Welcome to this plan for worshipping together while we are at our homes. This is the 200th blog post on our website! Pastor Jeff White prepares this and hopes it continues to be helpful to us all, from near and far. More information is available each week in the Bulletin. Today is celebrated by many Christians as PENTECOST. Read the whole story in Acts chapter 2, if you need a refresher.
Worship Welcome Acts 2:17, 18, 21 (MSG) Peter quoting Joel
“In the Last Days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes,
I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
and they’ll prophesy.
And whoever calls out for help
to me, God, will be saved.”
Hymn 290 Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart
Spirit of God descend upon my heart
Wean it from earth thro’ all its pulses move
Stoop to my weakness mighty as Thou art
And make me love Thee as I ought to love
I ask no dream no prophet ecstasies
No sudden rending of the veil of clay
No angel visitant no opening skies
But take the dimness of my soul away
Hast Thou not bid us love Thee God and King
All Thine own soul heart and strength and mind
I see Thy cross there teach my heart to cling
O let me seek Thee and O let me find
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear
To check the rising doubt the rebel sigh
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love
One holy passion filling all my frame
The baptism of the heav’n descended dove
My heart an altar and Thy love the flame
– George Croly, 1867
Prayer Fire of God, Sacred Flame, Spirit, Who in splendour came: may we know You again, now. Come to us, Holy Spirit. Call us to You, Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus, who promised You, we pray and praise. Some of us ask simply that the dimness of our souls be taken away. Some of us fervently seek Your power and filling and glory, and plead for You to move again among us! Some of us are confident today, as every Sunday, that You will be near and powerful. O Spirit of communication, open our minds to understand what is real and true, open our hearts to the river of compassion, open our senses to trust Your guidance. AMEN.
Scripture Deuteronomy 5:1-22 [The Ten Commandments] – ten readers
Song Awesome God (The video, below, seemed like a great rendition to Pastor Jeff.)
Children’s Time God’s Languages
Scripture Hebrews 12:18-24
Sermon Stay The Blazes – Jeff White
Indeed our God is a consuming fire. Such words can put fear into people’s hearts; ‘puts the fear of God into them!’ Have you ever been frightened by God, or by a religious experience?
Author, Philip Yancey, tells of each fall in the church of his childhood, the prophecy conference that was sponsored. Silver-haired men of national repute would stretch their prophecy charts… across the platform and expound on “the last days” we were living in.
Yancey says, I listened in fear and fascination as they drew a straight line south from Moscow to Jerusalem and sketched in the movement of million-strong armies who would soon converge on Israel. I learned that the ten members of Europe’s Common Market had recently fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy about the beast with ten horns. Soon all of us would bear a number stamped on our foreheads, the mark of the beast, and be registered in a computer somewhere in Belgium. Nuclear war would break out and the planet would teeter on the brink of annihilation, until at the last second Jesus himself would return to lead the armies of righteousness.
Yancey concludes, I grew up at once terrified and desperately hopeful. (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 1995 p. 239)
So, it is not surprising that many people want to halt or “stay” the fire of God. Keep away. ‘Stay the blazes,’ we could say. (As in, “I hope the court will stay the execution.”) Halt meeting up with the fires of the Holy Spirit, or even alarming human preaching.
Indeed our God is a consuming fire. This is powerful, poetic language. In our celebration of Pentecost we rejoice in God the Holy Spirit, given to believers. We look back to that scene, recorded in Acts chapter 2, when the disciples of Jesus heard a rushing wind, and flames of fire seemed to appear above each person. God – the Spirit – came to their spirits and bodies.
They spoke… they spoke in the various languages of the many visitors to the city. All the pilgrims to Jerusalem heard these Galileans speaking in their own ‘foreign’ tongues. God is a Spirit of communication.
Yet, all the supernatural stories of the Spirit, from the scriptures and from history, still can be alarming. Some of us like things on Sunday morning done ‘decently and in order,’ (1 Cor 14:40) nothing getting out of our control. Not to mention when the Pastor visits, or when someone religious knocks on our door, or if there is a chance of ‘speaking in tongues’ at prayer meeting. (We don’t even have prayer mtngs!)
This is a human tendency among believers. The faithful often fall into caution and what’s comfortable. We may hold on to our own dramatic experience, but don’t want a different one.
Two hundred years ago, and more, evangelical revivals were sweeping through the Maritimes, like the ebbing and flowing tides. One influential and legendary travelling evangelist was Henry Alline. An element of the gatherings in many towns was exhortation: the public speaking of lay people, to their family and friends, about the Saviour and their great need of Him. Alline’s faith, and preaching, and teaching were intensely personal, and he encouraged this public witnessing. In his journal, from 1782, he tells of ministry experience in Liverpool.
Almost all the town assembled together, and some that were lively christians prayed and exhorted, and God was there with a truth. I preached every day and sometimes twice a day; and the houses where I went were crowded almost all the time. Many were brought out of darkness and rejoiced, and exhorted in public.
Historian, George Rawlyk, tells that Alline was particularly moved by “a young lad” who took “his father by the hand,” and cried out, “O father, you have been a great sinner, and now are an old man: an old sinner, with grey hairs upon your head, going right down to destruction.” “O turn, turn, dear father,” the son imported “return and fly to Jesus Christ.” There were according to Alline “many other such like expressions and entreaties, enough to melt a stony heart.” (Rawlyk, Ravished by the Spirit, 1983, p. 113)
This revivalism was, of course, frowned upon by many in the established churches: Anglicans, Presbyterians, and so forth. Yet this evangelical way was powerful, and influential. It is part of our history, our roots of faith in Nova Scotia.
I notice that my beloved, and now retired, professor of Church History always gets quoted by his former students for saying, “The Church has always institutionalized how the Spirit moved last.” (Dr. Bob Wilson) Something great happens with God, and we want to keep it that way, keep doing it that same way, and not do the next new thing. Meanwhile, the Holy One has moved along and is working in new ways, and left us behind.
Our reading from Deuteronomy 5 set the stage today for Hebrews 12. Deuteronomy sees Moses retelling the whole story of Exodus and the Law, and so forth, before his death. Today, we read of him rehearsing the Ten Commandments. Did you notice the mention of fire, there at the holy mountain, and the fear the people had? Scared of the fire of the mountain, the people insisted that Moses only approach God.
So, in the early days of Christ and the new covenant, the book of Hebrews speaks of all these things that happened thirteen hundred years earlier.
18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them.
It is a whole new chapter of faith that the people have come into, not the old path. It is new, with Jesus the Christ. In this chapter, the imagery of Mount Horeb (aka Sinai) and of Mount Zion (Jerusalem) are contrasted. The Bible scenes those Christians read about are not what they are headed for. There is a new vision.
What they remember, by reading the Torah, is the fearful scene of God’s reality. The Holy One had used every sense and power available to be present.
Touch: an untouchable mountain
Vision: blazing fire and darkness
Music: trumpet sound
Verbal: words that frightened
The new experience, in Christ, is different, greater, grander, and less frightening. It is a vision of a new Holy City (as in Revelation 21). “You have come to…”
Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a picture to point to the indescribable.
innumerable angels in festal gathering. There is nothing alone or isolating about paradise. And there is praising and celebrating.
the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. This is what the preacher of Hebrews (a book that is like one very long sermon) calls the believers who have already died.
God the judge of all. I keep thinking that the greatest thing about God always being called The Judge, is that no one else judges us, and we do not have the final say on anyone else. That’s good news!
the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Here again are believers, humans, from earth, who have been made complete by God. Holy forever.
Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. Of course He is at the centre of the vision. He is the source of the new way, new agreement, new covenant, new relationship.
the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Genesis tells us of Abel being killed by his brother, Cain. Abel’s blood cried out from the ground for justice, for vengeance. Jesus’ blood, on the other hand, also spilled out on the ground through violence, cries out with forgiveness.
If we look hard enough, we can know the Spirit speaking, through history, and today, in all the various ‘love languages’ to us people. Communicating in every way possible to us, in our wondrous diversity. There are Words of Affirmation, and so many of these words recorded in the Gospels for us. This means a lot to some people.
There are Acts of Service. Jesus’ actions speak louder than words to many people.
There is Receiving Gifts, and the concept of ‘Christ as the perfect gift to us’ makes sense to people whose love language is giving and getting gifts.
There is Quality Time, so that the mystics among us value the deep times of devotion with the Spirit.
And Jesus gives Physical Touch. The ways He broke the social and religious rules to touch the untouchable sick, embrace the certified sinners, and then eat with them, was radical! Some people seek and feel His touch today.
Each one is important and expresses love in its own way, the love of God for us and our world.
But we can be uncomfortable with ways that are not our preferred ways. We want to ‘stay the blazes,’ halt the energy of God that we fear.
So, if you are not the ‘touchy feely’ type, you might want to avoid the religious experiences that express emotion physically. Or, if you share love with people by giving things and receiving gifts, meditation and inactive prayers may leave you cold and could seem pointless.
Yet such things are simply the path of loving God for other, different people. It is a matter of personality, of culture, simply a matter of creative differences in humankind. Spirit speaks all our languages.
In Church history we can see the variety of religious expressions that share the truth of Christ, yet are quite different. These live on in the present day. Years ago, I found the categories taught by Renovaré helpful. Renovaré is a Christian, spiritual renewal organization, founded by Richard Foster.
We can see some Churches are of what we could call the Holiness Tradition, with a focus upon having pure thoughts, words, actions, and overcoming temptation. Wesleyanism and the Nazarene Church grow from this branch.
Another way is the Charismatic Tradition, welcoming the Holy Spirit and exercising spiritual gifts. We think immediately of Pentecostalism, but there are many believers who share this, including the charismatic Roman Catholics.
There is the Contemplative Tradition, with an emphasis upon the inner life of prayer and fasting, meditation and solitude. We likely imagine monks in Catholic monasteries, but I have met a few Baptist mystics in my life!
We can see among believers throughout history a Social Justice Tradition, focused upon helping others in practical ways. One hundred and fifty years ago the ‘Social Gospel’ movement arose in North America, and in many ways lives on. For years now I’ve liked our Canadian Baptist Ministries’ emphasis on ‘integral mission,’ which means serving people in every way: spiritual, physical, mental/emotional, and social.
Renoavré speaks also of an Incarnational Tradition. This means paying attention to uniting the so-called sacred and secular parts of life. The focus is making present and visible the realm of the invisible Spirit.
And, if Baptists had to choose one of these six categories, I think it would be the Evangelical Tradition, with its emphasis upon sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and being rooted in the scriptures.
Do any of these paths seem like they describe you? And is any one (or more) something you know you’re not fond of?
Wherever we are on our journey of salvation, we will find ourselves on a path quite close with some believers, and seemingly far from others. A wider, balanced view of these biblical traditions of Christianity can help us respect and appreciate other saints among us. And we shall learn from one another, be led by one another, and me ministered to by one another… sometimes in surprising ways.
The multiple ways we need to hear from God are provided. Our fear of ways strange or different can be overcome when led by the Spirit. And we ourselves will be challenged, grow farther into Christian maturity, and have fewer moments when we want to ‘stay the blazes’ of God, and instead, we ‘approach the throne of grace with boldness’. (Hebrews 4:16)
Thanks be to Jesus Christ, our Master!
Thanks be to the Spirit, God’s Presence!
Thanks be to the Almighty, our Strength!
Offering One of our partners in the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada is Crandall University in Moncton, NB. This university is supported to a great extent – financially and prayerfully – by the churches of the CBAC. Remember the graduating students, who did not get to gather for graduation ceremony or other festivities. We did not yet set a goal for 2020 in terms of Digby Baptist’s giving to Crandall. You can give, as always, by designating to Crandall University on your offering envelope. For an update on Crandall click HERE.
Prayers of the People We offer prayer, O God, and these words guide us to pray along the same path together, today. May the path be along the way of Jesus – in Your will and plan.
For all Your expressions of love and power, we rejoice. You speak our language, whatever it be. And when there are no words, You are still there. Hallelujah!
From a world of trouble, we pray. One act of violence sets off a blaze of trouble and anger, and screams for justice. We pray for those who ‘can’t breathe,’ who are still oppressed, disregarded, hated, hurt, killed. We bow to face our own personal prejudices, some deeply hidden, and wake up to the privileges that unfairly are ours. God of justice, God of forgiveness, God of reconciliation, God of compassion, show mercy!
We continue in prayer for a world that is sick. Sick in body with a virus. Sick in soul, with all the nastiness that rises up in the human spirit. Sick in society, with the ‘us vs. them’ attitudes that harm. Let the fire of the Spirit burn brightly again, and speak in each person’s language the message that is needed.
In our local lives, we rejoice that You are a local God! Near and creative. We pray for one another. We remember the family and friends and church of the late Pastor Marc Phillips, so suddenly taken from us. We remember George T and Marj W in our local hospital, grateful now they can have a visitor or two, at long last. We remember those whose isolation is hard, and really taking a toll on heart and mind and soul. O Comforter, come! and comfort Your people.
But also, ‘stir us from placidness.’ Light a fire under us, whatever prompting is needed. Spur us on, for this is not a time just for waiting and watching. These – but the beginning of our prayers – we offer in the name of Jesus, who taught us to say: Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.
Hymn Spirit of Gentleness
Go out into the world,
and labour to bring forth new life.
Dream dreams, pursue visions
and speak of God’s goodness
in the words of those who would hear.
And may the God who breathed life into creation be your delight.
May Christ Jesus give hope to your dreaming,
and may the Holy Spirit, your advocate and supporter,
…set your hearts ablaze with a passion for peace. AMEN.
— copyright © 2003 Nathan Nettleton