Sunday, May 18, 2014

Alive // Life After Easter / Sent

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 05/18/2014

video available at
podcast here:
or via iTunes here:

[story of Evelyn and the bathroom at Denny’s]

I think we have a longing in common, all of us human beings, whether we are religious or not. And that is a longing to experience love, to participate in love.

And if there is a living God – which I believe there is – a living God who is Love in personal, powerful form, most of us would love to experience communication with him in some way. To have the opportunity to connect with him, if connection is in fact possible. Which again, I’m convinced is in fact possible. For every single one of us. At any particular moment, without any pre-requisites except openness to that kind of connection.

So that’s why we are looking at this particular story in the book of Acts (give brief background)…

[Acts 13:1-12  (watch video here)]


We’ve talked about the Holy Spirit as the breath of God, the animating energy source at the heart of the universe. A Spirit with will, intention, desire, personality, purpose. A person, in other words, not an “it.”


Life after Easter is life which is animated, energized, directed, enlivened by that Spirit.

You and I know what it is to go through the motions. Day after day after day can pass colorlessly, like sand through our fingers. Life can be busy, stressful, anxious, exhausting – and empty. Life without life.

Or, we can have life that is full, abundant, life spilling over. Adventure and intense engagement in one moment, restful joy in another, pain and sorrow, even grief. Rhythm and routine, the spontaneous and the unexpected, love, laughter, failure and frustration mixed together. But always alive, even when it’s hanging on a moment.

The difference between the two, the mysterious ingredient? The Holy Spirit of the living God.

Of course, today, Life after Easter – the resurrection of Jesus - the Spirit of God is everywhere, all the time, available to everyone, but as we talked about last week, the question for us is our awareness and responsiveness.


So perhaps it would be better to say the difference between Alive / Life after Easter and every other kind of life is the difference between being awake to the Holy Spirit’s presence, and being asleep. The difference between responding to the Spirit and ignoring the Spirit.

[small group conversation / prayer / walk home experience]

Let me tell you a story a man I know told me recently.

[Nathan’s vision about the two boats…and the impact on his life]

Notice, we’re not talking about the difference between successful lives and unsuccessful lives. We’re not talking about the difference between effectiveness and ineffectiveness, accomplishment and failure.

Life in the high performance speedboat might be successful, effective, accomplished. It’s noisy and busy and cool looking. But it’s not really living. When you wake up from it, you realize you’ve been unaware of the beauty and joy around you. And that there is a completely different kind of engine and experience available.

At the end of the day, it’s the difference between living in love and living in fear. Love is one kind of engine, fear another kind entirely. Both can power your boat, but only one gives you joy.

[note that perhaps if the Holy Spirit were giving you a vision, it might be reversed – you lounging on the deck of an aimless cruise ship, bored out of your mind, Jesus inviting you to get on his speedboat, because that’s where you’ll really be alive. The point is one has joy and life, the other misses out on both]

Let’s return now to the Acts 13 passage we opened with.


25When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. 13 1Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

4The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

6They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10“You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

Beautiful and complex interplay going on here if we have eyes to see it…


[the church at Antioch] Ekklesia, meaning called out into a public place to hear the emperor’s edicts / subverted by the community of Jesus to mean those called out into a community to hear the Lord Jesus. Although, of course, with Jesus, the extra twist is that what they experience is much more personal and particular than edicts. They hear a person who knows them, who sees them, who loves them, who desires life for them, leading them and guiding them into joy. In truth they are the ones called out to listen to the Holy Spirit.

[worshipping the Lord] There are a couple of words translated “worship” in Acts. One is proskyneo, which is to bow towards, to kiss – something like what we participate in on a Sunday morning in song, or perhaps on a hike when we try to connect with God through the beauty of nature, for example. But here the word is Leitourgeo: originally referring to service to the state, at one’s own cost. What we might call today, positively, “public service.” The people’s work.

Of course, here in Acts, the context is a contrast between two kinds of experiences of authority – Caesar as Lord vs. Jesus as Lord. Under Caesar, in an outpost of the Roman Empire, we can imagine leiturgeo wasn’t so positive; more like the functional slavery of the oppressed. That’s not what the “people’s work” in Acts is all about. The work of Jesus’ people is very, very different.

What is the work Jesus’ people do, at their own cost?

In the relationship between people and the God revealed in Jesus and the scriptures, we aren’t the workers, God is. Our work is the work of asking, waiting, depending, receiving. This is a great arrangement, isn’t it? Bring on the leitourgeo!

We can imagine this probably meant for these people that they were praying. Talking to God about what they needed, praising and thanking him for provision, waiting for him to respond, listening for his voice.

And, they were…

[fasting] – a spiritual practice of not eating, for the purpose of putting oneself in a posture to ask and receive/hear

When Caesar is Lord, and you are one of the conquered, you hope to never hear from him. You hope he just leaves you alone. But when Jesus is Lord, you’re devouring his every word, because each one leads you to life and joy. Caesar’s ekklesia is a community ruled by and energized by fear, but Jesus ekklesia is community ruled and energized by love.


So front and center in this story there is Authority. The authority of the Lord after Easter, Jesus the crucified and risen king.

There is voluntary submission or giving oneself to that authority on the part of his ekklesia.

There is the ekklesia asking that authority for input / direction – slaves whom the master has freed and made into friends, telling them everything about his business.

The community of submitted friends who’ve given themselves in devotion to the good King are asked to set apart a couple of its leaders to the King’s purposes.

There is an invitation or call to those leaders.

The community asks for more help discerning, gives blessing, releases the leaders

The leaders follow the leading or calling of the Holy Spirit, who sends and directs them

It’s incredibly free and dynamic, interdependent.


And it’s all ruled by Love. Love that invites us to joy. Love that inspires us to submit in obedience and trust. Love that releases without fear. Love that moves out of comfort into the unknown with courage and confidence.

Then, this free and dynamic, ruled-by-love system – what the new testament calls “the kingdom of God” – moves across the ocean and lands in Cyrprus, where it encounters these two characters.


There is a proconsul summoning / inviting and seeking who wants to hear…

Who in the end gives himself to the good authority of Jesus, joining in the free, dynamic, ruled-by-love system.

And, in contrast

There is a false prophet (a manipulator), opposing… Resisting…

Who in the end we see wandering around blind, looking for help knowing what direction to go

To recap…

There is life ruled by a good God, revealed in Jesus, who longs for human beings to experience life, to experience joy in life-giving, personal relationship with him. This good God providing for them in love, freeing them from fear of every sort so they can love one another and be brought into loving community with each other, growing in confidence in his loving provision for them.

And there is life under the Roman Emperor. Someone with his own motivations to get the most he can from his citizens, usually through force and manipulation, ruling through fear, his most benevolent seeming acts only a disguise for hidden exploitative agendas. Which of course is a picture of all of human life under the influence of the enemy of life. It’s a form of slavery dressed in the clothes of freedom.

Now that Jesus is risen from the dead, all of us are in the position of the proconsul – under the employ of the emperor, but free to choose a new Lord, a new way of life.

That life is only possible with the Holy Spirit and an obedience born in freedom and love.

The other life – the life we are all too familiar with - always exists everywhere there is the absence of the awareness of the Holy Spirit and an absence of obedience to the Holy Spirit born in freedom and love.

One life is like is a joyful dance.

The other is like a chain gang.

The chain gang is ruled by whips, where the dance is ruled by music. Music is a very different kind of authority from a whip. You throw yourself into the music, love the music, welcome the music into your very being. Good music frees you to become who you truly are as it shapes and calls out of you the whole new you whom you only discover in relationship with its rhythm and melody and harmonies.


Like a dance, joyful lives in the community of Jesus led by the Holy Spirit are characterized by a rhythm of purposeful stillness and directed motion. (ask, wait, listen/receive) + (go, do) Each pause shapes the next going and each going gives way to the next pause.

The Lord’s agenda for us, and for the world that’s been put under his authority, is life in all its fullness.

Every sending on the way is for that purpose.

Even the sendings that look like a sending to the cross.

Joy is set before us. Always. Always.

We’re driving speedboats but invited onto the Love Boat – a boat with a different kind of engine, belonging not to us, but to Jesus.

Which do you choose?


Practical Suggestions:

1. Announce your availability to be sent. Try a prayer like this: Holy Spirit, my life belongs to you, for your purposes for me and for the world. So send me wherever you want today. Tomorrow. And every next day after that.

2. Try 1 Hour of Going. Skip 1 hour of television to make a call or write a card or take a walk directed by the Holy Spirit. Take the first 5 minutes asking “to whom” or “to where” and take your best shot at following whatever instructions you become aware of. Don’t worry at this point what you actually say or write or do; let that happen naturally.

Note: you can try this whether or not you are a Jesus follower yet. The Holy Spirit is everywhere, for everyone, all the time. This is part of the reality of life after Easter. So give it a shot, see what happens.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Alive // Life After Easter / A Mother’s Voice

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 05/11/2014

video available at
podcast here:
or via iTunes here:

[childhood word-twisting example... “Mom said you had to let me have it.”]

Setting aside my deceitfulness for the time being, what interests me in that experience is how my sister knew that wasn’t what Mom said. How did she know? She knew Mom. And something felt off in my report about what Mom was saying. It didn’t sound like Mom to her. And then, a little later, when I heard my mom say my name – “Jesse” – I heard a lot more than my name. I knew everything she was saying. I was busted. How did I know? I knew my mom’s voice. I’d been listening to it my whole life. Even if her voice had been muffled and distant, I would have known what she was saying.


Which brings us to Alive // Life After Easter. Human beings – you and me-encountering a living God, alive in all the ways we think about being fully alive. Engaging in up-close and personal relationship with us, a relationship that wakes us up to all the life around us, and brings us to life, and gives a new way to live and a new purpose for living. Because at the center of encounters between living beings, and relationships especially, is communication.


Alive // Life After Easter is about a life in relationship with the living God primarily experienced through the Spirit of God. the energetically animating, non-material, foundationally real, sensually transcendent personal presence who is full of divine creativity, divine order, divine wholeness, divine favor, divine love, and divine goodness. We’re talking about the Holy Spirit, one of the Threeness that is the One God, along with the Father and the Son. Called in the scriptures the Counselor, the Come-Along-Sider. Showing up in the Bible variously and mysteriously in connection with fire or a cloud or a bird or oil. And most especially as the breath or wind of God, the one who blows where he pleases and whom it pleases to come among us with personal intentions and new creation purpose, and who desires to speak to us, to send us on our way, and to fill us.

Revisiting our main text that we read last week…


In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 13:1-3

While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said…

The Holy Spirit said.

Say what? Say how?

Let me give you the whole answer in four and a half words:

I don’t know, exactly.

Normal human speech is pretty awesome. Electrons are firing around in your brain, traveling down axons and stimulating the release of neurotransmitters which zoom across synapses to the next neuron’s dendrites, all of these electro-chemical impulses speeding at up to 268 miles per hour, eventually forming intentional movement of the diaphragm and vocal chords and tongue, shaping vibrations in the air that we call words.

These words travel through air molecules as sound waves which strike our eardrums and are translated back again into electrochemical impulses that our neural networks interpret as sounds. If we have enough experience with those particular patterns of sound and the relationship they usually have with our external and internal worlds, we have an experience of meaning. And more electrons fire and more neurotransmitters cross more synapses, and something of the what originator of the speech intended to communicate is more often than not, miraculously, understood by the hearer.

But that’s not precisely what’s going on here in Acts 13, is it?

The Holy Spirit is spirit, as we talked about last weekend. The Holy Spirit has will and intention and desire and emotion and personality and intelligence and the capacity to communicate, but the Holy Spirit is also non-material, non-physical. The Spirit, so far as I am aware, doesn’t have a diaphragm and vocal chords and a tongue with which to vibrate and shape air and create sound waves that vibrate our ear drums. Which makes things that much more interesting.

Which isn’t to say the God’s spirit isn’t capable of interacting with and influencing the natural, physical world. Far from it. Matter and energy were preceded by and created by the Spirit, so there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit can have his way with them. It’s just that the ways in which he has his way are mysterious ways. [u2 mysterious ways song is about the Holy Spirit…she moves in mysterious ways…]

When Luke writes the Holy Spirit said, he’s reporting an experience of divine communication by these worshipping and fasting disciples of Jesus that isn’t likely to be quite the same as the kind of speech or verbal communication that we normally experience human being to human being. Nonetheless, for Luke, this kind of divine communication has at least 4 things in common with our understanding of “saying.”


(1) that God’s Spirit had something he wanted to say, and (2) he used some means of communication to transmit his message, and (3) that the disciples became aware of something that they perceived to be communication from God’s Spirit, and (4) that they understood the message as direction to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which God’s Spirit was inviting them.

For the disciples, and for us too, of course, it all starts with number 3 – we become aware of something that we perceive to be communication from God’s Spirit.

How? How do we become aware? How do we recognize it as the Holy Spirit?

I don’t know, exactly.

For me, the idea of dimensions a helpful way of getting at what seems to be going on.

Our lives take place within the 3 spatial dimensions of height, width, length and the 4th dimension of time. Yet scientists tell us the universe contains many more dimensions than this; it’s just that we don’t experience or have access to them.

It seems reasonable that God may well inhabit and have access to all of these extra dimensions, and would therefore be capable of being present among us, right here, right now, all the time, in fact, but we would be generally unaware of it.

Sort of like if we imagined that we existed in a 2-dimensional flat-land. Like drawings on a piece of paper.

What if a three dimensional being wanted to get our attention, and put his finger on the paper? We wouldn’t be able to see it as a finger, more like as a spot appearing in our world. Or what if that being spoke? We wouldn’t hear him – we couldn’t “hear” anything – but our world might well vibrate in some way in response, and that just might be perceivable, and profoundly mysterious.

Perhaps something like that is going on in the world after Easter. God is increasingly interacting with our dimensions in ways perceivable by us, leading us to life and bringing us to life with the kind of life that raised Jesus from the dead, embodied in a new kind of physical existence, equally at home in both our dimensions and God’s.

Take that if it’s helpful, leave it behind if it’s not.

Here’s what I do know.

I do know the Spirit of God wants to communicate with us. The Holy Spirit wants us to know the forgiveness and favor and love of the living, wise, wild, just, holy, awesome God. The Holy Spirit wants to teach us and remind us of and reveal to us the way of our strong and humble King Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to direct us and send us and deliver grace-filled messages on his behalf to hurting and hoping and despairing and disconnected and disfavored and discounted people.

And because the Holy Spirit is spirit, and each one of us is, for lack of a better word, uniquely wired, we may hear his voice in a limitless variety of ways.

For example…

What people will often call a sense, or impression. Like a thought combined with a feeling of leading or instruction or urgency. Could come out of the blue, in a conversation with someone, when seeing somebody, while thinking about something or praying, when reading the scriptures.

A feeling in your gut.

A dream.

A picture or vision.

A thought that you can’t shake.

What seems like someone talking in your head – still in thought form, but not quite like your own thoughts.

What seems like an audible voice, but not coming from anyone else’s mouth, and not necessarily heard by anyone else.

Someone else saying something but it lands differently, almost like their words have some extra oomph behind them, piercing to a different place in you.

A set of connections all at once falling into place, and a dawning certainty of the next right step.

A circumstance or sequence of circumstances that say something to you [prayer/arrest story…]

Being emotionally moved beyond what you would normally expect when you hear something or become aware of a circumstance or think about a group of people.

A growing desire that time and/or inattention and/or competing desires don’t seem to kill. Especially if it’s a desire that leads you outside of your comfort zone.

A physical sensation without an obvious natural cause. Chills, shiver, warmth, heat, breeze, tingle, lightness, weight – sometimes even pain.

This is mostly pretty natural, non-spooky, non-sensational stuff isn’t it? Which is what people saw in Jesus’ life. There was extraordinary activity of God going on in and through him and his actions, but he wasn’t at all weird or manipulative or super religious or amped up. His language was normal, his bearing was normal – he was what many like to call naturally supernatural. He’s the one we learn from and imitate, as best as we can.

Of course, one of the most challenging things about how natural it all is, is this: How do we know it’s the Spirit of God and not just us?

4 words.

I don’t know, exactly.

But I’m pretty sure I can point you in the right direction.

There is one woman in our lives whose voice nearly all of us would recognize without fail.

[play “hey Mama” verse 2…]

(song charted in the top 10 despite never being released as a single – tells you about our connection to our moms, doesn’t it?)

We recognize the Holy Spirit’s voice in much the same way we recognize our mother’s voice.

How do you know it’s your mother on the other end of the phone?

She’s got a particular way of talking to you, doesn’t she…? She’s got language she tends to use with you, doesn’t she…? She’s got things she would be likely to say and things she wouldn’t say in a million years, doesn’t she…?

Here’s the thing about our birth mothers: before we know anything else about them, we know their voice. Before we know what they look like, what they smell like, what they taste like, what they feel like, we know what they sound like.

[progression of fetal senses in womb: sensitivity to touch during end of 7th week, taste 13-15 weeks, smell at 11-14 weeks, hearing at 18 weeks, vision last to develop at 26 weeks when your eyes open for the first time, but you can’t touch, taste, smell or see your mother until after you’re born… however, you are recognizing and preferring mother’s voice to stranger at 25 weeks, heartbeat changing.]

How can you recognize the Holy Spirit’s voice? In many of the same ways you recognize your mother’s voice.

It just might be the Holy Spirit if…


You just know it’s God’s Spirit.

One evening, Jesus told an inquisitive man named Nicodemus that we must be “born” of the Spirit.

Life After Easter truly is a new life. Life that enters into its fullness, like our first, biological life, with birth. If we put our trust in Jesus, commit ourselves to his way of being in this world and his way of loving our neighbors and his way of loving God, if we repent and believe his good news of God’s kingdom, if we let go of our lives and our sin and hold on to his life and his goodness, then we experience a new birth. Which implies, doesn’t it, that when we become a new creation, that new creation takes place in a different womb than the one in which we were first created. New creation begins in God’s womb.

Something of the process of new creation gives us the capacity to recognize the Holy Spirit’s voice, the Spirit who gives birth to us.

You just know, even if you can’t explain it. We’ve been hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice our whole lives, even if just now we’re becoming aware of the person to whom the voice is attached.

Something comes into your heart or mind when God is near.

You’re praying. Worshipping. In church. Walking in the mountains. Serving the poor. Etc. Sometimes the Spirit speaks out of the blue, of course. But pay special attention when you’re already aware of his presence.

The usual suspects are ruled out.

You know what you tend to think about. You know the messages playing like a broken record in your brain. You know the weaknesses you have that the enemy of your soul likes to exploit.

If what you’re sensing/hearing/thinking is different from any of those things and is consistent with the message and agenda of Jesus, it just might be the Holy Spirit.

You can’t shake it.

A Jesus-consistent idea came into your head, or a Jesus-consistent emotion came into your heart, and now it won’t go away. Somebody said something to you, and you can’t stop thinking about what they said (and not because it hurt your feelings).

Your brothers and sisters in the community of faith affirm or confirm the message you’re hearing.

Don’t be embarrassed. Ask for help. Bounce what you’re hearing off others and ask for their feedback. Your brothers and sisters in God’s family love you, and have the same mother you have, and they can help you discern his voice.

Fruit follows. Trusting and/or acting on what you hear produces “the fruit of the spirit” in your life or someone else’s life. (Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.) This is the real test.




Patience (long-suffering)






These are particular directions the Spirit is always blowing. If the voice you are hearing is blowing you in a different direction, it’s not the Spirit of God. [dreams…]

When in doubt, ask, wait & listen some more.


It’s up to the Spirit to make himself clear enough to us for us to act. It’s up to us to practice listening enough that when the Spirit is speaking, we’re paying attention. Fear not, with perseverance, you will start getting the hang of it.

Once the Spirit has made himself clear enough, …

Go. Do. See what happens.

There will always be a wind at your back if you take steps in direction of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Against such things there is no law. In other words, why not give it a shot if you think it’s the Spirit’s voice moving you in that direction? What have you got to lose?

If it leads to one of the above, or to repentance, or healing, or encouragement, or new creation, you’re learning to listen to and to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit.

If it doesn’t, you’re learning too.

And either way, your mother will be proud of you.

Practical Suggestion:


Listen with Music + Silence. Pick a song you really enjoy (preferably one that helps you connect with God in some way), ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of his/her presence and to speak to you, and then stay in silence for a length of time equal to the song after, continuing to listen. Make note of any feelings/experiences/thoughts/sensations and repeat each day this week. Compare your notes at the end of the week.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Alive // Life After Easter / The Spirit


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 05/04/2014

video available at
podcast here:
or via iTunes here:

Sometimes the resurrection can get us thinking about life after death. But Jesus seemed more interested in getting his followers engaged in a new kind of life, a new era in human history. Life after Easter. Because God is alive among us in a new way. Or, at least, we're coming awake to his living presence in a new way. And he's breathing new life into us, too. So we can live energized by his life. Cooperating with his living presence.

Because Christianity isn’t a religion, not at first. At first, it’s about an encounter with a living God, a God who is alive in all the ways we think about being fully alive, and more, and his response to us, and our response to him. It’s personal, in other words. A relationship. A relationship that wakes us up to all the life around us, that brings us to life, that gives us a new way to live and a new purpose for living.


Today, we’re launching a new sermon series called "Alive // Life After Easter." It's mostly about the Holy Spirit, really. What (or who) it is. What the Spirit does. How we hear and respond to and experience the Spirit. Because almost every interaction and experience we with have with the living God is an encounter with God’s Spirit, alive and active in the world, in our lives. And because a life of faith without any interaction with God’s holy Spirit is like being God’s Facebook friend. You can see each other’s status updates, and maybe comment on each other’s wall, but even those can get buried in a deluge of Farmville requests. Or maybe it’s like a marriage on paper only. It’s all well and good that you signed the paperwork and had the ceremony, but what was that all about? Tax benefits? Health insurance?

Life After Easter is about Jesus showing up, Alive, right where we live, and breathing his Holy Spirit on us and sending us out to be part of the most important thing happening on planet earth. It’s about God being with us, powerfully, every step of the way, bringing us and the world to life with the kind of life that the tomb couldn’t keep down.

At first, we'll just be trying to understand and get up close and personal with the mystery of God's Spirit ourselves. But, along the way, we'll also be talking about nudging others to notice and respond to the Living God in their own lives. Because God's alive, everywhere, all the time, with life for everyone.

turn to Acts 13:1-12

The basic outline is straightforward; it’s a story that wouldn’t be out of place today.

A couple of Jewish guys living in Turkey – one of them a sharp, fiery go-getter, and the other the guy you want in your corner, the guy you know has your back - get an idea for a business venture, a brand new franchise that just might change the world. So they decide to pick up and move out.


They figure they’ll set up shop at first in the one guy’s home country, an island called Cyprus, where he’s still got relatives and a network of relationships that might help them get a foot in the door.


Plus, it’s got great beaches.

Once they arrive at their destination and get to work, some drama develops. It all starts when a local bigwig and a really sharp guy, catches wind of these Johnny-Come-Latelys. He gets interested in what they’re doing, what their angle on the business is. So the bigwig invites them to his place on the beach to make their pitch.

Meanwhile, the big-wig’s assistant, who’s been getting his funding from this bigwig, realizes Mr. Deep Pockets could decide to get behind these new guys instead of him. This would be really bad news for him and his cash flow, so he starts underhandedly trying to sabotage the new entrepreneurs.

A big showdown ensues. A face-off between the fiery go-getter and the big-wig’s assistant. Whoever wins gets the big-wig behind their business venture. That’s when things get a little bit Hollywood. I won’t tell you what happens – we’ll read it in a moment.

The basics, as I said, are straightforward. But as has also been said, the devil’s in the details. And so, it seems, is the Holy Spirit.

[Acts 13:1-12  (watch video here)]

That’s a lot of characters for such a short story, isn’t it? We’re going to zoom in on just one of those characters today. The one that seems to be the main player in this story. No, not Paul, not Barnabas, not Elymas, not Sergius Paulus the proconsul.


The main player in this story, the main player in each of our stories, if we have eyes to see and a heart to respond, the main player in all the best stories after the resurrection of Jesus, is the Holy Spirit. This whole story is the Holy Spirit’s show, isn’t it?


2 While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, who said…?

4 The two of them, sent on their way by whom…?

9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with what…?

What does that really mean, that the Holy Spirit said…?

What does that really mean, that they were sent on their way by the Holy Spirit…?

What does that really mean, that Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit…?

Many of us have a bit a problem when it comes to the Holy Spirit. We have a sort of a vague, religious idea about the Holy Spirit; to us he’s just the third person of the Trinitarian Godhead. But because our ideas about the Holy Spirit are either so religious or so vague, many of us may have a hard time really picturing what might have been going on in this passage. So we leave it in the category of “stuff that happens with the super-spiritual types who are really tuned in to spiritual things” and we pass right over stuff that’s really all about our everyday lives.

And that’s a modern day shame. What if, for all of us, all the time, Jesus desires to speak to us through his Holy Spirit and send us on our way through the Holy Spirit and fill us with his Holy Spirit? What if, because of the fluffiness of our notions of the Holy Spirit, or the religious categories in which we’ve got him locked away, we aren’t even aware of it? (So many of my meetings with people are all about paying attention to that reality...)

Today, with this passage in the background, we’re going to attempt to begin understanding some of the what and who and how of the Holy Spirit – not to demystify Him, because that’s not really possible; the Spirit’s mystery only becomes more profound the closer you draw to him – but simply to be able to recognize and receive and respond and cooperate with him.


Let’s start by, for a moment, setting aside religious or biblical terminology and imagine how we might try to help someone understand the idea of spirit generally, someone who’d never read the Bible or seen a Pentecostal preacher on TV. And once we understand the idea of “spirit”, from there try to think about the Holy Spirit.

[Bring up a volunteer…use them to demonstrate for the following illustration…]

The idea of “spirit” is a little bit foreign to our understanding of the world, it feels a little bit primitive, because our scientific understanding of biological life has crowded it out of our imagination. We understand that expanding and contracting our diaphragms brings air into our lungs, air that contains 20% O2, which is extracted in our lungs and combined with red blood cells, which deliver it to every other cell in our body, allowing it to facilitate a series of metabolic reactions, converting biochemical energy from nutrients into adenosine triphosphates and waste products like water and carbon dioxide…and on and on, energizing and animating our bodies.

However, imagine that you are one of the ancients, and you know none of this. You just know this person, full of energy and personality, vim and vigor, laughter and love, anger and enthusiasm. And then, one day, a coconut falls out of a tree and lands on his head. He falls to the ground, motionless. He looks exactly the same, nothing has changed about him at all. He looks exactly like he’s sleeping. Except. Except that he isn’t breathing anymore. And now that his breath has stopped, you’ve come to understand that his energy and personality, his vim and vigor, his laughter and love, anger and enthusiasm are all gone as well.

It’s out of this kind of experience that our ancestors developed the intuitive awareness that our physical breath seems to be connected to a deeper force that gives us life. Whatever the it is that makes us really alive. Whatever the it is that we call our “spirit.”

Which is why the words for breath in the ancient languages of the Bible – ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek – are also the words for spirit. When the one is present, the other is present… And vice-versa. When the one is gone, the other is gone... And vice-versa.

[interestingly, the same intuitive process can be applied to understanding the animating energy of the natural world – wind seems to be the same kind of invisible, mysterious force that animates the natural world…as a result, ruach and pneuma are also used for wind, in addition to breath and spirit]


There is some kind of animating energy source that we call spirit.

Something non-material, but just as real.

Something that goes beyond our 5 senses that we can nonetheless sense, and by which our sensory centers may be variously affected.

Because even though we know what breath is now –that it’s just a natural, biological phenomenon, there does seem to be something beyond breath at the heart of everything, something transcendent, or maybe subcendent, from which springs the “alive” part of life itself.

Something both


Internal and external. [notre dame]

Individual and communal. [team spirit, group vibe, spirit of a city]

Creative and destructive. [something came over me, I got caught up in something…]

Now let’s return to our passage, with more widely open eyes.


When Luke says “the Holy Spirit”, he’s not talking about your spirit, or my spirit, or the spirit of the dance. He’s talking about God’s spirit. The Holy Spirit – by which the Bible simply means the Spirit of God.

The personal animating energy source at the center of the universe, the Spirit that hovered over the void at creation, the breath of God that when it is present, God is present, and when it is not present, God is not present, and when God is present, it is present, and when God is not present, it is not present.

Luke’s talking about someone that is non-material, but is as real as real ever has been, or is, or ever will be. A personal presence that is the foundation of all reality – “God is spirit” Jesus says at one point. Someone that goes beyond what our 5 senses can apprehend, but whom we can nonetheless sense, and by whom our sensory centers may be variously affected. [voice thundering in John’s gospel, people’s experience of non-physical presence]

Luke’s talking about someone that can be present within us, right at the center of who we are, or as close to that center as we’ll allow him to come, and someone that can come to us from outside of us and speak to us or move us or guide us.

Luke’s talking about someone who may be present within an individual and also present within a group of people, observable in their relationships and corporate activities and even shared spaces.

Luke’s talking about divine creativity and divine order and divine wholeness and divine favor and divine goodness present not in the form of an idea, but in the form of a personal presence with will and intention and desire and emotion and personality – someone you can get to know, someone who can have an impact on you through personal relationship with you.

In this one story, we’ve got these three encounters/experiences/accounts of the Holy Spirit’s activity, his observable, experience-able presence.


2 While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down…

9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked…and said…

Here’s my plan.

Next week, Mother’s Day, we’re going to explore that first one in some depth: what it means to be aware of the Spirit communicating something, giving some leading, calling, instruction.

How does that happen?

What’s it look like?

How can you tell if he’s talking to you?

That sort of thing, which, as it so happens, has something to do with women, generally, and mothers, specifically.

Later in May we’ll explore being “sent” and “filled” and what that means in connection to the Holy Spirit.


In the meantime, today, we have a very simple question before us. Do you want the Holy Spirit? If Jesus is alive in the world, today, after Easter, through his Spirit, do you want him animating your life – your emotional, physical, spiritual, social life? Energizing it? Speaking to you? Sending you? Involved in your relational groups – your friendships, work relationships, neighborhood, marriage, family? Do you want to get caught up in the creative work he is doing?

Because the Spirit of Jesus does not come uninvited into our lives. He’s not like what the scriptures call “evil” or “bad” spirits, spirits that sneak in dark cracks while we’re not looking, or that fool us, or manipulate us, or insinuate themselves into our lives. No, he comes freely to us when our will is joined with God’s will. A process that begins, as Jesus teaches us, when we ask, and wait.


“How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13)

That’s why the disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came after Jesus’ ascended into heaven. Waiting is part of asking. It’s part of joining our will to God’s will. Our desires to his. He wants to give. Do we want to receive? Do we really?

Remember, God loves to bless anyone who will depend on him, who will ask him, who will take a leap of faith on him. It’s where he gets his glory. The most satisfied customers in human history are those who ask for the Holy Spirit, and who wait.


Ask. Wait. Listen. (repeat as necessary.) Go. Do.

This is our pattern for life after Easter. Ask. Wait. Listen. Go. Do. We’ll talk more about that another time. Now is the time for asking, if in fact you desire the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus. If you desire the energetically animating, non-material, foundationally real, sensually transcendent personal presence who is full of divine creativity, divine order, divine wholeness, divine favor, divine love, and divine goodness. The Holy Spirit. The defense counselor. The come-alongsider. The Spirit by whom we cry “Abba, Father.” The one who blows where he pleases and whom it pleases to come among us with personal intentions and new creation purpose and who desires to speak to us, to send us on our way, and to fill us.


Practical Suggestion:

1. Ask early and often. Everytime you become aware of your breath or the wind, pray “Come, Holy Spirit.” I don’t know what will happen, exactly. That’s the beauty and the terror of inviting another person into your life. Try it as a discipline for a week, an experiment with God and asking. A leap of faith. See what happens. We’ll talk more next Sunday.