Pentecost Plus One: 3 Things The Church Did After The Day Of Pentecost

What do you do after you have experienced an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit?

I don’t know how many reading this post have had experience of a powerful move of God. Many, perhaps most or even all, have been in meetings where God has been powerfully at work. Or even seasons when God has been powerfully at work. But what do you do next?

The early church found itself in that position on the day after the day of Pentecost. One hundred and twenty previously fearful believers had been impacted by the Spirit in a way that was as public as it was powerful. And the church had three thousand new believers.

Now it was Pentecost plus one. What was next?

Perhaps what they didn’t do is as instructive as what they did do.

They didn’t try to revisit the events of the day before. No retreat to the upper room to wait for the rushing wind and tongues of fire. They weren’t looking for a repeat performance. They didn’t turn the life that they had experienced into a liturgy – a mistake sometimes made in the Pentecostal / charismatic world. We experience the Spirit moving in a particular way and then try to revisit the experience again and again. We use particular songs and even phraseology that “gets a response”.

God, because He is gracious, does meet us. The tendency is, however, to become “stuck” in a way of doing things, impeding the church’s further progress.

So what did the church do on Pentecost plus one?

Firstly, it developed a shape of corporate life.

That’s a fancy way of saying that the church gathered together at certain times, and it gathered together to do certain things.

Acts 2 .42 explains that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Putting that in more contemporary terms, they prioritised learning (apostles’ teaching), spending meaningful time together (fellowship), worship (breaking of bread) and prayer (prayer!).

I recently attended the annual conference of a church denomination in the developing world. In its own country it has seen extraordinary growth. Miracles are not uncommon. Yet one of the major concerns was that they had seen a slight decline at their mid-week prayer gatherings.

Impressive enough was the fact that they knew how many attended mid-week prayer throughout their denomination. Their urgency in addressing the matter was even more revealing. They made the connection between maintaining the flow of the Spirit and the shape of their corporate life.

Churches that want to stay Spirit-filled must develop a Spirit-shaped corporate life that revolves around engaging with the practices of teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer.

Secondly, they were open to the Spirit moving in fresh ways.

There were no recorded miracles or healings on the day of Pentecost. The only miracles were miracles of salvation.

That changed the day after. Acts 2.43 highlights the fresh move of the Spirit:

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

Notice a couple of things here.

Firstly, it was different to what happened the day before. Nothing like this had happened on the day of Pentecost.

Secondly, this was not a sovereign move of God as had happened on the day of Pentecost. It was more a case of God responding to the apostles’ faith.

Pentecost plus one teaches us to be ready for different.

It is also a reminder not to be waiting passively for God to do something. We can spend all our time waiting for Him, when all the time He’s waiting for us.

Finally, this was a church that was seen.

We know that they met publicly – in the temple courts (Acts 2.46) and they enjoyed the favour of all the people (v.47). It was a high profile church, certainly not a private club.

It is so easy for the church to resemble the latter. It’s a more comfortable existence; high profile churches attract favour and criticism.

I once heard someone say that a church can be internationally famous, yet locally anonymous. That has never been more possible than it is today. Our social networks and social media can lead us to the most exotic places without us ever having to confront the challenges on our own door step.

A church that is impacted by the Spirit will be visible locally, however visible or not it is internationally.

Pentecost plus one must have been a challenge for the early church with its three thousand new believers. But they rose to the challenge. And we can too. After all, it is the same Holy Spirit, is it not?

 

Remember to remember

Robert K. Massie is an American historian who became well known in his field after the publication of his biography entitled Nicholas and Alexandra, a work detailing the tragic life of Russia’s last Tsar and his family.

Massie tells the story of how he visited Russia in the 1960s. He recounts on one occasion a conversation he had with some Russian women.

He was in the Kremlin, looking at one of those famously expensive Faberge eggs. In the egg were miniature pictures of four little girls and one little boy. The women asked him if he knew who they were. He explained that they were the children of Tsar Nicholas. They looked bemused. He went on to tell how they, along with their father and mother, had been murdered in 1917 and that Lenin had sanctioned the killings. The ladies were completely bewildered. They had never heard of the murders. The memory of the last royal family of Russia had been almost forgotten by ordinary people in less than fifty years after their demise.

It doesn’t take a sophisticated propaganda machine to bring about a loss of memory. The apostle Peter writing towards the end of his life was concerned that the Christians within his circle of influence would soon forget the key elements of their faith:

 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. 2 Peter 1.12-15

If people who had such close contact with an apostle who had been trained by Jesus Himself were vulnerable to spiritual forgetfulness, I think it’s fair to say that we might forget to remember as well.

Just what was it that Peter was concerned they would forget? The first eleven verses reveal what he wanted them to remember. He wanted them to remember that their salvation was the work of divine persons,  the Father and the Son (v.1).

Furthermore they had been given divine power to live a godly life (v.3). That power became active as they believed precious promises (v.4). And because of God’s power with them, they were able to plan and attain their own spiritual growth (v.5).

Sometimes we forget that God is one hundred percent behind not only our conversion but our ongoing growth and development in the Christian life. He gives us power and promises. That is real heavenly backing and back up whatever way you look at it. We have everything we need. Yet so often believers act as if it depends on their own best efforts. They forget that their salvation was actually God’s idea. They forget that God is committed to their growth and has given them everything they need to attain it.

Remember that. Believe that. Remember to remember.

Long term love

Some recent research has compared the brain size of young children raised in different kinds of environments. It revealed that children who enjoyed a strong nurturing environment in their earlier years had a larger hippocampus (the area of the brain important for learning, memory and stress responses) than those who had not received such nurture. This kind of nurture, the study discovered, sets children up for life. They tend to do better at school and are more emotionally developed than their peers who have not the same kind of nurture in their backgrounds.

Reading this you might be tempted to think that because of your background you have no hope whatsoever! Well, according to the apostle Peter we are redeemed from an empty way of life (1 Peter 1.18) – and that includes a love-starved background.

Love matters. Not just sporadic feelings of affection, but ongoing love or long term love.

Love is absolutely foundational to the Christian life. God is love. God so loved the world. Love one another as I have loved you. But the greatest of these is love. You won’t turn over many pages of the New Testament without reading about love.

Even some of those ministries (and perhaps ministers!), whom some would not associate with love, are love obsessed. Paul, that in-your-face apostle who wasn’t short of courage or afraid of a fight, could describe his ministry like this:

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2.7-8

It’s this kind of love that sets us up for real change. Important as teaching and outreach and spiritual disciplines all are, we need to pursue them in a context of the nurturing love of God and in a nurturing church environment. In fact, Paul indicates that we grow truly in Christ only when that kind of nurturing environment is secured:

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2.1-3

Encouraged in heart. United in love. Nurture. That’s what sets you up to know Jesus in a fuller and richer way.

When it comes to this kind of love we are both givers and receivers. When we are open enough to receive love and committed enough to give love, we will kind the satisfaction of both being a blessing and enjoying new dimensions of spiritual life ourselves.

And it’s that kind of love that brings people to Christ. I am inspired by my friend Paul’s journey to faith which entailed amongst other things five years of faithful witness by the Salt and Light team. Five years. Long term love.

D.L. Moody, when talking about winning people to Christ had one simple answer: love them in. I would add: and when they’re in, keep loving them. Love will keep them. Long term love, that is.

Developing a selective memory

Unless you are someone with a razor sharp memory, you probably don’t need a scientific study to convince you of the reality of selective memory. You can remember that night ten years ago when, for some stupid reason you allowed yourself to be talked into singing karaoke, yet you can’t remember where you put your car keys and you were holding them only ten minutes ago.

Such is the unpredictability and unreliability of our memories.

However, a scientific study led by a Gerd Thomas Waldhauser from Lund university in Sweden, has claimed to be able to pinpoint the exact moment a memory is forgotten and claims that it is possible to erase memories altogether.

Developing a selective memory is advocated in scripture as a way of developing our spirituality and growing in our faith.

In the prophecy of Isaiah, God, speaking to His exiled people exhorts them both to forget and remember:

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
(Isaiah 43.18)

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
(Isaiah 46.9)

What is God saying? Is He saying forget the past? Or remember the past? Both!

God doesn’t want His people to remember the shame of the past and their past sins. It’s as though God is saying to Israel, “Forget it! Move on!”

God does not want us to be locked into our past. He has forgotten our sins – and He expects us to forget them as well. According to Micah 7.19, He has hurled our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

Paul developed the art of memory loss: his pressing on to fulfil his calling entailed forgetting what was behind and straining toward what was ahead (Phil.3.14)

At the same time, God counsels us to remember. To remember His works. To recall His grace in our lives. For Israel that meant recalling, in particular, the events of the exodus, when God brought His people out of Egypt. For us, it means recalling the death and resurrection of Christ, which is brought into sharp focus at communion: this do in remembrance of me.

It can also mean reminding ourselves of our experience of God’s grace and faithfulness throughout our lives. However, going back to the cross and the empty tomb takes us back to the bedrock of our faith and the eternal love of God guaranteed in the eternal covenant He made through the work of His Son.

How exactly do we develop a selective memory? Perhaps the most basic key is to do with what we feed our minds on. Isaiah 43.18 talks about dwelling on the past. Or as The Message puts it: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.”

Do we allow our mental tapes to play on a continuous loop the discordant music of our own failure and pain? Or do we actively click “play” on the grace tracks?

Monday morning is a good time to create a new playlist for the week ahead. Why not load your mind with grace, forgiveness, acceptance, righteousness, joy, peace and all those other healthy things that the Bible says should take up our mental space (Phil. 4.8)?