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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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5 INDISPENSABLE GUIDELINES FOR NEW PARENTS

This is not for everyone. If you are already a parent, this is not for you. Instead of reading this I suggest you read one of my other more abstract Pastor’s Desk articles. If you are not a parent and have no intention of ever being a parent, this is not for you. Instead of reading this I suggest you read one of my more weighty articles on FindingTruthMatters.org. If you are not yet a parent and one day hope to become a parent, this is for you. Find a quiet place, take the next six minutes thirteen seconds and use the reading of this article as an investment into your future parenting strategies. I did not invent these guidelines. Like many parents who have also discovered the value of these guidelines, once discovered, they seem obvious. These successful parents probably grew up with own parents who inculcated these guidelines almost intuitively. However, my suspicion is that this is becoming increasingly rarer. As with all true guidelines they are adaptable, flexible, and are not a guarantee of parental success — but if ignored they become the point in the mathematical problem solving where you can see you made an error in your working out. In other words, while these guidelines may not guarantee success, if ignored their neglect almost certainly leads to frustration and disappointment. Here are five indispensable guidelines for every prospective new parent.

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR ATHEIST & MAGICIAN PENN JILLETTE TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN?

I’ve been praying for Penn Jillette for some time now. It began when I first heard him ridicule the Bible and Christianity. My fascination with Penn (and Teller), and other world-class magicians, has been due to my pursuit to develop my craft of preaching. There are a lot of similarities between preachers and magicians (just as there is also a lot similarities between solo musicians and preachers). I seek to learn from magicians about how to keep an audience’s attention, how to tell a story, and how to make a point by employing the element of surprise. But there are some significant differences between what magicians do and what preachers do though. A magician is deliberately deceptive. A preacher is striving to uphold truth in an honest way.

THINK ABOUT THIS

In Australia, it’s football finals time and the U.S. the last Grand Slam event for the year has just concluded. I find a lot of life lessons from observing elite athletes — including and especially those who play football and those who play tennis. Most people might consider football to be a team sport and tennis to be individual sport. But the distinction is not so clear these days. Often times footballers are individually coached by “position coaches” and a tennis player is often just who the public sees of a team of people responsible for the performance of that player. At the time of writing, there are remaining four Australian Rules Football (AFL) teams about to play off in the Preliminary Finals (including my beloved Geelong Cats). Last weekend, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain defeated Casper Ruud of Norway. Both players have intriguing stories which I will mention shortly. In the AFL, after a disastrous last season, the Collingwood Magpies appointed a new coach for this season, Craig McRae. Even though they got off to a slow start this season, under McRae’s oversight ended up having an 11-straight winning streak toward the end of the season and now look like genuine  Premiership contenders. What do Carlos Alcaraz, Casper Ruud, Craig McRae, and the Collingwood football team, all have in common? All the players at the elite level of their sport make an enormous commitment to train, practice, sleep, hydrate, and eat a regulated diet. Yet at the very highest levels in their respective sporting codes the difference between the elite and the extra-elite is no longer skill or fitness. In fact, the difference between them is so applicable to everyday life that it may be the most relevant and do-able thing you hear for a long time. So, think about this.

LOOKING BACK OVER THE PAST 200 YEARS

As Kim and I enjoyed our weekly coffee-date this morning at Stillwater, she looked out ruminatively across at all of the development that has taken place over the years where the North and South Esks merge to form the Tamar River.

“I wonder if the settlers who came here two hundred years ago” she asked, “could have imagined the silos would have been built over there and then turned into a luxury hotel, or that two bridges would have been built here, or that their tiny village would grow into a large city?”

“What’s more interesting” I responded, “is if anyone today can envision what it will all look like in another two hundred years!”

And my response then got me thinking. Could it be possible to imagine what Launceston will end up looking like in two hundred years—and, what about our church? What will our church will look like in two hundred years?

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Tasmanian churches play a vital role in our state as a moral compass and social leader. Our moral compass was given to us 2,000 years ago by Christ  who then commissioned the Church to preach, teach, and care in His Name. The Church’s role as a social leader was instigated by Jesus who embraced the shunned, condemned oppressors of the vulnerable, and upheld the sacredness of every human life and taught His followers to do likewise. Two thousand years later, Tasmanian churches gather weekly and continue proclaim the good news that Jesus taught, care for the poor and homeless, feed the hungry, welcome refugees, and provide thousands of young Tasmanians with an education. This is why the former Examiner deputy editor recently described the Tasmanian Church as “the most fundamental pillar in society” but then described it as being led by “a pious clique of fancy robed hypocrites, with less and less relevance each year to the wider community” (28/8/2022). The basis for his sharp criticism is grounded in his assessment that the Tasmanian Church has not recalibrated its moral compass to align itself with culture’s progressive values. Here’s why I disagree with the esteemed former deputy editor.

THE GOOD SAMARITAN AND THE INN-KEEPER

WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR? The Jewish leaders had a very strict understanding of who God accepted and who God rejected. Obviously, they taught, God had accepted the Jews as His favourite – particularly Jewish men. Jewish women were sort of accepted, but only as second-class members of God’s people. This obviously also meant that unless a gentile (a non-Jew) converted to Judaism they could not be accepted by God. Therefore, God rejected all gentiles — and He especially rejected Roman gentiles — but He reserved His ultimate rejection for Samaritans! Jesus then tells the Temple-lawyer the story of the Good Samaritan.

THE PRODIGAL FATHER

 Does anyone know what the word prodigal means? Perhaps most people assume that it means: “wanderer”, or “rebel”, or perhaps even “backslider” or that it only applies to sons. This seems to be based on the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 to which most Bible Publishers assign the division title – The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But the word prodigal does not occur in this parable. Interestingly, there are three lead characters in this shocking and famous parable: the father and his two sons. One of these was genuinely ‘prodigal’, and, as Tim Keller points out, it was neither son! To appreciate what Keller means we might need to take another look at what the word prodigal actually means. It comes from the verb prodigious which means remarkably great in extent, size, or degree (New Oxford American Dictionary). It is a word often used to describe an author who regularly writes books – John Grisham is a prodigious author. A prodigal person is therefore, prolific, extravagant, excessive, and, lavish. Keller points out that even though most people ascribe this to the wayward son in the parable, it is more appropriately a designation for the lead character in the story, the father!

SUPER SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIANS

Spare a thought for those people who are often overlooked by churches—and if they are Christians—they frequently struggle to even find a suitable church where they can deepen their relationship with Christ. Often we think of those who struggle with life as those who are “down and out” and blighted by impoverishment, or destitution, or ill-health, or family breakdown, or poor mental health. But surprisingly, even those who are seen as super-successful because of their wealth, social stature, public acclaim or amazing achievements, are actually struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and poor mental health — even if they are a Christian. These super-successful Christians are CEOs of large companies, or world-class or national sporting champions, or internationally renowned performing artists, or A-lister actors, or media personalities, or highly sought after professionals such as surgeons or barristers. They often pay a high price for their success, including, long work hours, constant stress, public criticism, extended time away from their families, fierce competition, and strained marriages. These pressures are exacerbated by their constant travel associated with their work which also makes them vulnerable to exhaustion and extraordinary temptations. This is why these super-successful Christians need to join the kind of church that can provide them with the kind of support, counsel, and accountability that every Christian needs. Here’s how a church can become this kind of church.

MAKING CHURCH A WELCOMING HOME

For many people, making a decision to attend a church is a significant and potentially daunting decision. As they come through the front door they are entering an unfamiliar environment. It is also an environment that may be associated with preconceived ideas of what the expectations and rules of the church community may be. These people probably will not know anybody and they might have concerns that relate to their previous or current lifestyle. For those of us who are regular church attendees, it is possible that we may not fully appreciate the challenges a new attendee may be facing. When we can relate to these concerns, I believe we are better equipped to provide a warm and patient “welcome” to what we hope will become their new church home.

LOVE IN ACTION

Physical illnesses and stressful events are endemic in our society. They can be likened to the thorns that cause both pain and damage. It doesn’t take much for them to impact a person’s life in ways that they did not expect. I believe that we can become more resilient as followers of Jesus by applying an appropriate solution to a known problem. I believe that an appropriate and important part of the solution is for us to show love the way that Jesus demonstrated love during His ministry on earth.