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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pentecost & the Power of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Acts 2: 1-2 ( New American Standard)
I recall a conversation that I had with my Dad many years ago on the subject of Divine Healing, and was saddened that he firmly believed that the miracles that took place during the course of Jesus’ ministry belonged to that age, and that, whilst he accepted that they actually happened, nowadays, he insisted, they can longer happen. It saddened me because his belief was limiting the power of God to the past, yet God who performed those miracles then is the same God whom we worship today. The same God with the same limitless power, which means that miracles can happen today just as they could then. The problem is not with the limit of God’s power but the limit of human understanding and acceptance.
Back in the late 1950’s I became disillusioned with the church. It seemed to me that whilst the Bible contained some of the most exciting stories and information imaginable, the church service was simply a regulated, polite form of worship, designed to comfort those partaking yet not edifying them. Sermons tended to be more like history lessons, and as such they seemed to bear little relevance to me as a 14 year-old teenager. I was at the point of leaving the church behind altogether. Not, mind you, leaving God behind, just the church. Whilst I knew that God was very relevant in my life the same could not be said of the church. Then something happened. We had a new curate arrive in the parish. Alan was what was often referred to as a ’trendy vicar’, and he quickly made an impact with the young people of the church. He lodged around the corner from where I lived and often invited several of us up to his room where we would discuss Scripture, religion, church, and many other subjects over a cup of tea, coffee or cocoa. This was something new! Suddenly the fact that we could discuss these things away from the church building was something entirely new to us, and we loved it. Even though I moved away from the church for much of my later teenage years I often recalled the discussions that Alan had led us through, and I’m certain that they helped considerably to keep me grounded in the faith.
It was a time of change, especially for young people, moving into and through the 60’s. Even so, it was many years before I became more deeply involved, meeting with Christ in a dramatic manner at the end of the 60’s. Reading the Bible once again was more a passage of discovery than re-discovery. I loved reading through the Book of Acts and learning about the establishment and growth of the early church, yet I saw little evidence of signs and wonders around  me. Since then I have read and re-read the book of Acts, and have discovered that there are many examples of miracles in the world today. In many churches they are as much a part of the norm as they were in the early church. Why? Because, I guess, there are people who not only believe that they can happen, they expect it as well. The age of miracles, contrary to my Dad’s arguments, and those of many other, churchgoers and no-churchgoers alike, is definitely not over! If we believe that God is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), then how can we dare to think that He acts differently towards us today than he did towards those of the early church?
I believe that what is needed more than anything else today is for the church to be a Spirit-filled, New Testament Church.  More than ever, considering the culture in which we live today, we need to see people’s lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to see people healed in every sense; physically, emotionally and spiritually. We need to become a unified church, all about worshipping and serving God through Christ, not about individual denomination. In short, we need to be the same sort of church that Acts 2 speaks of, discovering and worshipping the same unchanging God that sent down the fire of Pentecost to the early church. We need to have the fire fall on the people of God today, causing them to rise up.
When God sent down His Spirit on the early church amazing things happened, and the same can happen today. There is renewal and revival of people and communities, the curing of diseases and addictions and the church grows through it and because of it. People and communities are blessed and the hope that we have in Christ is established afresh. When God sends His Spirit forth into the world amazing transformation takes place. This transformation will wake up the sleeping, lukewarm church and breath fire into the dry bones once more.
In order for the church to experience this amazing Pentecostal power today there needs to be change of perception. The Christian life is not about keeping rules, but about knowing Jesus Christ. It’s not enough to know about Christ. Transforming change comes in your own life when you get to know Him in a real and personal way. The same applies to the church as a whole. Transforming change will sweep through the church when the church believes in and proclaims a living Christ. Whilst Jesus is a part of history He is just as much a part of the present and of the future. Our faith is not something to remain private but something to share and proclaim. When we do this then we are proclaiming the living Christ, and that is when we can expect Pentecostal power to fall on us and on the church. As a people of God we need to become passionate about our beliefs, passionate enough to share them with others, especially those who wander like lost sheep in the world. We should be eager to share our testimony, eager to witness to the saving grace of Christ, and eager to do all that we can to turn our corner of the world over to God.
All too often today the gospel that is being preached is a social gospel. Now that may be good for people to hear about, but it’s devoid of the saving grace of Christ, and therefore is not a real gospel at all, yet it’s one that you can hear in many churches across the land today. The social gospel encourages us to be tolerant to the ways of the world, and to follow a universalistic pattern of worship. It proclaims that there are many ways to God, Christianity being just one of them. It proclaims that doing good and being a good person will be rewarded in heaven. But it is not Scriptural!
Of course it’s good to do our best to be tolerant and good, but unless we are committed to preaching that Jesus Christ is the only way  to come to the Father then all our professed goodness becomes worthless in kingdom terms. So, to experience Pentecostal power we need to first renew our commitment to preaching the true gospel, renew our commitment to knowing Christ and walking with him on a daily basis, and living our lives faithfully for Him. Being a Christian is not about something we do, but about what God does in us. It has nothing to do with knowing the right people, joining the right church, or about the rituals of the church. It’s about turning your whole life over to God in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s about surrendering your entire being to Jesus and living the way that he leads you. It’s about giving yourself 100 percent, with nothing held back, seeking to serve God for the benefit of His kingdom in everything you do.
The Apostle Paul proclaims his desire to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:10/11). The overwhelming reality of the Christian faith is that it is a real relationship with a real person Jesus Christ. Becoming a Christian is not just about receiving the gift of salvation but about the transformation of all that were to all that you become in Christ, and an important part of the transformation comes about as you grow in Christ, living the Christian life, walking the Christian walk, and feeding on the Word of God.
We are to be salt and light in the world, changing the world around us from a dark, tasteless place to a place where grace is found, and where Christ is seen to be. As Christians we are the ambassadors whom Christ uses to make a difference and to bring about His kingdom. As we grow in Christ so we will be transformed, and then we become agents of transformation in the world around us. Receiving the gift of salvation following our repentance and our acceptance of Christ is just the beginning, but we should want the Spirit to use His power to transform our lives for kingdom benefit.
The Kingdom of God is here and now, not far away in time and space, and to belong you need the power of the Holy Spirit operating in your life every day. In Scripture, the apostle John speaks of the need to maintain our obedience to God and faithfulness to Christ throughout all of the things we have endure in this world, speaking of, the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (Revelation 14:12). The Christian faith expresses the belief that in order to belong to the Kingdom of God you must firstly accept salvation through Jesus Christ, but being a Christian is far more than saying that you are one. It should be the desire of every Christian to become as much like Christ as possible, wanting to grow daily in His ways, maintaining a heart that’s on fire for God. As you grow, so you get to know God more and more, and so your love for Him increases, and the more that this happens so the more you will experience His presence and power in your life. Your daily living improves because through it you want to show more of Him and less of yourself to the world.
Christianity is coming under attack from many sides these days, probably more so for this generation than for many previously. This year alone we have seen advertising on buses by atheists promoting the belief that there is no God, and regularly read or hear news items reporting various forms of persecution against Christians in their workplace. As a society we live in a nation where millions express a belief in God yet have only the fleeting relationship with Him when it suits them to rather than a desire to draw closer to Him through love, obedience and service.
In order to unleash Pentecostal power in their lives, Christians need to forsake their old ways, no matter how attractive they might seem, and grow in Christian knowledge and service. When this is done then the power of the Holy Spirit will be unleashed, and the experiences of the early Christian church experienced.

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