Thankful for the Spirit

Any first year in ministry is difficult. When I was called to my first congregation, the church had experienced conflict. It was in a small, rural, area. Over the years, it had dwindled from 300 or so members 100 or so.  Worship attendance could be as low as thirty-five people, and about eighty people were present when the vote was called to approve me as their pastor. When Kathy and I arrived, there was a need for a tremendous outpouring of energy. As a result, by the end of my first year, I was completely exhausted.

The next summer, we took the children to Montreat, North Carolina.  If you’ve never been there, it’s lovely. The mountains of that area are just tall enough for a plant called “Galax” to grow. Galax has a unique quality. You can pick Galax in July, and as long as you keep it in water it will release a fragrance all the way to Christmas.

One day, we took the children on a hike up Grandfather Mountain to pick Galax.  About halfway up, we reached a place where Galax grows. It was a lovely spot, a little glen through which a stream flowed. It was a rocky stream, surrounded by fallen trees and boulders.  As I remember it, there was an area where the water fell for just a few inches. As it flowed over the rocks, it made a wonderful sound.

While Kathy and the children picked Galax, I sat on a rock and watched the water flow down the stream. Suddenly, I experience a filling of the Holy Spirit.  It was as if all the worries, all the concern, and all of the exhaustion of the past year dissipated in a single, wonderful moment as I watched water flow down that stream and thought about the way in which water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  This never has happened to me since, but I treasure that day.

This morning, we are going to be visiting about the way in which the Holy Spirit has fallen and continues to fall upon us and upon the Christian community.

Here I am, Send Me.

If you are not a Christian, you may be wondering, “What is Pentecost?” Pentecost is fifty days after Passover. It was the Jewish “Festival of Weeks,” a day of remembering the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, thought to have occurred fifty days after Passover. The symbolism is important. On Sinai, God gave the law to Moses. At Pentecost, God gives the Spirit that enables us to fulfill the Law by giving us new hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah foretold (Jeremiah 31:33).

Here is how Acts describes the event:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:1-12).

Preparing for the Spirit.

Acts begins with the resurrected Jesus meeting with his disciples. For forty days after the resurrection, Jesus spoke with his disciples (Acts 2:3). Jesus asked them not to leave the city of Jerusalem, but instead to wait for a gift—the Gift of the Spirit (v. 4). Jesus promised that when they received the Spirit, they would witness to him in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (v. 8).

As discussed in Acts 1, what God has asked us to do while we wait for an infilling of the Holy Spirit is to:

  • Build a unified community,
  • Pray diligently,
  • Study our Bibles, and
  • Prepare for the future.

Some years ago, there was a famous revival in Wales. The Welsh Revival was a part of the greater Methodist revivals of the 19th Century. One evening, a young man who had received a mighty calling from God went to his own church. He asked a few people to stay after the meeting and visit with him. He asked them to pray. Here are the specific things he asked them to do:

  • First, he asked them to confess their own sins and ask for forgiveness from God.
  • Second, he asked them to remove from their own lives anything that was not in accordance with God’s will.
  • Third, he asked them to be totally yielded to the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Fourth, he asked them to publically declare their faith in Christ.

There are things that precede true revival, and personal prayer,: confession, repentance, changed lives, and sharing the Gospel are some of the central elements.

Getting Clear about the Spirit.

As we pray for the Spirit of God to come upon us, it is a good idea to think carefully about who it is we are asking to come for dinner in our lives and congregation! For many people, the Spirit is either “Casper the Friendly Ghost” or a kind of disembodied power, like the Force in the Star Wars movies. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. It is the presence of the living God. Therefore, we can be sure that the Spirit is the same Spirit present when God created the world (Gen. 1:1).  It is the rational presence of the living Word of God that became flesh in Jesus Christ. (Proverbs 8; John 1:1).

As Christians, we believe that God was fully revealed in Jesus the Christ God loved the world and the human race so much that he sent his Only Begotten Son to dwell with us full of grace and truth (John 3:16; John 1:14). In particular, we see the love of God made visible form in Christ, and in particular in Christ on the cross. Paul and the apostle John also tells us that we know what love is because while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:16).  The reason that we cannot think of the Holy Spirit as a force or a power is that, when God wanted to reveal exactly who he is and the nature of his power, he revealed his presence and power by personally dying on a cross, giving his life to save his fallen, helpless, lost people. God’s power is a hidden, secret power.

When God reveals himself, he reveals himself as goodness, truth, and beauty. He reveals himself in the order of the universe and in his silent, secret power, the power of God’s Wisdom and Love that underlies all the powers we see around us.

Pentecost Comes Today

I did my Doctor of Ministry degree at Asbury Seminary. On February 3, 1970, the students at Asbury seminary gathered for chapel. The service was scheduled to last for one hour. Instead, it lasted for 185 hours, 24 hours a day, for a week. It began with a time of testimony in which one student after another came forward to talk about their Christian life. Gradually, students and faculty members found themselves weeping. People formed small groups in the chapel and began to confess their sins to one another, ask for forgiveness, pray and sing. The President of the Seminary, Dr. Kinlaw, was out of town and both fearful and skeptical about what was happening. When he returned, he went to the chapel, which seats about 1500 people. Before he left, he was convinced the experience was real.

My friend remembers people praying all night in dorm rooms, confessing sins, and sharing deep hurts with one another. News of the revival traveled around the nation, and people flocked to the little town of Wilmore, Kentucky. When the service was over, students from Asbury shared their story in other places, and sometimes revival broke out there as well.

Many of the students who were present went on to become pastors, missionaries, and church leaders. Those who were present testified that they could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Kinlaw put it this way:

[Y]ou may not understand this, but the only way I know how to account for this [the revival] is that last Tuesday morning, about 20 minutes until Eleven, the Lord Jesus walked into Hughes Auditorium, and He’s been there ever since, and you’ve got the whole community paying tribute to His presence.[1]

Where Do We Go from Here?

A lot of Christians are worried about a lot of things right now. Some folks are concerned about our nation. Some folks are concerned about our economy. Some folks are concerned about their families or homes or neighborhood. Some folks are worried about our church. Here is what I hope we can remember from today:

  • First, we have a promise from God that he will send his Spirit if we wait and pray.
  • Second, we know that God only sends his Spirit in response to unity, study, prayer, confession, changed lives, and changed behavior.
  • Third, we know what to look for—Changed Lives and our own personal life first of all.

As we prepare for a new day in our lives, communities, churches, nations and world, we need to build community (which we will talk about next week), pray, confess, and change. God is coming. We just need to get ready.

Amen

Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] A Revival Account Asbury 1970 The Forerunner (March 31, 2008). My account is based on this article at www.forerunner.com/forerunner/X0585_Asbury_Revival_1970. Dr. Kinlaw’s story is on U-Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qOqitIKUNs.

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