Tuesday 8 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 Tuesday morning:

Romans 8

I live in a house of rugby fanatics. It is a house where if it is at all humanly possible, everything stops for rugby. That might sound like heaven for you. For me it is quite the opposite. Sometimes because I love them, I sit and watch a match with them. Occasionally when someone scores a try, I find myself making a little shout, “Yay, Ireland!” I don’t mean it. I don’t actually care who wins. But in the context it seems the right thing to do.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” This is not a pretend cry from Paul. This is a shout of joy and wonder and exultation from his heart of hearts. In Romans 7, Paul has been teaching about life in Christ and the place of the law. Verse 6 is a great summary – we have been released from the law. Then he shouts in v25, “Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” As he metaphorically stands at the foot of the cross that once held Jesus but is now empty, Paul shouts, “There is now no condemnation or those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul has been wonderfully and starkly honest about God’s action through history and about the fact of his own struggles. Paul feels the wonder of the cross but the reality of his sin.

Conscious of sin, reminded of the cross

One of the ways the Holy Spirit works in the lives of the believers is to make us conscious of our sin. Not in a “worm theology” way but the Spirit gently but firmly shows us areas of our lives that are not surrender to Jesus.

Another work of the Spirit in the lives of Christians is to consistently point us to Jesus and cross. Paul knows that God has not abandoned us in our sinfulness. The rest of Romans 8 flows from that cry of wonder at the foot of the cross. All that Paul is about to teach about life in the Spirit flows from that cross-centred life surrendered at the foot of the cross.

I suspect that many in this tent are like me with a strong Protestant work-ethic. We are a hard-working, fist-clenched, teeth-gritted people who are trying to be good enough. What would our lives look like if we lived, not with a dogged determination to be better, but out of a joyful, deep experience of thankfulness to God for the life we have received at the foot of the cross? What would it be like if, at the foot of the cross, we left that driven-ness that “I’ve got to be better” and rose to live with grateful, thankful hearts.

Well, it might look like joy as we rejoice in what the Father has done for us. It might look like love as His love is poured out it our hearts. It might look like patience and peace as we rest in, and work and live from, trust in the God who is at work in the world. It might look like kindness and gentleness and faithfulness and self-control.

A Hymn of Praise

What would our lives look like if we allowed the Holy Spirit to bring home to us the wonder, the astounding wonder of what Jesus has done on the cross? What would our lives look like, if we lived a hymn of thankfulness of God?

Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God, in every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim, Thy being and Thy ways
Not for the lip of praise alone, nor e’en the praising heart,
I ask, but for a life made up of praise in every part:

Praise in the common things of life, its goings out and in;
Praise in each duty and each deed, however small and mean.
Fill every part of me with praise; let all my being speak
Of Thee and of Thy love, O Lord, poor though I be and weak.

So shall no part of day or night from sacredness be free,
But all my life, in every step, be fellowship with Thee.

Everything flows from that hymn of praise. Paul now goes on to teach about what life in the flesh looks like in contrast to life in the Spirit.

A new normal

Paul is really clear that the Holy Spirit lives in the lives of every believer. There is a difference between someone coming to stay in our homes for a couple of nights and someone coming to live with us permanently. When we have short-term visitors, we put on a good face. But when someone comes to live with us permanently, a new normal has to develop. Because of Jesus, the Spirit comes to dwell in the life of every believer. The OT pattern is ended. Now a new normal should be developing in the lives of every Christian. And if the Holy Spirit lives in every believer, we should see evidence of that. There should be changes.

Are we the same as we were this time last year? Because if the Spirit is dwelling in our lives, we shouldn’t be. Are we more kind, patient and self-controlled?

A friend of mine has a wooden plaque that hangs on her mirror in the hall. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, you’ve become your mother after all.”

The sign of the Spirit is the existence of Christ-likeness; being Christ’s child in the world.

Paul writing to the Philippian Christians says, “Therefore my dear friends… it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil His good purpose… then you will shine among them like stars as you hold firmly to the word of life.”

This society is crying out for Christians who, as God works in them by the power of His Spirit, are blameless and pure and who shine like stars as we hold out the word of life.

So what does that pattern of life look like? Paul gets specific as the chapter unfolds.

Dying to Self

The Spirit enables a daily pattern of dying and rising. Christians are invited into a way of life, a pattern of life by the Spirit in which self is laid aside, day by day. Jesus gave us the image of taking up our cross.

Our natural desire and drive is for self-interest and dominance. God by His Holy Spirit speaks and say, “Will you allow that self to be set aside? Will you die to that self, so that you can rise to Jesus Christ?” Dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ is moment by moment!

Serving as children of God

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. We don’t serve and follow God out of a spirit of fear. We serve and follow God as His children. The Spirit assures us that we are children of God. One of the diseases that is rampant among Christians is amnesia… we forget!

God who knows us, knows that we forget so soon. So what does He enable and send His Spirit to do? The Spirit Himself, testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. The Spirit brings that objective truth home to our hearts. We can forget who we are!

Relying on the love of God

Sometimes we hear this truth and we know it, but we cheapen this truth by receiving it and stopping there. We hold on to this truth that we are children of God like it is a comfort blanket. We hold onto it as selfish, inward-looking truth. It is the work of the Spirit, not to assure us of the love of God so we can close the doors and put on the fire and hide away. The Spirit assures us of His love that we might live in that love and share that love in the world.

Listen to 1 John 4 We know and rely on the love God has for us. This is not a cosy safe assurance. This is edge-of-the-cliff, hanging-on-for-dear-life, relying-on-the-love-of-God teaching! It holds us when we are miles beyond our own resources. We rely on the love of God when we look at our own lives and wonder, “Really, could you still love me?” We rely on the love of God as God sends us out into the world again and again. The sign of God’s Spirit is being Christ-like IN the world that needs to know Jesus.

Understanding the now and the not-yet

Those who are Christians know that they are sons and daughters of God and also long, yearn to know the fullness of what that means. Paul points to the tension between the now and the not-yet. We have the first fruits but there is a harvest still to come. The Spirit of God enables the people to God to live in and acknowledge the reality of the now and the not-yet and to speak of the hope that we have.

We can keep going because we know who has won the war.

The day before he died, Martin Luther King preached in Memphis.

“It’s all right to talk about long white robes over yonder, in all of its symbolism, but ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s all right to talk about streets flowing with milk and honey, but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here and His children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee.
This is what we have to do.”

God will not allow us, because He loves the world and loves us too much, to shrug our shoulders and say, “That is nothing to do with the Christian gospel.” God’s people must live and speak the reality of the possibility of a new Coleraine, a new Belfast or a new Bangor. We will not turn our back on the groaning of injustice, abuse or climate change. The glory of God begins to be seen in the lives of God’s people as we open our eyes to the world around us.

What then, says Paul, shall we say in response to these things? I close with two stories:

My grandfather spent most of his adult life in Nigeria. He translated the Bible into one of the languages. A friend wrote a book about his life. About a year ago, a friend sent me a copy of the book to me. I appreciated the gift but I don’t think I opened it because I knew what was in it. I put in on the shelf next to my other copies of the book.

The second gift was a vase. My father and mother also served in Nigeria. They were in a rural area. And when that area became dangerous, my dad stayed to fulfil his commitment but my mum brought my brother and me home to Belfast. One day a gift arrived for my mum from my dad (it was probably their anniversary). It was a delicate white vase. She put it on the mantelpiece and there it sat. Not only were we not allowed to touch it, we were not even allowed into the room because it was too good for everyday life.

What then will we say in response to these things? God is here. God’s Spirit is with us. Will say, “Fine but I know this already? Or this is too good for real life? Or will we embrace them?”

God is at work in the power of His spirit. Mission in the power of His spirit will be through transformed lives, who find in the power of this Spirit, perhaps to their surprise, that they have become like their Father after all. All creation is groaning for Christians who will live their lives like that.