Mark Kelly

I've been wondering about stuff since 1975!

A funny, possibly even a philosophical question, entered my head at the start of this week: Why do we walk?

Nothing prompted it, I hadn’t seen someone walk funny, or trip up, (which for some reason is always amusing so long as they don’t hurt themselves!). I wasn’t reading anything about travel or watching a TV show with a title like ‘Great Walks of Britain’ (though if this were ever commissioned, I’d happily be the host). I could only conclude it was a ‘God-thing’, so I decided to consider the question further.

We have an insatiable desire as human beings to move from one place to the next. Even if we’re less able, we find other means of locomotion such as a wheelchair or crutches. We don’t ever seem to want to stay in one place for long.

As I thought this through further, I pushed the question into analogy territory and considered how we’re all in a state of transition as we travel along the highway of life. A transition of life stages. We like to identify these transitions: Baby, child, then adult. Even these aren’t enough. As humans (at least in western culture) we insist on generating more transitional phases: Newborn, toddler, child, teenager, youth, young adult and finally the adult, phew! I’m sure if I really wanted I could identify more, such as ‘significant’ birthdays.

Does identifying this moving, this transitioning, give us a sense of accomplishment? A ‘well done us’ for living longer and making it to the next stage? Like some kind of strange computer game where we only have one life, but many levels to complete?

As I write this I’m 42 years old. When I was very young 42 seemed so old, and I could never imagine myself being the age I am now. I remember too that I was always desperate to hit the next life stage. (Yet at the same time life was so unfair! I had to go to school, learn things, do what my parents told me. As I approached my teenage years, it never felt right that I had to tidy the bedroom that I’d messed up!) I thought that when I get to 18 years old, I’d be my own man, able to make my own decisions and deal with the consequences as someone with wisdom and learning. How wrong I was. At 18 I still felt somewhat like a child. Even now, I still don’t quite feel like I’m grown up enough. I look at my three kids, and especially my 12 soon to be 13 years old (that teenage stage) and wonder, how on Earth did I get here and how am I a dad?

Every day is a learning curve, every day presenting new challenges and new wonders. From my initial desire to rush through life, I now find myself wanting to slow it down – realising that I’m on the downhill section of level 6 in the game of Mark Kelly’s life.

I’m learning to try and remember the moments, make them stop as they pass me by so I can take a good look at them. However, I’m still looking to the future, wondering what it holds and with positive expectation anticipating its arrival. There’s watching my children complete their different life stages, curious where, or if, they might they deviate from the well-trodden path of our culture with all its expectations and pressures. For a time we will walk together, and then one day they will go on ahead without me. I just hope that for as long as we journey together on Earth I’m able to be to them a good role-model. To my boys: A good example of a man, a man who shows them how to treat others with respect. To my daughter: Explain to her that she is capable and she can give anything a shot. And so on and so forth.

Back to the question: Why do we walk? Answer: Because God has designed us this way.

He designed us with two feet pointing forward not backwards. He encourages us to look ahead and follow where our eyes go with boldness and courage, in the physical, mental and indeed spiritual. We can glance back to see where we have been, but never for long, we focus primarily on where we’re going. We might stop for the occasional rest, to take in what is happening around us, and then we step once more onto the path, joining with others, and also with Jesus, on a long and exciting walk into eternity.

Home welcome mat

It’s good to remind ourselves sometimes that Church is not just a Sunday service! Church is also all of these:

  • A family of believers expressing the presence of God through gathering together, a shared relationship and outreach to others.
  • A people of God, who share the same covenant through the blood of Jesus.
  • A community of believers expressing God’s heart to the nations.
  • A particular family of the people of God joined together for a purpose.
  • A community of believers sharing one faith in Jesus Christ.
  • A local community of God’s people in a relationship together as a corporate expression of the body, bride and army of God.
  • The people of God in an organic, covenanted relationship with God and one another with the aim of reproducing the Kingdom in the Earth.
  • A gathering of the saints.

This list is by no means exhaustive!

To gather together corporately in one place at an ordained time for the unashamed worship and praise of God is beautiful and remarkable! As God breaks into these times, and His presence is felt, there is nowhere else like it. We feel refreshed and closer to God than ever before and leave prepared to go out and ‘make disciples of all nations!’.

We go home after these times and carry on with life excited about what God is doing and is going to do. The next working / college / family day comes around, and as we take our excitement into this environment, people notice that we are different. We positively impact our colleagues, friends or family’s lives. But as the week wears on and work, and college and family life get busy we find that our jobs and studies eat into our free time and shorten our time with loved ones. Stresses quickly start to outwork themselves through our actions and thoughts. Before we know it, God has been prioritised to the bottom of the list, and we don’t give Him much time. Reading the Word can become an after-thought. It’s almost like that full tank of the Holy Spirit has run dry, and now we’re running on empty. “If I can … just … make … it … to Sunday I’ll be re-filled and ready to go!”

Can you relate to this? Does it sound like you to some degree? Is your only weekly connection with God through one or two short hours on a Sunday? There’s got to be a way to live our lives more effectively for God, right?

Here are four short verses from the New Testament which may help us all to realise a more ‘filled with God’s presence’ lifestyle:

Acts 5:42
And every day, in the Temple and their homes, they continued to teach and preach this message: “The Messiah you are looking for is Jesus.”

Acts 16:40
Paul and Silas then returned to the home of Lydia, where they met with the believers and encouraged them once more before leaving town.

Romans 16:3-5
Greet Priscilla and Aquila. They have been co-workers in my ministry for Christ Jesus. In fact, they risked their lives for me. I am not the only one who is thankful to them; so are all the Gentile churches. Please give my greetings to the church that meets in their home…

Colossians 4:15
Please give my greetings to our Christian brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and those who meet in her house.

It’s clear from these verses that meeting in homes is a great way to stay connected, be strengthened and so make a more significant impact in the communities around us. In a lot of local churches these are named things like small groups, cell groups or life groups.

However, neither small groups or Sunday gatherings can replace a personal life devoted to God. We also need to spend time with God alone to enjoy His presence, pray, meditate and read His Word. Combined with Sunday meetings and small groups, and our individual decision to give time to God will keep our ‘tanks’ filled to overflowing!

Holy Spirit with Hands

“God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand, but the Holy Spirit is a grey, oblong blur!” (Quote, source unknown.)

 

Over the first three parts of this series we have defined, admittedly in a simple way, why we should think of the Holy Spirit as a person and not an ‘it’ or a ‘blur’. But how does the Holy Spirit fit into the concept of the Godhead? That is the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?

My first ever explanation of this seemingly strange relationship between the different persons of God, was when I was about 13 years old. Across the road from my home there lived an old Irish Catholic lady called Jenny. I became good friends with her grandson and so became good friends with this woman who had a gentle Irish lilt and a wise manner about her. In a way, she became another grandparent with whom I could share personal thoughts and ask questions.

I remember sitting around her small kitchen table one day with a cup of tea in my hand (yes, I used to drink the leafy stuff!) and I began to ask her about God and her faith. Eventually, the subject of the Trinity came up. She explained the trinity to me using an egg! She explained the egg has three parts:

  • The shell
  • The egg-white
  • The yolk

If you remove any of these parts, she said, it no longer can be called an egg. Each part has its function, its purpose, and is needed for an egg to be an egg. To expand this further: We don’t refer to an egg using these individual parts. We don’t go into a shop looking for or asking for, a yolk, some egg white, and a shell. We simply ask for an egg!

And so this analogy can be used to help us in describing the Godhead. God is three persons yet they are the one true God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We can call upon each of them, pray to each one of them, thank each one of them, but ultimately we are still referring to God. Three different, yet the same persons each with a different function and purpose, but in perfect relationship with each other and that to think that, like the egg, one can be separate from the other is strange and unthinkable.

The ‘egg explanation’ has stayed with me all this time. Through all the years of searching and experimenting with other faiths, religions and what-not, this idea of God has stayed with me. There are many more questions to ask about how the Trinity works as a concept and as a divine reality. There are challenges to bring and other analogies to present. But the truth, which I have grown to accept, is that the Trinity is three persons in one divine being, flowing together, submitted to one another, and loving one another completely.

When we call on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, guidance and direction. When we pray for the gifts of the Spirit such as healing, prophecy, tongues, interpretation and raising people from the dead, we are asking for the power of God Himself to come and be at one with us. When we ask Jesus into our lives and to be our Lord and Saviour, we are asking the Creator of the universe to be at one with us. When we pray, when we cry out to God the Father for help and comfort, He comes to us as the Holy Spirit to be at one with us.

It may be after reading this series that you desire to be filled afresh with the Almighty. It may be you have not been filled with the Holy Spirit, you haven’t yet been baptised in His Spirit. Right now, you have an opportunity to pray for this to happen. You have a choice to reject this deeper connection with His Spirit and to concentrate on the love of Jesus and to read divine Scripture, but I promise that if you take this step to be filled with the Holy Spirit, your walk with Him will take a more fulfilling direction and your maturity in Him will quicken.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Holy Spirit with Hands

“God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand, but the Holy Spirit is a grey, oblong blur!” (Quote, source unknown.)

 

The Holy Spirit bears at least three characteristics of what makes a person a person: Intellect, Feeling, and Will.

Firstly, what does the Bible say about His intellect: For who knows a person’s thoughts except for their own spirit within them? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:11)

A ‘grey, oblong blur’ does not know the thoughts of God!

The Holy Spirit has access to the deep things of God that no human or entity has. Furthermore, He knows what’s in our thoughts: And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:27) The Holy Spirit has full access to God and full access to me and you, there is nothing in our lives that he does not know. Nothing.

Secondly, what about His feelings: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30) The context of this verse is immorality and wrong language. When we are tempted to act and talk like the world that is outside of His Church, it grieves the Holy Spirit. For example, when we are tempted to Gossip, lie, and slander. Those of us that have this intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit immediately sense the presence of someone who is not pleased with what’s happening. It grieves Him. A ‘grey, oblong blur’ or a ‘symbol’ does not grieve.

Finally, the Holy Spirit also has a will: All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines. (1 Corinthians 12:11) Out of His will, He does many personal acts:

  • He speaks – Acts 13:2 initiates ministry of Paul and Barnabas: 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.” (Acts 13:2)
  • He testifies – John 15:26 bears witness to Jesus. He gives testimony about Jesus: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about me. (John 15:26)
  • He teaches – But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)
  • He convicts – When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. (John 16:8-11)
  • He intercedes for us – In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)
  • He Guides and directs us – But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)

So we know and have read in Scripture, that He is a person with intellect, feeling, and will. These all give rise to the attributes of God, and because the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we cannot help but develop these same attributes which are the Fruit of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Holy Spirit with Hands

“God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand, but the Holy Spirit is a grey, oblong blur!” (Quote, source unknown.)

 

I did a bit of checking recently and came across a survey done in 2009 by the Barna Group (a research and resource group focused on the intersection of faith and culture). It was a wide-ranging and nationwide survey, admittedly across the USA, but one of the points of the study was most enlightening. They asked people to agree or disagree with was this statement: “The Holy Spirit is a symbol of God, but not a living entity.” 49% of Christians that responded agreed with this statement. They believed that the Holy Spirit is just a symbol of God’s power and authority.

Let’s see what Jesus has to say about the Holy Spirit as I think He is a pretty good place to start when you have any questions: And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever. – John 14:16 (NIV)

The above verse comes from the New International Version of the Bible, I checked other translations and got six different words used in place of ‘advocate’. I think the Amplified Translation helps sum up all the different words used: And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counsellor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby), that He may remain with you forever. – John 14:16 (Amplified)

Counsellor, helper, intercessor and advocate all suggest someone with whom you can have a personal relationship. A friend once gave me a definition of counsellor: “A counsellor is someone whom I confide in, whom I tell everything. In fact, a counsellor is someone I have to ‘let in’ if he’s going to help me. He is someone that I share my most deep secrets with.”

The word used above: ‘advocate’, simply means ‘someone who speaks for you.’ However to speak for you with honesty and integrity they need to know you, really know you, know how you would respond, how you would act, how you would think. An advocate would know you inside-out!

Jesus is clearly talking about the Holy Spirit in this verse, and He is referring to Him in all these different ways (English clearly isn’t up to translating the original language well enough, and that’s why we have so many different words in these various versions). It doesn’t read like Jesus is referring to an ‘it’ or an ‘oblong grey blur’, it reads like a person; someone who is so intimately involved with you that you can share everything about you with Him.

Jesus also uses the word ‘another’ in this verse which is used in two ways in the New Testament: ‘Another thing of a different kind’; ‘Another of the same kind’. In this instance, Jesus is saying the Holy Spirit is another of the same kind of counsellor.

The Holy Spirit then is just like Jesus, one who is called alongside to help.

 

Holy Spirit with Hands

“God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand, but the Holy Spirit is a grey, oblong blur!” (Quote, source unknown.)

 

At Freedom Church (the local church I lead) we spent a year talking about activating the gifts of the Spirit and living lives where the Fruit of the Spirit is there for all to see. We heard some beautiful messages over that year, but just over halfway through God sprang the thought on me that, even as Charismatic believers, did we have any real notion as to who or what the Holy Spirit is?

One thing I love doing is being able to remind myself why I believe what I believe and in doing that I try not to let my faith become too complicated. I’m a pragmatic individual, and if I spend too much time in the upper atmosphere of conceptual thinking I get quite breathless and start to lose consciousness! I can only have a short period in this kind of air, and then I quickly want to come back down to earth and start the ‘doing’ as well as the thinking (I wonder if anyone else like this? Maybe you could let me know!).

I’m of the opinion that when we start to think about the Holy Spirit, we can quickly get all, conceptual, ethereal, and mystical even! But the reality of the Holy Spirit is that He likes to do things not just think about things.

Now please reread the quote at the top of this article (go ahead, I’ll be right here when you get back). I’m of the opinion that a vast majority of Christians probably have little trouble relating to the Father and the Son because of the personal images involved and the reality of the risen Jesus. Even though we know that God is also Spirit we can have some issue with trying to associate the Spirit with personhood; that is He is a person of the Godhead just as much as the Father and the Son.

“For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

I heard a preacher once share on the ‘Peace of God’. He said that we can sometimes fall into the mental trap of giving God layers of authority within Himself – so for example: God the Father is at the top, Jesus is in the middle and the Holy Spirit lurks around at the bottom somewhere. I’m not sure there is any real truth in this!

There’s a story where a Sunday school teacher was trying to teach the children about the Holy Spirit, and she tried showing the reality of the Spirit by blowing on a piece of paper and letting it fly away. She said to the children that the Spirit is like the wind; very real in its effects, but invisible. At which point a 6-year-old blurted out, “I want the wind to be un-visible!” Often I think we also want Holy Spirit to be ‘un-visible’, but because He is not and we see His effects but have no personal images, we tend to let our minds think of Him in non-personal terms and even refer to Him as ‘It’. Here are some words that are used to describe the Holy Spirit in the Bible: Dove, wind, fire, water, oil. All good stuff, all very Biblical, but I make no wonder why sometimes He is thought of as a ‘grey, oblong blur!’

I encourage you to read: ‘Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God’ by Gordon Fee (Fee, G. D. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic). In it Fee paraphrases the creed like this, “We believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and we believe in Jesus Christ His Son, but we’re not so sure about the Holy Spirit!”

Our understanding of God comes through His Son. He has been fleshed out, as it were, at a point in our human history. Even if God the Father may seem distant or transcendental to some, we are not in the dark about His character as we see this through Christ.

“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord, who is the Spirit, makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 4:4-6

Reading the above verses, I think they help us recognise that the Holy Spirit is not merely conceptual, but real and experiential. The Holy Spirit is also called in Scripture the Spirit of Jesus. Christ has also put a human face on the Spirit as well as the Father.

There’s an idea that I read about some years ago and I think it’s incredibly relevant to the Christmas season. The idea is this: The medium of the message is as important as the message itself.

Now, what do I mean by that?

A simple way of looking at it is like this: I am a communicator. I preach most Sundays, and I post online, through blogs and social media. I make simple videos like the one below. Every single one of those Sunday messages, posts and videos are, on the whole not, about me in any way, but they have a flavour of me within them. They wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for me, which suggests that as the medium of the messages that I am bringing, I am as important as the message. If I didn’t present a sermon, you wouldn’t hear the words, if I didn’t write the words down, you couldn’t read them.

I was thinking about this idea in terms of Christmas. Jesus came down amongst us as a baby – the God of the universe, who could have come in whatever form He wanted – chose to become one of us. Christ is a message of hope. He is very much the medium of the message, one that brings humanity the possibility of reconciliation and restoration with God and creation.

As much as He is hope and love in human form, He also brought a Good News message. We read about Jesus’s ministry in the Bible. He is out and about encouraging and challenging those He comes into contact with, ultimately telling people the Good News. But He does more than this, He is actually being the Good News. He shows us how to be a humble servant, and how to love and care for others.

So as we’re thinking about Christmas, let’s not forget the real ‘reason for the season’ which is Christ, not Santa, not presents, not any of that. Let’s remember who Jesus was and who He is and the message that He brought, realising that the two things are inseparable. He is both the medium and the message, which is one of hope, reconciliation, and restoration.

Have a really great Christmas, and I hope you get everything you want, just remember though that the thing that we need is always Jesus!