Encountering Glory – Being Changed

gloryI have been living in 2 Corinthians 3 this last week in preparation for our Celebration Service this Sunday and have been blown away. What Paul claims is nothing less than if we turn to Jesus, the veil separating us from God will be taken away and we will encounter his glory – and be changed! Through the grace of Jesus and the power of the Spirit we are ushered into presence of God, nothing now separating us from the creator of the universe!

Glory is an interesting word in the scriptures. It means weightiness – hence the glory of God is his presence, his weight, his character that leaves a mark. In the OT Moses encounters the glory of God and has to veil his face when he meets with the people. It is too much even though it is ultimately fading glory. The astonishing claim through Jesus is that this veil gets taken away and we can fully encounter the glory of God. And it is this weightiness that we often encounter when we gather and we worship. The Holy Spirit comes and we feel the  glory of God pressing down on us – revealing his presence to us. It is a joyful ecstasy to know God in this way, and if we are open to his Holy Spirit coming and revealing himself to us, we can enjoy the very presence of the living God.

Why does this matter?

Because it gives us hope and it encourages us to be bold. Hope because we now have face to face access to God just like Moses did, but in an even more extraordinary way. 2 Corinthians 3 suggests that it is in this encounter that leads to freedom and being transformed into God’s likeness. Think the fruit of the Spirit being formed in us – his character, his power, his peace. And boldness because we are now assured of who God is and what we are called to do. Simply we are to carry and give away this glory!

This Christmas get to know the glory of God. In John 1 it says we have beheld his glory – and it is full of grace and truth. Through the Gospels we read of people meeting Jesus and being changed. Sinful men and women like you and me. The veil is taken away – they encounter glory and are changed. Sickness is healed, evil spirits are cast out, good news is received, circumstances are overcome. And thankfully this is not just a history book – it is the same stories that emerge today in our churches.

How have you encountered the glory of God this year? Has it brought hope, has it changed your life, has it made you bold? Go with peace to love and serve the Lord!

I will put my Spirit in you and you will live

For those who are coming on Sunday to church I thought I would give you a taste of what we are going to be looking at and experiencing. In the amazing prophesy of Ezekiel 37 God gives Ezekiel a vision of a valley of dry bones. I want to not only speak a word of hope but also to ask God to come and fill us with his Spirit!

In life it is easy to settle for a mentality that this is as good as it gets – so deal with it. And while our faith is not a magic wand that makes everything ok, it is a promise that God will come and fill us with life. In other words, if we can walk in the Spirit as the Apostle Paul encourages to do, a quality of life will emerge. 

The prophecy of Ezekiel comes at a time when the people of God had been dragged off into captivity by the Babylonians, their temple had been robbed and they were under the judgement of God. Although their scriptures told stories of a God who acts powerfully to bring life, they were without hope. It was not their experience of God… And like them, sometimes as our lives don’t turn out like we hope they will, we too can lose faith in God. We rationalise the promises of the bible down to our own experiences. Sick, just cope, depressed, somehow just get on with it, broken – aren’t we all…

But into their story, into our lives, God’s promise is to move. Breathing new life, restoring hope, making us his people. So let’s orient ourselves to this passage, and  ask him to come… to once again breathe this new life into our tired and weary bones! 

The picture Ezekiel paints starts as one of the people of God without hope. In a valley where a battle may have taken place, the people have been reduced to a great pile of dried out bones. It suggests the people have been in this situation for a long time… defeated, deteriorating, decaying. And it was there story – defeated by Babylon, taken into captivity, their temple robbed. Life has got hard. Hope is in short supply.

You know it never ceases to amaze me just how hard life can be for some people. Just this week I was having lunch with the homeless and broken of Manly at the Salvation Army. Many of them wonderful people, but if our brokenness is sometimes internalised, many of these people were wearing it visibly. Sometimes it is our bad choices that lead to life getting off track, but often it is the circumstances that life thrusts into our hands… The result is a valley of dry bones – of a people without hope…

God asks Ezekiel – can these bone live? It is a great question, one to which Ezekiel can only answer “O God, you alone know.” Because from a human point it looks to be a situation without hope. How can these bones live, they have long been dead. A work colleague many years ago when I was working in London took me out to lunch. She shared with me some tragic things that had happened in her life that had overshadowed everything else. She was one of these dry bones… maybe surviving but never thriving in life. Can these bones live? When hope is gone what from a human point of view can we do?

God asks Ezekiel to do something quite incredible. First he asks him to speak! To Prophesy, in other words speak the Word of God to these dry bones! Tell them, God says, that he will make “breath enter you, and you will come alive. Then you will know that I am God.” In Ezekiel’s vision a remarkable thing begins to happen… A noise emerges, a rattling sound and the bones come together, tendons first… and flesh appeared on them, skin begins to covers them… But there is no breath in them… in other words it looks like a sleeping army. They are not yet alive. Hope is coming back but it aint quite there yet.

But it isn’t over. Prophesy to the breath says God. Come from the four winds. O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live. And the breathe enters the bodies, they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army. It has echoes of the creation story where breathe enters into the first man Adam and he comes alive. It is something God alone can do! As far as I know scientists haven’t figured out how to take a rock and make it come alive. God is the source of life. It is his creative breath that brings us alive!

And we hear the echoes of this passage after Jesus has been resurrected from the dead! Remember Jesus has said to Nicodemus in John 3 that to be born again you must be born of the Spirit… And so the first disciples… huddled in an upper room, afraid and without hope. Their saviour has been crucified, the movement of new life he has launched into the world seems to be over. Just another dead saviour. And then he appears to them! “Peace be with you.” And then we hear he breathes on them and says… “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Like the prophesy of Ezekiel here is our God – bringing his hopeless people back to life. The wind is blowing, the breath of God is entering them! Filling them with his Spirit – launching them into the world to continue his mission!

It makes sense right? Ezekiel has pointed towards this wonderful future… Verse 14 – I will put my Spirit in you and you will live! The vast army of Ezekiel’s vision is a testimony to the world that God is God. That he breathes life into the hopeless. All pointing towards this glorious future where God would pour out his Spirit into his people through the coming of his Son Jesus Christ.

You know I believe we are living in an age where the church is reawakening to the powerful life of the Spirit. An interesting thing we may note in this passage is that it is a two stage process. The first bit is the coming of the Word of God – Ezekiel is asked to prophesy to the bones! But the life doesn’t fully emerge until the Spirit of God moves on them. It is this powerful combination of Word and Spirit that brings the people of God into the fullness of life that He intends…

I was reading this week about the Great Awakening. This was a powerful move of God in the early 1800’s that came in both the UK and America through the ministries of John and Charles Wesley, Whitefield and Edwards. These great evangelists took the Gospel of Jesus out of the churches and onto the streets. The industrial revolution was bringing huge changes to society, and not all good. Huge swathes were moving from the country into the cities, families were breaking down, children were working in mines, many churches had fallen asleep!

Men like Wesley and Whitefield would ride from town to town preaching in open air gatherings. It was the birth of the Methodist church movement and renewal of many other churches. But the history has been rewritten with much of this powerful move of God’s Spirit removed from the books. But in these huge crowds of up to 30,000 people after the sermons, the Spirit of God would often come and move in the great assembled crowds. Not only did coal covered faces wash white with tears, but it is recorded that hundreds would often fall over under the power of the Spirit. Miraculous manifestations of God would occur as new life came to a broken people. The secularist Benjamin Franklin even noted that during the great awakening you couldn’t go down any street without hearing Psalms and Hymns being sung in every home. The big moves of God are always Word and Spirit – preaching and power!

So let’s ask once again, for God to come and breathe his Spirit on our lives and His church! That is what we will be doing this Sunday at Manly Life Church. As Paul encourages us to be filled with the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit and to live by the Spirit. The breathe of God is moving again in this generation. Come Lord Jesus and move in our lives. Make us come alive so that we might live for your glory! Hope is making a comeback and it is called Jesus. Breathe… breathe… breathe on us we pray!

God’s presence or bust!

Victoria spoke last night at Manly Life on that great passage in Exodus where Moses says to God; “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

In the same passage God promises; “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

This is the ongoing story of God’s people through time – it is His presence in and through us that makes all the difference to all that we do. It should be what distinguishes us from all other people. Whether in the way we share good news, pray for the sick, act with compassion or meet together, it all counts for nothing if the presence of God is not with us. Some thoughts for us as individuals, churches and in our communities…

1. Personally we need to take seriously being the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Co 6:19). The same Spirit/power that conquered the grave now lives in us (Rom 8:11), the same Spirit of Jesus is now shaping our character (Gal 5:22-26), indeed the same Spirit cries out within us that we are the children of God (Rom 8:15-16). We live as children shaped by the presence in us!

2. As churches we are known for the presence of God dwelling in our midst. Just as the early church was filled with awe, miracles, signs and wonders (Acts 2:43), our meetings today are to be characterised by the presence of God. When someone comes to one of our services we owe them an encounter with the presence of God. Whether that be in a sense of peace and grace or in mighty demonstrations of God’s power – we are to be seekers of his presence with us!

3. In our community we are to be the visible carriers of God’s presence. Jesus promised after his resurrection that “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:20). Whatever we do in our communities, let it be characterised by Jesus being there with us. An act of mercy, a word of good news, an encouragement, a prayer of faith – may His presence go with us!

Theologically I believe that battle is over – the church has awoken to the need for the presence of God to manifest in our lives, in our churches, in our mission. “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And where we don’t see it yet, we keep seeking and praying. God don’t send us unless you are with us!

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