Wednesday 9 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:

Last night, Dave told you how in preparation for yesterday’s Bible teaching, I could not think of the word I was looking for and ended up Googling, “what is the word for when you can’t remember something…” The word is amnesia. Too often we forget who God is!

Yesterday, we were focusing on Romans 8 and on the work of transformation that the Spirit does in the lives of individuals. Today, we are going to pick up on the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

Come with me into Acts 26: 8 – 19. What a context for Paul to find himself in. He is standing before Festus who represents the power and the authority of the Roman Empire and before King Herod Agrippa… King Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus. His son had John the Baptist put to death. His son had James put to death by the son and his son is King Herod Agrippa.

We are told clearly that Paul’s hope and expectation from that conversation, as he stands before Festus and King Herod Agrippa (representative of a family dynasty who had done everything to stand against what God was doing)… is that they would come to know Jesus.

So many years before at the time of Paul’s conversion, God spoke to Ananias and said, “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my Gospel before Gentiels and Kings”… Now Paul was doing just that… pressing home the claims of Jesus in this courtroom.

Paul doesn’t think that these people are outside the scope of God’s grace. His longing, even for them is that they would come to know Jesus. “For God so loved…” Me? people like me? my tribe?… “For God so loved, the WORLD… that He gave His son.”

If the Spirit is stirring in your heart to live your life in His power. If you are up for journeying with Jesus, then you can expect to find yourself out in the world often with unexpected people and in unexpected places.

Acts 10  Peter has to have his boundaries stretched to see that God’s grace extends to Gentiles too. He was brought by the Holy Spirit to Cesarea and found himself preaching to Gentiles.

The evidence of Scripture is crystal clear. When God’s people commit themselves to mission in the power of His spirit, they find themselves not behind locked doors but out in the worlds. The Spirit moves! On the day of Pentecost, that wonderful long-promised day, the disciples do not stay where they are, all together in one place. Peter goes out to address the crowd. They could conceivably have stayed where they were.

Some of the crowd were curious. The disciples could have waited for the curious crowd come to them. They could have stayed in that room having a wonderful meeting. But they don’t do that. They are propelled by the Spirit into the world. If as the Holy Spirit leads us into truth, we commit ourselves to mission in the power of the Spirit, we will find ourselves out in the world.

Where is your happy place? For me, I don’t go to a beach or to a rugby match. My happy place is to have my family gathered round my kitchen table with cups of tea. In that picture, the door of my home is firmly closed and the phone never rings to disturb us. We are gathered round that table, happy in each others company and gloriously undisturbed. It frightens me that church can so often be just like that. We are gathered together enjoying each other’s company, gloriously undisturbed by the fact that the world outside our doors desperately needs to know Jesus.

Church is not an ark… make it in and you’ll be safe. Church is a place of gathering, worship and teaching but it is a place of sending!

It is only those who commit themselves to live out the prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” Who will ever feel the absolute need to pray, “ Give us our daily bread.”

Commit yourself to mission in the power of the spirit and you will find yourself in the world, on the edges and in the margins. That will be the place where Christians normally are.

The Holy Spirit’s involvement in Creation

Genesis 1   There is some controversy over whether the reference to the “spirit of God” hovering over the waters actually refers to the Holy Spirit or whether this refers to “wind”. It seems to me that the balance of the argument is that this passage refers to the Holy Spirit right at the beginning of the Creation narrative because there are other references in Scripture to the Spirit’s involvement in creation. (See Psalm 26)

That creative work of God is not a one-off. The work of God in creation keeps on going. In John 5, Jesus sees the man who has lain by the pool of Bethesda for over 30 years and heals him! But these events take place on the Sabbath and when the Pharisees saw him carrying his mat, criticised him. The man said, “He made me do it…” In John 5: 16-17  – Jesus relates His work of healing on the Sabbath to the unceaseing work of God. In the power of the Spirit, God is Creator and creating!

When we think about Creation, we need to think of God’s on-going creative activity. God is still involved in the Big Picture and in the warp and weft of Creation, creating and sustaining life.

If we can allow the Spirit of God to stretch our minds, to begin to understand the breadth of God’s creative activity, then the boundaries we put on the Gospel and mission begin to be stretched as well because nothing and no-one is outside of God’s creative mission!

In the power of his Spirit, God was and is and will be at work in the world. Romans 8 Although, we looked at it yesterday, we are back here today because we need to revisit the work of the Spirit in the renewal of Creation. Yet again the barrier-breaking, initiative-taking God has burst through our boundaries. He is at work everywhere and at all times. The scope of the Gospel is broad. It impacts and continues to impact the whole of creation and every part of the creative order.

If that is true, let us look at two implications:

Our attitude to Creation

Is it a Gospel value to care for creation? Are we living the Gospel when we “reduce, reuse, recycling”? There is a long tradition that says we don’t need to care about Creation. It seems to me that the Gensis narrative makes it clear that it is human beings’ responsibility to care for and steward creation (which God says is “good”).  Our love for others, our love for our neighbour demands that we should care about the Pacific islands disappearing under rising tides, about the Philippines where Typhoons threaten lives and farms.

Donald English, nearly 30 years ago wrote, “If Christ is the clue to the created world – as John, Paul and the writer to the Hebrews claim – then it must follow that none of the world’s great problems will or can be answered without reference to what His life and teaching, death and resurrection, ascension and second coming reveal. Problems of starvation and ecology, racism and deprivation, war, unemployment, injustice, genetic engineering and a host of other issues will find no solution until addressed by the truth as it is in Jesus. I do mean that a degree in theology is all the training one needs to deal with such complex and perplexing issues.  Would that some of our speakers would learn that lesson. But I do mean that only in the truth as Jesus has embodied and taught it will solutions be found.”

“Christians who engage in dealing with such issues must not therefore be viewed as handling peripheral issue.  They are contending for the truth about Jesus. They are representing the breadth of God’s love.”  (Read more of this here.)

All creation groans, waiting for freedom and glory. The Holy Spiirt continues to work across the whole scope of creation.

Let us not belive the lie that this is a liberal agenda that dilutes the Gospel. Where people live selflessly and sacrificially and our consumerism which costs so much to others there we see the Spirit of God. Maybe that is the Holy Spiriti’s nudge to you this morning.

Christians who commit themselves to mission in the power of the Spirit will find themselves caught up in the

Our attitude to others

Christians who commit themselves to mission in the power of the Spirit will find themselves caught up in the breadth of God’s love. In the Acts, the Holy Spirit went ahead of the Apostles to the Ethiopian eunuch. The Holy Spirit was ahead of them with Cornelius, the Gentile. The Spirit of God prepares the way for people to hear the news about Jesus. The Spirit of God is at work across the face of the whole earth, ahead of us today. He still invites us to follow, even when that is really hard, even when we find ourselves struggling.

I don’t want us to let us off the hook. Don’t just think that that means mission and ministry far away. The barrier God might want to break is the barrier to be a Christian at work or in your family or being known as achristian and as a good neighbour with those you lives side-by-side with. The Spirit of God is still inviting us, “Will you follow me?”

Andrew Irvine has been one of those who has been developing Street Pastors in Belfast. Andrew tells of the conversation when a man who is worse for wear, stopped and asked, “Who are you?” There is such missional potential when we work together as church. Andrew shared that they were from different churches to get people to safety because Jesus loves everyone on that street.

Do you know what the man said, in the golden mile in the early hours of that morning? The man said, “Well if that’s true, that God still so loves the world, what took you so long?”