Monday 7 August

Rev. Heather Morris is a Methodist Minister with a PhD in Practical Theology from Edinburgh University.  She was the first female President of the Methodist Church in Ireland in 2013 and is now the General Secretary of the Home Mission Department of the Methodist Church, based in Dublin.  This year, she is leading the morning Bible Teaching at New Horizon.  Here’s a summary of her message from Monday morning:

 

John 15: 26 – 16:15

Our family is split down the middle on hugging. I am firmly in the “hug” camp but my oldest son and my brother hate hugs. When they are leaving, I say to them “steel yourself” and they allow me to hug them.

Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as one that will guide them into all truth.  The Message version puts it like this John 16:12: But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is.

I don’t know how you feel this morning about the Holy Spirit. I don’t know if the picture of Jesus’ Spirit taking us by the hand and leading us into all truth makes your heart leap with anticipation or whether you are “steeling” yourself because you are a wee bit wary, afraid or hurt. Whatever we feel, will we allow this image to grip us this morning? The Spirit of God, as individuals and as a body, taking us by the hand so that we are kept and clearly guided into all the truth there is.

The disciples are grieving. Their concern is about what is going to happen to them. In this context, Jesus teaches them clearly and gently about the Spirit.

With that picture in our minds, let us pray:

“Living God, we worship you. You are the one who knows us. Our prayer is that your Spirit would take us by the hand and lead us into all the truth there is and by the power of your Spirit we would be transformed, compelled out in your name to the world beyond this tent. For the glory and in the name of Jesus.”

Come back in your minds eye to what this time leading up to the cross was like for Jesus and His disciples. We can sense a parent’s heart in Jesus as He teaches His disciples who had journeyed with Him over three years.

Things are about to get worse

Jesus knew them so well. He loved them. He knew they didn’t understand everything yet. He knew they got things right but sometimes they got things magnificently wrong. He knew the task that was facing them was way beyond their abilities. And as they prepare for that, He comforts them. Nowhere does Jesus say, “Be faithful to me and life will be easy.

On the occasions when I cross the threshold of a gym, I opt for a “cross-trainer.” There are two reasons why I choose this. A kind and honest and doctor friend told me that people my age don’t have the knees for a treadmill and the second reason is that I have fallen off a treadmill in a gym and the embarrassment lives on

On the cross trainer, the programme gets harder as you go along. The resistance increases. As I go ont, I know it is going to get even harder before I finish.

Jesus is speaking to His disciples who have journeyed with Him. He doesn’t say, “There, there…!” He says, I love you so much that I need to tell you that it is going to get worse.

The Holy Spirit is promised in that context, to people who know that they are not able for the challenges of the day, who are at the end of their tether. If that is you this morning, if you are just exhausted, if you are Christian who is living your faith in the context of your work and your home and it is tough, if you are at the end of your own resources… then hear this. The Spirit of God is promised to folks like us, who know that the challenges are far beyond us but who are still up for the journey with Jesus.

If you are here this morning and feeling quite self-sufficient well then maybe the truth that the Spirit wants to guide you into is reliance on God rather than on your own resources.

“The Spirit comes to assist women and men, caught up in the thick of battle and tried beyond their own strength.”

Sometimes we associate the work of the Holy Spirit narrowly, and only with the high days and with signs and wonders. The Spirit is promised for the everyday challenges of life. Things are utterly changing and in that context what Jesus says in verse seven is astounding… “It is for your good that I am going away…”

The centrality of the Cross

For John in his gospel, the work of the Spirit of Christ was integrally related to the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God’s desire was that men, women and children would come to know Him. God’s work extends through all of time and all eternity with the cross front and centre. It is not just about isolated signs and wonders. The Spirit works most fully through the life surrendered at the foot of the cross. Only when we know Jesus, can we receive the Spirit in all His fullness. When we know Jesus, we should expect to know the Spirit. We should expect the living Spirit of God to dwell within the people of God.

Ezekiel 36: 25 – 26 says, 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. 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.

Maybe you are sitting with a heart of stone this morning. On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, (John 7) – Jesus stood up. Normally rabbis sit to teach but Jesus stands. In a context, that was becoming increasingly difficult, He says in a loud voice. “’Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’[c 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.”

Rivers of living water – when we believe in Jesus, the Spirit doesn’t just fill us be overflows.

There is a clear link to the cross and to the ascension and resurrection of Jesus. Now I want us to be very clear here. John is not saying that the Holy Spirit was not at work before the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

The Spirit has been at work from the very beginning and throughout time but there was a new age coming. The work of the Spirit was integrally related to the completed work of Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection and in his ascension. We in Northern Ireland are so very familiar with theories of the atonement. Most of us could talk for a long time about why Jesus died. We are used to explaining why the cross matters in terms of salvation and forgiveness.

What if we became as familiar with the truth of the cross in terms of the work of the Spirit as we are in terms of that initial work of salvation and forgiveness? Because of the cross, resurrection and ascension, the Spirit is available to every person who comes to salvation at the foot of the cross. What if we expected and spoke of and welcomed the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer as we speak of the fact that the believer is cleansed from sin?

Why is the Holy Spirit the forgotten element of the Trinity? What if we knew, in the reality of our experience that the Spirit of God lives in the lives of all who come to faith at the foot of the cross?

Athanasius said, “The Word took bodily form so that we might receive the Holy Spirit. God became the bearer of a body so that men [and women] might be bearers of the Spirit.”

If you belong to Jesus, you are a bearer of the Spirit because of the cross. In the very shadow of that cross, Jesus says, “It is for your good that I’m going away… if I go, I will send Him to you.”

The Holy Spirit can rest on all God’s people because He rested first on Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit develops in the lives of the believers not because we are nice because we belong to Jesus. Please don’t relegate this truth to interesting but irrelevant. If you belong to Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwells in you.

Transformation

I hope and pray that as Christians we are hungry for the word of God but the truth of God is not just about understanding, it has to be worked out in experience. Maybe you could write an essay on the work of the Spirit but has the Spirit transformed you?

The truth of God is transformative in the power of the Spirit. Perhaps the Spirit is drawing you to the foot of the cross, to remind you, to nudge you, to disturb you or to invite you once again to kneel at His cross and receive from God, the Father, the Son and the Spirit all that God longs to give you so that you might live to His glory.

In some places, Luke’s emphasis is slightly different to what we see in John’s Gospel.   But there is complete consistency about the fact that we should expect the work of the Spirit to be normal in the life of the Christian.

Acts 1: 1 – 4: Even though the disciples had journeyed with Jesus, even though they had seen Him crucified and resurrected, they were to wait for the Holy Spirit. We need to wake up to the fact that the work of the Spirit should be expected and normal in the life of every Christian person. We need to be open to the work of the Spirit in our lives… so let’s not be afraid

AW Tozer said, “If Jesus were to come into this room walking down this aisle there would be no stampede for the door. We might begin to weep for sheer delight that Jesus had so honoured us but nobody would be afraid of Jesus because He is the epitome of love… That is exactly who the Spirit is! For He is the Spirit of the Father and the Son.”

Let’s pray: “Thank you for the cross, Jesus. Holy Spirit we welcome you. Come Holy Spirit. Remind us that you dwell in the lives of those who follow Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful.”

There’s a Job to be done

Jesus is teaching in the context of the cross and even though He has been telling them it is going to get worse, His next teaching is not about peace. He pushes them to see that the Holy Spirit is already at work in the world and will be at work ahead of them.

There is a job to be done. Yes, the Holy Spirit will dwell in them and equip them but the Spirit is already at work in the “courtroom of culture” pressing the claims of Christ.

The verb that John uses here is not just “proving them wrong” but to “persuade them” and so to change their minds. The specifics are that all people are sinful, that righteousness is only possible through Jesus and that Judgement will come.

In the wider courtroom of culture, the Spirit is already at work. Just as the Spirit partners with us as individuals, so God chooses to partner with the church in that cultural application – speaking truth into culture.

Our son Dave went to work in Calais in the refugee camp called the Jungle. He met a man called “Tough” who had himself come as a refugee from Eritrea in the ‘70s. Tough came to visit the camp in Calais but he stayed in that camp to help. With others, he built a church in the Jungle living in a small hut nearby. He became like a father figure especially to the many young men who were fatherless in that camp. In that culture, in the power of the Spirit, he lived the claims of Christ.

In the culture into which God has called you in business, economics, education, with your friends, in your home, the Spirit is already there. He puts out His hand in an offer of partnership and says, “Will you partner with me in pressing home the claims of Christ in the courtroom of culture?”

We need to expect the work of the Spirit in the life of every believer and when we want to retreat and to stay safe, the Spirit pushes the people of God out into the world that desperately needs to know about Jesus. The Spirit is convicting, persuading and always pointing to Jesus. Mission can ONLY take place in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ajith Fernando’s wrote, “It is easy for us to get distracted and find security in other things that serve as substitutes for the spirit of God. Excellent programming, using the best of modern technology, management techniques and building facilities can produce impressive results. Someone once said that 95% of what is done in most evangelical churches could be done without the Holy Spirit. … Without the spirit’s power our excellent programmes are ultimately futile!”

It is NOT all about us. It is all about God. I will take a “bit” part in the story of what God is doing in and through eternity, any day.

Please don’t sideline the Spirit. The Spirit dwells in the lives of every believer. So my invitation to you is to be bold. Be hungry for more of the Spirit whether you feel empty or full, joyous or burdened. That the Spirit might transform us and send us out into the world