God’s Word Rains Down (Isaiah 55:10-13)

Isaiah 55v11 word 01

Just before Christmas last year, a devastating fire started in the Cudlee Creek area in the Adelaide Hills. It burnt out more than 25,000 hectares of property including homes, sheds, vehicles, and other property. I like to ride my motorbike through that part of the Adelaide Hills and when I saw the areas that had been burnt out, I was heartbroken. I can’t imagine what it must be like for people who are still struggling to rebuild their lives after the fires.

It wasn’t long after the fires that the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the focus of our nation shifted. As we find our way through the pandemic, please continue to remember and support those who are still trying to recover from losing homes, property, and livestock since the fires in the Adelaide Hills and other parts of Australia earlier this year.

I was able to get up to the Hills a few months after the fires. We had had rain in Adelaide and there was a dramatic difference in the countryside. I could still see clear evidence of the fires in the charred landscape and burnt trees, but it was changing. The rain had brought new life to the fire-damaged areas of the Hills. Green buds were starting to burst through. New life was growing because of the rain that had fallen. Trees and plants that had looked dead were starting to come alive again because of the life-giving rain.

This is the picture Isaiah gives to describe the difference God’s word can make in our lives (Isaiah 55:10-13). The good news of forgiveness in Jesus raises us from death in sin to new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:4,5). We hear this promise in the New Testament reading for this Sunday: ‘now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1)! This is good news for all people! When we were dead in sin, just like the trees that had been burned out by the fires in the Adelaide Hills, God sent his word of forgiveness and new life for the sake of Jesus to us like rain, creating something new within us. As the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said, just as God sends rain to bring life to the dry, fire-damaged countryside, he also sends his life-giving word of the gospel to create new life in us.

God’s word also works changes in us when we are struggling with the effects of sin in our lives. We can feel dry, burned-out, or damaged for lots of different reasons. It might be because of something dramatic or tragic that we have experienced, like a bush-fire tearing through our lives. Maybe it is trying to cope with all the uncertainties or changes we have been experiencing which can drain us like a long drought. Life has a way of wearing us down in lots of different ways, and we can feel lost, empty, or lifeless in one way or another.

When we read or listen to the Bible, we discover stories of people who struggled in their own lives for various reasons. I know that they lived a long time ago in cultures that are very different than ours, but the basic human condition hasn’t changed. We all need to find a sense of who we are. We are all looking for a place to belong where we can discover our self-worth and value. We are all searching for purpose in life, a reason to get out of bed, and to find meaning in our lives. People throughout the ages have wrestled with the challenges of life and with finding God in the middle of their struggles and questions just as we do.

As we read their stories and the words they wrote, we can also find God’s promises for us. Just like God provided for them, he can and will also provide for us. As we reflect on the ways in which God was at work in the lives of people long ago, he will also show us how he has been, is currently, and will continue to work in our lives for good. The miracle and mystery of God’s word for me is that, as I read it, I find God speaking into my life right now. Sometimes it takes effort to make the connections, but they are there when we look for them. Whatever is happening in our lives, God’s word speaks God’s promises, the good news of Jesus, to give us life like rain on a dry and burned-out countryside.

This new life shows itself in lots of different ways, just like the new, green shoots are clearly evident on the charred, black branches and stumps of a burnt tree. The prophet Isaiah describes these changes as ‘producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry’ (v10 NLT). The new life that God creates in us through his word isn’t just for our own benefit. It is also for the benefit of others. Just like the seed the rains produce will help the farmer provide more crops for the future, and the hungry can be fed by what the rains produce, so the life God creates in us will help and bless others for years to come.

When we live in the reality of God’s promises to us in Jesus, the Holy Spirit works through God’s word to produce in us the kind of fruit that Paul describes in Galatians 5:22,23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When the Holy Spirit is producing these kinds of fruits in our lives, they will be seen like new green shoots on a burned black tree. People will see something different in us as God’s word and the good news of Jesus changes us to be more loving, joyful, peace-filled, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. Just like the seed and bread, this gives us good things to offer others as we follow the way of Jesus in faith and love. We can’t make these changes any more than a tree can decide to produce new shoots after a fire. But when God’s word falls on us like rain and we live in the reality of God’s promises and the good news of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will be at work, creating new live within us and making that new live visible in our relationships with others and our community of faith so they can encounter God’s goodness in us.

Some people don’t like standing in the rain. There might be several good reasons for that, but I can also understand our natural human tendency to not want to stand in the words God speaks to us which rain down on us to give us life. If you are growing through a time in your life where you are feeling dry, burned out, empty or maybe just struggling for any reason, and if you live in the Adelaide area, I encourage you to go for a drive in the Hills. Look at the countryside devastated by the fires at the end of last year. See the new life that is bursting out from the charred, blackened trees and vegetation. Remember that it was the rain that gave the countryside new life. In the same way, God gives us new life through his word as it rains down his promises and goodness on our lives.

When we stand in the reality of God’s word through faith in Jesus, it doesn’t only bring new life to us. It produces good for the people around us as well.

More to think about & discuss:

  • Do you like standing or walking in the rain? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever seen fire-damaged countryside after rain has fallen on it? Describe what you saw and your reactions to it.
  • Share your thoughts on Isaiah 55:10-11. What do you like about Isaiah’s words? What do you find difficult or challenging about this text? What is a promise from God that you can hear in these verses?
  • In what ways might you be experiencing the effects of sin in your life? Are you feeling dry, burnt out, damaged, or possibly even lifeless in some way? Explain why…
  • If God can give new life to trees and plants that have been affected by fire through the falling rain, do you believe that he can give you new life through his word? What do you find hard about believing that? What difference might it make to your life if you could believe it?
  • How might God bless people around you by giving you new life? What difference could it make in their lives?
  • How will you stand or walk in God’s word this week so it can rain down on you?

You can watch a video version of this message at https://youtu.be/GSO7ALkwWMU

God bless!

The Trinity at Work (Genesis 1:1-2:4a)

creation 01

Since the beginning of time, people have looked at the world around them and wondered where it all came from. Every culture has had its own story or myth to try to explain the origin of the world and everything in it. Even in our own time, our culture is trying to explain the origin of the universe in scientific terms to understand where it all began and what its purpose or future might be.

I’m going to ask that you don’t discuss how long the Genesis 1 Creation Story took in your conversation about this message. Please take the advice of the Apostle Paul who warns God’s people ‘against quarrelling about words’ because ‘it is of no value and only ruins those who listen’ (2 Timothy 2:14). I believe that too much time and energy has been lost in arguments about how long a ‘day’ was in Jewish thinking. Because of those disagreements, we have often missed much of the good news that Genesis 1 can speak into our lives.

One thing we can miss about the Genesis 1 Creation Story is the way the Trinity is at work. It is true that the word Trinity never appears in the Bible. An early church leader named Tertullian began using it about two hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to try to communicate the mystery of the one God who makes himself known to us as three distinct but still unified persons. While the Bible doesn’t use the word Trinity, we can still see plenty of evidence of the One-God-In-Three-Persons throughout Scripture.

One passage where we see evidence for the Trinity is in Genesis 1. We read that God created everything in the story simply by speaking. For example, in verse 3 ‘God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light’ (NIV). God spoke and his Word did what it said.
We can see the Trinity at work in Creation if we look a little closer at the story. Firstly, there is the Speaker who proclaims the Word that is spoken. Secondly, we have the Word itself which brings what is spoken into existence. Thirdly, the Breath of the Speaker carries the Word to do what is said. Whenever we speak, our breath carries our words to those who hear them. Genesis 1:2 has already introduced the Spirit of God to us. The biblical languages use the same word for breath, wind and spirit, so the Spirit of God is involved in Creation as the Speaker’s Breath which carries the Word to create what has been spoken.

This story continues to unfold when we read it through the eyes of the New Testament. The Apostle John identified Jesus as the Word which was spoken at creation who entered the world as a flesh and blood person (John 1:1-17). Jesus gave his followers a new relational way of understanding God by calling him ‘Father’ (John 5:18). Jesus also talked about sending his Spirit to his followers (John 14:15-17,26, etc) to be ‘with’ them and ‘in’ them (v17 NIV). Jesus expanded people’s understanding of God from the ancient Hebrew confession of ‘the Lord is One’ (Deuteronomy 6:4), to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being the Three-In-One and One-In-Three God which we know as the Trinity.

From this point of view, we can see the Triune God at work in the Genesis 1 Creation Story. The Father is the Speaker of the Word who brings everything into existence. The Word proclaimed by the Father is the Son, Jesus, through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that has been made (John 1:3). The Holy Spirit carries the Word from the Father to do what the Father intends and what the Word itself says. When God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, Father, Son and Holy Spirit was at work creating light where there was darkness, peace where there was chaos, and life where there was emptiness.

There is much more to this reading of Genesis than just a theological analysis. Because of the reality of sin in our world, we continue to see and experience the darkness, chaos and emptiness that was present in the beginning before the Trinity’s creative work. For example, we can see the darkness of racism, hatred and injustice in our world which caused the death of George Floyd in the USA last week, and has been highlighted by protests in that nation and around the world, including Australia. We have all seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged our world into chaos and confusion as nations have tried to prevent the spread of the virus and keep their people safe. We can see darkness and chaos on a global scale, but we can also experience it personally. In lots of different ways, we can also struggle with darkness, chaos or confusion, or emptiness in our own lives.

When we acknowledge the darkness, chaos or emptiness in our own lives, the Genesis 1 Creation Story can speak so much good news to us. It tells us that the Trinity is still at work in the world and in our lives. The same Speaker continues to proclaim the Word which is carried by the Breath into our darkness, chaos, and emptiness to create light, peace, and life in us, just as the Triune God did in the beginning. The Trinity continues to be at work in our lives as the Father proclaims the Son who is carried by the Holy Spirit into our lives and into our hearts to create light, peace and life within us! When we believe that the Trinity was working in this way at the start of Creation, we can also believe that the Trinity is still at work in us and through us, bringing the light of perfect love into dark places, peace into our confusion and chaos, and life where everything seems empty.

The Word of God continues to speak the Trinity’s creative Word to us. It is the message of Jesus which proclaims love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and every good thing that our hearts, our lives, our world needs in these dark, chaotic and empty times. We find this Word in the message of Jesus, the stories of the Bible, the letters of the early Christians who were living in this light, peace and life, sharing what they had found with other believers and helping them to live in the reality of the work of the Trinity in their own dark times. The Bible isn’t just old bedtime stories or information about God. It is the creative Word of God, proclaimed by the Speaker and carried by the Breath into our lives to create light in the darkness, peace in the chaos, and life in the emptiness.

What might it be like for the Trinity to be at work in you, creating light in the darkness you might be experiencing, peace in the chaos or confusion that might be going on within or around you, or life in any emptiness you might be struggling with? I don’t argue about how much time it took God to create the world, or how long a Jewish ‘day’ is anymore because we can miss the main point of the Genesis 1 story. This Creation account tells us that we have a God who speaks a Word of grace, peace and hope into our lives, and whose Breath carries this Word into our hearts, our lives and our world to create light and peace and life, just like in the beginning.

More to think about & discuss:

  • What is your favourite thing about Creation? For example, sunsets or sunrises, autumn leaves, newborn babies, the beach, or something else? Spend some time discussing or reflecting on why you like them so much…
  • Do you ever wonder where everything came from? What does the Genesis 1 Creation Story say to you about God who created it all? (again, please don’t start discussing how long God took or what a Hebrew ‘day’ might mean; you can talk about that another day…)
  • What are your thoughts about finding the Trinity in Genesis 1 as Speaker, Word and Breath? Does it make sense to you? Is there anything about it you’re not sure about?
  • Before God started the work of creation, there was darkness, chaos and emptiness. Where can we still see these in our times? In the global situation? In our own lives personally?
  • In Genesis 1 the Triune God creates light from darkness, peace from chaos, and life from emptiness. Discuss or reflect on the idea that God is still doing the same today. Is that easy or more difficult for you to trust? Why or why not?
  • Where are you experiencing darkness, chaos or confusion, or emptiness in your own life? What might god be saying to you through his Word to create light, peace, or life in you? In someone else’s life?
  • At some stage, go for a walk outside. Look at and listen to creation. Wonder where it all came from as you reflect on the Genesis 1 story. If God can create all this beauty and wonder from darkness, chaos and emptiness, what might God’s Word and Breath be able to create into you?

You can find a video version of this message at https://youtu.be/dSTlQc50vGo

God bless!

 

On All People (Acts 2:1-21)

acts 2v17 all people 01

I think a lot of people in our communities rejoiced a few weeks ago when local council libraries opened again. They had been closed for a while because of the COVID-19 restrictions which meant that many people’s access to books, videos and CDs was cut off during a time when not much else was available to them. The re-opening of our libraries has meant that we are now able to return to them, explore lots of different resources, and borrow them again.

I spent a fair bit of time in libraries when I was younger but only visited our local library a few years ago with our children. I was surprised and amazed at the wide variety of good things I could borrow! There were so many books, graphic novels, CDs, videos, and other items we could take home, not just for the kids but for adults as well. Of course, the problem with libraries is that we don’t get to keep the good things that we find. We can only have what we borrow for a limited amount of time, and then at some stage it needs to go back to the library.

What do you think it would be like to be able to go to the world’s greatest library, to find the best books, videos or CDs, and to be able to take it home to keep, absolutely free of charge? Would you go to that library to find what you were looking for? What if this wasn’t just available to you, but to every person in the world?

God’s gift of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament worked something like a public library. God gave the Holy Spirit, often referred to as ‘the Spirit of the Lord’, to certain people for a limited time to do something specific or to achieve a particular purpose. For example, we read in Numbers 11:24-30 that God gave the Holy Spirit to seventy elders of the nation of Israel. The story continues that ‘when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But this never happened again’ (v25b NLT). Here and in other Old Testament stories God ‘loaned’ the Holy Spirit to certain people to help them do something, but then the Holy Spirit returned to God when that task was completed.

Then, about five or six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Joel made an amazing claim. He wrote,

‘Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants – men and women alike.’ (Joel 2:28,29 NLT)

This was radical for a few reasons. Firstly, Joel deliberately included women this prophecy. There had been a few women in the Old Testament who had received the Holy Spirit but here Joel was saying that what had previously been the exception would become the norm. Also, God would pour out the Holy Spirit on all people, not just a select few for a limited time. Instead of being like a public library where the books that have been borrowed would need to be returned, now all people could receive the Holy Spirit who would remain with them permanently.

Joel’s words were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Peter specifically referred to Joel’s prophecy to show that God was fulfilling his message by giving the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus fifty days after his resurrection and ten days after his ascension. Pentecost was a spiritual game-changer as God poured out his Holy Spirit on all people, men and women, young and old, giving them what they needed to witness to Jesus and participate in God’s mission to the world. God wasn’t just loaning them his Spirit. God was giving his Spirit to them as a gift to go with them everywhere they went and to give them the power to be the living presence of the resurrected and ascended Jesus in the world.

Pentecost started a whole new way in which God was at work in the world. We continue to celebrate Pentecost because it reminds us that God began something new on that day in Jerusalem which he continues to do in us and through us. As Jesus’ disciples in our time and place, God pours his Holy Spirit into us so that we can have the power we need to be the physical presence of the risen Jesus in the world as well.

Over the last few weeks, we have talked about being Jesus’ witnesses in the world, being ready to explain the hope we have in Jesus, standing between God and the world to bring them together as holy and royal priests, and being a community of faith dedicated to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. All of these are only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our relationships, and our community of faith. If we try to be all these things on our own, we will struggle and probably fail. However, God gives us the dynamic power to be his people in community with him and with each other, and to bring his goodness to the world by pouring the Holy Spirit into our lives and gifting us with everything we need to participate with God in his saving work in the world.

We can go to God like we go to the local library, looking for everything we need to live as his people and be part of God’s mission to redeem and restore the world, and the Holy Spirit will gift us with what we need. What the Holy Spirit has to offer us, though, is much better than books, CDs, and videos. The Holy Spirit gifts us with the faith we need to trust in the life-giving love of God for us in Jesus no matter what we might be going through in life. The Holy Spirit gifts us with the grace and goodness of God so we can produce fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23) in our lives. The Holy Spirit gifts us with everything we need to live together in Christ-centred community, to serve God and each other as his holy and royal priests, to be ready to explain to others the hope we have in Jesus, and to witness to the life-changing love of Jesus in our whole lives, in both our words and actions.

We can find everything we need to live as God’s people and followers of Jesus in the Holy Spirit. Unlike a library, God won’t want us to return the Holy Spirit. The miracle of Pentecost is that God gifts the Holy Spirit to all of his people, men and women, young and old, to give us the power we need to be the people he is calling us to be, to do what he is calling us to do, and to be the physical presence of the risen and ascended Jesus in the world. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us, with no return date, so we can be united with Jesus in faith and we can bring the goodness of God we encounter in Jesus to the world.

More to think about & discuss:

  • When was the last time you were in a library? What were some of the good things you found there? How did you feel about having to return them?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to live as a child of God and a follower of Jesus? What would help you trust Jesus in every part of your life and live in the way he taught?
  • What is your reaction to Joel’s prophecy that God will pour out the Holy Spirit on all people? Have you ever thought of yourself as included in ‘all people’? Give some reasons for your answer…
  • Have you considered asking the Holy Spirit for what you need to trust Jesus and love others in the way he teaches? What might happen if you looked for what you need in your relationship with God, sort of like you might look for a book or video in a library?
  • The Holy Spirit can act in ‘supernatural’ or ‘miraculous’ ways, but also in ways that look more everyday and ordinary. Where can you see the Holy Spirit at work in your life?

You can find a video version of this message at https://youtu.be/j6xK2NV2gYo

God bless!

God’s Breath of Life (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

Mr Potato Head pieces

One of the toys I loved playing with as a kid, and still do now that we have our own children, is Mr Potato Head. If you’re not familiar with this toy, it has a potato-shaped body with a lot of different arms, legs, eyes, ears, noses, ears, hats and other body parts or items which you can mix and match. The idea behind the toy is that you can make a huge number of different potato people using all the different body parts.

Can you imagine what it would be like, though, to be able to bring Mr Potato Head to life? What would your reaction be if someone told you to speak to the wind and tell it to breathe life into your Mr Potato Head so it could come alive?

People who love the Toy Story movies might think that would be awesome! Others might think I’ve gone a bit crazy. Whatever your reaction might be, I wonder if we would react like Ezekiel when God asked him if the dry bones God showed him could become living people again (Ezekiel 37:3)? I know that there are some significant differences between a Mr Potato Head toy and dried-up human bones, but the principle is pretty much the same – can something which has no life in it become a living, breathing being?

As Ezekiel’s story continues in chapter 37, God does something miraculous. God tells Ezekiel to speak a prophetic message, which he does, and the bones reconnect and are covered with muscles, flesh and skin. However, there is still no life in the bodies. Then God tells Ezekiel to speak again, to tell the four winds to breathe life into the dead bodies. When Ezekiel speaks God’s message, breath enters the dead bodies, they come to life and stand up on their feet.

When we read this story, it helps to know that the Hebrew language of the Old Testament has one word which mean breath, wind and spirit – ruach (pronounced roo-ach with the ch sounding like it does in school). It might be a good idea to read the story again, taking note of all the times it mentions spirit, breath or wind. Each time, this one word ruach is used. It is the same word used in Genesis 1:2 when God’s Spirit, or ruach, was hovering over the waters. In the Ezekiel story, God’s Spirit worked through the word God gave to Ezekiel to create new life where there had been death.

We can read this story in the light of the resurrection of Jesus to hear how God can raise the dead and will raise us along with all believers to new life when Jesus returns at the end of time. That is the ultimate hope we have in Jesus as God’s people.

However, God originally told Ezekiel to bring this message to his people who were exiled in captivity in Babylon. They were the ones who were saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones – all hope is gone’ (v11 NLT). This story isn’t just about eternal life in heaven. It is God speaking hope to people who were in exile, isolated from their homes and loved ones, who had lost their national identity and sense of community.

This is where this story can speak to us as well. We are facing a time which could be thought of as a kind of exile. As more people self-isolate because of the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus, we are at risk of becoming like old, dry bones and losing hope. I have seen how destructive fear and isolation can be to people’s well-being and mental health. However, I have also seen how powerful hope, and especially the hope that comes from faith in Jesus, can be as the antidote to fear and isolation.

As we self-isolate to protect ourselves and others from the threat of the virus, what will prevent us from becoming like old, dry bones is the life-giving breath of God, the Holy Spirit of God, which God gives to us through his Word. In the Old Testament times, prophecy was more about bringing a word from God that foretelling the future. The prophetic message God gave to Ezekiel and the other prophets was to speak his word into a particular circumstance. In this story, the word God gave Ezekiel to speak filled the dead with new life as God breathed his Spirit into his people. God’s life-giving Spirit, working through the Word God gave to Ezekiel, brought the dead back to life and gave hope to God’s people in exile – that God would bring them through the exile, give them life, and they would return home again.

As we face an uncertain future and the possibility of our own, personal exiles in our homes, this story becomes God’s prophetic message to us. COVID-19, and the fear and isolation it brings, has the potential to rob us of life. But God’s Word is stronger and more powerful than a virus. No matter what happens, the Holy Spirit will continue to work through God’s life-giving Word to breathe the life of Jesus into us so we can live in the hope that God will get us through this, we will return to our families and communities of faith, and we will live again.

Please consider putting a bookmark in your Bibles at Ezekiel 37. If there are times during the coming months when you begin to feel like you are becoming like old, dry bones, please read this story again. The Breath of God, his Holy Spirit, will continue to work through God’s prophetic Word to breath the resurrection life of Jesus into you, so you will be able to live in the hope that God will bring you through this time and we will be united again as a community of faith in Jesus.

I might not be able to breathe life into Mr Potato Head and make it live, but God can do that for us and for others through us!

More to think about:

  • What questions do you have of this story, or what doesn’t make sense to you?
  • What do you think your reaction might have been if you were Ezekiel and God asked you if a valley of dry bones could become living people again? Why might you have reacted that way?
  • What do you think about this story being more about hope for the future than the resurrection of the dead? How might that change the way you understand the story?
  • As we face time when we will effectively be in exile from each other, what do you hear God saying to you through this story?
  • What scares you most about the spread of the COVID-19 virus? What in this story can give you hope?

From Nothing (Romans 4:1-5,13-17)

Romans 4v17 being 01

Whenever people make something, we need something to make it with. For example, when I make breakfast, I need cereal, toast or juice. If I was to make a picture, I would need paper, paints and something to be the subject of my artwork. If I was going to make a cake, I would need ingredients such as flour, milk, eggs, sugar, and so on. If I was going to make a Lego model, I would need the bricks and a good set of instructions to complete it.

Our human experience tells us that if we are going to make something, it needs to come from something else. You can’t just make something from nothing – it just isn’t part of what we know.

But could you imagine being able to make something from nothing? What do you think it would be like to be able to think of something and then bring it into existence when it hadn’t existed before?

This is the creative power we can see God working throughout the Bible. From the beginning, God created the world out of nothing. The actual text of Genesis 1 talks about the earth being ‘formless and empty’ (NLT and NIV) but the idea is still the same. In the beginning, God created light and life and everything that exists where previously there had been nothing.

We can see God’s creative power at work throughout the biblical story. We can see it in Abraham and Sarah, who were well past the age of having children. However, God brought life out of Sarah’s dead womb and gave them Isaac, whose descendants became the nation of Israel. We can see it in the Old Testament stories when God saved his people. He took hopeless situations, broken and messed up people, and gave them deliverance, freedom, security and a future. Stories like Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, David and more all show us how ‘God brings the dead back to life and … creates new things out of nothing’ (Romans 4:17 NLT).

We see God’s creative power most clearly in Jesus. Throughout his ministry, Jesus brought life out of death and created new things from nothing by healing the sick, purifying the unclean, forgiving the guilty and raising the dead. Jesus’ resurrection was the greatest display of God’s faithfulness to his promises and his life-giving power as he defeated the power of death over humanity by raising his Son to new, eternal life. When we look at the empty tomb of Jesus, we can see how God brings life out of death. God reaches into the deepest and darkest places of human existence to speak promises of life, hope, love and light. These promises do what they say. They raised Jesus to new life, once and for all showing that God’s creative power is stronger than death, stronger than nothingness, and brings into existence a new reality of light and hope and joy and peace and love and life! God creates all these and more where previously nothing had exited at all.

We have these stories so we can also receive the promises of God through them. If God could bring life from death and create new things from nothing for the people of the Bible, then he can do the same for us. In a world which tells us that you can’t make something from nothing, the gospel of Jesus tells us that God can do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, and that God has the creative power to bring new life from what is dead, and to create good where there has been nothing at all.

This is the good news of salvation for us in Jesus. When we were dead in our sin, God created the new life of Jesus within us by the power of the Holy Spirit through the gospel (Ephesians 2:4,5). When we were distant from God and turned away from him, God spoke his promises into our cold, hard hearts to create something new and living. The good news of the redemption of Jesus is that God creates new life in us where previously there was nothing through his promises of forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Through the faith the Holy Spirit gives, we receive what God promises us by believing them. That’s why Paul writes, ‘the promise is received by faith.’ (Romans 4:16 NLT). When we hear God’s promises of forgiveness and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus for us, the Holy Spirit creates the faith that we need to receive exactly what God promises us – forgiveness and new life as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased.

God continues his creative work which he began at creation by bringing into being things that haven’t to this point existed in us. When we have no hope, God creates hope. Where there is no joy, God creates joy. Where there is no love, God creates his infinite and perfect love within us through Jesus. When we have nothing good within us, God creates the goodness of Jesus within us through the good news of Jesus and the creative work of the Holy Spirit. Where there is no life and we just feel empty inside, our God ‘who creates new things out of nothing’ creates new, eternal life through his promises of the gospel of Jesus. If there is a part of our lives which looks like there is nothing or something is missing, our God who spoke all that we see into existence at the beginning of creation can speak whatever we need into existence so we can live in the reality of his creative power and love.

This is why it is so important for us to be listening to God’s promises in his Word. God ‘brings the dead to life and … creates new things out of nothing’ through his promises. When we receive those promises by believing them and trusting them, we also receive what is promised. That is why this Lent, and throughout my ministry, I want to help people find the promises God makes to you in his Word so you can hear them, you can believe them, and you can live in the reality of God’s creative power in your lives.

I know that it makes human sense to say that you can’t make something from nothing. God’s word, however, tells me something different. It tells me that God has the power to do what I can’t – that’s why he’s God and we’re not. At creation, in Abraham and especially in his Son, Jesus, God brought the dead back to life and created new things out of nothing. He can do the same for us through the promises in his word by the Holy Spirit’s power.

So what is missing in your life? And how might God’s promises to you in Jesus create what’s missing in you?

Everything You Need (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

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It can be exciting to open a new Lego set. Whatever we might be building, when we open the box there are bags of little plastic pieces in lots of different shapes, sizes and colours. Everything we need to build the model is there. Piece by piece, we can put them together so that a whole range of diverse pieces form something new. Lego is such a great toy because all of those separate blocks can combine to make something greater than if they remain separate.

Sometimes I think the church is like a Lego kit. I don’t mean the church as a building or institutional organisation, but as the living, breathing body of Christ in the world. Like Lego bricks, the beauty and the frustration of the family of God is that we’re all different. We all have our individual strengths, personalities, shortcomings and abilities. When the Holy Spirit unites us in faith and brings us together into the body of Christ, God assembles us with all our differences into something that’s greater than when we are separate individuals. Together, God forms us into his physical presence in the world.

Like a Lego set, everything we need to live as God’s presence in the world is already here. A couple of weeks ago I was talking with someone whose congregation is looking for a pastor. She was saying that she feels like her congregation is ready to move into the future. All they need is a pastor to lead them. Then I started thinking about what Paul wrote to God’s people in Corinth. He told them that they already had every spiritual gift they needed as they waited for Jesus to return (1 Corinthians 1:7). I wonder whether this is the same for us, too – that we already have everything we need as the Holy Spirit forms us into the body of Christ to be God’s presence in the world.

The first important thing to hear in Paul’s words is that he wasn’t speaking to an individual. When he wrote, ‘you have every spiritual gift you need,’ he wasn’t saying that each individual Christian has every spiritual gift. Instead, he was talking to the congregation as a whole. In the same way that one Lego brick can’t make a whole model, no one Christian possesses every spiritual gift. Instead, God gives various gifts to every Christian so that together we have every gift we need. When the Holy Spirit gathers us with all our different gifts into Christian community, we all have something good to contribute. Following Jesus is not an individual exercise. Like a Lego set, we need each other with all of our differences and diversity in order to fully be the church.

We also need to hear what Paul means when he writes about ‘spiritual gifts’. The word Paul uses, which is translated as ‘spiritual gifts’ in 1 Corinthians 1:7, is charisma. It is the same word Paul uses in Romans 6:23 when he writes, ‘the free gift (charisma) of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord’ (NLT). We can therefore understand God’s gift to us in a broader sense of the whole life of Christ. The first and most important gift of the Holy Spirit to us is Jesus’ resurrected life and everything that goes along that such as salvation, forgiveness, righteousness, love, joy peace, hope, and so much more, which we receive through faith.

Paul not only uses charisma in a broader sense, but he also uses is to talk about more specific gifts. For example, in Romans 12:6-8 Paul writes, ‘In his grace (charis), God has given us different gifts (charismata) for doing certain things well’ (NLT). He then goes on to highlight the gifts of prophecy, serving, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership and showing kindness. This isn’t an exhaustive list and it’s not meant to be prescriptive of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to God’s people. Instead, Paul is teaching us that the Holy Spirit gifts us in diverse ways so that we use these gifts to God’s glory and the good of those around us.

Peter says something similar when he writes, ‘God has given each of you a gift (charisma) from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another’ (1 Peter 4:10 NLT). The Holy Spirit gifts us in a variety of ways so that we can use those gifts to serve each other in faith and in love. As we use our gifts faithfully, the Holy Spirit builds up the body of Christ and strengthens us as we become God’s life-giving presence to each other and to the world.

Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 1:7 that the Holy Spirit has already gifted us with everything we need to live as the body of Christ in the world as we wait for his return. I don’t believe people who try to tell me that they don’t have a spiritual gift. The Holy Spirit has gifted each of us in one way or another. Whether it’s speaking in worship, playing an instrument in the music team, serving morning tea, cleaning the church, or a whole range of other things, God has gifted all of us in some way to serve each other. I don’t always think it’s necessary to do a course to discover our spiritual gifts because we will naturally be drawn towards serving in those ways that are in tune with the way the Holy Spirit has gifted us. What’s important is that we are aware of the needs in our communities of faith and how we are available to contribute.

As we start a new year of ministry in our church, it is encouraging to hear Paul tell us that the Holy Spirit has already given us every spiritual gift we need to faithfully serve our Lord and be part of his mission in the world. Like a Lego set, we already have everything we need. Maybe a question for us to think about is whether we’re happy being our individual little piece, or whether we would like to use what God has already gifted to us to serve, bless and build his people up in this community of faith.

How might you use God’s gift to you to contribute to your community of faith this year?

Living Free (Galatians 5:1,13-25)

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I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that every aspect of our lives has rules. We might call them different names, or try to present them in various ways, but in one way or another every part of our lives carry expectations or requirements for what we should or should not do.

I can understand, then, why people see Christianity the same way. It is our natural human tendency to want to know what we can get away with, what we’re allowed or not allowed to do, and then either conform or rebel against them. The main way people from outside the church perceive the Christian message is that if you’re a good person you’ll go to heaven when you die, but if you’re a bad person you’ll go to hell. It’s tragic that I’ve met people inside the church who think something similar: if you keep the rules you’ll go to heaven, but if you break the rules you’ll go to hell.

The beauty and the scandal of the Christian message is that the rules don’t determine our relationship with God or our place in God’s kingdom. If they did, we’d all be in deep trouble because we’ve all sinned and fallen short of who God wants us to be and what God wants us to do (Romans 3:23). Instead, God brings about a new way of living in relationship with him as members of his Kingdom through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:28). God loves us and accepts us because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for us, not because we keep the rules.

What that means is that God can’t love us any more if we keep the rules, and he won’t love us any less if we break the rules!

This faith gives us freedom. This is Paul’s main point in his letter to the Galatian church. There were people there who were making the Christian message and membership in the Kingdom of God conditional on whether or not people kept the rules, in particular the Old Testament rule about circumcision. Paul’s main idea in Galatians is that ‘in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (Galatians 5:6 NIV). Living as a Christian is not about keeping or breaking the rules. The only thing that counts is trusting that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection gives us a new relationship with God as his children and living out that faith in Christ-like love for other people.

The big danger of this message is that we like using our freedom for our own benefit. Paul recognises this so he writes, ‘You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love’ (v13 NLT). When we use our freedom for our own gain or in selfish ways, we forfeit our freedom because we become slaves to sin again instead of living as God’s free people. The way to exercise our freedom is to use it to trust in Jesus’ love for us and love others in the way that Jesus has loved us.

That is why it is so important to be recognizing the love of Jesus in our lives and remaining in Jesus’ love (see John 15:4). As we grow in his love for us, the Holy Spirit equips us to love others in the same way. We won’t need rules to tell us how to love others because love will flow freely and naturally. Love isn’t something that you can command. It flows from the experience of being loved. As we learn the way of Jesus’ love, the Holy Spirit will guide us in this love so we can extend this love to other people.

That’s why Paul tells us to ‘let the Holy Spirit guide our lives’ (v16a), to be ‘directed by the Spirit’ (v18) and to be ‘living by the Spirit’ as we ‘follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives’ (v25). Living in faith and love doesn’t come naturally for us. Our natural tendency is to trust ourselves more than to trust in Jesus. We tend to want what suits us instead of loving others. So we need the Spirit’s guidance and leading in our lives so we can trust Jesus and love others in every aspect of our lives.

This is different to looking for the Holy Spirit to tell us what to do in life. If being guided by the Spirit means looking for God to tell us to do one thing or not do another, this can easily become another set of rules to live by. The freedom Paul talks about isn’t looking for the Holy Spirit to tells us what to do. It’s looking for the Spirit’s guidance in living in faith and love in all of our life’s circumstances.

As a parent, I am always telling my young children what to do or not do. However, I don’t want to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do for the rest of their lives. As they grow and mature, I hope that they will do what is right and good on their own because they love me and they what to do what is right and good. This is living in freedom – not doing good because they have to or because I tell them to, but just because they can. Living in the freedom that Jesus gives is the same. I hear Paul saying that our loving heavenly Father wants to free us from having to be told what to do. God wants us to trust him and his love for us in Jesus so we live in love for others. This is what we call becoming mature followers of Jesus.

A couple of weeks ago I talked about Jesus promising to send us the Spirit of truth to guide us into truth. One way we can understand God’s truth into which the Holy Spirit wants to lead us is that God wants us to live as his free, mature children. This freedom and maturity don’t mean living by a set of rules or being told what to do. The freedom Jesus wants us to live in is faith and love – trusting that his life, death and resurrection brings us into a new relationship with God as his children whom he loves, and loving other people in the same way Jesus loves us.

Keeping the rules won’t make God love you any more. Breaking the rules can’t make God love you any less. All that matters now is trusting that good news, and expressing that faith in Christ-like love for others.

More to think about:

  • How do you understand the idea of ‘freedom’? What does it look like in your life?
  • From what you know of the Christian message, do you think of it more about following rules or living in freedom? Can you explain why?
  • what do you think Paul means when he writes, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’ (Galatians 5:1 NIV)? What do you think the ‘freedom’ is that he is talking about?
  • How is the ‘freedom’ Paul writes about similar or different to how you usually think about freedom?
  • What is your reaction to the statement that ‘Keeping the rules can’t make God love you any more and breaking the rules won’t make God love you any less’? Would you agree or disagree with it? Explain why…
  • How is living in faith and love (Galatians 5:6b) different from living by a set of rules? Which way would you prefer to live? Why?
  • How might your life look different if your starting point in any decision was to ask  the Holy Spirit to lead you in the way of faith and love by trusting Jesus and loving others? How might your relationships be different? How might your church be different?

Our Guide Into Truth (John 16:12-15)

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There was time when truth was simple. We were taught certain things at home, in school and at church that were pretty much consistent with each other and provided us with a degree of certainty about life. In our post-modern times, however, that has all changed. We are surrounded by a wide range of different ideas about who we are, our place in the world and what life is all about. This isn’t a bad thing because it can open us up to a much fuller and richer life in a lot of ways. However, working out what is true or not becomes a lot more complicated when a wide assortment of ideas and worldviews present us with conflicting messages.

One of the tools people use to work out what is truth for them is what they experience. When different voices give different messages about what is true, then people can rely on their personal experience to help them decide which can be trusted. For example, if an advertisement for a particular type of drink is telling me that one product tastes better, but another ad is telling me that their product has more flavour, then the best way to work out who is telling the truth is to try each of them. Our experience of those products will help us decide which is truth.

John talks a lot about truth in his gospel. If you’re wrestling with questions about truth, it’s worth reading John’s gospel and listening for the times when John refers to truth or raises questions about truth. It tells us that people were struggling with what was true in Jesus’ day as well as our own. Throughout his gospel, John points to Jesus as embodying God’s truth for us. then, in John 16:12-15, Jesus promises to send the Spirit of truth who will guide his followers ‘into all truth’ (v13a NLT).

It’s important to recognise that there are different kinds of truth, so we need to understand what sort of truth Jesus was talking about. For example, mathematical truths such as 2+2=4 are different from historical truths, such as Captain James Cook discovered Australia (which was what I was taught as a child, but which we know now isn’t the whole truth). Philosophical, religious and spiritual truths are different again, so we can’t just use ‘truth’ as a blanket term for every kind of truth.

When Jesus promised that the Spirit of truth will guide us into ‘all truth’, he was talking about the truth about God, our relationship with God, and how that relationship can shape the way in which we understand ourselves, others, our world and our place in it. One of the reasons why the Bible is such a large book is because this truth can be understood in a variety of ways and from a number of different perspectives. However, the basic truth of the Bible into which the Spirit of truth guides us is the good news of Jesus.

One way this truth can be expressed is what Paul writes in Romans 5:1 – ‘since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us’ (NLT). Through Paul’s words, the Spirit of truth guides us into the truth that we have been made right, or justified, by Jesus through faith in him. What this means is that everything that was wrong or broken about us has been put right through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. Because we are made right again through faith in Jesus, we now have peace with God. God is not angry, disappointed or unhappy with us. God isn’t ignoring us or is apathetic towards us. Instead, because of what Jesus has done for us, we are in a new relationship with our Creator who accepts us, loves us, values us and cares for us as we are. As I said, the Bible communicates this truth in lots of different ways, but it is the good news of God’s unconditional love and grace for us in Jesus which is the truth the Holy Spirit guides us into.

We need the Holy Spirit to guide us into this truth because faith in the gospel doesn’t come naturally with us. There are people I know who have been part of the church their whole lives who still live with a deep sense of guilt or fear. We all need the Spirit of truth to be guiding us into the truth of God’s grace and love so we can live free from guilt, fear, shame or regret, and find the joy, peace, love and hope that Jesus gives us through the Holy Spirit.

As the Spirit of truth guides us into the truth of the gospel, then he also begins to guide others into the truth of God’s grace through us. Earlier I talked about how our experiences help to shape our understanding of truth. As the Holy Spirit guides us in the truth of the gospel, it shapes our relationships and faith communities so people can experience the reality of grace and Christ-like love in us. Through our relationships with each other, the words we speak to and about each other, and a culture of grace in our churches, the Holy Spirit can guide people into the truth of God’s grace by giving them the experience of grace. However good my messages, the church’s worship or our programs may or may not be, if people don’t experience the reality of the gospel in their relationship with us, then it won’t be true for them. However, when people are experiencing grace in relationship and community with us, then the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of God’s grace through us.

This becomes especially important in our ministry with the younger people of our congregation. What the Growing Young conversation essentially is about is how we can give others, especially our younger people, an experience of the truth of God’s grace in their relationship with us and our congregation so the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of the gospel. In a world where our young people come into contact with so many different ideas which claim to be true, when they experience the truth of God’s grace and love in relationship with us, then the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of the gospel and it will become true for them in a life-changing way.

Talking about truth is hard because there are any different kinds of truths and everyone thinks their version of the truth is the right one. I’m really thankful that Jesus promised to send his Spirit of truth to us to guide us into the truth of God’s grace and love for us in Jesus. As the Holy Spirit guides us into the truth of the gospel, the Spirit of truth will also grow and equip us so that he can guide other people, our young people especially, into the truth of the gospel.

More to think about:

  • How do you generally understand ‘truth’? Do you see truth in a simple way or as a more complex idea? Can you give an example of that?
  • To what degree do your experiences shape your understanding of truth? Are there times when your understanding of truth has depended on something you experienced? Have you ever believed that something was true even though your experiences gave you a different message?
  • In what ways have your experiences in the church or in life shaped your views on the truth of the Bible? In what ways have they been good or helpful? How might they have not been good or helpful?
  • How do you understand ‘the truth of the Bible’? What does that mean to you?
  • What is your view on thinking about the ‘truth of the Bible’ as specifically the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us? Is that too narrow? How can it help you understand the rest of the story of the Bible?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to believe in the good news of Jesus? Can you explain why?
  • Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit to guide you into God’s truth? If you have, what happened? If you haven’t, would you be willing to try it?
  • How can you help someone experience the truth of God’s grace and love by showing them grace and Christ-like love today?

Babel Undone (Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21)

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Do you know what it’s like when you try to say something to someone but they completely misunderstand what you’ve said?

For example, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have thanked me for a message I’ve given in worship, and then told me something they heard which I didn’t think I’d said. I don’t read from a manuscript when I preach so it is possible that I said something I didn’t intend to. However, it is also possible that they heard something I didn’t actually say.

There is a branch of philosophy which looks at human language and why messages we try to give aren’t always the same messages which are received. There are a lot of factors which shape meaning which is why messages can be misinterpreted and communication is often confused. I think all of us would have experienced it in one way or another. Either we intend to communicate an idea which is understood in a different way, or we hear people say things they didn’t mean.

When this happens, I go back to the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. This story gives us the ancient Hebrew understanding of why different languages exist and how people were dispersed to different parts of the world after the Great Flood. It also tells us why it can be hard to communicate clearly and why we often misunderstand each other. Not only was human language confused, but people of the same language group can also find it hard to understand and cooperate with each other.

This story is often connected with the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 in which God gave his Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus. We read that when they received the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples were given the ability to speak in other languages so that people from different parts of the Roman Empire could understand what they were saying. The disciples were able to tell people about the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for them, calling them to repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins, in languages they could understand. The result was that about 3,000 people were baptised (Acts 2:41).

One way in which we can understand the story of Pentecost is that the confusion of Babel was overcome as people heard the gospel in their own language and were brought together into a new community of one people in Christ. The divisions and confusion between language groups of Babel are undone as the Holy Spirit did two main things. Firstly, the Spirit miraculously gave Jesus’ followers the ability to speak the gospel in languages that people from other nations could understand. Secondly, the Spirit also gave the hearers of their message the ability to understand what they were saying and to believe the good news. All of this – the message of the gospel itself, as well as the ability to speak, hear, understand and trust the message – all come from the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of the people of Jerusalem at Pentecost.

I pray that God would pour out his Spirit on the church today just like he did at Pentecost. In so many ways, God’s church is confused and divided because of our inability to hear and understand each other. in our own congregation, we have been working towards having a much more intentional discipling focus through connecting, growing, equipping and sending God’s people to participate in his mission in the world. We have also been looking at how we faithfully and effectively pass the faith on to our young people. Both of these emphases involve cultural change in our congregation. However, every now and then someone will ask me how my outreach or youth program is going. So I sigh, say a little prayer, and then begin trying to explain again that we’re looking at growing a church culture in which everyone is involved, not running a program for a just few people.

It’s obvious sometimes that the messages I’m trying to communicate are not the messages people are receiving. Maybe I’m not communicating them effectively. Maybe people aren’t ready or able to hear what I’m saying. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Whatever the case may be, the Tower of Babel still casts its shadow over our church as there is confusion of language and divided opinions.

At the heart of both our discipling plan and our ministry with young people is the gospel of Jesus. They both grow out of and are oriented towards communicating the good news of Jesus. Our discipling plan is about connecting people with the gospel, growing together in faith, being equipped for ministry and sending out to live as the presence of the living Christ in the world. Our work with young people is about embracing them in the grace of Jesus through our church community so they can find their identity, belonging and purpose in him and grow to maturity as children of the living God. All of this is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us new life in Jesus, words of grace and truth to speak to each other, the ability to hear and understand the gospel, and trust in the good news of Jesus through a living and active faith. We can put all the plans, strategies, programs and processes in our church that we like, but in the end we rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the gospel to speak in ways that others can hear and understand, and create the faith we need to receive and trust in the good news of Jesus.

When I gave this message on Sunday I wondered what messages people would take from what I said. That’s the problem with language which began at Babel – the messages we intend to give are not always the messages people receive. I’m so thankful for the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to speak the gospel of Jesus in ways that people can understand, and gives us the ability to hear it, understand it and receive it in faith.

More to think about:

  • Has there been a time when someone has misunderstood something you’ve said? Explain what happened…
  • Has there been a time when you have misunderstood something someone else has been saying? Describe what happened…
  • How can the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9 help us understand why we can find it hard to understand each other?
  • How do you see God undoing the confusion of Babel when he gave the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ followers at Pentecost (Acts 2)?
  • Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit to help you hear the good news of Jesus in a way that you can understand and believe? What might happen if you did?
  • When was the last time you asked the Holy Spirit to help you speak the good news of Jesus to someone? Who do you know who needs to hear the gospel in their life?
  • What do you think might happen if we asked the Holy Spirit to help us understand other people better, especially our sisters and brothers in the church?

Dynamic Faith (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

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The Apostle Luke gives us two versions of the story of Jesus’ ascension. One thing Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11 have in common is that both of them have Jesus promising his disciples that they will receive power from the Holy Spirit. Christians celebrate the ascension of Jesus because he returned to the presence of his Father in order to be with his followers around the world and throughout time, and to give us power through his Spirit.

We can understand the word ‘power’ in a few different ways. Coming from Adelaide, a lot of people immediately think of one of our local Australian Football League teams, Port Adelaide Power. When many people of my generation and younger hear the word ‘power’ we often think of governments or other authority figures who use their ‘power’ for their own benefit or to control others. However, when the Bible talks about ‘power’ it means something different.

The New Testament word for ‘power’ is the same word from which we get our English words ‘dynamic’, ‘dynamo’ and ‘dynamite’. It means strength or an active force which makes things happen. When Jesus promised his followers that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit, he was telling them that he would send them his Spirit to give them the ability or strength they would need in order to do the work he was sending them to do.

There is a lot we could discuss about the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, but right now I want to focus on the task Jesus gave to his disciples at his ascension. In both Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts, Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses. The Holy Spirit was to give them what they needed to witness to Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, and to bring the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all people.

It is significant that Paul also uses the word for ‘power’ when he talks about what the gospel of Jesus can do in a person’s life. In Romans 1:16 he writes that the good news of Jesus is ‘the power of God at work’ (NLT). In the same way, in 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul writes that the message of the cross is ‘the very power of God’ (NLT) for all who are being saved. These passages tell us that the Holy Spirit uses the good news of Jesus to work the power of God in us so we can be Jesus’ witnesses to the world.

The idea of witnessing to Jesus can be scary for a lot of Christians for a range of reasons. There have been a lot of programs and campaigns developed to try to help churches be more effective in our witnessing. I’m wondering, though, based on what Jesus says in the ascension stories, whether being his witnesses might be a lot simpler that we might think it is.

If the gospel is the way God gives us the Holy Spirit’s power, then it seems to me that living in the good news of Jesus would give us Holy Spirit power to witness to what Jesus has done for us. For example, Jesus says in Luke’s gospel that we will bring the message of repentance and forgiveness to all nations. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to receive this forgiveness through faith, then the Spirit would also give us the power to forgive others in the same way. Witnessing to Jesus, then, means forgiving people who have wronged us in the Holy Spirit’s power just like God has forgiven us.

We can witness to Jesus in other ways, too. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to believe that God loves us for Jesus’s sake, then the Holy Spirit also gives us the power to love others in the way Jesus teaches. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to trust in God’s grace for us in Jesus, then the Holy Spirit also gives us the power to extend that same grace to others. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to trust that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done for us, then the Holy Spirit also gives us the power to accept others in the same way. I could go on and on, going through each of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) or Paul’s definition of Love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) to show how the Holy Spirit gives us the power to trust in God’s goodness and the power to display his goodness in our lives and in our relationships.

The ways in which we live our lives and treat other people are much more authentic and effective ways to witness to Jesus than preaching on a street corner or knocking on doors. There will be times when we will be asked to explain why we live in ways that are different to other people (see 1 Peter 3:15) but even then Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say (see Matthew 10:19; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11). We really don’t need to stress about being Jesus’ witnesses because the Holy Spirit will give us the power we need in whatever opportunities God might give to us.

I would encourage anyone who is intimidated by the possibility of witnessing to others to start with the gospel. Where do we need God’s grace in our lives? Are we looking for forgiveness or healing? Are we lacking love, acceptance, hope or something else in our lives? When we find what we need in Jesus, in his suffering and death for us, or in his resurrection from the dead, God encounters us through the gospel, giving us his Holy Spirit and the power we need to witness to Jesus, not as a theological idea but as our lived reality.

Obviously there’s a lot more that can be said about the power of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives, but that’s for other times. As we celebrate the ascension of Jesus, it is good for us to remember that we are witnesses to his grace and love in the world. Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to both believe in his grace and to live out his grace in all our relationships.

That can be a powerful witness.

More to think about:

  • What do you think of when you hear the word ‘power’? Does it usually mean something good for you or not? Explain why…
  • What comes to mind when you hear people talk about the ‘power of the Holy Spirit’? In what ways have people told you the Holy Spirit’s power is shown?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to witness to Jesus? Why is that?
  • What do you think about the idea that the way we live our lives can be a powerful witness to Jesus? Would you agree or disagree? Explain why…
  • Believing in the gospel does not come naturally for people, but we need the Holy Spirit’s power to believe. Would you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your thoughts.
  • Sometimes the most effective witness to Jesus we can give is how we treat people and by forgiving, loving, accepting and showing grace to them just like Jesus does to us. Do you agree that we need the Holy Spirit’s power to do that? Explain why…
  • To whom can you witness to Jesus by forgiving, loving, accepting or showing grace in some form to this week? Don’t forget to ask for the Holy Spirit’s power if/when it gets difficult…