Today I have been asked to look at the picture of the holy spirit as breath, and as breathing is the most natural thing in the world so too should be the breath of God, the breath that fills us with a new life just as it did in the beginning when;
‘the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man's nostrils, and the man became a living person.
I once read that the Holy Spirit is like; ‘the air we breathe’, I love that analogy, so simple and yet so true, because without air we cant exist and without the Holy Spirit, we can’t have the relationship God intended us to have with Him. The Holy Spirit completes the Trinity, it completes us, it gives us life, it restores us, it is the reason for life; the Holy Spirit is to the Church what air is to every human being. The Holy Spirit empowers our lives, deepens our faith, motivates our mission. The Holy Spirit freed the first Christians from the slavery of fear and it can free us, it can free us today and inviting the Holy spirit to work within us is as easy as breathing - it really is that simple.
And yet I have really grappled with this sermon today. Because I feel that along with our relationship with the spirit come a lot of terms and labels, which we all use to describe peoples faith journey, and in doing so I wonder if we might alienate or exclude others. As I prayed about this and talked to others I began to feel a responsibility to de-mystify theses terms and this language that we often use.
A few weeks ago I went to Birmingham to a BMS day and I talked to my friends and fellow trainee ministers about the language we Christians use to describe our faith journey and our relationship with Jesus. As we sat discussing these terms I heard a student from the other end of the table, who was from Spurgeons college say; ‘you can tell that lot are from Northern they are getting all spiritual already and its only breakfast’.
We were seen to be getting all ‘spiritual’ because we were talking the talk we were using the right words quoting the right chapter and verse from the bible and using the correct theological definitions. Our Spurgeons colleagues joined in and by now it was getting to be a very heavy theological conversation for 7.30 in the morning.
Finally my colleague from Spurgeons college said; ‘listen, its simple – is the Good news Good news? When your church community leave the building on Sunday morning do they feel they have had good news?’
I was reminded of again when Alan said a few weeks ago, we are in the business of discipleship, of sharing the good news. Shouldn’t that news be as accessible and as natural as breathing, something we don’t think about, we just do, something which is part of our lives and which lives within and lives alongside us in a way which is personal and unique to us.
The day after the conference I was awoken at 7.00 and as I started to come round, words, these words which I am sharing with you now, started pouring into my head – I ran downstairs and started typing – and here they are….
Words are very powerful aren’t they? they can make us feel incredibly happy, empowered, valued, confident and also angry, sad, confused, isolated, rejected, insecure…the list is endless. In my experience I have found that Christians can be very good with words, we can have our own little exclusive language, our own little labels and our own special words that we like attach to people and to their faith, to their church and to their walk with Jesus. They can be very damaging; they can be empowering but are they helpful? If we are in the business of bringing people to faith and encouraging them in that faith are we being helpful by attaching label’s to their faith walks? My friends and I may have felt quite flattered that we Northern students were seen to be very spiritual, but was it an accurate label? I’m not so sure.
So my question is this - are labels always accurate? Do we really know what they mean? Are they helpful when we are in the business of bringing people to faith or do we alienate people and do we isolate them? As I prayed and read the bible I began to realise I had just accepted these terms and words which people had attached to my coming to faith and although I could identify them as stages in my walk I wondered if I had really understood what they meant. During our discussion at that breakfast table three trainee ministers were all interpreting them slightly differently, perhaps we too may have different interpretations an understanding for Baptism in the Spirit, being born again and salvation.
So I went back to my own conversion to try and dig deeper, to interpret what it meant in my story to be converted, of being born again, and being baptised in the spirit. What I realised was that I had just assumed these labels when people referred them to me and I had never questioned them, I had just accepted them and left it at that.
I remember it all as clear as if it was this morning. I remember sitting on the brown leather chair that belonged to my uncle Charlie in the room that is now my study looking out into the yard and being literally filled with the holy spirit, it poured into me like a waterfall, from the top of my head I felt the weighted of the world being washed away and when it had finished I was filled with a peace which I had never known before and I spent a week being terrified it would leave me. I remember the following morning kneeling by my bead, I didn’t know why and these words coming out of my mouth;
‘Father I am sorry for turning my back on you for all these years, forgive me and let me serve you as I served the Buddhist community – be careful what you pray for…and I remember my baptism, of gasping for breath as I came out of the water with the feeling of being propelled at great speed towards a piercing light…. I remember all these things. I remember my story I remember my conversion I remember being baptised in the spirit I remember being saved I remember giving my life to Jesus I remember feeling I had been born again and I remember being told what had happened to me using these biblical terms which I understood through my own experience. But it was my experience and it was my story.
I remember my story but when I tell it to people who haven’t come to faith it’s the same story but without the biblical terminology, its my story of how I asked Jesus to come into my life and how I asked to be forgiven for my past and for all the times I had messed up and its how I asked if I could walk with him for the rest of my days. I love my story and I love the way my story continues, because I still ask to be forgiven I still ask him to walk with me. I was saved and forgiven on February 17th 2003 and I continue to be saved and forgiven because I continue to mess up and I will need to continue being forgiven and saved until the day I die and go to be with Jesus. That is my on going story as a disciple of Jesus.
So in all my praying and reading and grappling as I prepared for this service I have come to the conclusion that we can over complicate things which should be natural, and when we over complicate things and use our biblical terminology we can actually do the opposite of what we are intending to do, sometimes we can cause damage, we can make something as natural as breathing into something which people become afraid of and confused about. Speaking from my own experience, when I first came to faith I went to a church where every week during the service people would speak in tongues or sing in tongues, there would be interpretations, people would fall in the spirit and there would be prophesy and testimony. People danced and waved flags, worship was extravagant and sometimes the service would go on until 1.30 when the spirit was on the move.
But I often left feeling I hadn’t heard the good news, feeling left out, worrying because I was not like them, that I was not a real Christian, not good enough to be a Christian. The reason why was because I hadn’t been given the gift of speaking in tongues and I was told this was a mark of being saved of being a Christian, of being baptised in the spirit. So I was anointed with oils and I was prayed over and I had hands laid on me and I think most members of the church tried to get me to speak in tongues – but still I couldn’t speak in tongues and it weighed heavy on my heart, and the words I’m not good enough became my mantra and they have weighed on my heart for many, many years. I tried and tried to be a good Christian by my works so that I could be a proper Christian so I could be good enough so I could make up for not having that gift of the spirit. I now know that I am good enough, we are all good enough we are not saved by our works we are saved by grace;
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
We have been saved and we have been given the holy spirit as a blessing and as a gift. We can’t be loved any more by our good deeds by trying to be good enough, we are loved and accepted as we are.
I remember my conversion, I remember my story and I have heard people attach words to the different stages of my story but I have come to understand that the most important thing to remember in my story is my relationship with Jesus, its my story and its unique to me and your story is your story and your experience of the holy spirit and your walk with Jesus is yours.
We can all walk the walk and talk the talk, we can all look like we are being spiritual at the breakfast table at 7.30, but its really all about the good news, about Jesus, and its really only Jesus who knows the truth.
I don’t want anyone in this church to ever feel like I did, I don’t want anyone to ever feel they are not good enough. I want you to leave today having heard the good news, because the good news is that if we follow Jesus, if we want to have a relationship with him if we want him to come into our lives we don’t need to worry about words we just need to allow the spirit to breathe into our lives, just as the old hymn says;
Breathe on me breath of God
Fill me with life anew
That I may love what thou dost love
and do what thou wouldst do.
I believe that it’s a simple as that, so breathe in the breath of God, let him fill you with the spirit each and every moment of the day so that you can enjoy an abundant and joyous life, accept the gift, accept the blessing and accept the love so that you can love those He loves and serve those he calls us to serve.
As I wrote these word a ping came from my phone and I received this message from a friend who had found me on Face book and who I haven’t seen since I came to faith. This is what he said; Helen!! It was so nice to see you scrolling by on Facebook. I stalked your profile and it was quite amazing to see the journey you've been on. My in-laws live in Harrogate so I have driven past your church numerous times in the past few months. In fact filled up with petrol at the Sainsburys across the roundabout last Friday. Yesterday at a prayer for Bradford event someone I sat next to was discussing LEPs and your church came up as a unique partnership. Small world.
I remember very well the day you stopped me on the way into school and said "Your friend is now my friend!" To my shame it took me ages to get what you were on about... Somewhere I have a video of us singing "Spirit in the Sky" at a Year 11 leaving assembly. It now seems it was prophetic – you calling out "Gotta have a friend in Jesus".......
I know I gotta have a friend in Jesus, He is my breath, he is my life and I know that when I am breathless, dispirited or when I have been winded by a painful blow God will breathe new life into me. When I am low he will replenish me so I can keep on giving, keep on serving so I can do what he wouldst have me do.
In John 3 verse 8 it says the wind blows where it wishes, we cant see it but we can see the effects as it blows the trees, lifts things off the floor, twirls them about in the sky - the wind or breath of God will do the same in us, it will lift and carry us with great power. When we breath in the spirit of God we have his strength for our weakness, his sight for our blindness his supply for our need.
Take a deep breath how does it feel? It’s the feeling of life, the holy spirit is the breath of life it is our gift and our blessing. Don’t be afraid or mystified by biblical terms, just breathe in God and then breath him out into the lives of those you encounter. This is your gift and your blessing – take it and live it and be blessed by it.