Tuesday 9 August
With Ben Stuart
We have been so blessed by being here among you. We are leaving with full hearts: Let’s read together three passages from Galatians:
As we begin, pray that the Lord will speak to you tonight. Years ago I spoke on a university campus at an event on Lookout Mountain, Georgia. On the other side of the mountain people would go hand gliding. If you were a beginner, you could have a go. We signed up and paid, and you get into something like a sleeping bag underneath an instructor and they told us we would fly. But as we started to go up it was horribly bumpy. I was getting nauseous. I was thinking, “I want out of here…” But then suddenly we were at the top and we were floating down. It was so peaceful. It was absolutely amazing.
We hit a thermal and the wind picked us up and carried us higher. I asked, “How do you find it?” The instructor said, “Watch the birds. See where they are gliding without flapping and then go there.” I had ascended to a place that I could not get to on my own. The work in its essence was to position ourselves to receive the power of the wind.
All of us want to be connected to something that can get us further than we can go on our own.
Drake wrote, “Am I missing something more important to find, like healing my soul, like family time, Is there more to life than just when I’m feeling alive…”
We can get physical success and still feel empty. Over 80% of people in American want to be “spiritual” but what does that mean? They want to tap into something that can help them be more than they feel right now. People often confuse spirituality and religion. Spirituality means something different to everyone. That means it is meaningless.
To be truly spiritual is to be rightly related to the Spirit of God. That is something God wants for us. Jesus told us, “If I go away, the Helper will come.” Jesus will send the Spirit to help us be where we were meant to be.
Ephesians 5:15-18 calls us to look carefully now we walk (not as unwise).
I want to you to live the best kind of life… how do you do that? You get filled with the spirit. But what does that mean? We are becoming alive in God.
The Story of the Spirit
We have to start with language. In the old testament, the word for Spirit is the word Ruach which also meant “wind” or “breath”. No breath, no wind, no spirit… means no life.
In Genesis 1: 2 The spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. The first presentation of the spirit of God is an intimate presence, hovering over the waters – God is near us.
In Genesis 2:7 He breathed into mankind’s nostrils the Spirit of life. That is intimate, that is close. The Spirit of God, the breath of God is intimate and animating. He brings us to life. What is man? He is dust and the wind of God.
Then the tragedy happens. We rebelled against God out of pride. We don’t just break a rule, we break a relationship. Our foolish hearts went dark when we broke faith with Him. That dislocation affected all relationships. What is missing? We used to be dust and the breath of God made us live. Now we are just dust when the wind of God is gone. Dislocation form the world and from ourselves.
Tom Wolfe said, “The whole conviction on my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”
We feel isolated because we have been severed from the intimate presence of God. We are separated from our source. The Old Testament is depressing, it shows how people failed to live by God’s righteous law.
There is something wrong with us and external laws are not fixing our internal problems. They are xrays not surgeons.
The promise is for the Messiah who is coming and He is bringing the spirit with Him. When that happens, He will bring life back. This is the new covenant, He will write His law upon our hearts. The connection with the life of God, the intimacy with God and the power of God will be restored.
He will put His spirit in us and He will move us to obey God’s righteous law. Ezekiel goes to the valley of the dry bones and God asks, “Can these bones live?” Tell the wind to blow and they come to life. John the Baptist starts preaching and he says, “I’m baptising you with water but He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus declares, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Nicodemus comes to Jesus and he doesn’t even know what to ask. He comes to Jesus, “No one can do what you are doing.” Jesus tells him, “You have to be born again.” It is like birth. You have no control over your birth. You must be born again by the spirit.
What is Jesus saying? You feel that wind… so it is with those who are born of the spirit of God. This is what you have been waiting for. I am coming to bring a spirit that is like a fountain of living water. It is not just morality but spirituality and intimacy with God. Coming to faith in God is not just about forgiveness of sins just as getting married is not just about ending singleness.
Your salvation is not primarily about the forgiveness of sins… Yes, your sins are forgiven but that is so that you can return to the intimacy with God that you were made for. That is why when He rose from the grave, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” That was Jesus saying, “I did it.” That dislocation, that death, that separation… I took it away. The intimate presence of God is back.
God sent His son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption as sons, and because of that we receive the spirit and we can cry out “Abba Father.”
A new identity
When I was a youth pastor I used to take my students to Colarado (a 20 hour bus drive). I would start the drive at night and feed them a huge meal. I would put on the longest movies I could find (Jesus of Nazareth or Ben Hur). There is a scene in Ben Hur when he is condemned to die. Their ship is sinking. Then the commander of the ship comes down to the hold and breaks his chains and sets him free. They were victorious in the sea battle. When they get back to Rome, this general takes Ben Hur in his chariot to celebrate victory. The general says, “This man was a slave, I want him pardoned. But then he says, “Now he is my son. I am adopting him. All I have is his.” This is the imagery in Galatians. You are adopted. You are forgiven. You are set free. You are clothed in Christ. You can live a new life.
If we are set free, why do we keep on sinning? God set you free to live a new life. You are a son of God. You are a daughter of the king. But so often we struggle with sin. What is great about God is He has not just given you a new identity but He has empowered you. The intimate animating presence of God is in His children. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit.
So how do we walk in the spirit?
What does it mean to be people who keep in step with the Spirit. The spirit led Jesus out into the desert. And He came back in the power of the spirit.
Directed by the Spirit
How do you know that you are being led by the spirit?
He is consistent with scripture. Jesus said, the helper, the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have taught you. The spirit of God, loves this book. Read the Bible a lot and you will learn how to hear God. A New Testament scholar said, “When I am studying a book in the Bible I read it 50 times. As I read the word over and over again, it retrains the grooves in my brain, so I start thinking along with God.”
He is called the Spirit of Truth. The spirit you want to hear from inspired these words. If you want to know what the spirit sounds like, He sounds like the word of God. Let the word of God be the fuel that He uses to empower you. You can read the word of God like the Pharisees did. When I sit down and read the word of God, I pray that God will open my eyes to see the wonderful things in His law.
True spirituality is contrary to the flesh. The deeds of the flesh are evident… If you have a voice inside you telling you to get drunk and go to an orgy, it is not the Spirit of God! When I first graduated college I had a youth group of five students. There was this kid that would come and he would sit right down front and he was huge. He went on to play football. He tried to show me that he couldn’t care less about what I was saying. But one day he came to me and asked to talk to me. Then he started crying and he got embarrassed.
“I’m a big guy,” he said. “So that makes me good at football. And that has made me very popular. I’m invited to every party. All the guys want to be around me. All the girls want to date me. I can everything I want but I’ve never been more miserable in my life.”
So I told him the gospel. He said, “I know all that. I’ve accepted Jesus into my life.” So I told him, “God has put His spirit in you and He has ruined you for sin. You can live outside God’s will but it will make you miserable. Stop running to broken springs when you have a well of living water that does not run dry.”
The spirit of God knit us together so that we need each other and we will never reach our full potential without our community. And the Spirit of God will always exalt Jesus.
How do you know the spirit of God is working in you? He loves Jesus, He loves the church, He rejects the things of the flesh and He is consistent with the Bible.
Empowered by the Spirit
I used to ask my students how long does it take you to grow an apple out of your arm. They would say, “I can’t do it.” If you want an apple, you go to an apple tree. You go to the thing that has the power to create it. You cannot create the fruit of the spirit so we go to the source. I walk with Him . I need Him to provide the fruit of the spirit in me. It is His work. Several years ago I live in inner city win Denver Colorado. We did summer camps for kids (mission trips). You never feel more spiritual when you are on a mission trip but we were there for months and there was this one kid who would yell at people.
She had a remarkable ability to zone in on your insecurities. It was so difficult. One morning I was having a quiet time and I suddenly realised I could not fake it anymore. I said, “I don’t want to go to camp today. I’d rather watch TV all day than hang out with these kids.” I said, “I don’t have a love for these kids. I need you to show up.”
This kid started yelling at me again and suddenly the thought crossed my mind, hurt people – hurt people. All this rage is coming from somewhere. She is supposed to be happy. She is supposed to feel safe. I started to feel this great compassion and I began praying for her even though she was still yelling at me. The next day, she got thrown out and sent home for fighting but before that she ran up and hugged me and said, “You were the one who was nice to me.” I did love her; not by my might but by His.
One that same trip in Colardo, I had a buddy named Ben and he wanted to climb the tallest mountain. He asked if I want to do it. So we began to train every day. We knew we had to leave in the middle of the night to go up a mountain and come down because there were lightning storms on top of the mountain.
Ben and I kept going until we came to this area called the keyhole… when you pass through this arch you come to the back side of the mountain and we discovered it was covered in snow. We didn’t plan for this. You have to traverse this ledge beside a sheer cliff. I said, “I don’t think we can do this.”
We didn’t have the right equipment but there were footprints in the snow and holes from a pick axe so we used to those to step. Midway through a steep incline, we started to feel lightheaded. We were completely exhausted but we kept going. Suddenly my buddy collapses. We started praying. “Oh God we are so stupid.” We were scared. We were stuck on the side of the mountain and we were too tired to go up or down.
Suddenly we saw a head. This dude walks around the corner. “You boys been to the top? You are crazy to come without equipment.” I said, “We are not doing good.” I looked down at my hands and they were freezing. He told us, ”Hey you are breathing wrong.” Breathing along with him, our heads start to clear. He pulls these mittens out of his bag and asks, “You boys ready to go to the top?” Then he hands us pick axes.
We tried but we realised we still couldn’t do it. He looked at me in that moment and said, “You grab onto my belt. I will stamp out footprints in the snow. I will step in my footprints and you will rise.” So we got to the top and looked down. We got to the place that we could not get on our own. It turns out he was a missionary. We had a meal up there. As we were on our way down he showed us how to slide and how to stop but at the most dangerous point, we began sliding towards the cliff. And he wraps his keens around some pick axes and catches us. All the way down we were wondering if he was an angel!
I don’t want you to make big promises. I want you to grip on tight to God. You pour our your anxieties to Him. You stay close and when He steps, you step. You keep in step with Him and when you tumble and you slip again, don’t beat yourself up, you have a Saviour who loves to catch you and dust you off and put you back on your feet. And I promise you you will get to places you could never get to on your own.