Thursday, March 25, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-26 [Self-image] Filters: Forgive Others

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew5:23-24
Someone said: "Unforgiveness is drinking poison and hoping the one we are mad at will die."
While unforgiveness is a topic all in itself - it is relevant here in that it has an impact on our self-images in the sense that we are unable to experience and know the forgiveness of God. This is why we pray: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
When we hold on to the pain that others have caused us, it causes all sorts of complicated filters that sit in our psyche and interfere with our ability to function normally.
For example: If I hold on to a hurt of a past relationship, I adopt the attitude of "once-bitten, twice shy" and never give myself fully in subsequent relationships. Or if I have been hurt by the betrayal of a loved one in the past, I jump to quick (and wrong) conclusions when the circumstances are similar (even if it is another person)
To forgive is to choose to remember without pain and fear.
To forgive is to break the grip that those who have hurt us have over us.
To forgive is to refute the lie that we somehow deserve what was done to us.
Sometimes forgiveness can happen without the other person present, but there are times when forgiveness and reconciliation need to happen together. This is best started with an honest, unconditional apology when we have been out of line from our side.
When we let those who have hurt us go, we often discover that it is us who find real freedom. Thunk! There's a filter that has just landed in the bin!
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

EMMDEV 2010-03-25 [Self-image] Filters: Forgive Yourself

(A little longer today - but very NB!)
14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! Hebrews9:14
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews knew something important: We have a hard time forgiving ourselves.
Some people say that our consciences are actually the Holy Spirit whispering His truth into our hearts. This is not entirely accurate. We all have a conscience - a set of values that help us differentiate right and wrong. Our consciences are a place where God can and does speak to us powerfully through the Holy Spirit.
But our consciences can be damaged in two ways:
1. They can be seared or corrupted (1Tim4:2 and Titus1:15). When this happens, we care less and less about the things we have done wrong.
2. But our consciences can also become weak and we doubt our position with God and the reality of our "being-forgiven." Paul describes this in detail when he deals with the Corinthian problem of meat sacrificed to idols.
In Corinth, just about all the meat that was on sale had been slaughtered in one of the many pagan temples in the city. It was believed that whenever you ate this meat, you honoured the deity of that temple.
Paul's take was simple:
1. There is only one true God.
2. So, eating meat that was dedicated to false gods was meaningless and harmless to the Christian who ate in thanksgiving to the One True God.
BUT some people had weak consciences - they still carried with them the superstitions of the past and so they were threatened by the eating of the meat. Paul's _interim_ advice was not to eat meat in front of them until their consciences had been transformed by the truth.
Jesus' death does not only cancel the legal debt of our sins and brokenness, but His blood will also heal our consciences. This means that we can begin to forgive ourselves.
If you are struggling to love yourself and forgive yourself or if you are paralysed by a sense of failure and brokenness to the point that you are unable to freely receive the love and forgiveness offered by Christ, then it may be time to ask Jesus to heal your conscience.
He can, He does and He will!
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-24 [Self-image] Filters: Experience Forgiveness

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John8:34
Quick revision:
We identified three key contributing factors to poor self-images:
1.Brokenness: we live in an imperfect world with imperfect bodies and imperfect relationships.
2.Distortion: our views of reality, others and ourselves are distorted and cause us heartache
3.Filters: when we experience the pain of brokenness and distortion we often create filters that cause us to interpret the signals we get wrongly.
We've worked through brokenness and distortion and now we look at how we deal with filters in our souls and memories.
Whether we have sinned or have been sinned against - there is a good chance that we experience guilt - a sense of being dirty. I remember counselling a woman who had been raped who felt guilty even though she had not "provoked" or "asked for" what had happened to her. Her healing came when we asked the Lord to forgive what had been done _to_ her.
When we don't experience forgiveness, we are slaves to this sense of guilt and dirtiness and it becomes a filter through which the rest of life's input comes.
If any or all of the following are true:
- we cannot bear criticism (even if it is constructive)
- we are cynical and suspicious of people who try to befriend us
- we doubt and are sceptical of compliments, often fending them off
- we fear any level of self-disclosure
...there is probably a filter in place - a bad experience that has left a bad taste in our mouths and we go into fight or flight mode whenever something happens that is similar to what we went through.
Jesus sets us free. When our sin or the sin of others puts us in a place of slavery to the past and past hurts, then the blood of Christ is expensive enough to set us free! We can experience forgiveness for what we've done AND for what has been done _to_ us!
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-23 [Self-image] Distortion: Find Godly Community

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
There is a powerful antidote to distortion: Godly Community.
When we are part of a community where Christ is central and we all stand on the level ground before the cross, we can experience a freedom that can be found nowhere else.
Biblical Community is based on a realistic self-perspective: we are not perfect, but we are perfectly and PASSIONately loved. We don't have it all together, but our Saviour does.
And then there's this amazing thing that happens when we are in Biblical Community: We discover that loving others doesn't cost us as much as we thought it would, and, as we love each other, we are experiencing God more and more and we have an increasing experience of His love for us!
Sometimes churches get caught up in pride, politics, prattle and prejudice but this is usually when a church loses focus on its Saviour and its purpose. When the church's focus is right it is a powerful healing community.
You can go it alone or find a healing Godly community.
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Thursday, March 18, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-18 [Self-image] Distortion: New Operating System

2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans12:2
Many of you know that I don't use Windows on my computer. I use an Operating System called Linux. An operating system (OS) is a set of values and programming instructions that build the bridge between the different parts of the hardware of the computer. The operating system also creates the user-interface that allows you to communicate with the computer.
When it comes to the distorted feedback we get from the media and "in-crowd" of the world we have to adopt a new operating system. God's operating system has a different set of base values compared with that of the world.
The World OS says that our value is derived from our coolness, that there is no such thing as a free lunch and that it is the survival of the fittest.
God's OS says that we are valued because God loves us, that loving others is the way to go and we can't survive without His grace working in our lives (and grace is free because Jesus paid for us all.)
We have to re-format the hard-drives of our minds. We have to reboot our memories that are full of unforgiveness .i.e. give resentment the boot! We need to up-load a new user-interface of love and compassion and need to open the ports of our heart to download His love into our lives.
Unless we get this new operating system it will still be the same old broken self on the screen...
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-17 [Self-image] Distortion: Get a Guide

15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Romans8:15-16
We identified three key contributing factors to poor self-images:
- brokenness: we live in an imperfect world with imperfect bodies and imperfect relationships.
- distortion: our views of reality, others and ourselves are distorted and cause us heartache
- filters: when we experience the pain of brokenness and distortion we often create filters that cause us to interpret the signals we get wrongly.
How do we address the distortion caused by the "hall of mirrors" effect that the media and society has on how we see ourselves?
The first step is to get a Reliable Guide. Our parents, our friends, fashion and the media are not reliable guides. Our Reliable Guide is the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit whispers a vital truth into our inmost beings: We are sons and daughters of God. We don't have to earn it and we most certainly haven't deserved it. We are _adopted_ by God - we are His children by _His_ decision and not on our merits.
When the world tells us that we are inadequate and undeserving of love because we are not cool, or because we don't look like super-models, or because we have failed in the past, then lets listen to the "Voice of Truth."
VOICE OF TRUTH (A song by Casting Crowns)
Oh what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I'm in onto the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone into the realm of the unknown
Where Jesus is, and he's holding out his hand
But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me time and time again
"Boy, you'll never win, you'll never win
But the Voice of truth tells me a different story
the Voice of truth says "do not be afraid!"
and the Voice of truth says "this is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth
Oh, what I would do to have the kind of strength it takes
To stand before a giant with just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound of a 1000 warriors shaking in their armor
Wishing they'd have had the strength to stand
But the giant's calling out my name and he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me time and time again
"Boy you'll never win, you'll never win."
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
the Voice of truth says "do not be afraid!"
and the Voice of truth says "this is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth
But the stone was just the right size to put the giant on the ground
and the waves they don't seem so high from on top of them looking down
I will soar with the wings of eagles when I stop
and listen to the sound of Jesus singing over me
But the Voice of truth tells me a different story
The Voice of truth says "do not be afraid!"
And the Voice of truth says "this is for my glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me (calling out to me)
I will choose to listen and believe (I will choose to listen and believe)
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Friday, March 12, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-12 [Self-image] Broken? Recover your purpose

11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah29:11-13
Our brokenness causes a loss of purpose. We become self-centred and self-absorbed - but this is not a purpose that satisfies.
We long for purpose and direction. We want our lives to count for something. We struggle with futility.
This was Israel's struggle. Their rampant idolatry and sinfulness led to their defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and the destruction of Jerusalem and their idolised temple. They found themselves in Exile - "by the Rivers of Babylon" - where they were sucked up in a day to day grind of slavery and loss of purpose.
Jeremiah writes them a letter to reassure and awaken them:
- God still has a plan for them and the plan is not thwarted by their failure.
- These plans provide hope and a future.
- But in order to link into these plans, they will need to seek God.
Paul gives the Ephesians a similar sense of hope: Having described humankind's fall into sin and how Christ rescues us from our sin-debt through grace alone, he then reminds them: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph2:10)
The Greek word for "workmanship" can also be translated "handiwork" or "masterpiece" and gives a sense that God is personally involved in the shape and direction of our lives. Even in our brokenness, God has plans that we can slot into and find real purpose and direction.
The bottom line? You can mope at the "Rivers of Babylon" or you can embrace the restoring forgiveness of God and plug into the dream He has for us!
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Thursday, March 11, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-11 [Self-image] Broken? Set free from Failure

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. Colossians2:13
Have you got an uncouth, rebellious and heathen inner-being?
When Jews talked about the gentiles (non-Jews) as "uncircumcised" they meant it in the derogatory sense of an uncivilised heathen. (Similarly, the Greeks had a word for a non-greek: "Barbaroi" - go figure!)
Paul's phrase, "the uncircumcision of your sinful nature," is his way of talking about our brokenness - our tendency to do evil even when we want to be good. (Our "barbarian" spirits...)
The problem as far as our self-images go, is that we are flawed deep within. Our faults are not only skin-deep. At the very core of our being, we are selfish, self-serving, ambitious and arrogant and even our best deeds are tainted with these motives.
No matter what pretences we put up, there is no escaping the lack of peace that lurks at the core of our beings: Instinctively we know that we are not right with God.
Christ sets us free from failure.
He cancels the written code, the law, that reveals our failures and lists our punishments. He cancels it at great cost - paying it in full through His death on the cross.
Jesus says on John 8:36
"If the Son sets you free - you will be free indeed!"
Next time you feel that numbing sense of failure, you can look in the mirror and say "I may have done something stupid and I may have to live through the practical consequences of my failures, but I am free (and much-loved!) because Christ paid a great price to cancel my sin-debts."
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-10 [Self-image] Broken? Experience Unconditional Love

9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1John4:9-10
Brokenness makes us feel unlovable:
Our physical defects cause us to feel unattractive.
Our personality flaws make us insecure.
Our lapses ("accidental" sins) make us feel pathetic
and our willfull sins leave us feeling unforgivably guilty.
We cover for these things with inflated, deflated or alter egos. We push our perceived strengths over the top, often creating more pain and frustration. Sometimes we shrink on the inside, convincing ourselves that we can't cope when there are actually a lot of tools left in our toolboxes. Then there are the times that we try to be all things to all people, but being a chameleon on a smartiebox is exhausting.
The real key to overcoming brokenness is to realise that God offers us unconditional love. We are deeply and awesomely loved by God. We do not have to achieve lovability and we don't have to live up to an expectation.
John tells us that God loved us before we even thought of Him.
That God took the first steps toward us and when our brokenness got in the way, God paid the most costly price to set that brokenness aside.
This is the only sensible foundation for a healthy self-image:
It's not that I am kind-of ok.
It's not that "I am not really so bad you know."
It's that even if my face was rotted away by some wasting disease, even if I was a pathological liar, if I wasted every opportunity God gave me and if I spent my days hurting those around me, God would look past all of my appearances and bad performances and see inside me a person who He has made and loves. And He wouldn't love me any less than He loves Mother Theresa.
My lovability comes from God's decision and not my performance.
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-09 [Self-image] Highway to Destruction

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans1:21
So, to summarise the roots of poor self-image, there are three factors:
1. The Aftermath of Sin which results in brokenness: Birth-defects, natural disasters, and skew noses on the one side and relational breakdown on the other.
2. The Distorted Mirror of Society that sells our wants to us as needs and makes attractiveness an impossible standard that we exhaust ourselves trying to achieve.
3. The Filters of Past Pain that mute the positives and amplify the negatives.
Bizarrely enough all of this leads us away from God and to an obsession with self - but in the most negative sense. We spend way too much time, self-analysing, self-criticising, self-hating and self-destructing.
The further we move away from God, the more our hearts become dark and the more futile our thinking becomes. The route toward a better self-image is for us to get to know our Maker and Sustainer and allow Him to heal our brokenness, to clarify our distortions and to remove our filters.
He can, He does and He will.
We'll look at some key passages through the rest of this week.
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Friday, March 5, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-05 [Self-image] Filters

20 "Don't call me Naomi, " she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. Ruth1:20
Yesterday we looked at the first two things that are factors in our poor self-images:
1. Brokenness: We live in a world broken by sin - so we have birth-defects, our relationships are not perfect and we are disappointed by others and ourselves.
2. Mirrors: Society is like a "hall of mirrors" where our self-perceptions are stretched and pulled out of shape and are not a true reflection of who we are.
But there is a third factor and I call it "the Filter." Filters are created when certain things happen to us that leave deep marks on our souls. These marks become part of how we interpret subsequent events in our lives. Our histories become the filters that sift and sort whatever new information comes into my mind today.
When a good filter is in place, it filters out negative and false information preventing it from becoming lodged in our minds. A bad filter will prevent positive and uplifting thoughts from coming through and only allows destructive and hurting thoughts to come in.
Here are some examples:
- A girl who can't relate to God as Father because her dad molested her.
- A guy who manages to self-destruct every job he ever has because a teacher told him "You will never be a success."
- A person who can't commit to a relationship because they still blame themselves (incorrectly) for their parent's divorce.
- A girl who acts "butch" because someone told her she wasn't pretty
These filters are brutal to our self-images, because they only allow certain information through into their hearts and minds. No matter how many times you tell the butch girl she is attractive, she will not hear you - because she has a filter.
Naomi was in danger of having a filter: She had experienced famine and the death of her husband and sons - there was a filter in the making and it was labelled "Bitter: nothing good ever happens to me." Fortunately Naomi seems to have discarded that filter because throughout the book she is gracious and is loved by her daughter-in-law and the people around her.
Filters can be discarded - but it takes courage!
Do you have a filter? Maybe you need to throw it out!
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Thursday, March 4, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-03-04 [Self-image] Disharmony

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" Genesis3:8-9
One of the best descriptions given to our broken world is given by the Bethel course which describes our current state as one of disharmony.
The reality of our sin has consequences for Adam and Eve and for our lives and results in a tragic loss of harmony in four areas:
1. Instead of enjoying intimacy with God, we, like Adam and Eve, tend to hide from Him and be fearful of Him.
2. Adam moves from relating to Eve as "flesh of his flesh" to blame: "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." There is disharmony in relationships: we blame, resent and betray each other.
3. Their relationship with creation became discordant. There is now danger and struggle in our relationship with the rest of creation.
These first three areas indicate the brokenness of our world: They explain
- our rampant idolatry,
- our wars and violence,
- and the heartache of natural disasters and birth-defects.
These are not part of God's created purpose, but the horrendous consequences of our sin.
This broken environment is the first factor in our faulty self-images. It results in a tragic loss of purpose.
The fourth area of disharmony is significant:
4. Their sense of self-worth and self-perception takes a massive knock, and now their nakedness is an issue. Interesting question: "Did eating the fruit make them flabby or give them wrinkles? Did _anything_ change about their bodies that caused them to hide?" No, their bodies didn't change, but their self-perceptions became off-key.
This represents the second factor of self-image chaos in that the mirror we use to see ourselves is now twisted and distorted and we can no longer see ourselves the way God has created us.
The hopeful thing about this sad picture is that there is a God who still calls our name and wants to rescue us from our disharmony.
Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

EMMDEV I believe in the Holy Spirit

Dear EmmDev Friends
As I said yesterday, the Creed only has only one line on the Holy Spirit.
The early church experienced the work and power of the Holy Spirit on a day to day basis and it seems they felt no need to explain more.

I've included two past series on the Holy Spirit that you can work through until I pick up the EmmDevs again after Easter.

With much love,

OT on Holy Spirit

2007-04-26 - "Hovering"

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis1:1-2)

The feast of Pentecost was 50 days after the Passover and Jesus' Crucifixion. Jesus had ascended 10 days earlier. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to the Church.

In most mainline churches people know very little about the Holy Spirit. Is He a like a person, a force, a ghost or a "magic potion?"

Rather than trying to answer this question in one devotion, I'd like to use the next few weeks to answer this question by looking at various passages about the Holy Spirit. Hopefully it will make the celebration of Pentecost even more significant.

The first picture we have of the Holy Spirit is found in first two verses of the Old Testament.

The Holy Spirit is part of the Creation process. God the Father created the heavens and the earth, but He had not yet begun bringing order to it. It was formless and void.

The Holy Spirit is there - hovering. Although our passage doesn't tell us this, the rest of Scripture convinces me that the Spirit is eager to bring life and direction and purpose. He is God's breath - He is the agent of life, direction and purpose.

This first picture communicates three things:
- The Spirit's presence
- His freedom
- His eagerness to get going with bringing life to the void.

Although many are afraid of the Holy Spirit, we should see Him as God's creation agent - bringing full, beautiful, abundant LIFE out of dark and formless voids!

2007-05-02 - "Breath"

7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Both the Hebrew ("Ruach") and Greek ("Pneuma") words for the Holy Spirit also mean breath or wind. (Think of words like pneumatic)

Here in Genesis we are told that human beings are made alive by the power and working of the Spirit. We are unique in all of creation in that we alone have the capacity to indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But more about that in later devotions...

Our thoughts for today need to center on this powerful image: The Spirit gives life. When my son Caleb was born, the all important moment was that first breath - the sign of life.

The picture of God breathing into the nostrils really implies that He is giving us something of who He is. It is a very intimate picture.

When we administer CPR to someone who has stopped breathing, most of our breath is Carbon Dioxide with a bit of unused oxygen. The value of what we do is that we get the lungs going again. But God didn't just breathe CO2 into our lungs - He breathed the "breathe of life" He shares the awesome life-giving spirit with us...

The earliest pictures we have of the Spirit tell us that He is the order-bringer and life-giver. When we look at human beings in their awesome capacity to be so _alive_ we are seeing the trademark of the Holy Spirit.

2007-05-03 - "Illuminating"

37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, "Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?"


When Pharoah had some disturbing dreams there was no-one who could explain them to him. Eventually the Pharoah's cupbearer remembered Joseph who had correctly interpreted his dream. And they summoned him.

Joseph was adamant that it was God working through him to interpret the dreams: "I cannot do it," Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires."

After Pharoah described the dream, Joseph was not only able to explain what it meant, but he was also to formulate a competent plan to address the future problems the dream warned them of.

Pharoah immediately realised that this was not all Joseph's work. God's Holy Spirit was prompting, illuminating and inspiring Joseph so that he could see more that what human eyes could see.

The Holy Spirit still does this in the lives of believers today:
- granting vision and clarity
- helping us make sense of difficult circumstances
- enabling us to come up with excellent problem-solving strategies

There is human wisdom, vision and strategy. When the Holy Spirit supplements this, it goes to an entirely new level!

The key to having this gift working in our lives is to be as humble as Joseph was.

2007-05-04 - "Talents on Steroids!"

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 "See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts-- 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. (Exodus31:1-5)

This reading comes from the time that Moses was instructed to build the tabernacle. The Israelites were migrant people travelling through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. They were not settled and their skills were centered around survival and their herds.

To build the tabernacle according to the exacting standards laid down would require more than talent. It would need people uniquely and supernaturally gifted to do the work in limited circumstances.

Bezalel was chosen by God. We don't know whether he had a natural inclination toward craftsmanship - I suspect he may well have, but now with the aid of the Holy Spirit, he could excel.

I've experienced this at different times in my life where God has amplified one of my skills or talents to a point that I know that it was not just me, but that what I had was "augmented" and "filled out" by God's Spirit.

This is a significant characteristic of the work of the Holy Spirit: He doesn't only do the big and dramatic - He is often at work in this supplementing and supporting way. He is with us, comes alongside us and assists us as we do God's work.

Let's be open to His help!!!

2007-05-07 - "Spiritual Leadership"

The LORD said to Moses: "Bring me seventy of Israel's elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.

One of the key lessons Moses had to learn had to do with delegation. He had to learn to share the load and burden of leadership with others.

What is significant in this passage is that Moses drew on people who were already recognised as leaders. Having set them apart, God imbued them with His Spirit turning a normal gift of leadership into Spiritual Leadership.

By the power of the Holy Spirit these seventy elders could exercise the same kind of leadership that Moses did:
- Humble
- Courageous
- God-guided

When it comes to doing God's work, normal leadership abilities are only a starting point. God will multiply and supplement our leadership with the amazing caring and guiding influence of His Holy Spirit.

Leaders should regularly set themselves apart to receive God's gracious Spirit. They should ask God to amplify and add to their leadership. This means that they should deal with sin in their lives and keep an open channel of communication to God.

When the Spirit is allowed to work in us in this way, we can expect gracious, wise and effective leadership gifts to be manifested.

Or we can try to lead in our own strength...

2007-05-22 - "Surprising Beneficiaries!"

2 When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him (Numbers24:2)

Balaam is one of the last people we would expect the Holy Spirit to work in. He was a pagan priest, prophet and curse-pronouncer. He was hired by Balaak of Moabites to curse the Israelites.

God confronted Balaam on the way and although Baalam was stubborn, he eventually surrendered his agenda and refused to curse God's people. Now, even though he has not become an Israelite or even a committed believer, God's Spirit comes upon him to bless the nation of Israel.

We tend to limit God's Spirit to the church. We seem to think that God can only work in the hearts of committed believing people. Over the years I have seen God move graciously in people who do not claim to be Christians. I learned to recognise the fingerprints of God everywhere I go.

When human beings are open to God's goodness, truth and love they can often become a place where the Holy Spirit is at work- either obviously or anonymously. This doesn't mean that these people are Christians or that we can accept everything that they stand for, but it does mean that there is an openness to God which He can use to glorify His name.

The Spirit can move in small and big ways in the hearts of people. He is not a "body-snatcher" but will graciously work in those who are open to goodness, truth and love. For me this explains some of the beautiful art and music we see created by people who would not call themselves Christians. This explains acts of courageous justice, truth and mercy coming from folk who are not connected to the church. When hearts are even slightly open, the Holy Spirit can and will work to bring life, beauty and truth.

2007-05-23 - "More than Adrenalin"

34 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. (Jude6:34)

Throughout the Old Testament we find this phrase "the Spirit of the Lord came upon..." The recipients of this "coming upon" include Gideon, Jephtah, Samson, David, Saul, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many other prominent leaders, kings and prophets.

One might be tempted to liken these to the adrenalin rush one gets in the heat of battle or the flash of creative inspiration one has when facing a complex challenge.

But it is more than that: The coming of the Spirit in this way in the OT is more than just heightened awareness or a moment of clear focus. It is the Spirit assisting a human being to transcend their limitations to perform acts of strength, leadership or spiritual wisdom that go far above their normal capacity and bring about heightened results.

Most scholars tell us that in the Old Testament the Spirit came and went whereas the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit resides in us permanently. I agree with this, but we should not therefore assume that there are not times when the Holy Spirit will surge powerfully to the forefront in our lives even though He is always at work in us.

If we look at the New Testament, there are times that the apostles were powerfully gripped by the Spirit - particularly when they were preaching the gospel or confronting evil.

So, even though we are constantly indwelt by the Holy Spirit, there can be times that there will be a surging of His power in our lives that enables us to do more than our best in the service of God's Kingdom - but it is never just for our thrill or pleasure, but always in the service of the spreading of the Gospel.

2007-05-24 - "Transformation"

6 The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. 7 Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.

When God called Saul to be king, he was a timid and shy man. When it was announced that he would be king they had to search for him and he was eventually found hiding amongst the baggage.

But God had high hopes for Saul. Saul could be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. So Samuel prepares him for this event: The Spirit would "come upon" him and energise, empower and embolden him.

Saul had time to prepare his heart and it happened as Samuel said. The Holy Spirit worked powerfully in Saul giving him the courage and authority to summon and lead the people in their first battle to face their enemies.

Sadly Saul became self-sufficient and the resulting disasters led to him becoming insecure and ineffective - in fact, he became open to another spirit, an evil one, that preyed on his darkness and drove him into depression.

There is hope and warning in this account:
- God can wonderfully transform our weaknesses into strengths
- But if we do not co-operate with His will in humility, we place ourselves at huge risk of being consumed by darkness.

2007-05-28 - "Instruction"

You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. (Nehemiah9:20)

Nehemiah led the efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after they returned from their exile in Babylon. After the wall was rebuilt, he gathered the people in a service of repentence and rededication.

Part of the rededication ceremony was a review of their history which revealed God's consistent faithfulness and the people's consistent failure to keep even the basics of their covenant with God.

What Nehemiah emphasises here and again in vs 30 is the role of the Holy Spirit in instructing and guiding them. This is an important part of the Spirit's work - to shape, mold, teach, train and equip the people of God.

He will use teachers, precepts and prophets to do it, but the Spirit is the one who brings these truths home to us. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. John in his first letter also reminds the church that they do not need "enlightened teachers" (gnostic heretics) to teach them because they are anointed by the Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit is the one who makes God's truths real to us and who fills us with wisdom and helps us to process our knowledge in a God-honouring way.

2007-05-30 - "No assumptions"

Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Psalm 51 is David's prayer of confession. Although the Old Testament understanding of the Holy Spirit is not as clearly developed as it is in the New, David already understood that God's holiness meant that His Spirit and sin had very little in common.

David knew that God would not abide with the presence of sin in his life. In the New Testament this is described as grieving or quenching the work of the Spirit.

If we seriously want God to fill our lives, we have to give Him control _in_ our lives. It means that we allow God to govern our lives and we walk according to His requirements. When we sin, we grab the controls of our lives heading our way instead of His way - doing "our thing" instead of His will.

When we grab control back in certain areas of our lives, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit will withdraw His influence, guidance and blessing from those areas of our lives until we are ready with repentant hearts to allow Him to be in control again.

David feared losing touch with the presence of God. There is the terrible danger that I might slowly drive the Spirit from just about every area in my life so that I don't even fear losing my closeness to God!

May we always experience the closeness to God that the Spirit brings so that we will fear anything that might take that closeness away!

2007-06-05 - "Omnipresence"

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalms139:7-10)

Psalm 139 is all about God's initimate knowledge and love of us. It speaks about how we are fearfully and wonderfully made and it ends with a prayer for God's illumination in the psalmist's heart and on his life.

But by far the biggest portion of the psalm is devoted to the idea of God eternal presence. This omnipresence (all/total/complete presence) is the function of the Holy Spirit. It is His closeness and "nearby-ness" that the Psalmist speaks of.

This closeness is a comfort and a joy - but it is also a challenge. The psalmist complains of feeling "hemmed in" in vs.5. This is because the Holy Spirit isn't just a passive presence or impartial observer... He is not just _a_ spirit but the _Holy_ Spirit. He will not only comfort and strengthen us in times of trouble, but He will also convict and prompt us about the things that are not "kosher" in our lives.

But when we walk in the paths that He points us toward then "His right hand holds us fast."

2007-06-06 - "Guidance on God's Will"

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;
may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalms143:10)

Hebrew poetry doesn't rhyme - it uses parallelisms: The poet finds more than one way to say the same thing.

Here in Psalm 143 the Psalmist brings two sets of things together:
- His God and the "good Spirit" are one and the same.
- God's will and "level ground" are also the same.

Both reminders are important:

We often treat the Holy Spirit as a "power pack" or "magic potion" but He is part and parcel of the triune Godhead. He is as much part of God as the Father and Son are. He is good - a word that in Hebrew has much richer nuances than it has in English. "Good" in English lacks the depth, character and beauty of the Hebrew word used here. We'd have to put "good" in italics or capitals to get the real sense of what the psalmist is conveying here.

God's will is level ground - think about the Hebrew culture of the day ... They were farmers and herders. Level ground is open and free - it is a place of openness and freedom where crops can easily grow and cattle can graze safely. God's will is a place where we can grow and prosper in open free space.

God's Good Spirit can guide us to this open level space. It's one of the things He'll do if we make Him _our_ God and listen to Him!

2007-06-07 - "A King's Wisdom"

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD (Isaiah11:2)

Isaiah prophesied the coming of a King. We recognise it as a prophecy about Jesus, but we must remember that it was partially fulfilled in Isaiah's lifetime in the coming of King Hezekiah. This is important, otherwise we will have to assume that these aspects of the Spirit's work are only available to Christ.

Isaiah believed that the gift of wisdom could be bestowed on people. He uses a triple parallelism to give a full explanation of what it means to have the wisdom of the Spirit.

- Understanding: The ability to have insight into circumstances, to penetrate the story behind the story. To understand the forces behind the surface issues.

- Counsel: The ability to give good advice - to be strategic. Particularly to be able to listen, discern and direct.

- Power: In this context, I would suggest that power has to do with self-mastery and self-control. People who are exceptionally wise are usually people don't let their tempers or tongues get the better of them.

- Knowledge: This may refer to supernatural knowledge (knowing things that we would not know by normal means) or an exceptional ability to assimilate knowledge. Elisha demonstrated supernatural knowledge when he knew in advance where one the enemy kings was going to launch surprise attacks. Solomon was renowned for his botanical knowledge (demonstrating the ability to assimilate knowledge)

- The Fear of the Lord: This has to do with doing things God's way and interpreting life with the clear understanding that God is the Sovereign and Supreme ruler over all and that we are answerable to Him.

This Spirit-given Wisdom resided in Jesus, but He is the same Spirit who would work in us if we would allow Him to.

2007-06-08 - "Woe if I go without the Spirit"

"Woe to the obstinate children," declares the LORD,
"to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;

Isaiah is prophesying against the Israelites who were threatened by the Babylonians and, instead of relying on God, went off and tried to set up a military alliance with Egypt. (He later described the Egyptians as a splintering reed - a walking stick that would collapse when they leaned on it.)

The still small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to the people called them to repentence but they wouldn't listen. Later in the same chapter Isaiah would admonish them with the following words:

"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, `No, we will flee on horses.'
Therefore you will flee!
You said, `We will ride off on swift horses.'
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

We cannot ask for God's power until we stop relying on other sources of strength. We cannot ask for guidance if we plan to go our own way. We cannot expect that the Holy Spirit will always lead us along paths that seem obvious to us. In ch.55 Isaiah says this:
8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.
9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God has an awesome plan for our lives. The Holy Spirit will guide us in the fulfilment of that plan. If we ignore His promptings, we will not only miss out on God's plan, but we sin and walk in the darkness.

2007-06-12 - "Fair Warning"

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners


Just so that there is no misunderstanding...
When God works in our lives by His Spirit, He has a clear agenda. And that agenda is this: He wants to use us to comfort, heal and release people who are impoverished, broken and entrapped.

He wants us to be symbols of hope and peace to those who are poor. Not only the spiritually poor, but the materially poor too. If we allow Him to, the Spirit will give us the kind of generosity that we can give of our time, talent and treasure to the needy in a way that will be good news to them. Without the Spirit empowering us, our efforts will be patronising and insulting - with His help we can be genuine and convincing.

The Spirit will help us be agents of healing especially among the broken-hearted. We will be led to draw alongside those who mourn and grieve and suffer and be given the sensitivity and the wisdom to offer them comfort and healing. Without the Spirit's guidance we will be insensitive and irrelevant - with His help we will listen well and through our love and care bind up those who are broken.

When we are empowered by the Spirit, we will develop a conscience for social injustices - we lie awake over those whose rights and dignity has been compromised by our broken worldly system. God will move us to help them be free. William Wilberforce's remarkable struggle to abolish slavery is an example of what the Spirit will do in us. If our efforts are not empowered by the Spirit, we are just "bleeding heart" liberals making token guestures to soothe our consciences - with his power we persist until we can make a real difference.

Ahhh, but you may argue that this is a prophecy about Jesus, but in John 20, Jesus breathes the Spirit on His disciples and says "As the Father sent me, I am sending you."

You've been warned: If you allow the Spirit to work in you, these things will happen in your life.

2007-06-13 - "Fair Warning Continued"

and provide for those who grieve in Zion--
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah61:3)

Yesterday we saw that the Spirit will move us to comfort, heal and release people who are impoverished, broken and entrapped. This in itself is awesome and exciting, but what is just as exciting is the mood, atmosphere and vibe of this work we are called to! Continuing from the verse we looked at yesterday, Isaiah spells out the surprising vitality of the work of the Spirit in us.

For many people religion is sackcloth, ashes, mourning and despair. Many Christians seem to have been "baptised in lemon juice" - they come across, harsh, cold, forbidding and lacking in love and joy. This is what empty, formalistic and legalistic religiosity looks like.

However, when the Spirit empowers our faith and our work, the hallmarks are beauty, gladness and praise that displace and replace ashes, mourning and despair.

People empowered by the Spirit are solid trees, deeply rooted in righteousness, and always pointing upwards. People are drawn to sit in their shade.

2007-06-19 - "Grieving"

10 Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them. (Isaiah63:10)

Many people think that it is only in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit is depicted as a person and not as some kind of "force" or "power pack." Isaiah is recounting Israel's history, particularly explaining how they ended up in exile in Babylon.

What is significant is that our text tells us that they "grieved" (or "vexed") God's Holy Spirit. If we analyse Isaiah's complaints against them (recorded in ch 1-39), there are probably a few headings we can pull out:
- Idolatry: Worshipping idols and things instead of God.
- Injustice: Neglecting the poor and marginalised.
- Hypocrisy: Empty, meaningless and faithless religious rituals
- Rebellion: Flagrant disobedience

These things grieved the Spirit of God. For nearly 400 years the Israelites grieved the Spirit and this resulted in the Babylonians being used and summoned by God as an instrument of judgment against the disobedient, idolatrous, hard-hearted and hypocritical Israelites.

The Spirit _can_ be grieved. He doesn't benignly tolerate our rebellious ways - He wants to transform us. If we stubbornly continue in faithless and idolatrous ways, we will grieve Him and He will make war against our sinful nature.

2007-06-20 - "Rest"

like cattle that go down to the plain,
they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD.
This is how you guided your people
to make for yourself a glorious name. (Isaiah63:14)

Isaiah is going through the history of Israel to show them how God was with them when they came out of Egypt to settle into the promised land.

He likened that journey to that of cattle moving from the sparse craggy heights where it is risky and the footing is treacherous to the plain where it is lush, the footing is easier and the animals grow sleek and fat.

Isaiah is saying that the Holy Spirit is the one who brings us to those moments of rest and growth. He brings us to times in our lives where we can find peace and grow in our relationship with God and others - when we are secure in ourselves and at peace with life.

But what is the difference between spiritual rest and laziness? Spiritual rest is not the lack of activity - cattle in the plain still graze, produce offspring and milk. Rest brings about growth, recovery and multiplication. Rest is more a state of mind - a peaceful restful purposefulness that is marked by an absence of insecurity, doubt and fear. Laziness is unproductive: the only thing that grows is our comfortable inertia!

Laziness focusses on self - Holy Spirit induced rest glorifies God.

2007-06-21 - "Motion"

19 When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. 20 Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (Ezekiel1:19-20)

If you thought that Isaiah said much more about the Holy Spirit than you'd expected to find in the Old Testament, then you're in for an even bigger surprise with Ezekiel.

Ezekiel worked from about 597BC. He was one of the exiles in Babylon and he helped the Israelite exiles to understand that God was with them even though their beloved temple had been destroyed. Ezekiel helped them understand that the Holy Spirit was with them and that He would revive, renew and rebuild the nation.

Ezekiel starts with a vision of wheels with eyes, creatures, an ice-platform and a throne. To cut a long story short, the vision is of a divine "chariot" on which God's Throne rests. The creatures look like the Babylonian statues and the message was that worldly powers are just the creatures that pull the chariot of God's glory around.

The significant thing about Ezekiel's pictures of the Holy Spirit here and in the rest of the book is this idea of _motion_. The Holy Spirit moves! But not only is the Spirit in motion, present even at the Kebar river in Babylon, but the Spirit also _moves_ people. Here he is at work moving the Babylonians and later the Persians. Elsewhere in the book the Spirit will move Ezekiel and the people of God.

God's Spirit is always moving - do you remember Genesis 1:1-2? "The Spirit of God was moving over the waters of the unshaped world - ready to bring life, order and meaning."

Maybe Jesus put it best when He said: "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John3:8)

If we want to be Spirit-guided people, we'd better prepare for motion! He will find us wherever we are... But He won't leave us there!

2007-06-22 - "Lifted up"

1 Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the gate of the house of the LORD that faces east. There at the entrance to the gate were twenty-five men, and I saw among them Jaazaniah son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, leaders of the people. 2 The LORD said to me, "Son of man, these are the men who are plotting evil and giving wicked advice in this city. (Ezekiel11:1)

Recorded in the book of Ezekiel are 8 or 9 instances where the Spirit "lifts" Ezekiel up to see a vision or event of one sort or another. Here in this passage Ezekiel gets to be a "fly on the wall" while these men - all prominent leaders - are having a meeting in Jerusalem just before the Babylonians destroy it.

Remember: Ezekiel is in Babylon - these men are in Jerusalem. They are plotting and scheming about the money they stand to make out of the chaos that will be unleashed when the Babylonians invade. In vs3 they say: `Will it not soon be time to build houses? This city is a cooking pot, and we are the meat.'

Ezekiel is therefore able to expose their wickedness through the Holy Spirit's vision and guidance.

The prophet Elisha was also given this ability to hear the plans of the enemy Aramean King when he was planning to invade Israel. The New Testament calls this a "word of knowledge."

Sometimes it is a clear vision - other times we "just know" something that we did not learn by natural means. We learn it through God's working in us.

This doesn't happen to everybody and it doesn't happen all the time. But I have learned to be obedient when I get the urge to phone someone out of the blue - almost always they say "I'm so glad you called!"

2007-07-03 - "New heart and Spirit"

36:24 " `For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel36:24-28)

This awesome promise is part of a greater promise of forgiveness, renewal and restoration. God is addressing the hope-depleted, faith-diminished and devotion-decreased Israelites in Exile in Babylon.

They had given up hope.
They had lost everything.
They thought that they were forgotten.

God promises
- forgiveness (sprinkled with clean water)
- renewal (heart transplant & Spirit filling)
- restoration (to the land and to being God's people)

The picture of renewal is awesome.
Their hearts were stone - because of their sin and because of their suffering. In Hebrew thinking the heart is not the seat of emotions but rather the control room of a person's life. Their control-centers were bitter, cynical and empty of grace. God promises that this can change!

But that's not all! The promise is that Holy Spirit will take up residence in them to move them in commitment and devotion that they might live according to God's ways.

Are you hope-depleted or faith-diminished? Has your heart turned to stone through the pain and disappointment you've experienced? God wants to forgive, renew and restore!

2007-07-05 - "Mobilizing"

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet--a vast army.


These verses are part of the famous passage concerning Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones. When God asked Ezekiel, "Son of Man can these bones live?", Ezekiel wisely answered "You alone know Sovereign Lord."

The bones are dry, bleached and pretty desolate. Kind of like the picture of Israel we saw in ch.36: hope-depleted, faith-diminished and devotion-decreased.

Ezekiel preaches the Word of the Lord to them and this reassambles the bones into skeletons, gives them muscle, tendons and flesh but there is no life - they're corpses on the ground.

So God asks him to prophesy to the breath (wind - Hebrew Ruach) that the breath would breathe into the corpses and give LIFE!

The Spirit gives life. He gets them up, He mobilises them, He arranges them in formation - they're not just a crowd... They're an army.

Sometimes we have the resources, gifts and talents needed for life and yet there is something missing. We just don't have what it takes to get moving. We are demotivated, in disarray and directionless. The Holy Spirit will inspire, unite and lead us.

So we need to pray the old hymn:
1. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what thou dost love,
and do what thou wouldst do.

2. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
until my heart is pure,
until with thee I will one will,
to do and to endure.

3. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
till I am wholly thine,
till all this earthly part of me
glows with thy fire divine.

4. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
so shall I never die,
but live with thee the perfect life
of thine eternity.
(Text: Edwin Hatch, 1835-1889)

2007-07-06 - "The River #1"

1 The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side.


Ezekiel is still in Babylon. The Spirit has once again taken him on a visionary trip - He is seeing a picture of the heavenly temple (the one in Jerusalem has not been rebuilt yet.) This vision lasts from ch.40-47.

It is a glorious vision of the temple and the priesthood, but the description reaches its climax here in ch.47 with the description of the river of the Holy Spirit flowing from the temple. We'll take a couple of days to tease out the nuances.

Jesus himself referred to this river when He attended the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. On the last day of the feast, a priest would pour a jar of water out at the altar. John tells us: 'On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.' (John7:37-39)

Today the important aspect is to recognise that the stream (which becomes a river) begins flowing at the ALTAR. It is from this place of ultimate sacrifice that the river will flow. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross enables our forgiveness so that the Holy Spirit can work in us.

There is no other starting point!

2007-07-16 - "The River #2"

3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in--a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, "Son of man, do you see this?" (Ezekiel47:3-6)

We're picking up the imagery used for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Ezekiel is seeing this amazing river which starts flowing from the altar in the temple, out of the south side of the temple through the land.

What is striking here is that the stream grows deeper and deeper. It is ankle-deep, knee-deep, waist-deep and then too deep to cross. It is symbolic of two important aspects of the Spirit:

1. Do not underestimate small beginnings. Although the initial stream is shallow, the river swells and grows into something great and awesome. When God's Spirit moves, He often begins with one person who "has an idea" and before you know it, a nation is transformed or some other great thing has happened. In God's kingdom, great outcomes almost always come out of small beginnings.

2. The Spirit seems to prefer to take us through progressive stages in our relationship with Him - although many seek dramatic experiences with the Holy Spirit - it does not (from this picture anyway) seem to be the norm for someone to be "tossed into the 'Deep End'" by the Holy Spirit's working in our lives (Although there are exceptions...) It would appear that the _normal_ Christian experience is to grow or wade into a deeper experience of God in our lives.

The problem is that many of us are so afraid of the Holy Spirit that we splash around the shallows of the ankle-deep river wearing life-jackets, water-wings and a life-preserver and our fears keep us from ever going in deeper...

2007-07-17 - "The River #3"

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. (Ezekiel47:6-8)

Ezekiel is still exploring this incredible river flowing from the temple - the place of sacrifice and worship. Fortunately for him, they seem to have come out of the water which is now way too deep to wade across and now they are exploring the river from the banks.

His angelic guide indicates that this river flows down into the Desert regions and ends up ending in the "Sea in the Arabah." The only "sea" in this region is the Dead Sea which is situated at one of the lowest points on the earth's crust. The Jordan river pours into it and because there is nowhere for the the water to drain out, it evaporates there, leaving all the chemicals and salts behind, making a mineral cocktail so toxic that the Dead Sea cannot sustain life because the water is so dense with salts.

But this river is different! Even in the desert regions this river is flanked by trees and there is abundance of life in these waters - so much so that the river will make the Dead Sea fresh again!!

In vs 9 the angel says this: "Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live."

What an awesome picture! The Holy Spirit is a life-giver and life-bringer. Where He is at work, death is transformed into life.
When our lives are dead with the salination of pain and sin, the Spirit flowing from us can result in life.

It is interesting that the angel indicates that the Dead Sea will become like the Great Sea (Sea of Galilee). The Galilee Sea has both input and output. The Dead Sea has only an input. Maybe this is why Jesus connected so emphatically to this picture in John7:38 "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow FROM within him."

There is no escaping that fact that if we want to be filled with the Spirit and experience His life, we will become people of OUTPUT!

2007-07-18 - "Afterward...."

And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.


The prophet Joel shaped his prophetic message around an experience that struck real fear into an agricultural community - a plague of locusts. He compares the calamities of war, famine and disaster to wave after wave of locusts.

Disaster is a call to humility, repentence and dependence on God. Joel promised that real repentance would be met by restoration - "the repaying of the years the locust has eaten..." (2:25) and when this restoration took place, they would know that there is a God in Israel (2:27) and then afterward...
...God's Spirit would be poured out!

This prophecy is best interpreted in the coming of Christ: Christ who took away our sins (the years the locust ate) and by his resurrection proved that there is a God in Israel.

Here's how Joel saw the coming of the Spirit: Prophecy, Dreams and Visions. These are three supernatural phenomena that give us access to God's will and plan.

When it comes to prophecy, we tend to think of fortune-telling and future-predicting. In the Biblical sense of the word, "prophecy" is God's opinion on current affairs.

Dreams and Visions are mental images or "pictures" that give us some idea of what God is doing, and as is so often the case, a picture is worth a thousand words.

So what is the lesson here? In spite of our past disasters, God wants to heal us. Whether we're young or old, male or female, parents or children,God pours His Spirit on us so that we can know Him better.

2007-07-19 - "Prophet Petrol"

8 But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the Spirit of the LORD,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression,
to Israel his sin.

This is a beautiful example of Hebrew Parallelism - Hebrew poetry doesn't rhyme - it repeats the same idea with other words...
Here we have 2 ideas:
- What a gives the prophet his "go" (in 3 parallel lines)
- What the prophet must do. (in 2 parallel lines)

Let's start with what a prophet does... The prophet's role is to show a nation where it is going wrong and bring them back to God. Today many self-appointed prophets try to predict people's future - which is often just spiritual manipulation. Others just endlessly catalog the failures of the church, the society and the government without pointing to the solution in any meaningful way. The true prophet's role is to remind people of their need for God and God's availability to those who will call on Him.
Whether they want to be reminded or not...!

This arduous task requires a special kind of petrol: Micah (who was a contemporary of Isaiah) describes his fuel in three parallel lines. Significantly (and Hebrew poetry works like this) the center line talks about the Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit fills Micah with power, justice and valiant might. The word used for fills has connotations of a winepress filled and pressed and overflowing. His is running over with Divine zeal, energy and justice.

When God calls us to tough jobs He will give us the petrol!!!

PS: While some may feel that the picture of the Holy Spirit as Prophet Petrol is too impersonal, we need to understand that there is a strong strand in the "rope" of Old Testament teaching on the Holy Spirit that regards the Spirit as a power source more than a person - but the implication here is: God is just and valiant and so too shall his servant empowered by Him be.

2007-07-20 - "More fuel...."

So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: `Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.
(Zechariah 4:6)

When the exiles returned to from Exile to Israel, they were a rag-tag bunch that came home to a burnt-out shell of Jerusalem and a very dilapidated and depressed community of has-beens and non-starters. Rebuilding the temple was low on the priority and possibility lists.

Zerubbabel was the king in charge, and he was not expected to amount to much. Zechariah had a vision about Zerubbabel:
The vision was of a lampstand with seven wicks, each of the wicks with its own channel to the bowl of olive oil and either side of the bowl were two olive trees.

The implication: The olive trees would supply the bowl endlessly, and perfect (seven implies perfection) light would come from this lamp.

The application: Zerubbabel may not look like much, but he will be endlessly supplied by the Holy Spirt. Our own strength peters out and our best efforts end in the sputtering flame of our limited endurance, but we can have the strength to press on and endure when God's Spirit keeps us going.

It's not by OUR might, not by OUR strength, but by HIS Spirit!

2007-07-23 - "Spirit-led prophets"

12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.

This is the last of the Holy Spirit pictures we have from the Old Testament and it is an interesting one.

On the surface of it - Zechariah is rebuking the people of Israel for being hard-hearted and ignoring the words of the prophets he had sent... Sounds pretty straight-forward. These funny prophet guys are God-sent and they speak words inspired by the Spirit and we should listen to them... Pretty straight-forward right?

Wrong! The wrinkle comes in the fact that Zechariah spells out the kind of message that these Spirit-led, Spirit-filled and Spirit-guided prophets bring and it is not the kind of airy-fairy, not-very-contrary message that we would suspect...

We think that Spiritual thoughts are airy fairy warm fuzzy non-practical thoughts. We think spirituality is all about being heavenly (to the extent that we are no earthly good at all!) But Zechariah knows another kind of Spirituality:

In vs9-10 Zechariah extends a definition of true spiritualy
--- Administer true justice;
--- show mercy and compassion to one another.
--- Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.
--- In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'

This is a tough, change-your-attitude and gather-your-courage kind of spirituality. We think that the only thoughts the Spirit would give are the "airy fairy" ones, but the Spirit through the prophets would offer these challenges:
- Justice is Spiritual
- Acted-upon compassion is Spiritual
- Protecting widows, orphans, the alien and the poor is spiritual
- Thinking well of others (even our enemies) is spiritual.

This is a very challenging picture of spirituality for me!

Holy Spirit in Gospels and Acts

2007-07-25 - "New Creation by Incarnation"

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. (Matthew1:18)

Our series on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament started with a picture of the Holy Spirit participating in creation. It is therefore very apt for our first New Testament picture of the Holy Spirit to be one of incarnation.

Creation was in separated state - far from God - and it was His plan to enter into the world. The Holy Spirit is the power by which Jesus entered into our humanity by being incarnated in the womb of Mary.

The incarnation by virtue of the virgin birth is important for us because it celebrates God's stepping across the line from His place of purity to our place of brokenness. The incarnation reminds us that God reaches out to us - He bridges the gap to us.

The Holy Spirit is the power by which Jesus came to us and significantly it is by the power of the same Spirit that we go into the world to bridge the gaps between the world and the gospel. The book of Acts tells us that it is by the power of the Spirit that the disciples will go from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit is the connector and bridge-builder. He is the one who helps us to connect to God, others and ourselves.

2007-07-30 - "Jesus and the Spirit#1"

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew3:16-17)

In heaven Jesus experienced the Spirit as He really is: everywhere, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

During His time on earth, Jesus was still like God in His nature, but He was limited in His glory to our human experience. And so, just as we need the Holy Spirit's guidance and leading, so Jesus chose to obey and be filled by the Spirit.

Why did it happen at the baptism?
- John's Baptism was a baptism of repentence. (Acts 19:4)
- Jesus didn't need to repent - He was without sin.
- By being baptised Jesus identified Himself with our sinful state.
(A bit like bathing in someone's dirty bathwater - we get their dirt)
- Through baptism Jesus was indicating His willingness to go to the cross, because He took on the guilty sinful state of humankind at baptism.

The Spirit descending at this point indicates:
- God's pleasure at Jesus submission to the salvation plan
- The power God would make available to Jesus to fulfil His work
- God setting Jesus apart for ministry.

When we come to the place of repentance, we too are filled with the Spirit and we know that the angels in heaven celebrate God's joy at our conversion. God works in the heart of every person who comes to the place of real repentance and the by power of the Spirit they can cry out: "I am now God's son/daughter and may He be pleased with me."

It's a prayer God loves to answer!

2007-07-31 - "Jesus and the Spirit#2"

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. By doing this He identified with our sinful state even though He was sinless. His commitment to be the "sinless scapegoat" would be tested to the maximum.

Immediately after the baptism ("at once") Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit to a place of solitude. This place of isolation would become a place of testing. We are assured quickly and directly that there is no way that Jesus' identification with our brokenness meant that He gave in to temptation.

Traditionally this period of 40 is a time of preparation. The Spirit brought Jesus to the wilderness as preparation for the ministry He had embraced. Now it would be tested...

Remember that God doesn't tempt - Satan did the tempting and sometimes God will allow that to happen. He knew that Jesus would resist temptation and with the power of the Spirit working in us, so should we.

When we commit ourselves to serious ministry, we will often be prompted by the Spirit to draw aside for preparation. During that time of preparation, we may be tempted to take shortcuts, grasp for power or try to be "impressive."

It is not the Spirit tempting us - it is our own sinful nature that provides the window of opportunity that the devil tries to wriggle through. The Spirit may take us to a lonely place of preparation and there we _may_ well be tempted. It is through the Spirit's power that we must overcome.

2007-08-01 - "Gob-smacked? Never!!"

17 "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

To be gob-smacked is to clap your hand over your mouth and have nothing to say. Jesus promised His disciples that they would always be given the right words when they were needed.

Our passage is part of a very sober warning that Jesus gives His disciples as He sends them out to preach, teach and heal. It will not always be easy or popular to speak God's message to the world. There will be many who will resist, persecute and punish the disciples as they do His work.

Jesus equips the disciples with a very special promise - they will be prompted and inspired - not only with content, but style! They will be given the words _and_ the demeanour to speak God's words in their circumstances.

This promise is well-fulfilled in the book of Acts as we see Peter, John, Paul and other disciples having to answer for their faith in various situations and God being glorified each time. We know that even when Paul received 39 lashes on no less than five occasions, he was given the right thing to say in the right way so that his integrity remained intact.

What about us? Sometimes we try too hard to be clever. When times are tough and circumstances are threatening we should not rely on our own cleverness or "sleight of word." Our Father will speak by His Spirit if we would just be silent and listen and let Him shape our attitude as well as our words...

It is a real comfort to me that if I am in big trouble, the Spirit of _MY_ Father will speak through me.

2007-08-02 - "Servants and Reeds #1"

"Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope." (Matthew12:18-21)

If you've had your cup of coffee this morning and had a good rest last night, you might have realised that this passage sounds familiar and that it reveals that I've slipped up!

Let me explain: Matthew is talking about the Preaching, Teaching and Healing Ministry of Jesus and he is quoting from the "Servant Songs" in Isaiah. (Here he is quoting Isaiah 42) Although this section of Isaiah talks about the Holy Spirit a lot, I decided not to deal with the Songs in my series on the "Holy Spirit in the OT" because the Servant Songs are fulfilled in Christ. So, I didn't slip up - I used the repetition to my advantage! (That's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

The servant songs in Isaiah depict a servant who brings hope and healing to the world in spite of severe personal suffering. There are layers of meaning in the identity of the servant:

* Initially the nation of Israel was seen as the Servant charged with leading the world to God and being a "Light to the Nations" but they didn't do it - in fact, in Jesus time, the court of the Gentiles had become a marketplace! (And we remember how that angered Jesus!)

* Then the songs apply to Jesus who is the ultimate Portrayer of these songs as He taught, healed, loved and suffered horribly for our healing.

* Then the songs apply to us who are called to "go out into all the world."

Here's your thought for today: We too are called to be "The Servant of the Lord" but we too will receive the Spirit - Jesus told the disciples "As the Father sent me, so I an sending you! And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John20:21-22)

2007-08-03 - "Servants and Reeds #2"

18 "Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.

20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope." (Matthew12:18-21)

The mark of the Servant is that He is endowed with the Spirit who empowers him to do justice work.

Justice is an integral part of His work and calling. The section describing his ministry is framed by the opening and closing references to Justice.

We can describe justice as follows:
- If you have the Spirit, justice will be an issue for you
- This kind of justice isn't loud, or argumentative.
- It isn't power-politics but gentle, caring and hope-bringing.
- It protects the needy and the defenceless.
- Justice willl persevere until it succeeds.

Love without justice is favouritism. It happens when our criteria for love are sloppy, soppy and sentimental. But when we have a sharp focus on what is good and fair, we will be open to God's leading.

2007-08-14 - "Unforgivable Sin"

29 "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."
30 He said this because they were saying, "He has an evil spirit."

Many people are worried that they have committed the unforgivable sin.

To understand what this is all about, we need to remember that one of the main activities of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to the place where we can recognise Christ as Lord. The Spirit is always drawing us closer to Jesus. He wants us to recognise Jesus as Saviour and Lord.

Jesus talks about "blasphemy against the Spirit" in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In each case He is confronting the hard-hearted Pharisees and Saducees who persistently refuse to recognise who Jesus is:
- In Matthew they argue that Jesus does His miracles by demonic power
- In Mark they say that Jesus has an evil spirit
- In Luke the context is God's provision on the one hand and disowning Christ on the other and Luke puts it into the context of the final judgment.

So "blasphemy against the Spirit" is to reject His "core business" which is to help us recognise Jesus for who He is.

Theologians agree that this is a _process_ and not an event. We don't commit blasphemy against the Spirit by accident or as a once-off. This is something that is a stubborn hard-heartedness and we don't care about it. To "blaspheme against the Spirit" is to stubbornly resist the "seed-planting" work of the Holy Spirit to the end of our lives or to the point that our hearts are so hard that we will never change.

The point: If we are resisting the working of the Spirit, then we won't care whether this is forgivable or not. And so I say to folk: "If you're _worried_ that you have committed unforgivable blasphemy against the Spirit, then you haven't!"

2007-08-15 - "The power behind JohnB"

15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

This passage is an excerpt from the conversation between Zechariah and the angel concerning the birth of John the Baptist (who I call JohnB.)

JohnB was the forerunner of the Messiah. His job was to prepare the way and prepare people's hearts for the coming of the Messiah. His message and life-purpose was to whet people's appetites in preparation for Jesus' coming.

The angel reveals that JohnB will not do this by his own charisma, talent or public speaking ability, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

When we are filled with the Spirit (ie controlled by the Spirit) we will be able to do this work of preparing the way for Jesus to come into people's hearts:

- We'll bring people back to the Lord: They'll experience the love, joy, peace and other fruits of the Spirit in us and they'll long for that.

- We'll go before the Lord: Our words and actions will prepare the "soil" of people's hearts so that when the right moment comes, they will be ready to receive Christ.

- At times we will even have to be bold enough to be outspoken about false gods like Elijah was and we will see God show His power over the poor god-substitutes that people fill their lives with.

- We can, through wise (Spirit-led) counsel and confrontation bring the hearts of the fathers back to their children. (And how we need this in our land right now!)

- We can lift up wisdom in an attractive and palatable way to bring about a change in people's thought patterns and value systems.
"Dear Lord, help me to be a Spirit-controlled-and-filled way-preparer for you!"

2007-08-16 - "Tendency to Praise"

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.

In Luke chapter 1 there is wide variety of activities associated with the Holy Spirit:
1. We have already seen that JohnB was empowered by the Spirit
2. The angel tells Mary that she is pregnant by the Spirit's power and Mary bursts into song.
3. Elizabeth, JohnB's mom, hears Mary's voice, is filled with the Spirit and praises God.
4. Zechariah, at the birth of JohnB also bursts into song when the Spirit comes upon him.

When the Holy Spirit moves in us - we can expect to be more aware of God's greatness and more inclined to sing or even shout "Hallelujah!"

When it comes to being filled with the Spirit, there is a fundamental reality to bear in mind: We leak!

When life gets hectic and I become self-absorbed and self-centered and then I am less and less filled with the Spirit. I have learned over the years that when I am running on my own power and not the power of the Spirit, I can see it in two clear tendencies:
1. I am more negative, cynical and critical.
2. Praising God (especially in song) becomes a chore.

When I sort myself out and rededicate myself to God's plan and purposes - when I drink deeply of the Holy Spirit - I find that I suddenly appreciate beauty and goodness all around me and I spontaneously praise - often singing songs and choruses quietly under my breath as I go along.

When the Spirit is at work in us, there is a tendency to burst into spontaneous praise. (you figure out the implications!...)

2007-08-17 - "Do I have the Spirit?"

5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

"Do I have the Holy Spirit?" This is an agonised question that is found on the lips of many sincere believers. This is especially true when they have been led to believe that having the Holy Spirit is proven by speaking in tongues or having a dramatic experience that involves falling over or uncontrollable laughter. Many Christians feel like second class citizens because they don't have "evidence" of the Spirit's working.

We will look at a number of important passages that will answer this question, but our starting point in this regard is John 3:
Jesus is talking to Nicodemus who is a sincere seeker, but trapped by the thought that coming to God somehow involved just "trying harder."

Jesus overturns his religious applecart very dramatically:
- "Flesh can only give birth to flesh"
- "If you want everlasting Spiritual life, you will need to be born of the Spirit."
- "Just like the wind comes from the outside in its own time and way, so the Spirit works in us."

The bottom line? Just like Adam and Eve hid when they heard God in the garden, you and I hide from God. For us to stop hiding and actually come to Him in repentant faith requires a little help. This is what the Spirit does: He draws us, woos us, convinces us, changes us, saves us.

If we have given our hearts and lives to Christ, then we can be sure that the Spirit has been and still is at work in us.

2007-08-20 - "Living Water"

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

The background to this passage is the feast of tabernacles. On the last day of the feast, the chief priests would draw water from the pool of Siloam, process to the temple and pour it out over the altar.

This would bring to mind Moses striking the rock and bringing forth water and the passage from Ezekiel 47 which described a river flowing from the altar in the temple in Jerusalem. (There are some scholars who argue that the temple in Jesus' time may even have had a gutter or conduit from the altar to the outer wall of the temple - thus visualising the Ezekiel prophecy.)

John portrays Jesus as attending this beautiful ceremony and being unable to remain silent. His "interruption" of the ritual must have been very striking. There would have been a shocked silence after He gave His invitation.

He gives an amazing promise: The river Ezekiel spoke about doesn't flow from a building, but from a human heart. If we are thirsty, we can ask and He will give us the Spirit - and then we can paddle, wade and swim in the trickle, stream and river of the Spirit's flow in, through and from us. (Go and look at Ezekiel 47)

So, if we unpack the symbolism:
Jesus is Moses who strikes the rock of our sinful separation from God so that water - living, life-giving water - can trickle, pour and gush from our lives.

We'll look at the implications of this tomorrow!

2007-08-22 - "Thirsty?"

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."


Having read the previous devotion, we have some idea of what Jesus had in mind when He described Living Water. Now we can go back an amazing encounter He has with a Samaritan woman at the well.

Her life was flat and two dimensional: She had a checkered past and a man who didn't give her the dignity of marriage. She was at the well at the 6th hour (midday) because no-one else would venture out in that heat.

Jesus offers her living water - a new life. She mockingly doubts Him because He has no water jars, but by the end of the discussion, which ranges from abstract theology to truth and forgiveness, she has left her jars at the well and gone to the townspeople (who she avoided up to now) and is so transformed and revitalised that the people listen to her and come to Jesus because they are so amazed at the changed life in her.

The implications of living water are:
- Truth found = Jesus is the Messiah
- Hope rekindled = I can dare to believe that this is for me too.
- Forgiveness received = Even after multiple rejections
- Purpose discovered = I can tell others
- Mission adopted = She leaves the jars of an empty life behind and becomes a worker for Christ.

When the Spirit is allowed to work in us, we can fully expect some of these things to happen. This is life in full colour, 3D ! It's the life God intended.

2007-08-23 - "Unseen"

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John14:16-17)

John 14 is one of the most important chapters on the Holy Spirit in the NT. The background is that Jesus is preparing the disciples for His death, resurrection and departure by ascension. They are devastated and Jesus comforts them with the promise of the Holy Spirit. There are key concepts that we'll unpack in the next few days.

There are 3 main thoughts in these two verses:
1. The Spirit is our Counsellor.
The Greek Word "Paracletos" implies a variety of roles: Companion, Partner, Adviser, Counsellor and Advocate. The Spirit will be the one who guides us, gives us courage, speaks on our behalf and acts as our defender.

2. The world can't see Him or accept Him.
When it comes to the Holy Spirit we are not in the realms of human rationalism or "science" where "reality" is based on things we can see and touch (and where we exercise control). The realm of the Spirit is the realm of a faith relationship with God. To experience the work and life of the Spirit, we must adopt this other reality: a reality of trust in Christ where we are not ultimately "in control."

3. We can know Him because He lives in us.
This is hard - are we "possessed" by the Spirit? Does He do a "hostile takeover"? Do we lose our freedom when He is there? Absolutely not! But He does move into the "God-shaped vacuum" that we are created with. We can find peace, presence and calmness of life when He lives in us and in our lives.

We always quote John3:16 "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..." but God didn't stop giving at Jesus - Jesus lived in our midst and saw we needed help. He went to the Father and asked Him to do more... And God gave us the Spirit.

2007-08-27 - "Counsellor"

"All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

(John 14:25-26)

There is more about the Spirit in John 14. In these verses, the aspects of the Spirit's work can be summed up in the roles of Counsellor and Comforter. We'll look at the Counselling part today.

Our very human minds get cluttered with faulty thinking and self-centered thought-processes. The disciples had spent three years in Jesus close company and even so they were quite capable of bickering about silly things like who was the greatest on the night before the crucifixion!!

The truth is that our thoughts are ofen selfish and God-resistant. We can read the paper or a novel for hours, but it is too much effort to read even a few pages from the Bible. This is because our minds are "worldly" or "carnal" - far away from God.

When those thoughts do focus on God and we are able to hear and process scripture, a sermon or Bibilical message, it is because the Holy Spirit is at work in us. When you suddenly remember a Bible verse you learnt in Sunday School at "just the right time," it is the work of the Counselling Spirit.

When our minds which are usually dull and unresponsive to the things of God suddenly sharpen up and Bible passages that were once dull and stale are now brimming with meaning, then we can say the Holy Spirit has been acting as our Counsellor.

The eyes of our hearts often need to be opened.
It is the Spirit who does that!

2007-08-29 - "Comforter"

26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.


The Holy Spirit does not only guide and lead. He is a Comforter. He is our Peace-Giver. There are a few thoughts we need to highlight about this:

1. Jesus probably had the Hebrew word "Shalom" ("wholeness") in mind when He spoke about this. The Greek word does not have the same richness, but the Hebrew people knew that real peace meant a soundness of body, mind and spirit.

God's peace is a wholeness or completeness that is evidenced by a life that is integrated, consistent and well-orientated. The Holy Spirit, if we allow Him to, will help us find balance, direction and purposefulness in our lives. This will give us peace.

2. God's peace is not the absence of trouble. Peace, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, is deep and internal and not dependent on circumstances. Peace from the Spirit is the quiet assurance that we are not alone and that God is able to transform our circumstances.

3. We have a contribution to make. We can sabotage this peace from the Spirit when we let our hearts be troubled and afraid. We have to understand that troubles and hardship do not cancel out the reality of God's love and plan for us. We have to choose not to allow our hearts to get us to "panic stations."

I have seen and felt God's peace in some amazing ways:
- Quiet sunsets and moonlit nights
- At my desk during Bible Study
- In my car during hectic times of rushing around
- Next to hospital beds
- After crimes and accidents
- At funerals

It is a peace that is the strong reassurance that we are loved and held and valued by our heavenly Father. It is a profound gift whispered in us by the Holy Spirit.

2007-08-31 - "Gardening and Growing"

5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

I'm going to pick up an unusual thread in the vineyard metaphor that we know so well. I have heard and read a lot about the Vine and the Branches. I have heard about pruning, obedience, fruit-bearing and various other aspects.

But I think that we can also recognise the Holy Spirit in this imagery because the vine-image is placed smack-bang in the middle of John14,15 and 16 which are chapters brimming with references and images of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, elsewhere in the New Testament, fruit-bearing is the result of the Spirit's activity and Jesus assures the disciples that He will be "in" them through the Holy Spirit.

In this imagery of the vine and branches the Holy Spirit can be seen as the life-giving, nutrient-bearing, wound-healing sap that flows from the vine to the branches.

If we put together the various things He does in the OT passages and NT passages we get a picture of the Spirit who strengthens, nourishes and inspires the Christian life.

Floyd McClung once asked the very insightful question: "Have you seen a branch struggling to grow?" If the vine is healthy and branch is connected, it should be able to grow. It would take disease or the branch being partially torn-off to make it struggle.

The Holy Spirit is the one who connects us to the Father and Son and makes all of God's love, guidance and benefits real to us. If we try to be branches on our own then we will lose out!

2007-09-01 - "Testifier"

26 "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

There are two "seas" in the Jordan river in Israel - the Sea of Galilee is alive and teeming with fish. The other is dull, barren and its over-salty waters are only good for people to float on due to its super-saturation of nutrients.

Too much of a good thing stock-piled becomes a danger.

God sends us the Holy Spirit as our Counsellor or Advocate. He comes from the Father (this is repeated twice to emphasise His holiness and and Divinity) and He testifies truthfully about Jesus.

We need to understand that some of the Spirit's core-business is to confirm in our heart of hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Holy Spirit wants to help us
know Jesus,
love Jesus,
follow Jesus
and serve Jesus.

But He doesn't leave it there... All this truth would turn us into the Dead Sea if there is not output. But the Holy Spirit aids us in:
* Recalling what we have learned about Christ
* Talking about our faith in Jesus

I do a lot of computer programming as a hobby. One of the commonest problems is an "I/O Error." This is computer-speak for an input-output malfunction. As Christians we are heading for trouble when we receive the Holy Spirit's "Input" but we ignore His prompting to channel our knowledge in forms of "Output"

2007-09-03 - "Convicts"

7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

Jesus was adamant. We're better off than the disciples! I always used to be jealous of the disciples who got to walk with Jesus and talk with Him. But Jesus was certain that the coming of the Spirit is even better than His presence.

The reasons He gives are unusual - The work of the Spirit will be:
- conviction of sin
- righteousness because Jesus has returned to the Father
- Judgement because Satan is condemned.

What do these mean?
Conviction of Sin is one of the functions of the Spirit that we are not crazy about. The Spirit confronts us with the things that are wrong in our lives. He makes us aware that there is a problem between us and God. Why is this important? We need to be aware of our need to be rescued. Our nature is hide from God and when we do it long enough, we medicate (through distraction, drugs or self-deceit) our need for God. The Spirit makes us hungry and thirsty for God and He shows us that we need Him.

The Spirit comes because Jesus sends Him. Jesus' ascension to heaven and His sitting at God's right hand are the absolute proof that the price that He paid for Sin was acceptable. The fact that He has authority to send the Spirit is the evidence we need to know that we can be made righteous through Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension.

The coming of the Spirit overcomes the separation of sin that the serpent achieved in the Garden of Eden. The fall into sin of Adam and Eve resulted in their being banned from the Garden. The coming of the Spirit means that we are able to draw near to God again. It means that Satan's time is limited.

This is awesome good news.

2007-09-05 - "Perichoresis"

13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.


I have battled with expressing this devotional thought, which is why you didn't get an eDev yesterday.

Jesus is expressing a beautiful aspect of the Trinity. The Father, Son and Spirit share an incredible unity in a "dance of co-inhering." Theologians use the Greek word "Perichoresis" (which implies to "dance around a center")

The incredible wonder is that Jesus, by His ascension in human form, included humanity in this perichoresis. Now the dance of Father, Son and Spirit is one in which we can participate!!!

The Spirit receives from Jesus what He has received from the Father. Then the Spirit includes us in this dance. What an incredible thought! The Spirit is the member of the Trinity who goes out to urge people like you and me to come and join the dance...

Two songs (one traditional and one by Steven Curtis Chapman) come to mind:
1. I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the moon, the stars and the sun
I danced down from Heaven and I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth.

Dance, then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the dance, said He.

2. I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee
They would not dance; they would not follow me
So I danced for the fisherman, for James and John
They came with me and the dance went on

On the bank of the Tennessee River
In a small Kentucky town
I drew my first breath one cold November morning
And before my feet even touched the ground
With the doctors and the nurses gathered 'round
I started to dance, I started to dance

A little boy full of wide-eyed wonder
Footloose and fancy free
But it would happen, as it does for every dancer
That I'd stumble on a truth I couldn't see
And find a longing deep inside of me, it said..

I am the heart, I need the heartbeat
I am the eyes, I need the sight
I realize that I am just a body
I need the life
I move my feet, I go through the motions
But who'll give purpose to chance
I am the dancer
I need the Lord of the dance

The world beneath us spins in circles
And this life makes us twist and turn and away
But we were made for more than rhythm with no reason
By the one who moves with passion and with grace
As He dances over all that He has made


Lord of the dance
Lord of the dance
And while the music of His love and mercy plays
I will fall down on my knees and I will pray


2007-09-06 - "Going out and beyond"

6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Many people quote Acts 1:8 without looking at the broader context. The broader context is the exasperated question of the disciples: "Lord, are You going to restore the Kingdom now?"

The disciples were hoping and longing for God to come powerfully into the world. They wanted an end to Roman occupation. They wanted a Messiah to lead them out of slavery and oppression. They wanted peace and the end of suffering.

Their request was self-centered in two aspects:
- They wanted the "insider-info" that would keep and sustain them and give them the advantage.
- They were thinking of _their_ situation and _their_ circumstances and not about many like them who also wrestled with the brokenness of our world.

The disciples wanted a quick escape. And, if we're truthful, so do we. Jesus doesn't answer their question with a date. He gives a "how" answer to their "when" question.

The "How" is that the Spirit will emPOWER us. We don't know _when_ the end of this broken world will come, but we will have powerful assistance _until_ that day comes. We don't know how long it will be, but we can know God's presence and undergirding strength in the meantime.

And, in the meantime, there is a world full of people asking the "when" question who we must reach. The Spirit will nudge, move, prompt, motivate and enable us to do cross geographic, cultural and racial boundaries as we go from our Jerusalem to our neighbours and regions and to the ends of the earth. And when we have come to them, we'll be able to share God's love and presence and "how" with them.

2007-09-26 - "Mighty Wind#1 - Waiting"

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Very few people like waiting. Waiting makes us feel powerless. When we wait for someone to come out of the operating theatre, while we wait for exam results to be published, through the gap between the job interview and that all important phone-call there is one certainty that prevails: We are powerless!

God doesn't see waiting the way we do. Scripture abounds with pictures of God's people learning to and having to wait. Waiting is a valuable tool in the Divine Toolchest. Here's why:

* Waiting reminds us that we are not all powerful. Waiting is one of the best antidotes to control-freak tendencies. Waiting reminds me that I am _not_ in control.

* Waiting teaches us to trust. Sometimes we have to trust the doctors, at other times we must trust the system but ultimately we trust God.

* Waiting lets us prepare for action. Think about the runner waiting for the starting gun. It is the collecting of thoughts and the flexing of muscles that allows for the explosive action that will follow when the shot fires.

* Waiting provides time to pray - although we often prefer pacing to praying. Acts 1:14 tells us that the disciples used this space and place of waiting for prayer. Especially corporate prayer.

* Waiting brings us to the _right_ time. God sees the picture more clearly than we do... We think the time is _now_, but God knows when the best moment will be.

The wait between Ascension and Pentecost could have been soul-destroying and frustrating, but the disciples went through their waiting reasonably well: (They did fail in one respect - control-freakishness - when they elected Mathias as a replacement for Judas and we see later that God actually had a certain Saul of Tarsus in mind...) But for the rest, they:
- realised that they could only do this with Divine help
- spent the time in prayer
- came to feast of Pentecost which had Jerusalem full of people and was an ideal time to empower the church.

One of the significant qualities of a Spirit-filled and Spirit-controlled life is this quality of waiting. Isaiah 40:31 says: They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength...

2007-10-01 - "Mighty Wind#2 - Together"

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

As much as we'd like to make Christianity an individualistic faith, the truth is that God draws us to community. The Holy Spirit _could_ have been poured out on each of the disciples individually while they were in prayer or meditation, but God prefers to work in community.

Western Christianity has a very self-centered perspective on spiritual growth and development. We emphasise personal prayer and the private devotional time. This is not wrong, but there is a serious lack: the lack is the recognition of serious growth and development that is possible when God moves within our faith community.

The folk who became the New Testament's first church were _together_ on the day of Pentecost and God used them as a community.

Many people seek to get closer to God. What they don't understand is that coming closer to God is also coming closer to community. God is a Triune Being - enjoying eternal community of Father, Son and Spirit. We who are created in His image are therefore designed for community.

It is perfectly feasible that the Spirit would choose to work in community. Coming together in community means that we have chosen to move aside our own imperfections (letting go of our insecurities) and the imperfections of others (shelving our critical spirits). It means that we take risks and make room for others.

This is not always comfortable for us. But when we take these kind of faith risks, we are in a place where the Spirit can work powerfully.

Here's a closing thought: Moving TOWARD community brought about Spiritual Growth. Moving AWAY from community brings about Spiritual Shrinkage. If we want the Spirit to work in our lives, we must recognise that He will always move us toward community.

2007-10-02 - "Mighty Wind#3 - Wind and Fire"

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

If you remember our series on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, you will remember that Wind and Fire are two images that powerfully describe the working of the Spirit.

The wind imagery reminds us of God's life-giving breath that brings creation into being and makes humankind image-bearers of God. Here the wind is breathed into a body of people and the result is the birth of the church. The church is the corporate body capable of being led, indwelt and resuscitated by the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 describes the first "breath" of the Church.

The fire imagery takes us back to the burning bush of Exodus 3. It burns, but it is not consumed. It glows with divine light and heat but it is not destroyed. So too the church. The saints are not consumed by the fire and they each experience a unique manifestation of the fire, they are not all caught up in one flame - they remain individuals who encountered the unique powerful working of God in their lives.

They hear the wind, they see the fire. The outworking of the Spirit is a tangible thing. While we may not hear actual wind or see actual fire, we can experience the sounds and sights of the Holy Spirit in our faith communities.
We _hear_ Him at work in the sounds of passionate worship. empowered preaching and bold testimony.
We _see_ Him at work in the transformed lives of those around us - people like you and me who have overcome difficulties and challenges and look more like Christ every day.

Can you see the fire and hear the wind?
If you can, give thanks to God - it's the work of His Spirit!

2007-10-03 - "Mighty Wind#4 - Filling"

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Just what does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?
Does God open the tops of our heads and pour in a luminous liquid until we are "full to the brim?"
Does He "invade" or "possess" us?

This is a question that is crucial to our understanding of the Trinity and particularly the Holy Spirit. It is a question that the New Testament patiently answers again and again.

Today I want to answer the question briefly, without long explanations and proofs. These will come in time. I would simply ask that you take the answer at face value and accept that the rest of the passages on the Holy Spirit will unpack this truth.

To put it as simply as possible, here is a basic definition:
To be filled with the Spirit is to be _open_ to the influence of the Spirit.

If we stick with the imagery of the Spirit as the breath or wind of God, then we also need an image for ourselves as those on whom this wind blows.

The first image is that of a windmill. But it is NOT a good image.
When the wind blows the windmill turns. The windmill has no choice.

The second image is that of a sailing ship. When the wind blows, the captain of the sailing ship has the sails hoisted and the ship, even if it is absolutely massive, can be moved by the power of the wind filling the unfurled sails. The captain can lower the sails if he does not want to be moved - it is his choice.

On the day of Pentecost a group of believers were together and raised their sails to the wind of the Spirit and the maiden voyage of the great ship we call the church began.

Hope you will unfurl your sails today!

2007-10-04 - "Mighty Wind#5 - Speaking"

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

(We'll examine speaking in tongues in more detail in later devotions...)

What is significant about this passage and the speaking that takes place in it is that Acts 2 is a reversal of Gen 11... Gen 11 is the story of the Tower of Babel where humankind thought they could be like God. Building and scheming they were convinced that they didn't need Him anymore - they could be independant and self-contained.

God graciously intervened in this colossal foolishness by confusing their languages. My initial response to this was - "So? Big deal! So He slowed them down - they'll just settle on one langauge or develop a meta-language (like the "funagalo" that developed on the mines)." But they didn't - the truth is interesting - people clung to their languages - unwilling to pursue a joint goal if they had to sacrifice "their" language. The Tower of Babel was never completed.

Language and culture are powerful dividing agents. At Pentecost the disciples were divinely enabled to speak other languages. If you read down a few verses, you'll see that they were able to impact the cosmopolitan group that had assembled in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.

Not only has Christ's death "broken down the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2) between races and cultures but the Holy Spirit helps us bridge the divide between me and my fellow human being.

Martin Luther King Jnr once said that Sunday mornings were the most "segregated hour" in American life. Fortunately this is changing. The key is surrendering to the wonderful gracious working of the Holy Spirit who will bridge the gap between ourselves and others. But if we go back to arrogant independence we are back at the tower of Babel.

2007-10-05 - "Inebriated?"

Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine. "

People commented that they thought the Spirit-filled disciples were drunk. I've often wondered why that was...

People have used this chapter to justify the "slain in the Spirit" behaviour of some folk who I believe are simply emotionally overloaded.

Did people think that the believers were drunk because they were stumbling all over the place, staggering around, eyes unfocussed, words slurring, not making sense? Absolutely not!! Verse 11 records that these so-called drunkards were "declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Stumbling and Mumbling does not glorify God!

So, if they weren't stumbling and mumbling, why did people consider them drunk? I think the reason lies in the primary reason most people have a drink at a social function - alcohol is called a "social lubricant" it helps people get rid of their inhibitions. People speak more freely and boldly when they've had a drink or two...

I think the spectators saw a group of disciples (who had at one stage hidden behind closed doors for "fear of the Jews") who were now boldly, fearlessly, uninhibitedly speaking about their faith in God.

This lack of inhibitions was astounding to the crowd. The disciples were unreservedly sharing their faith in and love for God to the masses. It was awesome and amazing to behold - it could, they thought, only come from being "under the influence."

But they were filled with a different kind of Spirit...

2007-10-08 - "When does it happen?"

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts2:38)

So when does it happen? When do we receive the Holy Spirit?

There are many who see the "infilling of the Holy Spirit" as a separate experience. There _are_ many people who only become aware of the Holy Spirit's work after they have become Christians. With this awareness comes an increased openness and a profound deepening of their experience of the Spirit.

This deepening isn't the _first_ time the Spirit is at work in them. Peter makes it clear: When we make the decision to give our lives to Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit.

There are two NT passages that talk about the Holy Spirit's work at our conversion.
1Corinthians12:3 explains that it is the Holy Spirit who brings us to a point where we are ready to put our trust in Jesus... It says: "Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit."

Ephesians 1:13 tells us that the presence of the Spirit in us is the guarantee of our being God's children. It says this:
"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance..."

What conclusions must we draw?
1. I could only receive Jesus as Lord if the Spirit helped me do it.
2. If I doubt the Spirit's presence in my life, then I must doubt that He saved me and I must doubt that I am God's child.

2007-10-09 - "Repeatedly"

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Some folk believe that we become Christians and then we have a powerful "second blessing" experience - i.e. We opened our hearts to Jesus and that's Conversion. Then we open our lives to the Holy Spirit and they argue that this is the "Infilling." This is a once-off experience that you must have and you are among the "have nots" if this hasn't happened to you.

In the book of Acts this is not a once-off experience. The people who are praying are the early church who are praying after Peter and John were arrested for their part in the healing of the lame man at the gate called Beautiful. They were instructed and warned NOT to speak in the name of Jesus. This was a command that they would not obey. They prayed for strength and conviction.

In answer to their prayers the early church experienced the earth-shaking and life-changing work of the Holy Spirit in their midst. This was not the first time this had happened, nor would it be the last...

The Holy Spirit is always ready to fill us anew. The truth is that we leak. Whether it is because of our steady stream of sins and disobediences that take us off the path or because our service in His Name has depleted our batteries, the truth is that we are not always full of God's will, purpose or power.

When we need His powerful Spirit working in us - He will refill our empty hearts if we come to Him in prayerful surrender to His will for our lives.

2007-10-16 - "Not only "spiritual" things"

Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word. (Acts6:3-4)

It was not long before the early church experienced a threat to its unity and peace. There were Jews, Samaritans and Greeks in the early church and it appears that there were some discrepancies in the distribution of food and other resources. The Greek widows in particular seem to have been neglected.

The Apostles acted quickly and decisively - they appointed folk to manage that process. Interestingly, the apostles laid down certain criteria and then let the people elect the managers. As it turns out, a number of the seven have Grecian names, revealing that the church chose a committee that was representative. This shows wisdom and sensitivity on the part of the church as it was the Grecian widows who were being neglected in the resource distribution.

But the nature of the criteria that the apostles lay down is what fascinates me. It was not people who were "good with numbers" or "good with people" or "good at soothing ruffled feathers" or "good at managing tensions." The criteria were that they be filled with the Spirit and Wisdom.

We look down our noses at the more "mundane" facets of ministry: Managing finances, pouring tea, serving food, and stewarding resources are seen as "less spiritual." Many folk have an "ag shame / poor me" attitude when they serve in these more practical facets. "I'm not holy enough to be an elder or a teacher or a lay-preacher."

The truth is that any activity that builds the church and helps it care for people and take care of its God-given resources is a spiritual activity. We should never look down on ourselves or others. Without the Spirit-guided activity of Stephen and his friends, the early church would have subsided into a quarreling quibbling mess.

2007-10-17 - "Crossing Boundaries #1"

AC 8:14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts8:14-17)

This is one of the passages that people use to argue that receiving the Spirit must be a separate experience from conversion. They argue that the Samaritans had already given their lives to Christ and now they needed to have hands laid on them to receive the Holy Spirit.

There are a few important things to note about this passage:
1. It seems that they had not seen the whole picture. They were baptised in the name of Jesus, not the name of the Father, Son and Spirit.

2. This is the first time the gospel is received by non-Jews. The Samaritans were a mixed race - the remnants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel who intermarried with heathen nations.

3. Jesus said that the disciples would preach the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, SAMARIA and the ends of the earth (Acts1:8)

The manifestation of the Spirit's working among the Samaritans is not so much about individuals but about community and about the gospel crossing a racial boundary. The Jews and the Samaritans did not get on with each other. It would take a powerful demonstration of the Spirit's presence to convince the early church that the Samaritans were of equal worth and value in God's eyes.

We will see this pattern continue in the other accounts of the Spirit's outpouring on communities in the book of Acts.

2007-10-18 - "When we depersonalise the Spirit"

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money 19 and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

Simon the Sorceror had an impressive CV in his city. He was known as a man who had "the great power" and he enjoyed an exalted status in the town. He saw magic as something he could manipulate and control.

When Philip came into town preaching the gospel and people started repenting, Simon lost some of his fan base and so he went to listen to Philip. He believed and became a Christian. When the disciples came and the Spirit was poured out, Simon saw a chance to have his cake and eat it. He wanted "the spirit power" (lowercase "s" intentional) and he asked the disciples to "give" it to him. Whatever the cost.

Listen to Peter's response: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

Whoa! That's pretty stern! But Simon's soul _is_ in mortal danger. The Holy Spirit isn't a power that we "channel." He is part of the incredible God-family of Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus said it best "the Wind blows where it pleases." CS Lewis in the Narnia Chronicles puts it this way "Aslan (the God character) is not a tame lion - but He's good."

When we try to manipulate God, especially in the public arena we are in danger of being guilty of Simon's wicked bitterness and captivity. Fortunately Simon repented.

Maybe you think that this is not a big deal in your life... Here are some revealing questions.
* How often do you ask God to bless YOUR plans (that you haven't consulted Him about)?
* How often do you write off the work a fellow believer is doing in God's name because they aren't coming from your denomination, mindset, or style?
* How often do you write off a challenging message because "that's not the way God works"?
* How often do we desire to "impress" people with the way God is "working" in our lives?

Having the Spirit (uppercase "S" intentional) working in our lives means that we control our sails, but not the wind.

2007-10-19 - "Nudges"

The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."

Throughout the book of Acts we have examples of the Holy Spirit nudging people.
-Peter isn't sure about the Gentiles, then he has a dream
-A prophet named Agabus predicted the famine in Jerusalem by the Spirit
-The itinerary of Paul's missionary trip was dictated by the Spirit.
-Paul wants to go from Turkey to the East - The Spirit won't let him.
-And so on...

But one of the loveliest examples is Philip (one of the Seven elected with Stephen to help distribute food and look at him now) - he's already preached in Samaria which led to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and now he's walking on the Jerusalem road.

Along comes the Ethiopian eunuch, "an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet."

He would have been reading aloud and as Philip was walking he would hear the chariot, the horses' hooves and the words of Isaiah coming down the road. The Spirit whispers into Philip's heart "Start Jogging!" Now we don't know whether he was young or old or in-shape or out-of-shape, but he must run! Imagine the scene "Excuse me, (pant pant) do you (pant pant) understand (pant) what you are (pant pant) reading? (pant pant pant.)" (Theo Groeneveld translation of verse 30.)

The man invites Philip onto the chariot and he just so happens to be reading one of the passages in Isaiah that predict the suffering of Christ. Philip is able to explain it and lead the man to Christ.

But it started with the outlandish prompt "keep up with the chariot"
Sometimes God will prompt us to start a conversation, make a phone call, cross a room, step out of a comfort-zone, build a bridge or take a risk.
Philip could've made excuses: "Lord you know I have a bad heart." "Lord, running's just not dignified." "Lord, he won't take me seriously - He's an important official."

Philip did none of the above - he just picked up his pace.

2007-10-20 - "Working in peace"

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.


Times of peace are the most dangerous for my spiritual growth - when things are peaceful and going well, my spiritual "entropy" (the tendency to slow down and wind down) kicks in. If we are truthful, this is a reality for many of us - we slack off when things are going easy and well.

That is why this verse is such a blessing and an encouragement to me - it speaks of the working of the Holy Spirit even in our times of peace. When we are tempted to click into neutral, the Holy Spirit is busy - encouraging the whole of the church and using the "lazy times" to be times of consolidation.

I was always fearful of too much relaxation in my Christian walk and especially in the life of the church. This verse awakens me to the possibility that a season of rest in my life or the life of the church could be an opportunity for encouragement, growth and getting closer to God - _if_ I stay in tune with the Holy Spirit.

Make no mistake - good and easy times _can_ and often do bring about decline in our churches and personal spiritual lives, but this doesn't have to be the case.

I think there are three things to do that will ensure growth and not erosion in our spiritual lives during "times of peace":
1. Being very aware that the Spirit uses long lazy summers for growth. We must be attentive to His promptings.
2. Keeping our routines of spiritual disciplines alive.
3. Have a thankful heart - give thanks to God for the gifts He showers on us in times of peace.

Hope a time of blessing never results in your relationship with God shrinking.

2007-10-22 - "Crossing Boundaries #2"

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." (Acts10:44-47)

This is another one of those texts that people use to argue that the outpouring of the Spirit is a single and separate experience. But a careful reading of this passage reveals some incredible truths.

Some background: Peter is in the home of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius was a God-fearer - a Gentile who had embraced the Jewish faith. Cornelius was a good man and God sent an angel to him telling him to go and find Peter and have him address the group that met in his home. Peter went and met them. As he addressed them, he presented the gospel message to them.

It's important to understand the sequence of events here:
1. They were God-fearers - following the rituals of Judaism.
2. They heard Peter speak and came to faith.
3. The Holy Spirit was poured out on them.
4. They were baptised and became known as Christians.

The process that is recounted here is probably the most accurate picture of how it really happens:
* We cannot come to faith without the assistance of the Spirit.
* It is the Holy Spirit who enlivens our hearts of stone and makes us "susceptible" to the message of the Gospel.
* The Holy Spirit is the agent of our conversion - He is the "midwife" of our being born again. He is the one who enables us to "confess the Jesus is Lord." (1Cor12:3)

The Gospel is crossing a boundary again. It has already gone to the Samaritans and now it comes to the home of a Centurion of the Roman Army - a representative of Israel's oppressors.

The mighty working of the Spirit is evidence of the change in Cornelius' group and a sign that the Good News is for all people!

2007-10-23 - "Barnabus"

News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.


Antioch turned out to be a significant church:
- it was where Paul exercised a long teaching ministry,
- it was the "base-station" for Paul's three missionary journey's
- the disciples were first called "Christians" (little Christs) here

But before any of this happened, there was a small church planted here and when the apostles heard of it, they sent one of their best: Barnabas.

There's not a lot we know about Barnabus. We know that his name means "Encourager", that he was generous (Acts4:36), that he introduced Saul (now Paul) to the Disciples (Acts9:27) and that he accompanied Paul on his missionary trips. The rest is in our passage for today:
- He was "sendable" - willing to obey and serve.
- Seeing God at work in people's lives made him glad.
- He was good at encouraging (he would later bring Paul to do the teaching.)
- He was a "good man"
- He was full of the Holy Spirit
- He was full of faith.

"And a great number of people were brought to the Lord."

We can attribute quite a bit of his success to his attractive and Godly character - but the key ingredient to his success is the working of the Spirit in His life. Furthermore, as we will see when we get to Galatians and some of the other passages, these characteristics of encouragement, "sendability", goodness are part of the fruit and gifts of the Spirit.

Barnabas was a "nice guy." By allowing the Holy Spirit to work in him, he did great things!

2007-10-25 - "Sendable"

2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (Acts13:2-4)

God's desire is to reach people with His love. To this end He SENT the judges, the Kings, the Prophets, the Priests and His Law. In the fullness of time He SENT Jesus into this world that He loves so much. But He did not stop there, He SENT the Holy Spirit into our world.

Still, He continues to SEND. The Holy Spirit, working in our lives, SENDS us out. There is no denying the agenda of God in our lives. The closer we get to Him the less content we should be with STAYING and the more our hearts should become aligned to be SENT.

He may SEND us across an ocean to a distant land, or He may SEND us across the road to a neighbour or a colleague. He may SEND us to work for the rights of the poor, He may SEND us to love the lonely elderly, He may SEND us to spend time with young people, or He may SEND us to use our gifts and resources to empower others who have already been SENT.

The point is this. God is a SENDING God. The closer we grow to Him and the more we align ourselves with the Holy Spirit's guidance, the more SENDABLE we will become.

There are many folk who claim all sorts of wonderful spiritual experiences, but this idea of being SENT is not part of their vocabulary. The truth is the closer we walk to the Spirit, the more likely it is that this word "SEND" will crop up in our priority list!

2007-10-26 - "Communal Guidance"

28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us... (Acts15:28)

The context of this verse is the first church council in Jerusalem where representatives of the church met to make decisions about the large number of Gentiles who were coming to faith and whether they should be required to adopt Jewish customs like circumcision.

It was a good meeting and they resolved some important issues and made some good recommendations. We read that this "council" was an encouragement to the work and life of the church.

Our text verse reveals the reason why these were successful: The decisions were made with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

There are two important aspects to this guidance:
1. We have to be humbly dependent on the Holy Spirit's guidance and open to His leading. We must resist the temptation to think that we are so clever that we came up with these good ideas "all by ourselves." We need to PRAY for His guidance, we have to be OPEN to His guidance and we have to ACKNOWLEDGE His guidance.

2. We need to recognise the importance of the word "us". The best discernment happens when a group strives to hear God's voice while they are bound together in courageous unity. It is never as powerful to say "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and ME" as it is the say "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and US..." This is "Corporate Discernment - not in the typical business setting that the word "corporate" usually brings to mind, but in the sense that we co-operate and work together!

Psalm 133 talks about the blessedness of unity... The psalmist uses the analogy of things that are far apart (in distance, culture, or nature) but united in love and then describes the blessedness of that. The image he uses is of the anointing oil flowing down Aaron's beard. Anointing oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit.

The more we are united in Christ, the more effective and Spirit-guided our corporate decisions will be.

2007-10-30 - "Crossing Boundaries #3"

... Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
3 So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"
"John's baptism," they replied.
4 Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

(A number of new EmmDev folk have joined - welcome!)
Quick recap: There are many folk who argue that receiving the Holy Spirit _must_ be a separate experience from conversion and that this is a once-off "Second blessing" experience. This passage is one of the passages used to argue this point.

But there are a few important things we need to understand here:
1. They had been Baptised with John's baptism. This is John the Baptist. John preached about repentance - but he was preparing people's hearts to come to the place of realising that they could not do it on their own - but that they needed a Saviour. John's message on its own was bad news - it diagnosed the problem of sin, but it do not provide a cure.

2. They had not adequately understood that Jesus had died for them. When they were baptised it was symbolic of their new realization that they could not be saved by their works but only by Jesus' grace. With their baptism came this powerful filling of the Holy Spirit.

3. Although Paul lays his hands on them here, we know from other encounters that this is not a "recipe" - in other passages the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of people even before they are baptised in water.

What can we learn from this passage?
1. These folk were not really Christians before this encounter. They were like the many who think that being a Christian is about obeying the Ten Commandments and hoping that "St Peter will let us in the gate."

2. They came to recognise that it is only and all because of Jesus that we are saved. Their baptism symbolised their wholehearted trust in Him. Everytime we choose to put our wholehearted trust in Christ rather than to live for ourselves, we can expect the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.

2007-10-31 - "Spiritual Leadership"

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts20:23)

First some background: Paul is talking to the elders of the church in Ephesus. He is on his way to Jerusalem where he is certain he will be arrested and carried off to Rome. So these are his last words to these elders.

This short verse provides some very important insights into leadership in the church context:

* Leadership in the church is not something we should aspire to. It is something that we are _called_ to. The Holy Spirit will draw us to leadership. We should do all we can to "avoid" leadership in the church and if we still feel compelled toward it then we know that it is the Spirit motivating us.

* The Greek word used for overseer is the word from which we get the title "Bishop." Unfortunately this word now has overtones of status and position, but in its original context has the idea of being a guardian and protector.

* The other word that is used here is "shepherd." Psalm 23 talks about God as our Shepherd. Jesus spoke of Himself as the Good Shepherd at length in the gospels. The Good Shepherd leads to still waters, the Good Shepherd provides sustenance, the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. If our leadership in the church is Spirit-led, then we will begin to look like the Good Shepherd.

* It's all about the flock! Many church leaders get involved in the politics of the hierarchy of the wider church and forget about the flock. But Spiritual Leadership is all about the flock. Paul emphasizes the flock by mentioning them before the role of overseeing and he values the flock by reminding the leaders that Jesus paid an enormous price for the flock.

This is what Spiritual leadership is about. Do you know a church leader who has lost track of this? Don't criticise or gossip - PRAY! Do you know a leader who is on the right track? Make sure you support and encourage them!

2007-11-01 - "Scripture Inspirer"

25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: "The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet..." (Acts28:25)

Paul is in Rome and even there he is trying to get through to the Jewish teachers of the Law living there. His comments here are the closing words of his presentation and what is significant about them is that Paul acknowledges the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as force behind the Old Testament record that they had to draw on. He is particularly interested in the fact that even their stubborn resistance to the gospel message was anticipated in Scripture.

The Epistles will say a lot more about the Holy Spirit and His work in Scripture. I would like to summarise it like this:
1. The Holy Spirit inspired the authors who wrote the Bible.
2. The Holy Spirit guided the process of bringing the Bible to us. Through the copying of manuscripts, the selection of material and the preservation thereof.
3. The Holy Spirit makes us hungry for the Word of God.
4. The Holy Spirit opens the Scriptures to us. He helps us understand what we have read.
5. The Holy Spirit helps us to become doers of the Word.

While this passage only refers to the first point, the rest of the NT will reveal the rest.

Are you having a hard time with the Bible at the moment? Do you struggle to motivate yourself to read it? Do you find it hard to read? Do you battle to put it into practice?

If you've answered "Yes" to any of these, then there is a good chance that you're trying to do it alone. You need to:
1. Ask the Spirit to help you
2. Very often we know that the Spirit is asking us to let go of anger or disappointment or bitterness but we're holding on to these things. Then it will be hard to receive God's Word and the experience the working of the Spirit. It's time to let go and surrender!
3. Start reading! Keep it short, simple and honest and watch what God does!

2007-11-07 - "Conclusion: Gospels and Acts"

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; (Acts1:8)

We've now looked at all the relevant verses about the Holy Spirit in the Gospels and the book of Acts. I'd like to conclude this section by returning to the promise found at the start of the book of Acts.

Within all religions and belief systems, power is a big issue. People want to be powerful. They want to rule and dominate. They want to control people and systems.

The Gospels and Acts reveal a different perspective on power. The power of the Holy Spirit is not so much about dominance as it is about transformation. The Holy Spirit isn't a potion that we drink so that we can power-up over others. Instead the Spirit is a Mentor, Guide, Coach and Helper whose power is at work in us to make us more like Jesus.

He will help us understand Jesus words, He will help us know and remember truth, He'll convict us of our sin, He'll inspire our words so that we can serve the world by being heralds of the Gospel message. He will draw us to community and sharing. He will push us out of our comfort zones and blow like the wind in our lives.

We cannot control Him and we must be ready to go where He sends us. He is not an "it" but the Third Person of the Godhead who is working to create new people out of our brokenness.

The Greek word for power is "dunamis" from there we get "dynamite" and "dynamo." (think of those little dynamo-lamps we used to put on our bicycles) While the world seeks explosive and destructive power, the power of the Spirit in us helps us to bring light to the world.

Thank you Lord for sending your Spirit! He is the power of God at work in us - giving us the power to change and to reach the world in His name.

Theo Groeneveld
Emmanuel Presby Church Cell: 082-5510752