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THE EASTWARD SPIRIT

Time once was when Pentecostals were known for their emphasis on the Holy Spirit. They also claimed that they had experienced a subsequent to salvation experience with the Spirit that opened the door to the gifts of the Spirit described in First Corinthians 12 and 14. In the early days of modern Pentecostalism, it was common for there to be a time in the church service where the worshipers would wait for the Holy Spirit to prompt someone to use an audible gift of the Spirit – such as a message in tongues. Pentecostals understood the apostle Paul’s reference to singing in the Spirit (1Cor. 14:15) as creating space during the singing of the praise songs to have ‘free worship’. For the first five decades of the twentieth century Pentecostal churches spread at a moderate rate. But as traditional churches began to abandon God’s Word, Christians from mainline churches began to drift into Pentecostal churches and also experienced an encounter with the Holy Spirit. But many ‘mainline’ churches during the 1960s and 70s also embraced the Holy Spirit and the ‘charismatic’ gifts described in First Corinthians. This became known as ‘the Charismatic renewal’. Through the 1980s the number of Spirit-filled believers and churches grew exponentially around the world, including Australia. But both Pentecostals and Charismatics were subject to some excesses through the 90s and naughties – but they also increasingly experienced ‘mission-drift’. A part of that mission-drift was an unfortunate reluctance to expound what the Scriptures taught about the Holy Spirit and the believer’s fellowship with Him.  

The Old Covenant prophets foretold of the coming New Covenant and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost described in Acts 2, Peter declared, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:16-17). But it was the prophet Ezekiel who received the most dramatic vision of the coming outpouring the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 47:1-12).

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The Bible seems to use the directions east and west very intentionally. Whenever people rebelled against God, they headed east. After Adam and Eve had sinned, they were driven east out of the Garden of Eden.

He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3:24

The Old Testament prophets described the eastern cities of Nineveh and Babylon as centres of evil and wickedness. But when people responded to God, they journeyed west. Think of Abram being called to leave Haran and travel west to Canaan. Think of the Jews in exile who repented and were permitted to leave Babylon and return west to the land of Israel. Then consider that when God gave Moses the plans for the tabernacle, entrance was only possible by travelling west, and the Holy of Holies was located in the western most precinct of the tabernacle perimeter. 

When the Magi came from the east (Matt. 2:1) to find Him who was born King of the Jews (unlike Herod who was appointed King by the Romans) the headed west to find Christ. And when the church in Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas on their first missions trip, the apostles first headed west (Acts 13:4). The vision of the New Covenant that Ezekiel was shown by the Holy Spirit was a magnificently much larger temple than the one that had recently been destroyed by the Babylonians. The prophet Haggai also had a vision of the New Covenant in which he too described it as a temple (or least referred to Christ as the new Temple) and said-

The latter glory of this house [to come] shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.
Haggai 2:9

LCC Livestream being watched in Islamic Pakistan and translated into Urdu

LCC Livestream being watched in Islamic Pakistan and translated into Urdu

What Ezekiel foresaw was the water of the Holy Spirit flowing out from this new and glorious temple eastward (Ezekiel 47:1). In fact, the further east that the water of the Holy Spirit was to flow, the deeper the water of the Spirit got for Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47:5). While several of the excesses of Pentecostals and Charismatics included the notion that the deeper life of being filled and baptised with the Holy Spirit was merely for what happened within the four walls of a church service, Ezekiel vision of the New Covenant outpouring of the Holy Spirit was eastward – toward those who were away from God. In fact, the further these people were from the temple, the deeper the water of the Holy Spirit was, in Ezekiel’s vision. We should understand this as Ezekiel seeing that those whom God was to call into the New Covenant, would be sent by the Holy Spirit with His anointing to go to the lost — the very lost — and this is why the Spirit’s anointing on them would increase the further ‘east’ they were to go. This is why, even today, when Christians take the gospel to the people of the hardest, darkest, most resistant places on earth, the signs and wonders that accompany the preaching of the gospel are often the greatest. 

¶ And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
Acts 15:12

Because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
First Thessalonians 1:5

This is why the presence and power of the Holy Spirit within the community of believers, the local church, is given to edify, console, and mature, guide, and empower believers to serve. This Sunday I will be delivering the third instalment of the five-part The SPIRIT Series. It is my hope that we can be a church that truly experiences the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and all the more so for those of us whom the Lord will call to take the gospel ‘eastward’.

Your pastor,

Andrew

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JESUS ATE with SINNERS!

This confrontation of the All-Good meeting face-to-face with Serpent-breath in the wilderness didn’t go the way the Dragon had become accustomed to. Even more baffling to him was what the Eternal Son did next. Rather than going to the supposed ‘rulers of this world’ He went to the despised and inconsequential: the people of His hometown, Nazareth and those in the socio-economically challenged region of Galilee. 

¶ And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and He stood up to read…When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
¶ Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that He was the Christ.
Luke 4:16, 28-29, 40-41

Even more baffling to the Satan was that instead whipping up the mobs and leading a rebellion, the Christ went to the shunned, the despised, the broken, the humiliated, as their dinner Guest! It seemed like an odd strategy, especially to those who had been longing for so long for the arrival of the Promised One…

CHRISTIANITY IS A PROPOSAL NOT AN IMPOSAL

I do not want to give anyone the impression that Christian is just a set of intellectually propositions. It is much more but it is certainly not less. One of the propositions that we Christians make is that Christianity is a spiritual transformation of a soul. While its propositions are true, they are not just true, they invoke a miraculous transformation in a human being. Jesus described this as being “born again” (John 3:3). The New Testament describes the moment this happens as being a transaction with God where we surrender our life and our sin to Him and He gives us His life and His pardon (1Jn. 1:8-9)! This transaction includes a hope that goes beyond the grave. God the Father adopts all those who turn to Him. It results a new way of seeing life and the world. The things that once troubled us no longer do, because we have a growing confidence that God has a plan and is currently outworking that plan. If you have never surrendered your life in a transaction with God, you can now. You are just one prayer away from peace with God and purpose for your life – both now and beyond the grave! The choice is yours. We can’t impose this offer from God on you, but I do have a proposition for you.

DIVINELY PRECIOUS TRIPLETS

Some of the profound truths in the Bible are expressed in just three words. The late J.I. Packer, one of the world’s most respected modern theologians, was asked to sum up the gospel message. He did so in just three words: “God saves sinners.” Many of the most eloquent prayers ever uttered have consisted of no more than three words: “Help me Lord”, “Thank You God”, “God save me”, “Please heal her.” One of the greatest royal invitations only consisted of three words: “Come unto Me.” Three words is all it takes to start an exciting journey: “Come and see.” Many of these three words statements, prayers, and invitations, have become divinely precious triplets that have rescued a lost soul, repaired a broken relationship, and replenished the worn-out.  

ETERNAL LIFE IS NOT JUST MERELY A MATTER OF TIME

The beauty of John 3:16 is that it is so simple it can be understood even by a child; and yet, as a believer’s knowledge of God and His Word grows, he or she will come to discover that there is a wealth of spiritually-satisfying treasure to be mined! In its simplest form, Jesus died so that all those who turn to Him in trust will go to heaven after leaving this life. Dig a little deeper though, and you also discover that the eternal life on offer is not merely about a location (‘heaven’) or a duration of time—but a quality of life and status of existence that elevates the believer into a glorified state with God Himself (Rom. 8:17; 1John 3:2). Our lives are now the training ground for our status as co-regents and co-rulers with Christ over all of His redeemed creation (1Cor. 6:2-3)! 

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU FOUND A NEWBORN BABY AT YOUR DOORSTEP?

What would you do if you found a newborn baby that someone had left at your door? Hopefully your answer sounds similar to “I’d take care him or her.” What if it wasn’t a baby? What if it was a young child or a teenager, or an adult, who turned up at your door requesting to be helped? I hope that each of us would also be prepared to help whoever it was. What if it was not an abandoned child, a youth, or an adult? And what if it was not your front door? Instead, how might we each respond if it was a spiritually abandoned, and spiritually hungry, person who turned up at our church seeking help to know how to be saved? While you might feel a similar compassion as you might have felt for the child at your door, you may not be as confident in how you would spiritually help this person seeking a spiritual connection for God through Jesus Christ. “Where would I begin?” “How could I be an effective discipler of a new believer?” you might ask. Well, I’m glad you’ve asked. For any Christian to effectively disciple a new believer it must involve an individual, a small group, and a congregation.

A DECREASING VISION

There is one sin that is worse than all others. It is the worst because it is insidious and imperceptibly deceptive. It is always at the root of all other sins. It was the original sin. In C.S. Lewis’s classic book, Mere Christianity, it warranted an entire chapter (“The Great Sin”) and Lewis claims that it is the greatest threat to any person – including the Christian – and their standing before God. Thus, to be truly spiritual, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered, and spiritual, demands that the man or woman of God be on guard against what Lewis called “spiritual cancer” — pride. To have any chance of guarding against the spread of this deadly spiritual and character blighting ‘cancer’ requires that we adopt a decreasing vision of ‘greatness’.

THE WIND BLOWS WHERE IT WISHES – SO IT IS WITH THE SPIRIT

This week I have heard of yet more stories of people who had no knowledge of Christianity as they grew up, yet had an almost sudden conversion to Christ. This has included the stories of several Muslims (now ‘former Muslims’) who knew nothing to very little about Christianity, and had always been taught that Islam was the one true religion, who then heard a Christian explain the gospel and were then supernaturally converted to follow Christ. (Several of these Islamic converts to Christ also had supernatural dreams where they claimed that Jesus appeared to them!) I also heard of an atheist scientist who been taught that science could explain away the need for believing in a God, who then heard the gospel and was resoundingly converted to Christ. The other story I heard was closer to home and involved a young lady who had grown up in an atheist home where her parents were actually hostile to religion and forbad her from anything to do with Christianity. Years later, she ventured into a church one Sunday morning, heard the gospel, and was converted to Christ. Each of these stories confirm what Jesus taught about the work of the Holy Spirit and His mysterious and surprising dealings with people to undergird the church’s preaching of the gospel.

I WAS IN THE SPIRIT ON THE LORD’S DAY

A year earlier all hell had broken loose when the tyrant emperor Caesar Nero had outlawed Christianity; and now, the last surviving apostle of Christ had been banished to Patmos Island. All looked bleak. The youngest of Christ’s apostles, John was just a teenager when he witnessed the brutal and protracted execution of Jesus. John, now in his fifties, had many reasons to feel disappointed and even disillusioned with God. His apostolic colleagues had each been martyred – having been put to death in often gruesome ways including: crucifixion, flaying, and beheading. On this barren rocky island, separated from the woman he had pledged to her crucified Son that he would look after, and away from the people that Christ had shed His blood for, John was alone. Ever since Jesus had risen bodily from dead, these life-time faithful sabbath-keeping Jews now recognised that Christ had sanctified the first day of the week, Sunday, as His day. It was also on this sanctified day that Christ poured out Holy Spirit on his gathered disciples. Ever since that day, no matter how he felt or the circumstances he was in, John had made it his custom to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. And his first Sunday on this island of banishment was no exception. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. While some weak Christians find disappointment with God an excuse to forsake God, John did not. While some weak Christians allow their excuses for disappointment with God to walk away from their church family, John did not. John’s example has something to teach us. 
¶ I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…
Revelation 1:9-10a

NEVER BE AFRAID AGAIN

Fear can be crippling. Being afraid is often the result of not what is happening, but what we fear might happen. Such fears make each of us vulnerable to withdraw, give-up, hide, or excuse ourselves from ever trying something new. The result of this happening is that we each become less than who God has created us to be and in the process we deny the world the benefit of what God can do through us. In the Bible there are many stories of many heroes who learned the secret of overcoming their fears by trusting God and learning how to ‘fear’ Him despite their circumstances or fearful expectations. We read of how Kings led their vastly outnumbered army to defeat immensely more powerful and ruthless enemy armies by fearing the Lord. We read how previously unsure, uncertain, unable people became fearless, decisive, and confident and able to solve previously insurmountable problems by simply fearing the Lord. We read how the arrogant were humbled and transformed into gentle and caring souls when they experienced the fear of the Lord. Then in the early chapters of the Book of Acts when becoming a Christian could cost you your life, we read of the numbers of Christians exploded across the Empire because they also no longer had a reason to be afraid because they learned what it meant to fear the Lord.

THE FRUIT DIET WORTH MORE THAN MONEY

How different would your life be if you were filled continually with the Holy Spirit? This seems to have been the experience of at least the first Christians. We know that Jesus told His disciples after His resurrection to “receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:22) which may have been the moment that they were “regenerated” which is a fancy way of saying that they were born again (Jn. 3:3). But then Jesus told His disciples to wait for the outpouring of the Spirit (Lk. 24:39; Acts 1:4) which was yet to come. The effect on the disciples when this happened was dramatic — especially in the Simon Peter (Acts 2:14). He went from being a cowering timid fearful backslider to being a bold courageous fearless leader of the Christ’s Church (Acts 2:15-39). Then some days later, as Peter was about to bear witness before the rulers of Judaism, he was filled afresh with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). When Peter met again with the other believers to pray, all of them were filled with Holy Spirit again (Acts 4:31). Thus, being filled continually with the Holy Spirit seems to have been the usually experience of the early believers. As the Church grew and spread, the early Christians’ understanding of who the Holy Spirit was and what He wanted to do in each believer and church also grew. They discovered that the Spirit didn’t just fill them to be bold proclaiming witnesses, He also enabled them to bear witness to the power of Christ by how they lived. The apostle Paul called this, the fruit of the Spirit.