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?



Checklist for Change

Could a list ever be a work of art? If you think I am about to advance the theory that a list could be a work of art, you might think Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin are about to make special guest appearances on this blog.

Even if the aforesaid had produced lists for exhibition, some of our readers would dispute their value as art. However, a shopping list written and illustrated by Michelangelo, is a slightly different proposition. I am sure that if you were the owner of a list put together by the great artist, you would be unhappy to part with your artefact for anything less than a high art price!

Even if a list cannot be rightly described as art, it has to be said that sometimes revelation comes in what looks suspiciously like a list. And, if used wisely, can function as a kind of checklist for how our growth in Christ is progressing.

One such list appears in Romans 12:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

It’s God’s word alright. But it’s not the sort of passage that will be read at a wedding or a funeral. It’s not up there with a Romans 8 or a 1 Corinthians 13 or Psalm 23. But if we are brave enough to bring ourselves under its spotlight, it can help reveal the state of our souls.

So how about working through the list?

Here goes.

1. Righteousness

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Are you living righteously? Where are you compromising with sin? In the last six months has your love for what is good grown or diminished? Do you have a holy hatred of sin? What do you need to stop doing or start doing to progress in righteous living?

2. Love

Be devoted to one another in love.

How’s the level of your devotion to other believers? Are you in fellowship? Has your commitment to fellowship increased, decreased or remained level over the past six months? How could you raise your fellowship level?

3. Respect

Honour one another above yourselves.

How do you treat others? Are you treating others with respect? In the last six months what has changed in the way you treat other people? Have people become a nuisance to you? List some of the good characteristics in the people you know and use them as a basis for increasing your respect level.

4. Zeal

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.

On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your current level of zeal for Christ? What does your zeal look like in terms of serving Christ? How about asking God for some fresh zeal?

5. Consistency

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

What’s your joy level like? Your hope level? How well are you handling difficulty? How’s your prayer life? Find someone you trust to pray through your findings on this topic.

6. Generosity

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

When is the last time you shared with someone in need? When is the last time you opened your life to someone? What’s stopping you reaching out to others in hospitality? Who could invite / arrange to meet for coffee?

You might find some of these questions uncomfortable. However, if you are prepared to be honest with yourself and with God, your answers could open up some new doors and help you to move on in your journey of faith.

Michelangelo’s shopping list was hardly his greatest work of art, but it did keep him from going hungry as he pursued his greater calling.

This is not the most artistically satisfying blog post I have ever written, but hopefully it will yield some spiritual food for you as pursue your calling.

Whatever happened to uncle Tom?

The recent events to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of D-Day, have stirred many memories and drawn our attention once again to one of the most pivotal days in history. It is hard not to be moved by the stories of heroism and suffering that unfolded on that day and in the ensuing months, right up until the end of the war in May the following year. No wonder some sociologists refer to the World War Two generation as a hero generation.

The uncle Tom of the title was part of that generation. He was actually my great uncle. I have seen his medals. But I never met him. Great uncle Tom was killed in action about two weeks after D-Day. It is easy to make the comments that one usually makes about men who die so young. And those comments are fitting and appropriate. The pain of loss that was felt by his sister, my maternal grandmother, was one that she carried to the end of her life, finding expression mostly on Remembrance Sunday at the local Cenotaph.

However, it would be inaccurate to portray my late great uncle as someone sent to war against his will. Indeed the opposite was the case. He had pretended he was eighteen, when in fact he was sixteen, to secure a place in the Marines. He was found out and sent home. When eventually he did join up, he was sent to North Africa, and fought in the big, well-known battles.

By 1944, he was safely in a desk job, serving one of his superiors. Apparently, he became concerned that the war would come to an end without him firing another shot, and asked to be sent to France.

We have so much to learn from my great uncle’s generation. Much and all as we see them as heroes, and they certainly deserve that description, it’s hard to find any of them who saw themselves as heroes. In fact, many, if not most, were loath to talk about their heroics. Sometimes it is tempting to ask “Whatever happened to the spirit of uncle Tom’s generation?”

We need people in all walks of life who are prepared to fight for what is right. But nowhere more so than in the spiritual arena. People who are prepared to leave the security of their own familiar circles and branch out into enemy territory. People who are not prepared to accept that the destiny of cities, towns and villages are locked into a flight path that leads to self-destruction. People who are more concerned about saving the lost than securing their own spiritual hero status.

Paul knew all about the demands of spiritual conflict. He experienced difficulty and setback at a level most of us could never imagine. In 2 Corinthians 6 he reveals something of the price tag of spiritual warfare:

All this we want to meet with sincerity, with insight and patience; by sheer kindness and the Holy Spirit; with genuine love, speaking the plain truth, and living by the power of God. Our sole defence, our only weapon, is a life of integrity, whether we meet honour or dishonour, praise or blame (2 Corinthians 6.6-9 J. B. Phillips translation).

Whatever the circumstances or the setbacks, Paul was determined to meet them in the spirit of Christ. That’s a warrior spirit. That is the spirit of someone who doesn’t give up. The spirit of one who won’t give in. A true hero. But of course, such people never think of themselves as heroic. Just servants of Christ.

Boldly going

I was never a Trekkie. I had friends who were Trekkies. They could quote lines from episodes and the films. I’m afraid I have never watched the films either. I can almost feel a twinge of guilt, perhaps even shame, at making such a confession. Apologies Trekkies, I’m just not as cultured as you might have thought. Unfortunately my knowledge of quotable quotes from Star Trek can mostly be found in the 1987 spoof song Star Trekkin’ Across the Universe.

Still, despite my lack of appreciation for Jim Kirk, Mr. Spock and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise, they did cut out a place for themselves in our cultural history that will outlast many other sci-fi series or films. Not many will ever discover new worlds or split infinitives the way the Star Trek team did.

Back in the real world, the phenomenal success of Star Trek left its actors with a very big problem: they became typecast. Apart from William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (Kirk and Spock), most of the cast became so associated with the series that they found work hard to come by forever after. Even the good captain and his Vulcan deputy struggled. They had become so unhelpfully identified with the roles they played that it was hard to imagine them as anything or anyone else.

Typecasting isn’t just a problem for – ironically – successful actors, anyone can struggle with a kind of conscious or subliminal typecasting that associates them with certain behaviours or attitudes.

In the book of Chronicles, in one of those long genealogies, lies tucked away a character called Jabez. Jabez was so named because of the painful way in which his mother brought him into the world. Pain. His name was associated with pain. Mr. Pain. Mr. Painful. Mr. Pain is a pain. You can begin to imagine the wordplays and send ups on his name. Not exactly the most auspicious start in life. It’s one thing for people to put labels on you as a consequence of your own actions, but to be born with a label firmly embossed on your forehead is another thing.

Somehow, by the grace of God, Jabez refused to be typecast. Here’s what we are told about him:

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4.10)

The preceding verse explains that Jabez was more honourable than his brothers.

The Message translates:

Jabez was a better man than his brothers, a man of honour.

He was honourable and he cried out to God. He didn’t allow himself to be defined by what his mother – no doubt in her pain – had put upon him.

Typecasting doesn’t become insurmountably restricting until you typecast yourself. By cultivating personal excellence in our relationships with those around us and crying out to God for Him to write the script of our lives, we can permanently break out of the restrictions imposed on us by others.

To do that takes faith. It takes courage. But if you are prepared to boldly go…well you know.

Don’t reach for the black bags too soon!

A cleaner was doing her rounds at an art gallery the morning after a party launching an exhibition. She came across an assembly of empty bottles, full ash trays, paint tins and cigarette boxes. Being a diligent cleaner, she immediately reached for her black bin bags and cleared the whole lot away. What she didn’t realise was that the “mess” was actually a piece of art put together on the spur of the moment the night before by Damien Hirst.

For those of us who don’t appreciate the work of the man who famously pickled a sheep in formaldehyde, the cleaner’s reaction to this latest piece by Hirst was entirely reasonable, “As soon as I clapped eyes on it I sighed because there was so much mess.”

So much mess. That is how many people would sum up their lives. If you get involved at any level in Christian ministry, especially outreach ministry, you will at times feel confronted by so much mess. So much complication. So many damaged relationships. And that’s before we try to unravel some of the spiritual knots that tie up our own souls! If the thief came to steal, kill and destroy, it seems he is doing a very effective job.

The instinct most of us have with “the mess” is to reach for whatever the spiritual equivalent of a black bin bag is. We simply want to discard it. That’s understandable. Why would we want to hold on to our pain? Mercifully, Jesus is the great physician. He deals with our pain. Sometimes, however, He redeems – or wants to redeem – our pain rather than simply relieving it.

Before Peter had his spiritual car crash of denying the Lord three times, Jesus assured him that He had prayed that his faith would not fail. He also directed him once he had worked through his failure to strengthen his brothers (Luke 22.31-32). His pain was not to be wasted. It might have looked like a mess, but the prayers of Jesus were turning it into a work of art.

Psalm 84.5-7 says:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.[b]
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

The Psalmist talks about passing through the Valley of Baca. The Valley of Baca is the Valley of lamentation or weeping. Somehow those who find or have found strength in God and have set their hearts on pilgrimage, are enabled to turn their tears into something that refreshes both them and others – “they make it a place of springs”.

What turns weeping into refreshing is finding strength in the Lord and having our hearts set on pilgrimage. If we see Baca – or the place of weeping – as our destination, that’s all it will ever be. And there is every chance we’ll end up stuck in Baca.

However, if our hearts are set on pilgrimage, if we are on a journey, if we’re pressing on in our pilgrimage with Jesus, Baca becomes nothing more than a place we pass through on the way.

It might look like a mess to us, but if we let the Great Physician, who’s also a Great Artist, get to work, we’ll think twice before we write off the Baca times as rubbish that threatens to clutter up our lives.

Running to win

Writing in the immediate aftermath of Usain Bolt’s 100m victory and Andy Murray’s gold at the Olympics, and on the Monday after what was for team GB super Saturday, I can hardly get away without mentioning the Olympics in my weekly post. The whole of the nation seems to be gripped by Olympic fever. Today’s Daily Mail (6-8-12) even points out that if Yorkshire was a country it would be higher in the medal table than Japan, Australia and South Africa!

It can seem superficial when preachers try to compare living for Jesus to athletics, but when you look at the pages of the New Testament, you find that more than once the parallel is drawn between sport and spirituality. Just take a look at Galatians 2.2, 5.7; Philippians 2.16; 1 Timothy 4.7-8; 2 Timothy 2.5; and Hebrews 12.1.

Perhaps the best known usage of sporting imagery is found in 1 Corinthians 9.24-27:

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Paul was no more into amateur spirituality than Usain Bolt is into amateur athletics – despite the Olympic ideal of amateur sport! It’s highly focussed business. You’re watching your diet. You’ve got a coach to push you that little bit harder and draw the best out of you. You don’t allow yourself to be distracted from your overall goal. And you are willing to press through pain – in fact you even put yourself in the way of pain to improve your performance.

When we hear that kind of language, it is easy to react with a “God hasn’t called us to a performance based life”. The mistake that we make – and sometimes the church has made this mistake historically – is that we confuse relationship with God eternally and being effective for God temporally. When you give your life to Jesus you are immediately and forever part of God’s family. But to be an effective member of team Jesus, you have to go into training.

Just recently, I read a book by Warren Weirsbe, 50 People Every Christian Should Know. Some were well-known, some weren’t. Some had obvious flaws. Some had major personal battles. Everyone of them, however, had an incredibly robust devotional life. They were hungry for God.

People like this are the spiritual equivalent of top athletes. They’re running to win.

Enjoy what’s left of the Olympics. I’m sure there are still a few surprises in store. And as you watch these incredible sportsmen and women at the height of their powers, may you be inspired to run with perseverance the race marked out for you (Heb. 12.1) – and to run to win.

I have to leave you with The Message translation of 1 Corinthians 9.24-27:

24-25You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. 26-27I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.

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)?