Garry spoke at Cherry Tree Court this morning about his rather eventful journey home from work on 7th November, when flooding hit South Yorkshire. Travelling to and from work by motorbike meant he was not caught up in traffic as long as some people in cars, but the journey – which usually takes about 40 minutes – took almost three hours as roads were blocked because of flooding. At many points during the journey, he simply longed to be home, out of the soaking rain and in the safety and security of his own home.
Luke 15:11-32 tells the story of a son who left home to make his fortune, believing the grass would definitely be greener on the other side… only to discover that life was much harder than he had anticipated. When the son returned home, he discovered that his father was waiting for him with open arms; the father was watching out for the son’s return and eagerly ran to meet him. This is a picture of the Father’s heart for us and how He longs to welcome us all back to His family.
It can be hard to view Almighty God as a father, but this is the relationship now open to us all as we draw near to God. We can know we are dearly loved children who are welcomed home into the Father’s presence.
Stephen spoke tonight about ‘the difference of a righteous man.’ Spiritual health is an essential part of our wellbeing. We were created by God to be holy and sinless and to be in relationship with Him, but Rom 3:23 reminds us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If there were such a thing as a ‘sin scanner’ (rather like the scanners at airports which are looking for metal), we would all set them off beeping! But God has persevered with humanity and longs for us to be restored to righteousness.
Noah is described as a righteous man who was blameless among the people and who walked with God. (Gen 6:9) This enabled him to make a difference by obeying God and building an ark as commanded. When we allow God to fill our vessels, we too can make a difference in our world.
A vessel can hold many things (rather like the capacious bag owned by Mary Poppins or the delivery bags on the Deliveroo adverts!) and often this is where sin creeps in to our lives, contaminating us from within (something which is not necessarily visible to others.) Ps 15:1-5 reminds us that God is looking for those whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous. He wants to dwell in each of us so that His righteousness is given to us (Rom 3:22). James reminds us that if we want to be righteous, this involves confession of sin to each other, prayer for each other and a gentleness in bringing back those who have strayed. (James 5:16-19) He also reminds us that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. We can make an enormous difference through prayer as we live in right relationship with God.
One of the ways the Holy Spirit wants to work nowadays is through the gifts of the Spirit in the church to build us up (see 1 Cor 12:7-11).
Paul summarises his teaching in 1 Cor 14:1: ‘Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.’ We need to have an attitude which longs for a better connection to the Holy Spirit and to see these spiritual gifts at work in our church. It’s all too easy to be wary of these gifts, for they can be misused and we can feel afraid of the unfamiliar, but God is the giver of all good gifts and can be trusted to lead us in ways that are ‘naturally supernatural’, as Garry put it last week.
We can feel afraid of the miraculous and supernatural because it’s outside of our control and outside of our ordinary experience, but actually, we don’t need to be afraid. God will not do anything that is harmful to us; He is good and all He does is good. (Ps 119:68) Listen to some of the very ‘ordinary’ ways the apostles spoke about the Holy Spirit:
The first missionaries were sent out by the Holy Spirit in quite understated tones: ‘While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”’ (Acts 13:2) And that’s what happened!
James said, when discussing what to do about Gentiles who were turning to Christ, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements.’ (Acts 15:28)
‘Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been ‘kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.’ (Acts 16:6-7) We don’t know how the Holy Spirit kept them from preaching the word in the province of Asia or how the Spirit of Jesus stopped them from entering Bithynia, but the whole tone of this passage is very matter-of-fact. Even when Paul talks about a vision of a man from Macedonia, which he takes to be the way God’s Spirit shows him where to go next, there is no sense of weirdness or anything to fear. God the Spirit is there to help us, build us up and guide us, not there to terrify us or keep us cowed.
We need a hunger for God’s Spirit, a dependence on Him that means we are not relying on ourselves and a desire for more of God’s Spirit if we are to see God move in power in our area and in our church.
Rom 8:11 tells us ‘if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.’ This is a tremendous promise, but we need to ask ourselves why we do not see more of the miraculous and supernatural in our everyday lives and in our church services. Perhaps the answer is connected to our view of the Holy Spirit and whether we see Him as a lodger or Lord of every area of our lives.
A lodger is someone who lives in your house, but who is not treated as part of the family. They are a paying guest and the owner still has authority over what goes on in the house. We often treat the Holy Spirit like this. He is an honoured guest, but if He oversteps the mark – invading our lounge, our kitchen, our dining-room and telling us how to live – we very quickly can become offended and resentful.
The Holy Spirit, however, isn’t meant to be a lodger. He’s not someone to whom we have graciously given access to our lives; He is God Himself. He’s the Advocate Jesus promised His disciples (John 14:15); the One who searches all things, even the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:10) ‘so that we may understand what God has freely given us.’ (1 Cor 2:12) So rather than being confined to one room, His role is to invade our whole lives, to have access to all we have and all we are so that we may be conformed into the image of Christ. His function is to guide us into all truth (John 16:13) and to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23)
If we continue with the house analogy, we can only make room for ‘more stuff’ in our homes if we clear out some of the ‘old stuff.’ In the same way, we can only experience more of the Holy Spirit if we deal with all that is at war with Him. ‘The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.’ (Rom 8:7-8)
Just as we know that we have to eat the right things if we are to live healthily and lose weight, just as we know we need to do physical exercise if we want to be physically fit, so we have to understand the conflict that goes on between our independent ‘I’m-the-owner-of-this-house’ mentality and the fact that our bodies are actually meant to be temples of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 6:19) If we want to have a better connection to God the Holy Spirit, we have to listen to Him when He tells us to get rid of something or do something and we have to be prepared to obey. The more we do this, the more we will grow spiritually. I truly believe we can have as much of God as we are prepared to receive… but that will mean de-cluttering our lives and letting Him be Lord. It will mean doing what He says, however weird or illogical that may seem to us. God so very often doesn’t make sense to us and we have to be prepared to step out in faith, rather than only doing what makes sense, and learn to obey the whispers of the Spirit, whether that is in rebuke or encouragement.
In our series ‘Connections’, we looked this morning at our relationship with the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead (and probably the least understood!) Fatherhood is a concept we can relate to (even if God redefines our understanding of fatherhood) and the humanity of Jesus puts a ‘human’ face on what it means to have a relationship with God, but the invisible, spiritual life of the Holy Spirit can often seem mysterious and even a little scary. One child described the Holy Spirit as being ‘the woo-woo’ of God, and there is no doubt that the miraculous signs and gifts of the Spirit can cause us to feel we are not in control… which is an inevitable part of our connection to God!
The Holy Spirit is a person, not a ‘force’ or an impersonal ‘it’. He knows the thoughts of God (1 Cor 2:11), shares the love of God (Rom 15:30) and distributes the gifts of the Spirit as He sees fit. (1 Cor 12:11) Eph 1:11-23 shows us the Godhead working together and reminds us that the Holy Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. He is ‘a pledge of the ultimate reception of redeemed souls into eternal fellowship with the Father in heaven’; He is the ‘first instalment’ to assure us that our full inheritance as children of God will be delivered. He is given to us to confirm that we belong to God; Paul says the Spirit testifies to us that we are children of God. (Rom 8:16)
The Holy Spirit is here, living in us, to make a difference to the here and now. God has poured out His Spirit on all people so that we can live in connection with Him, knowing our connection to God is secure for all eternity and therefore giving us confidence to live life positively and realise we can have an impact and influence on the world around us. John puts it like this: ‘the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.’ (1 John 4:4) If God’s Spirit is the power of God, the same power which raised Christ from the dead, and if His Spirit lives in us, then we have all that we need to be overcomers. We don’t have to live the same way we used to live before we came to know Christ. All things are possible in God, Jesus reminded us. We are given access to the spiritual realm, to the very life of God Himself. He’s given to believers to enable us to live as Jesus did, in connection with the Father, and He is the means by which we are to do the ‘greater things’ Jesus spoke about to His disciples: ‘whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.’ (John 14:12) As He dwells in us, He grows His fruit in us (Gal 5:22-23) and we are conformed into the image of Christ. (Rom 8:29)
It has been rather a tumultuous week in our area, especially regarding the weather, with floods affecting many parts of South Yorkshire. Many affected by the floods in 2007 have faced anxious times wondering if their homes will again be flooded and pictures from Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and parts of Barnsley have shown that it will be some time before any kind of normality will be seen. It has been very strange hearing such familiar names as Bentley, Fishlake, Meadowhall and Parkgate on national news and understanding something of the devastation caused first-hand, rather than being detached from such news because it is happening ‘somewhere else.’
In addition, some church members are facing difficult times regarding job situations and others are facing health problems. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when such things happen and particularly when more than one situation hits us with force. We are often left reeling, wondering how to adjust and how to cope.
God’s word reminds us, however, that God is an ever-present help in times of trouble. (Ps 46:1) Ps 121 is a particular comfort at times of bewilderment and confusion, reminding us that ‘my help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth’ (Ps 121:2, see also Ps 124:8) and that the Lord watches over us and guards us (Ps 121:5-8). We may well feel battered and anxious, but we are not left alone in any difficulty. God has promised to help us, deliver us and save us (see Ps 37:40, Ps 40:13, 17; Ps 60:5). As we call out to God for help, we can be sure He will provide it!