A Prayer inspired by the prophet Amos

Almighty God,
who can stand before You
without feeling some level
of smallness, fear, and failing?
Have mercy on us
in spite of our wrongs,
and bring Your forgiveness
over our sins, both known and unknown.
Save us from false religion,
from the bustling of activity
that has lost its center in You
and fails to reflect who You are.
You are a God of righteousness
and justice in Your character and activity.
Shape us, Your people, to be like You
so that justice might roll on like a river
and righteousness like a never-failing stream
in and through us, O God.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

Following the Spirit and not our Feelings: Evelyn Underhill on Calling and Desire

Evelyn UnderhillJust a few days ago, I came across this extended quotation from Evelyn Underhill from her fine little book, The Spiritual Life. Underhill speaks to the interface of our calling and our desires, and the challenge our feelings can bring to truly following God’s call upon us. I had originally read these words about three years ago while on sabbatical, but reading them again was incredibly helpful for me. I hope you benefit from her words as well, regardless of where God has you stationed right now.

So those who imagine that they are called to contemplation because they are attracted by contemplation, when the common duties of existence steadily block this path, do well to realise that our own feelings and preferences are very poor guides when it comes to the robust realities and stern demands of the Spirit.

St. Paul did not want to be an apostle to the Gentiles. He wanted to be a clever and appreciated young Jewish scholar, and kicked against the pricks. St. Ambrose and St. Augustine did not want to be overworked and worried bishops. Nothing was farther from their intention. St. Cuthbert wanted the solitude and freedom of his hermitage on the Farne, but he did not often get there. St. Francis Xavier’s preference was for an ordered life close to his beloved master, St. Ignatius. At a few hours’ notice he was sent out to be the Apostle of the Indies and never returned to Europe again. Henry Martyn, the fragile and exquisite scholar, was compelled to sacrifice the intellectual life to which he was so perfectly fitted for the missionary life to which he was decisively called. In all of these, a power beyond themselves decided the direction of life. Yet in all we recognise not frustration, but the highest of all types of achievement. Things like this – and they are constantly happening – gradually convince us that the over-ruling reality of life is the Will and Choice of a Spirit acting not in a mechanical but in a living and personal way; and that the spiritual life does not consist in mere individual betterment, or assiduous attention to one’s own soul, but in a free and unconditional response to that Spirit’s pressure and call, whatever the cost may be.

[Evelyn Underhill, The Spiritual Life (Atlanta: Ariel Press, 1937, reprint 2000), 23-25.]

Joel [God in the Ruins]

God in the Ruins Series GFX_App SquareAs we continued our series, “God in the Ruins: The Message of the Minor Prophets,” this past weekend at Eastbrook I walked us through the prophet Joel. Joel is an often overlooked book of the Bible, although a couple of passages are fairly familiar because of their connection with historic markers in the church year: Ash Wednesday (Joel 2:12-17) and Pentecost (Joel 2:28-32). Still, Joel’s message speaks to us of the gospel, where both the judgment of God and the grace of God meet. Joel is one of the most difficult of the minor prophets to locate chronologically, but due to name usage and references to other parts of Scripture it seems most likely that it falls in the time after the exile.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series on the minor prophets here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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A Prayer inspired by the prophet Joel

To you, Lord, we call,
seeing the challenges in the world around us
as the nations rage
and the challenges within us
as our souls often rage.
We turn to You, Lord,
not with outward shows,
like rending of garments,
but with the humility
of broken and contrite hearts.

We turn to You, Lord,
because we have heard
that You are gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and One who relents from sending calamity.

May Your Holy Spirit come upon us freshly,
that both men and women,
young and old,
might be saved and healed,
strengthened and sustained.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

The Trinity and Worship

The Trinity.jpg

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I stressed the importance of Christian worship being centered in the Trinity in my message “Worship in the Beauty of Holiness” in the concluding weekend of our series “Roots.” There are some things in our faith that I would consider secondary, but the Trinity is not one of them. The Trinitarian understanding of God – one God in three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is at the core of our faith as Christians.

As Bruce Milne writes in his book, Know the Truth:

Just about everything that matters in Christianity hangs on the truth of God’s three-in-oneness.

Or, to hear from an ancient commentator, Origen writes:

The believer will not attain salvation if the Trinity is not complete.

In the midst of our contemporary worship that often emphasizes personal experience or musical styles, the theological content and shape of our worship must not be underemphasized.

Since I didn’t give as much time to fully addressing the Trinity as possible, and because I am limiting my preaching largely to references found within Acts, I wanted to post some additional resources here. The following two resources can be downloaded as PDFs below and are resources from when I taught the session on the Trinity in the Elmbrook Church New Members class:

The Holy Spirit is Like…: Three Images of the Holy Spirit in Scripture

In Scripture there are three basic descriptions of the Holy Spirit. These symbols of the Holy Spirit’s presence help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does.

image 2 - wind

The Holy Spirit is Like Wind
The first of these images or symbols is wind. We read about this on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2)

When the believers are gathered together in obedience to Jesus’ command to wait for the Spirit to come, they first of all encounter the wind or breath of God. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word that ruach is translated as breath, wind, or spirit. It is this word used in Genesis 1:2, where we read of God’s creative work in creation: “and the Spirit [ruach] of God was hovering over the waters.” This is the word used in Genesis 2:7 where we read: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath [ruach] of life and the man became a living being.” The Holy Spirit is the basic breath of life – the spirit – that animates all creation and human beings.

Beyond bringing natural life, the Holy Spirit also brings spiritual life in the midst of humanity’s spiritual death through sin and ruptured relationship with God. In Ezekiel 376, when the prophet preaches to the valley of dry bones, they represent the spiritually dead people of God spiritually dead. It is the breath and wind that blows this mass of death into a living army of God. This is likely the idea behind Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 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” (John 3:8). The Holy Spirit is like wind that breathes life into us, spiritually restoring us with God through Christ.  So, when the violent wind rushes into the house where the disciples were gathered on Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2 we see that the Holy Spirit is coming in fulfillment of prophesy to breathe God’s divine life back into humanity.

image 3 - fire
The Holy Spirit is Like Fire
Secondly, the Holy Spirit is described as fire. Here are the next two verses in Acts 2:

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:3-4)

Throughout Scripture, fire is a symbol of the presence of God. When Moses knelt at the burning bush (Exodus 3) or Elijah battled the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), fire symbolized the presence of God in holiness and power. Fire is a symbol of God’s leading presence, such as when God led His people out from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Fire also conveys God’s purifying presence, as when Isaiah had a vision of God and a coal was taken from the heavenly altar of God to purify Isaiah’s lips (Isaiah 6).  Lastly, fire is a symbol of God’s passionate presence, seeking after people. When he received a message from God, the prophet Jeremiah heard these words, “I will make my words in your mouth a fire” (Jeremiah 5:14). Later on, Jeremiah exclaimed, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones” (20:9)

And so, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the early disciples of Jesus in Acts 2 in the form of tongues of fire, He is kindling His presence within His people. That presence is for guidance, holiness, and passion for people into the early disciples.

image 4 - water

The Holy Spirit is Like Water
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is described as wind. Earlier in the book of Acts, just before His ascension, Jesus says to His disciples:

For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:5)

βαπτίζω (baptizo) means literally to immerse, and so Jesus is telling His followers that they will be washed or submerged in the Holy Spirit as we with water.  The Apostle Peter echoes this later, after the Pentecost arrival of the Holy Spirit, when preaches with  reference to the words of the prophet Joel, saying, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17).

The Holy Spirit is like water poured into our lives from God. This reminds us of the Genesis account of Creation where the Spirit of God was hovering over the primordial waters of the cosmos that was still formless and void. The primordial deep was met with God’s Spirit to bring life.

It also calls to mind two episodes from Jesus’ life and ministry. The first is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman by the well in John 4. Moving from the earthly waters of Jacob’s well, Jesus says:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14)

The second episode occurs when Jesus is at a great Jewish festival, the feast of tabernacles, in John 7. Speaking in the midst of a great crowd, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John offers this explanatory statement immediately following: “By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believe in him were later to receive” (John 7:37b-39). The Holy Spirit is a gift like water that brings life to our souls and cleanses our dry and thirsty world.

These three images – wind, fire, water – help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does. If the church wants to live and thrive, we must seek to live by the Holy Spirit, who breathes life into us, who sets us ablaze with God’s power, and revives us with waters of life.

[This is an excerpt from my message, “Activated by the Holy Spirit,” preached at Eastbrook Church on September 6/7.]

Activated by the Holy Spirit

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we begin a new five-week series called “Roots.” This series is an opportunity for us at Eastbrook as we celebrate 40 years as a church to look back at what have been the roots of our church. It also offers us the chance to look forward to how we can continue living from these roots as we move forward for years to come.

This weekend we looked at how the Holy Spirit activates the church. Since our inception, we have said that we wanted to be a church that could only be explained by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is really supposed to be true of any local church, and was definitely true of the early church in Jerusalem.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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