Monday, 6 February 2012

Who is the Holy Spirit?

How do you know if someone loves you? 
Some children were asked this question, and these are some of their answers:
Rebecca - age 8  "When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."
Chrissy - age 6 "Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs."
Terri - age 4 "Love is what makes you smile when you're tired."
When asked what most people think when they say “I love you” Michelle age 9 said "The person is thinking: Yes, I really do love him. But I hope he showers at least once a day."
So going back to my question, how do you know if someone loves you? 
The answer is that there will be various ways in which a person will show their love.  Being told someone loves you, is of course very important, but words alone are not enough. 
Psychologists estimate that up to two thirds of all communication is non verbal.  So we will know someone loves us, not only because of what they communicate through their words, but also by what they communicate through their body language, gestures, touch, eye contact, and so forth.  It is through this, that we experience that feeling of being loved.
So another question, how do you know that God loves you? 
I suspect many people here today would say: “I know God loves me, because like the old Gospel song goes, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”  This is what I would describe as intellectual or head knowledge, the understanding that God loves us.  But there is another way we can know God loves us, and that comes through personal experience of God, and this is what I call heart knowledge.  And this personal experience of God comes through the Holy Spirit, because it is through the Holy Spirit that we encounter the love of the living God.  There is a big difference between knowing God loves us intellectually, and knowing that God loves us in our heart.  The most important journey that any of us will undertake, and also one of the most difficult, is the journey from the head to the heart, from knowing God loves us up here (head) to down here (heart).
Over the next few weeks we are going to be focusing on the Holy Spirit, and thinking about why the Holy Spirit matters so much.
So why is the Holy Spirit so important?  As many of you know I am very much into steam treams, and in order for a steam engine to move, you need fire in the fire box to heat the water in the boiler to create the steam that is used to move the engine.  Without fire, the engine is going no where. 
The Holy Spirit is the fire in our lives, the one who helps us to grow as Christians, the one who brings the reality and experience of God’s loving presence into our hearts.  This is why in the Bible it tells us not only to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but go on being filled with the Holy Spirit.  We need to keep on being filled again and again by God’s Holy Spirit.
So who exactly is the Holy Spirit?  Many people know a certain amount about God the Father and Jesus the Son, but there is a great deal of ignorance about the Holy Spirit.
In the King James version of the Bible, and in the Book of Common Prayer it talks about the ‘Holy Ghost’, but the Holy Spirit is not a ghost but a Person. If you were looking for a schoolchild’s definition, the Holy Spirit is ‘Jesus’ other self’, in other words the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. He is the way in which Jesus is present with his people.
In Greek the Holy Spirit is called the parakletos (John 14:16), which means the ‘one called alongside’ – a counsellor, a comforter and an encourager.  The Holy Spirit is presence of Jesus, sent to help and encourage us in our Christian life. 
We see evidence of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the opening verses of the Bible: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’ (Genesis 1:1-2).
We see in the account of the creation how the Spirit of God caused new things to come into being and brought order out of chaos. He is the same Spirit today. He often brings new things into people’s lives and into churches. He brings order and peace into chaotic lives, freeing people from harmful habits and addictions and from the confusion and mess of broken relationships.
When God created humankind, he ‘formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being’ (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew word for breath is ruach, which is also the word for ‘Spirit’. The ruach of God brings spiritual life to people and churches!
The Holy Spirit equips us to follow and serve God, we will look at the gifts of the Holy Spirit  over the next few weeks.
When the Holy Spirit comes, he doesn’t just bring a nice warm feeling.  When people are filled with the Holy Spirit, amazing things happen, people are changed. 
For me, the first experience that I can remember of the power of the Holy Spirit was when I was about 7 years old.  I was living in Dearham in West Cumbria at the time, and we held a tent mission in our village, which students from Wycliffe Hall in Oxford helped to lead.  Although I don’t remember a lot about what took place I do remember being aware of a very powerful sense of God’s presence as people worshipped during that week, which I found almost overwhelming. The other experience was not long after this, when I started praying in tongues, which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Tongues is a language that God gives us in order to talk to him, I will talk more about this in a couple of weeks time.  But at the time, I remember how as I started to pray for the first time in tongues, this strange, unknown language, the words seemed to pour out of my mouth.  And although I don’t what the words meant, I had this real sense that they were words of praise and worship, because this is what I think the gift of tongues primarily is, a way of being able to worship God, which go beyond the limitations of normal spoken language.  And as I prayed in tongues for the first time, this deep sense of joy seemed to well up inside me, which was the Holy Spirit.  And over the years I have had many other experiences of God’s Holy Spirit, that has helped me to grow as a Christian, and also helped convince me of the reality and power of God.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is for ALL Christians.  In the book of Joel in the Old Testament, God says:

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.  (Joel 2:28-29)
God pours out his Spirit regardless of sex (‘sons and daughters . . . men and women’); regardless of age (‘old men . . . young men’); regardless of background, race, colour or rank (‘even on my servants’). God pours out with great generosity his Holy Spirit on all his people.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is offered to us all.  On the day of Pentecost ten days after Jesus returned to heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ followers, and when this happened there was a real transformation took place in them.  And Peter, stood up in front of the large crowds that were in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost and told them that ‘The promise (of the Holy Spirit) is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’. 
God wants each one of us to come to a greater, fuller understanding of his love for us, which comes through the Holy Spirit, because the gift of the Holy Spirit is all Christians, including you and me.