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Letting the Pentecostal Winds Blow (Acts 2)
Jesus promised to give us power: "You will receive power." Jesus promised to give us power for a purpose: "You will be my witnesses." Jesus told us to wait patiently for His power: "But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49; cf. Acts 1:8).
That power came on 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" (Acts 2).
The winds of change had come. The Church was empowered for its life and ministry in the name and to the glory of God in Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Back in those days, the Church was still getting its act together. While they had some new days to put on their calendar like Christmas and Resurrection Day, they also had some pretty important Jewish holidays that continued to draw their attention. Pentecost was one of them.
Traditionally, it was the day set apart to celebrate the wheat harvest and God's gift of the Ten Commandments at Sinai. But when the first Pentecost after our Lord's resurrection rolled around, the Church came alive. The Church was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Church was empowered for its life and ministry in the name and to the glory of God in Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus promised He would never leave us. And that promise was kept when He came on Pentecost as the Holy Spirit who is God's continuing presence in our lives. Ever since that Pentecostal moment two thousand years ago, the truth of God's expressed will for His Church has been more important than the traditions we have built around the Church. Ever since that Pentecostal moment two thousand years ago, God's people have known it is God's intention for His Church to grow.
God doesn't want His Church to stay the same. He wants it to get better. He wants it to submit to His leadership through the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised He would stay with us in the Holy Spirit to guide our continuing spiritual journey. Jesus promised He would stay with us in the Holy Spirit to empower us. God in Jesus through the Holy Spirit provides those special abilities -- we call them spiritual gifts -- to serve Him and increase our holy communion with Him and the whole family of faith.
"This is the most important thing we can know about God," wrote James W. Jones in Filled with New Wine (1974), "that He loves all persons and wants to draw them deeper into union with Him." It all began when the faithful gathered on that first Christian Pentecost. The winds of change came and empowered the faithful. Those winds are still blowing upon the Church. And the faithful are still being swept up to new heights of worship, work, and witness. The faithful continue to experience Pentecostal moments.
When the Holy Spirit came for the first time on that Pentecost following our Lord's resurrection, the faithful were moved. Their tongues came alive. They were empowered or gifted for life in the Kingdom and ministry to the world: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:42-47).
And it still happens today. God's faithful people are Pentecostal. They are swept up by the winds of change. They don't always know where they are going, but it doesn't matter because the faithful know Who is sending the winds.
But as we look at today's church, we just don't see many manifestations of that power. Samuel Moffett, the former missionary to Korea and professor of ecumenics at Princeton Theological Seminary, made this observation at the Presbyterian Congress on Renewal in Dallas, Texas, in January 1985: "I've had decency and order up to here! But where's the power? Where's the power to propel us out across the world?" And just a few months ago in St. Louis at the "Call to Renewal" (20-22 April 1989), Moffett opened the assembly with these stirring words, "I'm so proud of our church and our great Presbyterian heritage, and I think our form of government is the best and fairest of any ecclesiastical system I know, but I've discovered that to some people that attitude makes me look as though I thought more of the church and its councils ... than the One who is above all assemblies and councils, Jesus Christ, who is the only Head of His Church."
Moffett went on, "I've had Korean Presbyterians, newly come to this country, say to me a little wistfully, 'You American Presbyterians pay more attention to your Book of Order than you do to the Bible.' It's not true, but if we even give that impression to those who do not yet know us very well, we'd better be careful. Presbyterians are reformed, yes, but we always need reforming. Presbyterians, I like to think, are renewed but we always need renewing. We need to talk daily with the One who 'leads us beside the still waters; who restores -- who renews -- our souls' ... The life-giving dynamic in the Christian connection is the 'living water/ the gift of God through the Spirit that brings us into union with Jesus Christ. There is nothing unPresbyterian about that."
"There is no renewal," said Moffett, "unless we know who Jesus Christ is."
Where are the new songs? Where are the new visions? Where are the dreams? Where are the signs and wonders? Where are the additions to our number who are being saved? If God's Holy Spirit winds are still blowing, why haven't we been swept up by them? Why haven't we experienced anything Pentecostal?
Permit me to suggest two sins that keep us from being swept up by the winds of the Holy Spirit: (1) satisfaction with the familiar and contempt for the new, and (2) practical atheism. I believe these two sins keep us from a Pentecostal experience. And lest anyone become especially spooked by the phrase "Pentecostal experience," I mean being so completely yielded unto the movement of God in our life together that we become and experience everything God wants us to become and experience. It means living in the Spirit by being led by the Spirit.
The first sin that keeps us from being swept up by the winds of the Holy Spirit is a satisfaction with the familiar and contempt for the new.
How many of us have winced at that obnoxious bumper sticker that reads, "We Don't Care How They Do It." It symbolizes contempt for the new. My good buddy Paul Watermulder told me of the bumper sticker out his way that caught his attention: "Welcome to California. You Can Now Leave!" Or as he told me, "Northern Californians think they're better than Southern Californians. Southern Californians don't care."
Contempt for the new often blinds us to the fresh blessings God is pouring out upon His people through the Holy Spirit. It's like the parables of the wineskins and old garments: "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved" (Matthew 9:16-17).
The point is simple. We must go with God to grow with God. God is pouring out His blessings and we must expand the wineskins of our church and ourselves to receive those blessings. That means God wants us to change for the better. And as Dr. Jones wrote, "When a person feels self-satisfied and content -- whether it be a stuffy Episcopalian, a fanatical evangelical, or an overzealous Pentecostal -- then he has ceased to be responsive to God. No one, Pentecostal or other, has arrived at such a degree of spirituality that he can rest content. God always has more in store."
Our Lord is the One who calls us to step out of the boat and walk on water with Him. Our Lord is the One who calls us to take up the cross and follow Him. Our Lord is the One who calls us to risk everything through which we find security. Our Lord is the One who calls us to lose our lives for Him in order to find life in Him.
In Who Switched the Price Tags, A Search for Values in a Mixed-Up World (1986), Tony Campolo wrote, "I read a sociological study that has great significance for those of us who are trying to respond to champions of the yuppie value system. In this particular study fifty people over the age of ninety-five were asked one question: 'If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently? ... Three answers constantly re-emerged and dominated the results of the study ... 1. If I had it to do over again, I would reflect more ... 2. If I had it to do over again, I would risk more ... 3. If I had it to do over again, I would do more things that would live on after I am dead."
One eighty-five year young woman named Nadine Stair put it like this: "If I had my life to live over again, I'd try to make more mistakes next time. I would relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I know of very few things I would take seriously. I would be crazier. I would be less hygienic. I would take more chances. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers, and watch more sunsets. I would burn more gasoline. I would eat more ice cream and fewer beans. I would have more actual problems and fewer imaginary ones.
"You see, I am one of those people who live prophylactically and sensibly and sanely. Hour after hour. Day by day. Oh, I have had my moments, and if I had it to do over again, I'd have more of them. In fact, I'd have nothing else. Just moments, one right after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I have been one of those people who never go anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a gargle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I had it to do over again, I would go places and do things and travel lighter than I have. If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall."
Jesus put it like this, "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it" (Matthew 16:25). "As soon as you begin to live the life of faith in God," wrote Oswald Chambers, "fascinating and luxurious prospects will open up before you ... let God choose for you ... We have to learn to walk according to the standard which has its eye on God." Simply, go with God! Get swept up by the Holy Spirit winds. Become Pentecostal! Like those first century Christians, wait for Him to come. And open your hands and hearts and heads when His Holy Spirit winds start blowing in your direction. Allow yourself to be blessed!
The second sin that keeps us from being swept up by the winds of the Holy Spirit is practical atheism.
Quoting Paul Sherer, Yale professor and Methodist preacher Hal Luccock warned us about "anniversary Christians" in a sermon called Power for the Task in 1938: "We Christians seem to have developed a kind of memorial complex ... All some of us can manage is a pleasant historical mood. I grow just a bit weary of anniversaries. Religion is like marriage in this: it can fall away until it becomes little more than a celebration of anniversaries. It never seems to occur to some couples that they could do more than just remember that they were happy once. It isn't necessary every year to refer the matter of your wedded bliss to a committee on antiquities. Is Pentecost just a subject for research or can it occur again?"
Is your life a monument to the past or a movement into the future? Is the church a monument to the past or a movement into the future? Are we acting like God is alive? Or are we acting like God is dead? As Lloyd Ogilvie said, "We make our budgets with the assumption of what people would give if Christ had never been raised from the dead."
If God is alive, then He has more to give. God is alive! So who is dead? If we aren't experiencing His freshness and newness and blessings, it's because we are practical atheists. If something Pentecostal isn't happening in the church, we aren't acknowledging and accepting the new and marvelous ways God wants us to go and grow with Him.
When we look back to that first Pentecost, we find the faithful were waiting and ready. They were waiting for the Holy Spirit. And they were ready to be Spirit-led. The Holy Spirit winds of change came and the Church was born.
Those same Holy Spirit winds of change are blowing today. "The question is not whether the church will be renewed," wrote Jones. "Of course it will be; the Spirit is at work. The only question is whether you and I will prove a hindrance or a channel to God's activity."
It's like Moffett said as he talked about that first Christian Pentecost: "They prayed and the power came ... The Spirit came and life flamed within them ... But I must confess that the record of that first Pentecost, all wind and fire and many tongues, is a disconcerting passage to read to Presbyterians like you. It smacks too much of hot Gospelers and holy rollers and Quakers and Shakers and enthusiasts. It doesn't really describe all that is best and most beautiful in Christian worship ... And yet the more I read of the history of the Church, the more I am impressed with the fact that some of the most creative and effective periods in the Church were those periods when the Gospel was hot and not respectable."
When the great evangelist Gypsy Smith was asked to name the greatest need of today's church, he answered, "Another Pentecost!" When asked the second greatest need, he answered, "Another Pentecost!" When asked the third greatest need, he answered, "Another Pentecost!" And as we look around at today's church and see the power shortage, we know we need another Pentecost. We need something Pentecostal to happen to the church.
It is happening. It is happening to churches all around the world. And it can happen to our church. The winds of change are blowing and we can be swept up by Him. All we have to do is open the door.
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