A couple of weeks ago I parked beside a truck, and as I walked behind the truck I noticed a sticker on the back that read Custom Creations by… sticker. I’m not sure what constitutes a Custom Creation, as this truck was banged up, dented, scratched, and was basically a disaster in appearance. If I were the Custom Creation guy would want my name removed from it.
It may be a poor analogy, but I can’t help but wonder if God sometimes feels that way about churches – don’t put my name on something that seems beat up, broken down worn out, and out of touch. And that is how some people see the church: broken down, out of date, irrelevant and something they are not interested in stepping into.
We are continuing our series of messages Faith in the Modern Age, and as we do we are considering The Spirit in the Modern Age. We live in an age of science, technology, and materialism – not the kind of materialism that is based on finances, but the kind that only sees the physical universe and cannot recognize the spiritual component of life. The Spirit doesn’t fit very easily into our modern world, but we so need it. We’ll read of an encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, and in the conversation Jesus says something interesting about the Spirit. Listen to what he says in John 3:1-8 –
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.
2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
What does the Spirit mean in the modern age?
1. The Spirit opens our eyes.
By my first semester in high school had decided I wanted to be an engineer, so I took Algebra. I failed the class. By the middle of the semester I was totally lost, and it didn’t help that I asked my teacher why 2 + 2 had to equal 4. I wanted to know why 2 + 2 can’t equal 5. I still don’t understand why 2 + 2 can’t equal whatever we decide we want it to equal. I just don’t get it.
Poor Nicodemus. He didn’t get it either. He could not wrap his head around what Jesus said to him – Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked.
It wasn’t that seeing the kingdom was forbidden or disallowed for Nicodemus; he simply couldn’t see it though it was right in front of him. His eyes were closed to the kingdom. But the Spirit opens our eyes, the Spirit reorients our thinking, and the Spirit gives us a new perspective on life. The Spirit opens our eyes to see life, the world, and people in a new light.
2. The Spirit brings life.
I imagine the group in New York is having a great time in church this morning. Not that we don’t have a great time here, but we probably aren’t quite as energetic as the Brooklyn Tabernacle. I am not Pentecostal, but I understand part of the appeal of that style of worship. It is so energetic because it is so focused on the joy of life, even in the midst of great struggle.
The Spirit brings life, because everywhere God moves, there is life. The Spirit is like a river of cook, fresh water running into a dry, barren desert. The Spirit helps us to understand the life that God brings and the reality that life itself is God’s great gift.
3. The Spirit allows us to be more flexible and adaptable, qualities that are necessary in the modern age.
There is an element of unpredictability about the Spirit. We don’t know where it is going, and we must not be so structured that we miss the moving of the Spirit. This is what Jesus meant when he compared the Spirit to a wind the blows. The Spirit seems to appear out of nowhere and without warning. Just as quickly as it comes, it can seem to disappear. Sometimes, we can be so structured that we squeeze out the Spirit. Individuals, and churches, need to be prepared to adapt and change, and to do so quickly as our world changes around us.
4. The Spirit makes us more compassionate.
Our modern age is very complicated, and it seems to grow increasingly complex with the passing of each day. One of the dangers of this complexity, I fear, is a diminishing expression of compassion. As we struggle to survive our complex lives we are often, without realizing it, pulled into ourselves, which can lead to a great deal of preoccupation with self. This is not fertile ground for compassion. The role of the Spirit is to prompt us to look beyond our own lives and to realize there are people within our sphere of influence who need our compassion and our care.
5. The Spirit is experiential.
Sometimes we hear people say been there, done that, got the T-shirt to go with it. We live in an age where people have become more experiential, that is, they long for and expect to experience something. People don’t want to simply hear about mission work, they want to go and do mission work; they don’t want to hear about other cultures, they want to go and experience those cultures for themselves; and they don’t want to just hear about God, they want to experience God. This desire for an experience is the driving force behind the changing of worship style in recent years. Worship is becoming more experiential because people want to experience something.
People are often desperate to have an experience that confirms God has touched them. That is the Spirit moving in them.
When my mother-in-law lived on Tybee Island one of my favorite activities was body surfing. I had a body board and when the tide was coming in I would grab the board, run down to the beach, and get in the water and to ride those waves. Body boarding is a bit tricky, for two reasons. First, it’s hard to catch the wave just right. You can’t get too far out in front of the wave or it will crash on top of you. And second, if the wave gets too far ahead of you it rolls past you and you miss it. The key is trying to catch the front of the wave just as it begins to break. If you catch it just right you hold on tight and enjoy the ride. But once you catch the wave you have to stay with it, or the wave will pummel you into the sand, and you know what? Sand really hurts, especially when the tremendous weight of all that water is driving you into the sand.
When it comes to the Spirit, the key is being able to catch the Spirit, much like we would catch a wave.