Pilgrim IV: Belief in the Holy Spirit

I enjoy talking about the Holy Spirit at church, there are many varied experiences and views of how it has had an effect on people and influences our lives.  Before looking at the well-known passage below, we were all encouraged to share how or when we have experienced the presence of God in our lives.

This section of the Pilgrim course focused on Acts 2:1-4

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

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

Footnotes:

  1. Acts 2:4 Or languages; also in verse 11

Reflection included:

  • What comes to mind when you hear the words Holy  Spirit?
  • Why do you think it was so important to early Christians?
  • Do you experience the presence of God today? Would you call on the Holy Spirit?

This, of course, is not the first time we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit during Bite Nites, and certainly not the first time we’ve looked at what happened during Pentecost in relation to it.

To put it into context, we’re in the middle of one of the largest celebrations (if not one of the longest running festivals of all time).  People are arriving from many different places and countries, and there are many different languages and dialects being spoken among the people. in situations like that, we’re all too aware that misunderstandings are easy to arise.  It is not only the language but also the cultural differences, expression, slang, mannerisms among others that cause us problems when we communicate.

The marvellous event to follow, happened to all of the disciples gathered in the room; not just a chosen few. Imagine their delight when they realised that what they were saying was being understood by people who previously could not understand them.  There must have been so many problems communicating before this, taking a long time for understanding to be communicated and at times missed altogether.

Now that they were able to communicate across the language barrier with ease, that everything they’d had difficulty in expressing in other languages can suddenly be expressed simply because the person hearing them can understand them, must have been an exhilarating experience.  You can almost sense the joy and happiness radiating from their very core.  It’s no wonder some of the onlookers thought they were drunk; they would have been under the influence of extreme happiness with not a drop of alcohol in sight.

There were other opinions too, people who refused to believe their eyes or their ears, and those who thought it was magic at work, or a trick to deceive them; but for those who trust in what they were seeing, and in what they were hearing this is truly miraculous and will have changed their lives forever.  Imagine being there, witnessing this for yourself; how could you refuse to believe in the love of God, His word, His son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

I have to admit that I have admiration for anyone who is multilingual.  I am attempting to learn a few languages myself and I can appreciate how much effort you will have put into learning to be fluent in more than one language.  I was enormously pleased with being able to use the Hebrew phrase Ze Beseder in work today; one of my colleagues told me he’d had some ginger biscuits from the tin on my desk; I believe it was an appropriate way of saying it’s ok and it made me pleased too as he told me I said it correctly (despite my pause to mentally rehearse saying it).

It’s good to talk 🙂

Dear Father, God in Heaven,
We thank you for providing us with skills,
with an ability to communicate
and with patience to learn.
Assist us in using those skills
to cross the walls we surround ourselves with.
Help us to break down all our barriers,
to use your gifts so that we too can share your word
and demonstrate your work among us.
Grant us a bridge over our cultural differences,
that we might find peace in all our lives
and make all that is built by mankind good in your eyes.
Let us see past the limits that we put on ourselves,
and help us to recognise your Holy Spirit residing within each of us
and truly see the gifts you bestow on us all;
that we may serve you faithfully,
in truth, with all our heart,
with all our mind
and with all our body.
This we pray, guided by your Holy Spirit
and in the name of Jesus Christ,
your son, 
our saviour and Lord

Amen

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Pilgrim III: Belief in Jesus

This session of the Pilgrim course looks at Mark 1:4-11.

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with[a] water, but he will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit.”

The Baptism and Testing of Jesus

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Footnotes:

  1. Mark 1:8 Or in
  2. Mark 1:8 Or in

This is all about looking more closely at who Jesus is, in particular, our views as we were asked to write a tweet (original size) about who Jesus is.   I think I wrote something along the lines of “Jesus is my friend, my brother, my past, my present and my future”; symbolising that he is always with me and the close relationship I have regained.

There’s also a trend to these pilgrim sessions, they all relate to the part of the baptism and confirmation services where we declare (or is declared on our behalf when you’re a baby) our Profession of Faith.

  • Do you believe and trust in God the Father?
  • Do you believe and trust in his Son Jesus Christ?
  • Do you believe and trust in the Holy Spirit?

Can you guess what Pilgrim IV is going to be about?

After reading the passage above, we were asked what we think might have surprised and challenged the people at the time or for ourselves.

I like the fact that even though John declared he was not worthy to serve Jesus, Jesus still came to John and asked him for baptism. Jesus, who has no sin, is asking John, who baptised people for repentance of sin, to baptise him.

Surprised? You should be, John was!

He was well aware of who Jesus was, and that his baptism by water was no match for Jesus baptising people with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus did not need to be baptised, but this simple act sets the scene for how Jesus relates to the rest of humanity, taking the sin of our human nature and delivering us from it,

I always find it fascinating that we are often surprised by how God does things.  It is a challenge, in ourselves, to accept how some things are done.  In the same way, the people of Israel had enough time to create many preconceived ideas of what their messiah would be like, what he would achieve, how he would drive the Romans out of Israel at the head of the army, and so on.

I think they got a massive surprise!

Note: Jesus did eventually conquer the Romans; just not in the way that was expected of him at the time.

He did not apply brute force, Jesus did not lead an army, he did not wield a sword. He did it all with the word of God, by showing us all how to be righteous in the eyes of God, by freeing us all from sin and allowing us all to share in Gods glory.

He did all of this through his life, death and resurrection. For me, for you, your family, your friends, your neighbours, your co-workers, the strangers that cross your path.

Lord God,
thank you for sending us your Son, Jesus Christ, to be our saviour.
Thank you for allowing us to build our relationship with you through Jesus,
He is our light in our darkness, our ship on our endless sea,
the calm in the storms of life, the peace in our tranquillity,
and, through his most precious sacrifice, the forgiveness of our sins.

Amen

Pilgrim II: Belief in God the Father

Our second session of the pilgrim course focused on Hosea 11:1-4

God’s Love for Israel

11 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
    the more they went away from me.[a]
They sacrificed to the Baals
    and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
    it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
    a little child to the cheek,
    and I bent down to feed them.

Footnotes:

  1. Hosea 11:2 Septuagint; Hebrew them

We were asked to reflect on three things:

  1. A time when we felt deeply loved.
  2. What kind of images come to mind when you hear God described as being a father.
  3. Anything we find confusing about the image of God as a father.

People recounted times when they were being cared for by family and by friends, in sickness, acceptance in social events, when we acknowledge our love for each other, and reciprocation of love.  There are many times when we feel deeply loved, but I suspect we have a tendency, as humans, to take it as granted that we are loved and often don’t spend enough time returning that love; which is also a reflection of our relationship with God.  We don’t spend enough time on our relationships because of other factors, especially when we put our own desires before those of others.

In terms of God the Father, I see kindness, strength, firmness (when required), guidance, nurturing and other typical fatherly traits,  The classic imagery brought to mind within the verse above is that of a father holding the arms of an infant to prevent them from falling whilst they are learning to walk for themselves.

This can seem at odds with the image of a vengeful or angry God and especially some of the imagery in the Old Testament, for instance, the plagues visited upon the land of Egypt or the destruction wrought in His name (e.g. removal of kingdoms).  It can also be at odds with our vision of God sitting on a throne.  Our initial thoughts about Kings are not usually of them acting like fathers, but of conquerors and aloof, separate from their people.  My counter here is that kings have heirs to their kingdom, princes and princesses, and those heirs will learn a lot from their king (and his trusty advisors). God is our Father, our Lord, Jesus our King, we are all heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven, with that knowledge in our hearts we must also learn what little we can from God so that we may be suitable heirs.

Romans 8:17

17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I think it’s important to remember that God is all of the imagery above.  Whose father would not go out of their way to do as much as they can for their children?

Trust in God, believe in Him, and you can take comfort in His fatherly love for you.

Lord God,
thank you for the love you have of all things,
bless us so that we can grow our relationship with you
Guide us, teach us, rebuke us when you have to,
plant within us the seed of your word
so that it will grow strong in us

Amen

Pilgrim: Jesus

Our first session into the Pilgrim course (the week before writing) focused on the following passage from the bible. and what it represents to us as individuals.

John 1:35-42

John’s Disciples Follow Jesus

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter[a]).

Footnotes:

  1. John 1:42 Cephas (Aramaic) and Peter (Greek) both mean rock.

John the Baptist’s followers knew enough of his teachings to understand what he meant by the Lamb of God. It goes as far back as Exodus when the families used lambs blood to protect themselves from the devastation that was to befall Egypt prior to the journey through the desert.  That link between the two explains a lot about who Jesus is to those two disciples of John’s.  It brings to mind the link with God, the overall protection and safety that was offered to God’s chosen people, the sense of command and leadership reflected in history, and the enormity of the power that was demonstrated over time.

The question Jesus asks them is very open and immensely deep.

“What do you want?”

If we visualise Jesus asking us the same question … “what do we want?”.  It is not so simple a question that we can provide a simple answer to, however, their answer, while appearing simple, has a lot of depth, and is quite probably the most perfectly humble answer they could have given,

“Rabbi, where are you staying?”

They demonstrate their acknowledgement of Jesus as a teacher, and imply a request to spend time with the teacher so they might learn from him; that is hugely important as pupils in their day followed their masters everywhere (there were no shortcuts to learning) and possibly did chores in between lessons (educational reform had its good points).

NLP techniques include something called modelling. It’s a process whereby you learn from someone that you admire, want to be like, that possesses traits, skills, and techniques that you wish to acquire.  You model yourself after that person, by doing what they do.  In a sense this is precisely what the disciples have asked to do, but in their time, acquiring knowledge involved being where their model is, at all times, which in this case means being around Jesus throughout the day; listening, watching, absorbing everything and anything that is offered so that you can model yourself off that person. 

The next key phrase here leaves no doubt in the mind of the reader as to who they believed Jesus to be; after a short time of following him.

“We have found the Messiah”

It needs several exclamation marks on that.

“We have found the Messiah!!!”

It’s such a powerful phrase.

People were waiting for the Messiah, living in hope and now they’d found him. I can imagine Andrew rushing around looking for Simon until eventually, he finds him.  I see him there fixing something under a wooden awning, in the shade at the side of a building and you can almost sense the unbridled joy in Andrews’ voice as he trundles up, finds him there and persuades him to come to see; it’s virtually bursting out of him.  The enthusiasm, the happiness, the pure unadulterated innocence of joy.

When was the last time you had something so joyous you had to share it that if you didn’t, it’d literally bubble up inside and burst out of you?

Lord, today we have seen one perspective of who Jesus is.
We know how much he meant to his early followers,
and the joy they felt in finding him
and acknowledge that he is the Messiah.

Grant to us all the same joy in finding our way to Jesus,
so that we too may learn of him, of your word
and share in your wisdom.
For in learning more about Jesus we also learn of you
and build a strong foundation for our relationship with you
through Jesus Christ, our saviour.

Amen.

Pilgrims

The next several weeks of Bite Nites are going to be fantastic … we’re about to cover the Pilgrim course.

There were a few options for the baptism/confirmation course that was run at the end of last year through into the New Year, some of which were

  • Emmaus
  • Pilgrim
  • Alpha

It was the Alpha course that was eventually used for the baptism/confirmation course, so I’m looking forward to what is covered in the Pilgrim course.

Our introduction to this course was to look at what a Christian Journey is, what a Pilgrim is and to reflect on where we are in our own journey through faith.

Anyone who undertakes a journey into faith is a Pilgrim.  I remember looking at Pilgrims Progress when I was young (not sure I read it) and imagining the hardships of these magnificent adventures, covering many miles, and taking months or years to complete.  There are so many options now that you could feasibly complete a physical pilgrimage in a matter of hours (depending on the location and available funds of course).  I imagine there are probably some rules for certain pilgrimages and certain traditions to follow along the way or when you get to your destination.

However, that is not the sort of journey, the type of pilgrimage, that we are about to embark on.  We are not about to set off into strange or uncharted lands.  We are about to start on a spiritual journey into faith, to deepen our understanding so that we might learn where we are at ourselves and move forward into a better relationship with God through Jesus.  We are about to open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit each time towards better knowledge, that we might listen and learn, share and grow in our faith together – we will be like pilgrims on a path that have come together upon their journey and discovering the depths of their love for Jesus with each passing week.

Our path into belief is often described as a journey, sometimes we follow the same way as others; many times we are on the same road but at a different point, and other times we are on entirely different paths.  We are on a pilgrimage, a journey, with many joyous times but not without strife and difficulty.  I am aware that it is not easy being or becoming Christain for some.  Some civilisations have extremes of tolerance for Christianity and freedom of faith, and in some places just possessing a page of the Bible lands you in deep trouble with authorities, or friends and family.  Our journey into faith is one that takes devotion, commitment, patience, reflection, self-realisation and acceptance of who we are and why we are.  It is not a straightforward path to take, some will find it strenuous, and they fail to realise that at that point God is probably closer to them than they understand; I pray that they do recognise He is with us all.

I have great sorrow for the Christians of this world who are persecuted, but greater joy in knowing that God is walking alongside them on their journey wherever it takes them. I am lucky, I do not share the same complexities as they do and I pray that their journey through faith to God will be a smooth one. We are on our path to God and yet God is already there, walking with us along that path. Knowing that He is with us gives us strength, resolve and comfort.  When we stumble on our route, He lifts us up and helps us find our way.

Lord God, thank you for being with us on our journey.
Comfort us when we struggle
and give us strength when we are weak.
Protect us from evil as it strives to misdirect us.
Light our path before us,
lift the darkness that shrouds us.
Use the power of your Holy Spirit within us
to open our eyes and our souls to you.

Amen

Walls can be broken!

We had a post-holiday reflection this week at Bite Nites.

Think about the last six weeks or so, of your summer break.

We had to pick five different events, and we were asked to share what each of those meant to us.

The five were:

  1. The best thing that happened.
  2. The worst thing that happened.
  3. Something we learned.
  4. Something we remembered (that we’d forgotten).
  5. What’s next.

We were then asked to pick from nine different verses (I forgot to make notes of them all so will try for later) that were relevant and meant something based on what has happened.  Several of us chose to share in the good things that happened, but as you’d expect some were reluctant to disclose the worst things that happened.  It is perfectly understandable, and nobody was asked to share anything they didn’t want to; it might be extremely personal and private.

It got me thinking; how often do we build walls around us?

Jesus teaches us to love each other as we want to be loved ourselves, why do we build walls around us?

It is often difficult when we place our worries and fears in front of our spiritual needs.  All too often we are wrapped up in our desires, our individual needs, our interests that we ignore how we need to live spiritually; placing all of our physical needs first.  We stop listening, not just to God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but also to others, and, more exceptionally, to ourselves.

Romans 8:5-13

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
(NIV)

We all have things that we are reluctant to share with others and they are all related to things that Paul describes as of the flesh – our physical concerns and interests; our thoughts, worries, fears, and feelings that we bury.  If we allow those to dwell in us for long, they will slowly rot and decay and grow deep roots within us, evolving into a monster that is difficult for us to tame – it is at that point that we lose all hope of overcoming the barriers we have grown within us.  The side effects seep into our psyche.  We may lash out mentally or physically, sometimes we isolate ourselves and withdraw from society.  It happens when we place our physical concerns over our spiritual needs.

If you find any semblance of this in yourself, take heart, for there is one you can talk to about all of the worry, hurt, fear and stress of your life without the need for worrying about how others will react, or what they might say, or how they might look at you.

The easiest way of doing this is through prayer.  Whether this is with your minister, your community support team, through confession, with your loved ones, or privately in silent prayer.  God already knows what it is that troubles you, so you should have no fear in talking things through with Him.

Romans 8:34

34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
(NIV)

Jesus is there to intervene on our behalf, so pray in Jesus’ name for things to be resolved.  You can always ask your prayer team (anonymously if you like via the prayer request box, noticeboard or sheet) to pray for you; I’m sure most churches have an active prayer team.

The point is that you are not alone.  It is true when

  • Bad things happen.
  • You are worried about something.
  • Your health is affected.
  • You are sad.
  • Darkness covers you.
  • Shadows devour you.

Do not worry, because you are not alone!

There are no barriers between you and God, between you and Jesus, or between you and the Holy Spirit other than the ones you alone erect yourself.  When you are in most need of support, all you have to do is create a door or a window in that wall and open it a tiny bit. What you will receive coming through that small crack in that barrier is more love, more understanding, and more kindness than you could imagine.

Open up the door and let Jesus into your life, let the chains that bind you in your physical life be lifted and be reborn spiritually through the light of the Holy Spirit,

The simplest prayers are sometimes the most effective ones:

Psalm 57:1

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
    for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
    until the disaster has passed.

Amen

 

Praying for the World

This week I tried another prayer station, continuing the theme through the summer break.

The reflection is on the Approaches to Prayer site, under the heading Intercession and select Global Issues.

So if you’re doing this by yourself, it might be handy to grab a couple of things.  You’ll need an atlas, globe, printed or online map of the world; the Guardian online has a fantastic map of the world in pdf format you can use.  The other thing you’ll need is a map or overview of your local area, district or parish.

If you have the tech for it, you might want to use Google Earth, especially, if you’ve got a VR headset such as the Oculus Rift. It’s thoroughly breathtaking to be able to see everything in 3D; if you do have the resources for it, then I suggest that whoever is following this needs someone with them to read for them.

So starting out, you’re way out in space and gradually get closer and closer to where you are, changing perspectives during every reflection.  The scripture used changes with your view of things, and when you start out imaging our world from space you can appreciate the beauty of the world, gradually as you get closer you start to see more and more detail until eventually, the problems of the world become apparent.

The scripture flows like this:

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:31 (NIV)

24 Lord, you have made so many things!
    How wisely you made them all!
    The earth is filled with your creatures.
Psalm 104:24 (GNT)

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
    may the Lord rejoice in his works—
Psalm 104:31 (NIV)

51 Be merciful to me, O God,
    because of your constant love.
Because of your great mercy
    wipe away my sins!
Wash away all my evil
    and make me clean from my sin!
Psalm 51:1-2 (GNT)

The contrast between the beauty of the world and the problems we cause is very dramatic. It is apparent that while we as individuals or as nations serve our own self-interests, we will never be able to qualify ourselves as good guardians of this fair Earth while so many of us ignore its needs.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Genesis 2:15 (NIV)

To be honest, my emotions going through this started off with, wow, need some Jean-Michel Jarre (either Equinoxe or Oxygene), look at the world, ooh it’s lovely … oh wait, look at the land, the sea [shouldn’t I be able to see the Great Wall of China?] … deserts, forests, birds, jungles, polar bears … Amazon destroyed, trees tumbling, tundra burning, the sea’s congealing, plastic, toxic, nuclear, wasteland, stop!!! Nooooo, what are we doing? We can’t do this, we have to stop!! Oh … wait … I can see my house from here!  From this, you can see there’s an awful lot that can go through your head when you just do a simple bit of prayer reflection.  Our human nature is to blot out the things in life that do not directly concern us; perhaps we should be more reflective, and remember that we are God’s caretakers on this planet.

Dear Lord, thank you for providing this opportunity.
Forgive us our short-sightedness,
for our misuse of the power,
you loaned us over your creation.
Grant us the wisdom to undo the harm we have done,
help us to rebuild that which we have lost,
and to breath new life into our world
where so much now ceases to exist.
Lead us to peace on this world,
to bring about your kingdom.
Restore around us the beauty that we have lost.

Amen