Mark Kelly

I've been wondering about stuff since 1975!

Church

Before I became a Christian, I didn’t know what Church, represented by the local church, looked like at all. Maybe I had a vague impression, though to be honest, Church as far as I was concerned was just a typical church building, I didn’t even get into the theology of it being a people!

This is what I mean:

  • I knew church involved about singing hymns, but I had no idea we had this thing we call contemporary Christian music.
  • I knew the Bible existed obviously, but I didn’t realise there were a plethora of translations out there all trying to help us understand God’s Word better. I thought every Bible had a ton of ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and phrases like ‘sayeth the Lord’.
  • I thought that every minister had to wear a dog collar and didn’t know we could listen to some exciting, charismatic preachers … you know, like me!

When I started to discover more about the church, I remember being shocked to the core when I learned about this really odd thing called ‘speaking in tongues’. This was almost the first and final straw in my early tentative relationship with a real church community. “You bunch of cultish weirdos” was indeed a phrase that crossed my mind, but I somehow stopped it being said out loud.

I got over this shock eventually, through learning and understanding, but by most importantly getting to know that even though the people at my local church did this frankly bizarre thing, they were actually okay and I could have sensible conversations with them and feel genuinely accepted for maybe the first time in my life.

So I got to like this church, no love this church community (that is Freedom Church), despite my significant misgivings at the start.

Where would I be now? Who would be leading Freedom Church now, if I’d let my personal preference for something a bit more ‘normal’ be my primary decision making factor?

Instead, I let my love for Christ and the exciting life I knew He had planned for me be the thing that kept me connected. I quickly discovered very early in my Christian walk that there really isn’t a perfect church.

 

“If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all, and the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us. All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, give themselves to the Lord’s people … As I have already said, the church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s” Charles Spurgeon (sermon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, 5th April, 1891)

 

It’s incredibly easy to fall into a consumerist approach when it comes to committing to a local church.

  • Do I like the worship style?
  • Is the preaching entertaining enough?
  • Is that church down the street a better fit?

What we’re doing when we begin to ask questions like this is we’re allowing a secular market mindset to influence our spiritual lives and without realising it our faith becomes less about knowing and serving God, and more about finding a community that serves me and my desires.

As a slight aside, it’s actually okay to graciously challenge something you feel might not be right in your church community, but it’s not right to leave it just because you disagree with a few things.

If you’ve truly captured the heart of what it is to be a part of a church family, then just like a healthy family should, you talk about it, you share your heart and through that you may see change, which is for the better.

But on the flip side, sometimes, again like in a healthy family you’ve just got to go with what Mum and Dad have said. And that is especially true in a large church setting, where the family analogy can get stretched because with a large group of people, you’re always going to get those who don’t agree and you’d never move onto to actually doing something, you’d end up in an endless cycle of conversation.

In a local church, you have God positioned people with the gift of leadership that are to lead the people – that’s the Biblical model.

My main point is this: rather than us trying to form communities around our own preferences, we must allow ourselves to be formed by God and the people that He has positioned with us.

 

*This series of blog posts are based on a sermon series delieverd by me at Freedom Church in March 2018. In turn, this series is based on a book: Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken. You can view part #1 of the sermon series below:

Church

What’s your vision of a perfect local church? Do you have, or could you easily develop a specific vision for your ideal church’s architecture, it’s membership requirements, the worship style, community life, and all that. Does any of what you’re thinking about look like the local church you may be attending right now?

I think we’ve all got an idea of what our ‘dream church’ looks like – even it’s just a vague impression with a few thoughts. There’s a good chance that your local church doesn’t tick all the boxes on your dream church list. In fact, your church probably does some things that are uncomfortable for you, they may even be people in it who you find a little ‘awkward’.

The Christian life – especially when it comes to being part of a local church community – can be full of discomfort and awkwardness, but God can and will use these challenges to help us get to know Him better.

Rather than attempting to find our dream church, I think we should embrace the uncomfortable and challenging parts of the Christian life – a life that by default means we are connected to others, and people can be awkward and in some cases downright peculiar. Maybe that’s because of something they do, or perhaps it’s a challenge they present to us by them just being them. This can be a good thing, however, and even though we might feel uncomfortable, ultimately it may help bring about maturity in us.

1 Peter 2:4-5, 9

4 So keep coming to Him who is the Living Stone – though He was rejected and discarded by men but chosen by God and is priceless in God’s sight. 

5 Come and be His “living stones” who are continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God. For now you serve as holy priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices that He readily accepts through Jesus Christ.

9 But you are God’s chosen treasure – priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience His marvellous light, and now He claims you as His very own. He did this so that you would broadcast His glorious wonders throughout the world.

The verses presented here are from a letter by Peter, and Peter is someone whom we can all have some sympathy with. Out of all the disciples, he seems to be the one that runs through the whole spectrum of human emotion, prone to making bad decisions and mistakes, but coming out the other side as one of the few who truly “knew” Jesus and the forgiveness offered to all of us.

Seriously, if you don’t know him, let me tell you that he denied Jesus a few times, in some circumstances he might be described as cowardly, but in other instances, very brave. He also had some anger issues and was quite impulsive. He attempted acts of faith, yet a number of times they ended in failure. And Jesus told him off a bunch of times.

Yet, here we have a guy who helped form much of the early Church, performed some miracles, and gave what might be the second best sermon in the Bible (after Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount) which Peter delivered on the day of Pentecost. A day that’s described by many as the birth of the Church. Jesus ultimately called him, His ‘rock’ someone who had resilience and stability. There is hope for us all!

Peter is writing to various churches that are experiencing different forms of persecution, and in these passages, he’s sharing what it really means to be the chosen people of God.

Just like Jesus was “the living Stone – rejected and discarded by humans but chosen by God and priceless”, Christians are called to be “living stones” that are “continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God. For now you serve as holy priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices that he readily accepts through Jesus Christ.”

(I love that idea that we are being continually assembled into a place that God can inhabit, like some kind of Heavenly Ikea, we are a flat-pack sanctuary! But just like Earthly Ikea flat-packs – we’re actually pretty easy to assemble, it’s just when we try to rush ahead or don’t read the instructions we can get confused and build something that’s not really what God intended.)

Peter is presenting an image of a community that’s focused entirely on Jesus. It’s a community that puts aside personal preferences, arguments, and comfort zones for the sake of becoming “living stones,” a house and a street of these houses – this community – where Holy Spirit can dwell and move amongst.

The entire purpose of this community, described as a holy or spiritual nation, is to “call people out of darkness to experience his marvellous light.” We are a people that God, “claims as his very own.” He did this, the Bible says “so that we would broadcast His glorious wonders throughout the world.”

It’s all about knowing God and worshipping Him as King. This is contradictory to a consumerist approach to the Christian community, which places our personal desires, for what we think the Church should be like, on the throne and tempts us to walk away from communities that don’t meet all our standards.

The reality, of course, is that the “dream church” we might long for and desire is a myth. It doesn’t exist. The reign of King Jesus, however, is real and eternal, and becoming “living stones” that are acceptable to God should be our ultimate aim.

*This series of blog posts are based on a sermon series delieverd by me at Freedom Church in March 2018. In turn, this series is based on a book: Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken. You can view part #1 of the sermon series below:

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.