Sunday, February 12, 2017

No Ordinary Community: Community of the Spirit

Have you heard of the Yates Pool? If you are a Texan, you need to at least be somewhat familiar with this story. During the depression this field was a sheep ranch owned by a man named Yates. Mr. Yates wasn't able to make enough on his ranching operation to pay the principal and interest on the mortgage. In fact, he was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes or food, his family (like many others) had to live on government subsidy. Day after day, as he grazed his sheep over those rolling West Texas hills, he was no doubt greatly troubled about how he would pay his bills.

Then a seismographic crew from an oil company came into the area and told him there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a wildcat well and he signed a lease contract. At 1,115 feet they struck a huge oil reserve. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. Many subsequent wells were more than twice as large. In fact, 30 years after the discovery, a government test of one of the wells showed it still had the potential flow of 125,000 barrels of oil a day. And Mr. Yates owned it all. The day he purchased the land he had received the oil and mineral rights. Yet, here is the amazing, and sad, part of the story. He'd been living on relief for decades! A multimillionaire living in poverty. The problem? He didn't know the oil was there even though he owned it.

Many Christians live in spiritual poverty. They are entitled to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that energizing and world changing power, but they are not aware it is even there! This month in our classes and times of worship, we are honing in on that part of our vision that reminds us just how important it is to “Nourish Relationships in the Body of Christ.” In fact, this entire year, that will be our emphasis. We will talk about the importance of this community. We will be reminded how essential it is to make this community a priority in your life. And we will talk about what makes this community, this “Body of Christ,” so special.

Have you ever wrestled with that question? What is so special about the Body of Christ? What sets the church apart from all other communities we are a part of? Rotary, PTA, Bridge Club, your athletic team? There are many good communities in this world, and they provide us with companionship and friendship and avenues for service. But what is so special about the church? Here it is: No other group has at its disposal the power of the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit is the defining characteristic of the church. The Bible is clear on that point! So, as we talk this year about nourishing our relationships in the Body of Christ, that conversation must begin with mention of the Spirit.

You may not realize this, but the Holy Spirit shows up throughout the Old Testament. The Spirit of God, before Jesus arrived, came most often through prophets, judges, or kings. Judges 3:10 says:
The Spirit of the LORD came up him [Othniel] and he judged Israel. (Judges 3:10)
I Samuel 10:10 says of Saul:
When they came to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. (I Samuel 10:10)
Later in that same book, the writer says:
But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, a distressing Spirit from the LORD troubled him. (I Samuel 16:14)
On these rare occasions, God’s Spirit came into the world and did miraculous things or gave people direct messages from God. But not long after Jesus’ Resurrection, something remarkable happened. Notice how Paul describes this:

Read Romans 8:1–11 CEB

If you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit is in you. It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives through you. The same Spirit that came on occasion during the period of the Old Testament, that spoke through prophets, that performed miracles, that same Spirit has become a permanent resident inside of you.

One author has drawn a pretty good picture of what happened when the Spirit began to dwell inside the church. Picture a huge dam for hydroelectric power under construction, like the Aswan High Dam on the Nile. It is 375 feet high and 11,000 feet across. Egypt's President Nasser announced the plan for construction in 1953. The dam was completed in 1970 and in 1971 there was a grand dedication ceremony. On that day, the 12 turbines with their ten billion kilowatt-hour capacity were unleashed. It produced enough power to light every city in Egypt. During the long period of construction the Nile River wasn't completely stopped. Even as the reservoir was filling, part of the river was allowed to flow past. The country folk downstream depended on it. They drank it, they washed in it, it watered their crops and turned their mill-wheels, they sailed on it in the moonlight and wrote songs about it. It was their life! But on the day when the reservoir poured through the turbines, a power was unleashed that spread far beyond the few folk down river. And it brought possibilities they had only dreamed of.

Well, when the Spirit was unleashed on the Day of Pentecost it was like the dedicatory opening of the Aswan High Dam. Before Pentecost the river of God's Spirit blessed the people of Israel and was their very life. But after Pentecost the power of the Spirit spread out to light the whole world. None of the benefits enjoyed in the pre-Pentecostal days were taken away. But ten billion kilowatts were added to enable the church to take the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ to every tongue and tribe and nation.

The reason it is so important to nourish our relationships in this body is because when we are being who we are called to be, that is when the power of God’s Spirit is unleashed in our world. Because God’s Spirit, working through the church is able to:

  • Bring love–even in a world that has been trained to hate people from other nations, colors, or socio-economic classes.
  • Bring joy–even to families who have lost children.
  • Bring peace (real peace)–even to a divided and angry nation after a bitter election.
  • Bring patience–even to that new mother who is sleep deprived and trying to get her new baby to stop crying!
  • Bring kindness–even to those who put us in danger.
  • Bring goodness–even to the world of social media that is filled with anything but goodness these days!
  • Bring faithfulness–even when faith is hard to come by because of the many ways in which this world disappoints.
  • Bring gentleness–even when we encounter the rough edges of the homeless person in the streets of Tyler.
  • Bring self control–even when every fiber of our being wants to lash out and get revenge when we are wronged.

Clark Pinnock, in his book, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, writes:
More than churches full of people, God wants (and the world needs) people full of the Spirit. … Any church that denies the Spirit freedom stands in danger of becoming a lifeless and self-glorifying church.
Without the Spirit, the church is empty, lifeless, and powerless. Without the Spirit, the disciples of Jesus are powerless to fulfill their vocation to participate in the mission of God in the world. There is no other way. The Spirit is the life and breath for the church. A good question for the Body of Christ to ask itself is: Are we trying to do church with or without the power of God’s Spirit? Consider two glasses of water. Now, consider what happens when an unopened packet of Alka-Seltzer is dropped into one of the glasses. Not much. What about when a packet is opened and the tablets inside are dropped into the other glass? That glass fills up with bubbles! Both glasses have the Alka-Seltzer. Just as all Christians have the Holy Spirit. But notice how you can have the Spirit in you without allowing the Spirit to fill you. Our goal is to live in such a way as to unwrap the packaging around the presence and power of the Holy Spirit within us, and when that happens, church, the power of God is unleashed through us into a world that desperately needs God.

Lest we forget, the same Spirit that is in us is the same Spirit (as Paul says) that raised Jesus from the dead. There is tremendous power at our fingertips, church! And I fear that we are not using it to its full potential! So, here is a dangerous prospect! In that same book, Pinnock writes:
Let us ask God to disturb our tranquility so that he may surprise, refresh, and empower us. (Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit)
Are you ready to ask God to disturb our tranquility? Because the truth of the matter is: The more dependent the church is upon the Spirit, the greater its witness will be in the world. The Spirit, in other words, is what makes the church no ordinary community. Are you courageous enough to pray that prayer with me? Asking God to disturb our tranquility? Asking God to unleash His full power through this community?

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