Be Rich Part 5: Pentecost
On Sunday 4th June at our morning service, we continued our series 'Be Rich' with the topic 'Pentecost'. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
To listen to the talk on-line, please click here.
To download the talk to listen to off line, please click here.
In parallel with our recent “Be Rich” series, there have been lots of meetings going on at EBC about where we’re at as a church, what our vision for the future is and some of the challenges facing us.
In essence it’s about how we go deeper as a church
Over recent years we have been doing really well at reaching out wide to people in our area who don’t normally “do” church and as a result of outreach ministries like our Refresh cafes, the Tuesday bingo club and events at EBC like Messy Church and Lunch Club we now have around 450 people coming to EBC at one time or another each month.
Running everything we do takes a great deal of resource – lots of prayer, lots of people and, let’s face it, lots of money.
We’ve done some research that suggests that about 100 people are providing the physical and financial support that makes what we do possible. Whilst we can’t measure people’s commitment to prayer so easily, it seems likely that there is a good deal of crossover between those praying for the life of our church and those putting their time and money into it too!
Whilst thinking about all of this, the following passage from Luke’s account of Jesus’s life came to my mind:
Matthew 7:24-27New Living Translation (NLT)
24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
It struck me that the 100 or so people who are demonstrably committed to building up EBC are putting Jesus’s words into practice – they are building their lives – and EBC – on the solid bedrock of faith. The challenge we now face is that more of the 450 people currently attending EBC will need to do likewise if we are to sustain and continue the work we do. But how can we do this? How can we make it happen?
The Be Rich series has been timely. A God-incidence, perhaps, that we have been covering what we are called to do in terms of giving, serving, loving and worshipping.
Also our new Discovering Membership course covers a lot of the same ground about making the transition from attending and belonging to a deeper response, a deeper level of commitment to God and His church – that’s where we ask people to start thinking about baptism and membership.
We can ask people to give. We can ask people to serve. And we have…. And we will again – but there’s something more to be done too!
Here’s the thing – ultimately, it’s not enough for me, or Steph or Peter or Jacque or Rob or any other of our Elders and Leaders to ask you to think about these things. The key is for YOU to ask GOD about these things. For YOU to ask for and be open to receiving God’s Holy Spirit into your life. In old money that’s “repent and be baptised”.
John the Baptist explained that when he baptised people he baptised them with water, but that there was a greater one coming (Jesus) whose sandals John was not fit to carry. John said that where he, John, baptised with water, Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, he went on to talk about how they could and should be persistent in their prayers and requests to God the Father – we can read about this in Dr Luke’s account of Jesus’s life at chapter 11 when Jesus says this:
9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12 Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
Sometimes we mentally edit that passage – just to recap it’s from Luke chapter 11 and it’s verses 9-13 I’m quoting here. Sometimes we mentally hear “how much more will your heavenly Father give ‘good gifts’ to those who ask Him”
But Jesus is more specific! He actually says – verse 13 – “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
Through this year – and in our Discovering Membership course (which you can find in “Simon & Steph’s blog” elsewhere on our website) – we’ve talked a lot about building the church. We’ve recognised and repeated that the church is the people, not the building. And we’ve recognised that if we’re to grow as a church we need more of the Holy Spirit present in power.
I’m not sure we’ve fully joined up the dots though. Look at this -
1) We need the Holy Spirit in the church, but…
2) … the church is the people, therefore…
3) … we need the Holy Spirit in the people, but…
4) … Jesus said God would give the Holy Spirit if we asked Him so…
5) ... We really need to ask Him!
Not me to ask for you, but me for me and you for you and OK us for each other but we do need to ask him! So here’s my question - Are you asking Him? Have you asked Him?
It is the Holy Spirit who sparked the church into life. Jesus sent the Spirit from the Father… and it was the Holy Spirit who lit the kindling which grew into a massive conflagration – the church spread like wildfire! Across the globe until it numbered in the thousands and millions.
We can read about how Jesus foretold the arrival of the Holy Spirit and what happened next in the part of the bible called “Acts”, which describes what the disciples did after Jesus’s time on Earth.
You can read about this in Acts chapter 1 by clicking here and in chapter 2 by clicking here. As Jesus tells the disciples the Spirit will come, then as he leaves them they spend time together locked in prayer before the Spirit does indeed come upon them. Then Peter preaches to the masses gathered for the feast of Pentecost (a big Jewish feast rather like a harvest festival) and gets an incredible response to his message about Jesus and the need for people to turn back to God – to “repent and be baptised”.
It’s an amazing thing that a happened. 3000 or so people becoming baptised followers of Jesus that day – from one preach! Peter had a good day at the pulpit! Peter, James, John... the disciples spent 3 years in the presence of Jesus, walking the earth with Him. Talk about theological college! Talk about a Godly mentor!
And yet… what did they achieve before the Holy Spirit came upon them? The same guy, Simon Peter, who had denied even knowing Jesus just a short time earlier… fifty odd days… preaching suddenly with so much power. Why? How? The answer is - Holy Spirit!
So what makes us think that we can build our little branch of God’s church… what makes us think we can be truly fruitful in our own lives… without the same Spirit which Peter, James and John… the Apostles… utterly depended on?
The Spirit was the spark on the tinderbox. Jesus prepared the disciples, made them ready, told them what to expect. We may think we’re ready! We meet, read the bible, believe in and try to follow Jesus…
I’m as guilty as anyone for having the “We’re ready! Let’s go!” attitude – I want to get on and DO things, I’m not terribly patient… but it does strike me that we’re not going to build the church, Jesus is. And He started it by gathering followers (tick, hopefully!) and then sending the Spirit.
I think we’ll be tending an unlit fire until we ask for the Spirit. A tinderbox, nicely laid out, diligently filled with raw materials, getting prepared for ignition… but we need the spark. We need the Holy Spirit.
Now to finish, a bit about you and me. I’m a person who likes to write down goals and dreams and then go figuring out how to accomplish them, which is I guess why I’ve had all those meeting and drawn up slides and courses and diagrams and so on. And I guess as a church leader it’s part of my job to set down clearly our collective vision as a church.
But don’t miss this – God is the God of the individual conversion, the individual relationship. It’s vital that you – we – don’t reduce the Holy Spirit to being the means to an end – the means to our collective end of church growth. That will happen if the individual thing happens, to you and to me. If the Holy Spirt comes into your life individually and mine individually, in more and more power and if we invite and accept Him more and more so that God is at the very centre of all that we do and all that we are… that will be the most incredible, life-transforming thing for each and every one of us… and by the way when that happens the church will grow.
It’s not “we must do this so that the church will grow”… it’s we must do this… because we can… because God offers it to us… because it’s worth eternal riches in heaven and a richer life today… because Jesus died for us to be able to have this… and by the way that’s the way, the only way, that Jesus builds His church. By sending the Holy Spirit to change people from the inside out.
Before the church was built the Holy Spirit came and empowered the Apostles. We need the Holy Spirit to change us and empower us too. And the Holy Spirit is available to us if we just ASK. Who says so? Jesus.
So let’s pray and let’s ask. Let’s ask God for revelation and power – to know what He wants YOU to do, what He wants YOU to give (what your part is) and Holy Spirit power - the faith, courage, boldness to step out and do it.
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)
1. When thinking about giving, what might putting Jesus’s words into practise look like for you?
2. When thinking about serving, what might putting Jesus’s words into practise look like for you?
3. When thinking about loving, what might putting Jesus’s words into practise look like for you?
4. When thinking about worshipping God, what might putting Jesus’s words into practise look like for you?
5. As you reflect on the “Be Rich” material we have covered, which area we have touched on is the one that is niggling away at you? Why do you think that is?
6. Are you praying regularly for the Holy Spirit to come into your life and the life of others around you? If not, will you begin?
7. What would you really love to see happening in the life of EBC? Spend some time thinking about the kind of impact there would be if there was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit here, as there was at Pentecost.