My dear friends,
Paul Scanlon is a church leader from my old stamping ground in West Yorkshire. In his recent book Crossing Over1, he records how he met a former Baptist minister working behind the bar of a local pub. After twenty exhausting years of service he had given up with broken health and a broken spirit. ‘But I love this job,’ he said. ‘My drinkers are a devoted lot!’ He went on to explain how, unlike his church members, he never had to remind his customers to come back next week. He never had to call his absent drinkers to assure them they were missed. He never had to exhort nor inspire them to part with their money. ‘My drinkers come early and stay late but, in twenty years of ministry, nobody at the church did either.’
The episode gave Scanlon a great deal of food for thought. He began to question the way we have all got used to ‘doing church’ or ‘being Christian’. He went back to his bible to look for what he might have missed. And there it was, with an uncanny echo of the term used by his Baptist barman, from Acts chapter 2 verse 42, the very first words written about the early church: ‘They devoted themselves . . .’
Previously, he had always read straight past those three words, eager to see precisely what it was the first Christians were devoted to.2 What he had missed all along was the simple fact - they were devoted to God! Like the patrons propping up the bar, they just loved coming back for more. Scanlon realised he wanted to build a church where being a Christian felt just like that.3
What sort of experience is it that can lie at the heart of such a response to God? The answer is to be found just a few verses earlier in the same passage of the New Testament, the account of the day of Pentecost. The Spirit of God had come to those first followers of Christ in tongues of fire. They were touched by God’s presence, by his divine power . . . and their hearts and lives were utterly transformed. So exuberant and garrulous were they about the experience that people thought they were quite drunk!
The feast of Pentecost, or Whitsuntide, should challenge each of us to have at the heart of our faith such an experience if the immanence of God that the character of our Christian lives can quite accurately be described by the adjective: devoted.
Traditionally, Pentecost is a season when Christians bring their lives as an offering to God and seek Him in the power of the Spirit; this is commonly associated with the act of prayer with the laying on of hands by one’s fellow Christians. This year on Pentecost Sunday, at the end of each service, we will offer just such an opportunity. Do you want more of God? Then do consider joining us in our services on Sunday 11th May.
1 available for £6.32 from Amazon. Co.uk, published by Nelson Ignite (2007)
2 ‘and they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer’ (NIV)
3 Readers may be interested to know that Paul Scanlon broadcasts regularly on the Christian radio station UCB Talk based just down the road in Stoke.
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