Tag Archives: power

Vital spark

Does the Holy Spirit work in you? That’s a dangerous question. An extravert will tend to answer YES, and introvert will be less sure, and an Anglican like me may be more hesitant. What if we ask: “Would your friends recognise something of God in you?” – it is still difficult, clouded by personality. But it matters as we see in Acts 19:1-7. Paul, arriving in Ephesus, asks a group he finds there. They are disciples, but of John the Baptist; they have commitment and some understanding, but like Apollos (see the end of end Acts 18), not full understanding or attachment to Christ.

The confusion is still with us. The title of “Christian” can mean “a nice person”, or “caring” – not always a disciple of Jesus. These men in Ephesus had repented – turned away from evil and wrong, as John the Baptist had taught. Repentance, a change of direction and focus, away from evil and self, is still basic to conversion and Christian life.

But with turning away from is turning to – do you remember the question asked in Baptism? “Do you turn to ___ ?”
Yes, Christ. Jesus, as showing us God, and the right way. [If you read Genesis 1, did you notice God separating darkness and light at the very beginning?]

Today’s gospel tells of Jesus, baptised by John at the very start of his ministry. It is then that the Holy Spirit comes on him, and from that time that he heals, performs miracles and teaches. This, the time of Baptism and the coming of the HS, is the start.

For us, too, Christian baptism is important, and the Holy Spirit who gives gifts. There are all sorts of gifts; the spectacular are not necessarily the most important. But Does the Holy Spirit work in you?

If you are a baptised Christian, looking to live as a follower of Jesus, then the possibility is there. It would be good to look for the Spirit, welcome signs of his activity, ask for his presence, guidance and strength. The Spirit makes the difference between the well-meaning and those who share in God’s work in God’s way.

Power!

Most people do not show their best character when they are threatened. To be – or to feel – powerless is unpleasant and difficult. That is true spiritually, too, so it would be nice to say “Just do this”. That would be misleading. Yet Paul has some answers, even though he writes from Prison. (We are reading Ephesians 1:15-23).

Paul, writing while in prison, can still say, “Thank God for you” 1.16. And he wants them to understand something – this is his prayer – and my point: Paul prays the Ephesians will v18 know “How rich are the wonderful blessings God promises his people”, and also
“how very great is his power at work in us who believe”
so there is power.

What power​? It is not always obvious, and we have to be careful not to fool ourselves. What power is there? Verse 20 the same as raised Christ from death, and “seated him at his right side in the heavenly world” – the position of authority.

It needs understanding, because to many then (and now), Jesus was a loser who got himself crucified. You should know better than that, but see the complication. This is not “superhero” power, for selfish display. This is the power of God to reconcile, heal, bring about a better answer. It can be so well hidden that we miss it, but it is available, and should be used.

So we are not powerless, but have the greatest possible power. It’s just that we have to understand, and learn to use it! There’s a footnote. Christ is given all power, and is given to the Church. Do you see the Church as a place of power? Not in its politics or failures, but how about it’s healing, it’s forgiving, its redirecting people? That can be powerful, when we learn to apply it properly!

What’s behind it?

Do you sometimes wonder why things succeed? Is it just clever presentation, a good advertising agency, or a bit of manipulation? Sometimes we look back at the fashions of a few years ago – the popular ideas and activities as well as clothes – and wonder why we ever thought them worth bothering with. Yet some things do last, and prove their worth.

Paul writes to the Corinthians (we read 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 this week) about what happened when he first came to them and established the group of Christian believers. He says that they weren’t persuaded by a clever speaker, nor by polished theory and philosophy. Yet the Church was established there, and fought through many difficulties, as it has done all over the world. Paul’s claim is that, far from depending on himself, he spoke of Jesus and his death. The force was God’s Spirit, which made, and maintained, the difference.

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,  so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

1 Corinthians 2:4-5

There is a power behind Christian living, but if it is real it is not dependent on a dominant personality, or a clever presentation. The power has to be the power of God to heal and transform broken lives, and to motivate loving service. In a similar way, the wisdom Paul speaks of is not about getting rich, making a reputation, or even getting your own way. It is in gaining some understanding of a God who loves his people, who chooses the way of the Cross, and works in lives that are often seen as unimportant.

But is it real? The Christian faith continues to grow and transform people, even when it costs them dearly. Despite many human failures and scandals, nothing has finished it. It has to be something more than clever words and flattery. It has to be about the way things were made, and really are.

Recipe for action

Imagine what it would be like if every Christian was confident in their faith. I mean confident, not bumptious or aggressive – indeed confidence would let them listen to other views and other ways calmly. What sort of a church would result from people who took seriously 2 Timothy 1:1-14, starting with verse 7? Let’s think about it.

for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young and possibly rather diffident leader in the church. He gives thanks for his faith, and v 6,7

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

God’s Spirit fills us with power. Not like Superman – or the Amazing Hulk. Not power for display, but to get things done. Paul talks about witnessing, about not being ashamed of Jesus. That’s an important part of Christian confidence. “I may not have got all the answers, and I’m not holding myself up as perfect, but I can recommend a Saviour.” It takes power to make that recommendation graciously, whether it means speaking up in an awkward silence, or being consistent about living differently to others.

But it’s not just power, love is needed. What has love to do with confidence?

God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

God’s love is what has saved us. A love for the unlovely. A reason to know that we are valued, that we have a place – and not because we pretend to be something we are not, but because God makes us something we are not. If the Spirit fills us with love, the competition to be more important, more successful, loses its point. We can love and accept others because we are loved and accepted.

for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. s not make us timid; instead his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control.”

Self control? Paul was no control freak. He travelled the Mediterranean, and there were no timetables (and no travel insurance). Paul’s life was flexible, but there was a discipline there to get things done. He said that it was not what he achieved, but what God did in and through him, and together they worked well.

Self-control is no easier to find than power or love, but we are told that these are things the Holy Spirit gives and develops as we live as Christians. It’s not a passing or accidental reference in verse 7, because verse 14 underlines it:

14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

That needs no explanation. We need confident Christians, filled by the Holy Spirit with power, love and self-control. Don’t just think about it; do it!

Music, and dangerous things.

(There is a comment on John 21:1-19, Easter 3c gospel, in the next blog.)

Your choice of music says more about you than you might think! Whether you listen or perform, is it loud and angry, romantic fantasy, something you don’t pay attention to, or just old fashioned? Would you admit to it, or insist on it?

Much the same is true of groups of Christians. Their choice of music says a lot. Is it so loud you drown everything else? Is it so old that only people in the “in group” can sing it? Perhaps more important, can there be new songs, but also the learning of old ones? Can one set of instruments to accompany give place to another? And, do the words matter? Do they say anything significant?

Lots of questions there, and you might begin to work our my preferences – which are not really the important thing. They do, however, give us a way in to that glimpse of heaven we have in Revelation 5:11-14. The picture is of vast numbers, singing praise to the Lamb who was slain – Jesus. He is at the centre, and is worshipped for his sacrifice. There is no doubt here what matters. We don’t know the music – it is not even clear if words are said or sung – but the content is significant.

Jesus is worthy to receive a number of very dangerous things:

  • Power. We say that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We are cynical about politicians, the rich and the famous because of the power they hold. Yet Jesus is worthy to receive power – because he has shown how he will use it, truly in love for humanity, even his enemies.
  • Wealth. Wealth brings power and freedom. Jesus has shown a new way of using both power and freedom. Not only is all wealth his by virtue of creation and redemption. He deserves it!
  • Wisdom. His life choices were indeed strange to our eyes. A simple life, voluntary suffering, setting aside many ordinary pleasures and indeed things we would call rights. His wisdom is proved by its effects, and he is indeed worthy to receive more.
  • Strength. How many people would you put in a position of control over you? There is one you can rely on never to abuse that, and more, to be worth serving and obeying always.
  • Honour, glory and praise. Let’s take three together. Each is deserved by Jesus for his service to each and to all, yet in each case, more should be given. The Lord of Calvary should be honoured, as God should always be honoured – not with pious words, but with heartfelt respect. Glory is not “glitz”, or celebrity “spin”; it is the wonder and admiration due to self-giving love. Praise is more than a condescending “well done”. It is the use of words which remind us of just what has been achieved, and help us to live in thankfulness, and imitation, and deliberate response.

Revelation 5:10 is quite an anthem! But the next verse brings an echo to the heavenly chorus from all creation. Now the figure on the throne and the Lamb are linked, and we understand God the Father and God the Son (one of those Biblical references which will be later rationalised in the doctrine of the Trinity). And they are to receive: praise and honour and glory and power. That is the last three, and the first, of those dangerous things offered to Jesus.

That response asks us if we are ready to join in. Have we taken note of the sacrifice of Good Friday and the power of the Resurrection? Are we now ready to give “praise and honour and glory and power” – not words, but actions, priorities worked out in practice day by day? It makes sense, and although these are dangerous things to hand over, there is no-one better to hold and use them.

The four living creatures said, “Amen”. They didn’t mean “Worship over, what’s next?”, but “We agree, count us in, we’re all for it”. Are we?

It’s a Revelation!

There is also a comment on Exodus 14 and 15 here, and four on John 20:19-31 as Good Doubt, Constructive Doubt, John 20:24-, and Why.

For some people, Revelation is a book of horrors and nightmares, but I want to convince you otherwise. We have 6 readings from Revelation in the next 6 weeks, and they have some positive things to say. So Revelation 1:4-8 starts off with the offer of free gifts. Not a bad strategy, but are they worth having? – you judge:

grace and peace be yours from God” verse 4

Not just God being nice to us, although we don’t deserve it (good!), but also we are given grace. I wonder if we take that seriously enough. Peace – again, not only are we no longer in rebellion against God, but we are given peace, not to worry about everything ?! not bad, and not finished:

“by his sacrificial death he has freed us

free gifts in 8 verses – its enough to get you in the habit of Bible-Reading! But there’s more. There is a good deal here about Jesus. We tend to think of Jesus the preacher and teacher, but this is later:

“Jesus Christ, the faithful witness “

to God’s ways and nature, which we need to know about;

“first to be raised from death”

The first, not only one who will be resurrected.

“ruler of the kings”

Now in power, exercising great power, in a way we still need to learn about.

“first and last”

Alpha and Omega, the A-Z of the Greek alphabet. We might say something like “Pioneer and Last Word”.

Was . . Is . . is to come.

This is a different picture, and an important one – the Lord of power, who won the highest place by obedience in accepting the lowest.

Free Gifts, from a Lord with power and honour, and then there’s us:

“He loves us “

You can’t truly say that of many in power, but Jesus has demonstrated the point, and still does!

“made us a kingdom of priests” ?

We are all to bring people to God, and God to people; here we are told it is what we are for.

Why? “to serve his God and Father” can you think of anyone better to serve? even yourself? (do you live up to his standard?). So here we are, in Revelation, blessed with Free Gifts, given by a Risen and Powerful Lord, so that we may not live selfishly and idly, but be equipped and ready to serve God in a ministry to all the world. Surely that is worth paying attention to?

Creation matters

You might wonder why Christians bother with thoughts of Creation. If so, it may help to think about alternatives to the story we have heard (in Genesis 2:4b-9 and 15-25):

  • many now seem to think the universe is an accident explained by science. It has no purpose, people have no significance, and there is no basis for love or justice unless we pretend to find one.
  • Others don’t care about causes. They just believe that “Might is Right”, and what matters is to be on top of the pile, not the bottom
  • and some think that if there is Fate or god, it is no friend, and may even be out to catch them our or get them!

So: part of the Good News we have to share is about God, who in love creates. Though we have done some damage, the universe was well and beautifully made. It shows God to be wise, powerful, and to understand and plan in ways quite beyond our little minds!

Of course, there is an element of threat in this. It means this is not my world – it does not revolve around me, my wants, my ambitions . . God the creator owns it all. Even “my” possessions. Even “my” life. That makes quite a difference to the way we see things. You may notice in John’s vision of heaven, Revelation 4, that it is not all about family reunions and eternal holiday – the throne of God is central, and worship is what is happening.

Similarly, the God who chooses to make man and woman in his own image dignifies every human – even the poor, disabled, refugee, handicapped, criminal . . It is not for us to change his priorities.

So I hope you are beginning to see that Creation – the Christian understanding of a God of power and love who chooses to make us and our surroundings – is important. We have to come to terms with not being in control, with not having owner’s rights. Yet, this is Good News, just as the disciples in the boat that stormy day (Luke 8:2-25) discovered it was wonderful to be with Jesus, who understood their panic, and was able to put things right. Just as Adam and Eve found out, when even after their rebellion (Genesis 3: “We don’t have to be told what to do by Him!”) God acts in love to provide first, clothing, and a future salvation.

Belief in a Creator God does not mean we don’t have to bother about the way we treat the Earth and leave it for future generations. The knowledge that we are managers, or stewards – of the universe, as well as our lives and possessions – puts us in a good place. We have a responsible job, and excellent support!

Stranger Danger?

Are you “religious”? Going to Church may make people ask. I struggle to answer – I’m happy to be a Christian, and freely choose that life daily, and I’m not shy of having been a Vicar. But “religious”? It sounds a bit odd, a bit out of reality and life as we know it.

Of course, Matthew is religious. His gospel is full of links to religious practice, and quotes from the Old Testament. Yet, strangely, only Matthew tells this story of the Wise Men, (Matthew 2:1-12) which drags Jesus into the real world. Does that sound odd? Perhaps. Let me try to justify:

Herod the Great has visitors. Perhaps he welcomed the exotic, or hoped for profitable trade, perhaps he was just bored. but their question immediately dispels boredom. “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews?” Alarm bells sound all through Herod’s brain. He was ruthless, and paranoid. He was King, and nothing would interfere with that – he killed one wife and three of his sons on suspicion of treachery.

“Where is the new King?” is not heard as a religious question (unlike where will he be born – for which you need to know the prophecy of Micah). Herod sees it as about Power, politics, control. In his world, competition is to be crushed, violence used as a tool, and winner takes all. Matthew sets his religious story right in the struggle for power, with the bullies and the treachery and the bloody violence of that time (and others).

So he tells the Wise Men he would like to “worship” the new King ( – do you fancy being “worshipped” like that? Perhaps not.) The Wise Men are wise enough to get out, find Bethlehem, a house, a child.

And they worship him. Not as Herod would have done, with a dagger. Not “Hello, how nice to meet you, I’m a very important person too.” They bow, worship, recognise someone on a different level altogether. They give expensive presents (you’ll have heard of the significance of gold for a king, incense for a God, myrrh looking to death – if not, look at the hymn “We three Kings of Orient are.”) And that’s it. Mission accomplished. Time for home – but being wise men (and warned in a dream), they go by a different route.

Have you ever wondered what happened to those presents? We don’t know. My guess is that the gold financed the journey to Egypt, to escape Herod’s massacre of baby boys up to two. (You know that story? It fits with Herod’s character, which knows only the importance of his own success). Maybe the frankincense was sold too, to some religious person. The myrrh may have soothed cuts and scrapes as the boy grew and learnt to use the sharp tools of a carpenter – it can be used as an antiseptic.

So, are you religious? I don’t really care, unless it annoys your friends, or keeps you in a fantasy. But in the real world, are you with Herod, or the Wise Men? Where do you think real power lies, and what is it for? You have to answer, but not on paper. In conversation, what you do, and what you don’t do, you will show your attitude to power, and the way you use power, and land on one side or the other . .

Worship: as the Wise Men recognised the child Jesus –

or as Herod intended to deal with a rival?

Look again!

It’s the story we have all known for years, the feeding of the five thousand!  But before you get bored, look again at John 6:1-21.  It is strange how Jesus, who often refused to perform public miracles, here feeds a very large number.  True, they need the food, but there is much more to it than that!

Jesus deliberately involves other people – the boy with loaves and fish, the disciples.  It is God’s power, but they are being taught to be participants.  Then John notes it was Passover time.  He’s not just giving a date – he is remembering the significance of the first Passover, as God’s people escaped cruel slavery, shared a meal, marked their homes with blood, and began to learn new ways.  There will be another Passover meal to be shared in Jerusalem before the betrayal and death.  The timing is significant.

Even the gathering of leftovers has a point.  God can, and did, provide – and generously!  But if God’s Kingdom meets needs, let us not get lazy.  Jesus will not be made King.  (How ironic for the Messiah, yet this is not the time, or the way). He will again show his power on the lake, and go on teaching about how he chooses to use it, and what sort of a King he will be.

We shall continue reading this chapter for a couple of weeks yet – it has much more to say.  But start by seeing how much more than a free picnic is remembered here.

Surfing for fun?

Matthew 14:22-33 might be a Victor Meldrew story – “I don’t believe it!”, if it wasn’t for the fact that some of those who were there and told it were experienced fishermen.  Jesus walking on the waters of Lake Galilee made a big impact on a group, some of whom had worked it for years.

In telling the story, Matthew is making clear the power Jesus has, even over “natural forces”.  It reinforces the same point from the Feeding of the 5,000 (last week’s reading, if we hadn’t replaced it with the Transfiguration for 6th August).  Both raise questions for the modern reader – but the ancient reader must also have wondered “How?”.  Not having a clear answer should not lead us to the mistake of saying, “That can’t happen!”.  I have the same response to some modern physics, which I also don’t understand clearly.

So we are invited to reflect, in a culture where Jesus is often seen as a “good man” or a “teacher of spirituality”, on Jesus in Charge, Jesus with the creator’s power over creation.  The power Jesus holds is difficult for us to get our heads round.  He refuses to coerce people, even to ensure his own comfort or survival, yet is able to do awesome things.

But that isn’t the only significance of this story.  Peter goes for a walk.  Not for long – but long enough to discover that with Jesus’ permission he can walk on water, but that he frightens easily and needs help.  (He gets help, and everything is all right).

It is not just about Peter.  Discipleship is learning.  One part is to know something about how special and important Jesus is, because that is basic to our understanding, and also our motivation to live as Christians.  The other part is to learn how we are going to do what Jesus does. [compare Mark 16:17-18].  We may not be as good at it.  We need confidence, but confidence in Jesus and not in our own ability.  But as disciples we are learners, both of theory (about Jesus) and practice (“walking on water” – whatever form that may take for us).

With a story like that, why is it so easy to be sure there is nothing we need to do, or even nothing we can do?

 

[There is also a dialogue sketch on this passage – see http://www.andrewknight.org.uk/dialogue-sketches/index-of-dialogue-sketches/matthew-1422-33/ ]