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, follow me, and they did. That was obedience. Then, Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” (Mk 1:20) Jesus said to James and John, follow me, and they did. That was obedience. Then, “As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” (Mk 2:14) Jesus said to Levi, follow me, and he did. That was obedience.

Reasons for Doing: Do you see the pattern? It is one that is followed throughout the Gospels. Jesus tells the disciples to do things – and they do. That is obedience. At the heart of discipleship is obedience, and because it is so obvious that we might forget it, let’s state it, obedience means DOING what Jesus says.  In the ‘Great Commission’ in Mt 28, it is to “obey everything I have commanded you.” Notice the strength of these words. ‘Obey’ means to respond positively to whatever God says. “Everything” means that we cannot take bits of things we find in the New Testament and exclude them. This is all-inclusive, it means nothing Jesus said is outside our discipleship. “Commanded” means instructed with authority. God doesn’t give nice advice. He says, do this. And He expects us to do it. It is not obligatory, and it is a call to all disciples.

Focus: I found myself writing the following the other day: “Church is not for your entertainment. It is for your salvation, your transformation, your equipping and your sending.” Many of us turn up on Sunday morning expecting to be entertained by nice lifting music, and a humourous entertaining sermon so we go out feeling happy. Last Sunday I listened to the minister ask the congregation, “Why are you here? What have you come for?” As I sat there and pondered that, my answer was, “To meet God, to meet with His people, and to be changed.” I was surprised by the force of that and so I think it is worth thinking about.

To Meet with God: As I have indicated a number of times in this series, if the Holy Spirit is leading us when we gather together, He will have inspired the worship team, inspired the leadership and hopefully will inspire us, and it will all be to the end that we encounter God.  Now Job is an uncomfortable book in many ways, but it is also enlightening. Not only does it reveal to us some of the inner workings of heaven, as well as the anguishes of living on a fallen world, but we also see (at the end) the effect of encountering God: “My ears had heard of you  but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself   and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6) When we truly realize we have met with God, we are humbled. When Peter encountered Jesus at the lakeside, and Luke gives us the fuller picture, a miracle ensues and Peter realizes he is in the presence of someone who is much more than a mere man: “he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8) Encountering God, means I am changed. This might challenge us to ask, how often do we on a Sunday morning encounter God?

To Meet with God’s people: The picture that comes from Paul’s writings to the Corinthians is that when the Holy Spirit is present when we come together, He will flow through us, one to another. He longs to speak, He longs to convey His power and when He does that through one and another, we are blessed, we are challenged, we are envisioned, we are released, we are changed.

To be changed: Well there it is, we saw it twice in the two paragraphs above, the end result of meeting with God and meeting with His people is that I am changed. But where, you might ask, was obedience in all that? It is in the ‘end product’ if I may put it like that. When I encounter God directly or through His people, the end result is that I am more aware of who He is, more aware of who I am, more aware of His love for me, more aware of His goodness and I am a more pliable, open disciple than I was before. I am changed and the end result is that I desire more to be obedient to all He says, because I have seen the wonder of who He is, and the wonder of His intentions towards me – and I want more and more of that. As that transformation takes place I realize even more clearly that blessing follows obedience because all He ask of me is for good.

The Process: May I take two of my favourite verses (and there are many others) and ponder on them in this context. First, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Here is the background for my life. God is working in my life to bring good – through everything that happens. But it is not a case of God waving a magic wand so that everything will turn out right. No, He will be working into the situation from outside of me, if I may put it like that, but He will also be working from inside me, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who seeks to guide me and lead me in right paths. And there it is again – so simple – He says, ‘follow me’ and the blessing flows when I do. That is obedience.

The second verse is, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) There it is so clear. God has got plans for my life, that He has “prepared in advance” or as the Living Bible puts it, “long ago” with the inference that fits what is said over half a dozen times in the New Testament, that this was planned before Creation. So what is happening now is that the Holy Spirit, living within me, seeks to guide me and inspire me into moving into those things that God Has got on His heart for me. The ‘good works’ are simply the things He wants me to be doing, the things He knows I am suited to doing, equipped to be doing by His enabling. When I move in these things, that is obedience and I am blessed.

A Warning: Now I dare not finish this without warning against complacency. This teaching is not so that we can have a life that is utterly problem free; never be under the illusion that when we speak of God’s intent to lead us into a place of His blessing, it means a life where we are lounging in a hammock in the sun with not a care in the world. It is clear from the Gospels and from Paul’s testimony in the New Testament, that it is often far from that. The reality is that we live in a fallen, broken, dysfunctional world, a world where stuff goes wrong, and God does not sit idly by. Remember what He said to Moses: ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them “ (Ex 3:7,8) This shows a God who sees and who feels and is moved to action, but note what follows: I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10) Moses won’t be alone for God will be with him every step of the way.  That’s how it is with you and me. We aren’t saved for our entertainment, we are saved for our transformation, our equipping and our sending. We were part of the world’s problem; now we are part of its answer – in God’s hands. As we, the church, step out in obedience to His word and His Spirit, He will use us to bring life, freedom, deliverance and transformation to the world round about us. That is what this is all about. Amen? Amen!

47. Power – for life service

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

47. Power – for life service

1 Cor 4:20  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

Eph 3:14,16 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being

Jesus expresses Power: Power accompanies Jesus. It is a word that appears with him a number of times. For example, after his temptation, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” (Lk 4:14) So as he appeared on earth manifesting the power that IS God, so one day he will return: “they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” (Mt 24:30). When he started teaching and healing, “All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” (Lk 4:36) Later Gospel writer Like observed, “And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.” (Lk 5:17) so much so that he goes on to record, “the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” (Lk 6:19)  Now this was so obvious and so specific that when a woman simply touched the hem of his garment in her belief that she would be healed, we see, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mk 5:30) At the end, after he was raised from the dead, the two men who met him on the road to Emmaus testified, “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” (Lk 24:19)

And the apostles: Now many of those verses we have just cited come from Luke’s Gospel. Matthew uses power 5 times, Mark 6 times, John 4 times but Luke 14 times. Luke’s Gospel is the one, it is said, that portrays Jesus as the servant but clearly the thing that impacted Luke was the power that was expressed through Jesus. But look at what more Luke brings to us: the fact that this power is passed on to Jesus’ apostles: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,” (Lk 9:1) and “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you,” (Lk 10:19) and finally in that Gospel, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:49)

Ongoing: This it is that Luke carries on this emphasis when he writes the book we call the Acts of the Apostles: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) i.e. their witness to the world would be because they were empowered by the Spirit. Then, “When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Acts 3:12) i.e. Peter knew that the miraculous healing had not been by his power but by Jesus’ power. So, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” (Acts 4:33) This became the ongoing important feature of his testimony about individuals, for example, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8) and “Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 9:22) Interestingly, in that latter case the power was an intellectual-spiritual power declaring the gospel and overcoming detractors. Peter, testifying about Jesus spoke of, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38)

Paul’s Testimony: If we haven’t yet got hold of this truth, listen to Paul’s testimony: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile,” (Rom 1:16) and, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” (Rom 15:18,19) and, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power,(1 Cor 2:4,5) and, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.”  (Eph 3:7) It was the power that was the Holy Spirit that brought the Church into being. Grace, the ability to preach, the ability to persevere, call it what you will, was all an expression of the power of Jesus flowing in and through Paul.

And us today? How often do you see this power that we’ve seen in all these verses, expressed in and through the church today? It seems to me that so often we substitute social events and carefully preplanned services for the power of God. Let’s suggest some ways that we should see it if it is in the way of Jesus: transforming people when they come to Christ, delivering people from addictions, fears, doubts etc, bringing healing – mental, emotional and physical – bringing power to preaching & teaching, bringing revelation – words of knowledge, words of wisdom, words or prophecy – all expression of Jesus’ ministry. If “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever,” (Heb 13:8)  then surely we should be seeing these things in and through the life of the Church today. Do we have a power-full or powerless church today?

A Response: If our honest answer is a negative one, then I suggest we should be seeking the Lord in repentance, asking his forgiveness for having lived in unbelief, and crying out to him for a fresh outpouring of that power in our individual lives and ministries. May it be so.

28. Clear your Mind

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

28. Clear your Mind

Mk 2:21,22  “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

The Problem of Presuppositions : A presupposition is, according to a dictionary, “a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.”  I concluded the previous study with the following words: I want to start by considering what would we do if we were starting utterly from scratch. The next few studies will be:

28. Clear your Mind

29. A New Creation

30. Life (1)

31. Life (2)

32. Being Together

33. Fellowship

So take a dose of amnesia, sit down on a desert island with a Bible, and see what might happen. I have tried to put myself in the position of starting completely from scratch, as if I knew nothing about church life at all, but the trouble is I have all these assumptions, these presuppositions, because I have history and I’ve just written twenty-six studies on the beginnings of it. It’s almost impossible to clear my mind of what I know from the past fifty years of being a Christian. But why should I want to do that? To perhaps see if it is possible to imagine what Jesus wants of us, without all the clutter of my (our) history.

An Imaginary Scenario: Supposing I just had a Bible, found myself on a desert island with a bunch of other people and we’re all unbelievers who have never been to church. We know nothing of church. I read the Bible I find in the remains of a wreck that got us there, and as I read my heart is strangely warmed on one hand yet convicted on the other. There is a sense of truth about what I am reading and I am warmed by the sense of love that comes through the stories of Jesus in the four Gospels and then I find myself convicted that I know nothing of this love. As I read on through the New Testament, I hear more of prayer, of talking to God and so one day, on my own, I talk to Him for the first time. I tell Him how wonderful I find the things I’ve been reading and yet how sorry I feel that all these years I have not known of it or experienced it, and I ask Him to change me, take me and do whatever needs doing in me to make me the person He would like me to be. I assume, having come down this path, it is first and foremost to experience more of this love that I have been reading about while at the same time letting Him (somehow?) speak to me to show me more of what He does indeed want me to become.

Church? But then one day I share what has happened with another of the survivors and they respond in exactly the same way as I did. Amazingly the word spreads like wildfire and before we know it there are over fifty people who have responded in the same way. As we read the Bible, we realize we are what the Bible calls ‘Christians’. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26  See also Acts 26:28) and then we realize we have run across the word ‘church’ a number of times: “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it,” (Mt 16:18) and “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Mt 18:17). Then later, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events,” (Acts 5:11), and “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem,” (Acts 8:1) and “But Saul began to destroy the church,” (Acts 8:3) and, Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened,” (Acts 9:31) and “News of this reached the church in Jerusalem,” (Acts 11:22) and “Barnabas and Saul met with the church,” (Acts 11:26) and so on. We see that ‘church’ were the Christians gathered in various places, presumably where they lived. But what more can we gather about this concept of these Christians who gather together? Why do they gather together? What do they do together?

Back-tracking? Yes, I realize as I said that I have already written a lot of words describing how this body of people comes into being, but what do they do in the New Testament and why? If I’ve taken rather a tortuous route to get here, this far in this study, it is simply because I have history that includes the knowledge of so many different churches and it is almost impossible to clear away my presuppositions of what church ought to be, but I can’t help thinking that going back to basics must be a healthy exercise and if it challenges some of the things we do today, so be it.

Where to Start? The Gospels are not the obvious place to start; following the Son of God in the flesh was a limited-period experience. The easier starting place – as far as experience in history rather than principles in teaching is concerned – has to be Acts. At least it shows us a) how the church started off without the physical Jesus in their midst and b) what God led them to do. Now in respect of that latter thing, some of the things they did were clearly led or inspired by the Holy Spirit and others were natural responses to who they now were and the circumstances in which they found themselves. Let’s try and tabulate those two things:

Things clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit Natural expressions
All filled with the Spirit 2:4 Prayed together 1:14 (men & women together)
Spoke with other tongues of other nations 2:4-11 Peter preached 2:14-40 Chose replacement for Judas 1:15-26 (Some point out nothing more heard of Matthias!)
Apostles performed signs and wonders 2:43 Taught by apostles, met in fellowship, held ‘communion’ and prayed together 2:42
Peter & John heal a cripple 3:1-8 Met regularly, had everything in common even selling goods to help others 2:44,45
Gave answer to leaders 4:8-12 Met regularly for breaking bread together, praising God and seeing more added 2:46,47
Sprit falls as they pray 4:31 and enabled to speak boldly Went to temple prayers 3:1
Peter exercises word of knowledge and Ananias dies 5:3-5  Ditto his wife  5:7-10 Preached to crowd  3:12-26
Signs & wonders performed by the apostles 5:12 Arrested for preaching Jesus 4:1-3
Angel releases apostles from jail 5:19,20 Prayed together 4:24-39
Apostles arrested & jailed 5:17,18

That is probably enough to go on with. In the left-hand column some of the things are specifically explained as happening as the Spirit filled individuals, power fell, angelic help given, but some, the miraculous happenings at the hands of the apostles, are clearly impossible to humans and are therefore obvious manifestations of the work and power of the Spirit.

Early Spirit Activity: Here we see inspired preaching, healings, signs and wonders, all very clearly the work of God in their midst. In each instance we see men inspired and empowered by the Spirit, i.e. responding to and being used by the Spirit. For future consideration, the questions might be asked, were these things purely for that point of history? Well  history denies that. The records show that at various times (relatively rarely before the 20th century) such things have been seen in a number of parts of the church. Following the Spirit outpouring in the early part of the 20th century, and then subsequent movements of the Spirit  (Charismatic movement, Toronto Blessing, Wimber movement etc.) in the late decades of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, it is obvious to anyone with integrity who bothers to research these things, these things have had a resurgence in various denominations and ‘streams’ within the Church. Perhaps we need to look later at why.

General Lifestyles: Without doubt the early church was impelled by the wonder of the Spirit’s outpouring, and their ‘life-in-common’ lifestyles are sufficiently challenging that we need to consider them more fully in subsequent studies. A common prayer life, regularly meeting together, specifically to remember the Lord, sharing with one another, caring for the less well off, etc. seem to be uncontroversial characteristics of their corporate life that perhaps we need to think about emulating. Watch this space!