Wednesday, 19 October 2011

"We'll all be there" - a Dublin soul-singing event

There was a great sense of occasion when the men of the Ards Testimony Male Voice Choir got on the bus for Dublin on Saturday morning. We were to meet up with other Irish Testimony Male Voice Choirs from all over Ireland (mostly Northern Ireland) for a Festival of Praise in Christ Church Cathedral as guests of the Dublin Choir. They were expecting 60 men to turn up, but over 100 answered the call. And with 680 seats available in the church, all tickets had been snapped up weeks before.

I am a new kid on the block, having only joined the choir about a year ago, but what a buzz I get from even the practices and our own local services. I hope the video clip from youtube gives a bit of a flavour. There are about 10 pieces from the same event now on youtube, if you want more! Those that know me might get a glimpse of me on the right behind the piano - my 15 minutes of fame!

This post is a bit different from my earlier ones on this blog-site. Usually I am grumping about Churchianity with my post-denominational hat on. But what a refreshing experience this choir is. No talk of denominations or status, but each practice starts with one of the men bringing a message from the Bible, followed by a 30-minute prayer time when all participate without leadership. To join the choir you have only to 'love the Lord' (as I was told at the start), and give your own testimony. The choir has local engagements in different churches and meetings, and not only sing but bring the Word and testify. I say all this to give you a sense of why the men in this video are singing, and I hope it gives a little added poignancy.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Job's "Redeemer" and his "double portions"

When traumatic events shake the life of a decent, God-fearing person to its very foundations, the age-old questions of "why me?" and "where are the promised blessings?" almost inevitably arise. Well, for me anyway it has lead to serious doubts - if not depression - and a real questioning of the basic issues of faith. The last place in the Bible anybody in that situation might turn to for comfort is the Book of Job. It seems to present a God who was prepared to devastate an innocent and 'blameless' rich man (Job) just to prove a point to Satan - that Job's faith was not simply a natural result of his blessings (as Satan had alleged). If God would only permit Satan to remove the blessings, Satan had said, "he will surely curse you to your face". And Job's 'comforters' - his friends and his wife - are proverbial because of the bad advice and sanctimonious comfort they bring him.

But God had declared "my servant Job" to be "blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil". The accolade from God when he tells Satan about Job and that
"there is no one on earth like him" is made all the more poignant when we realise that Job was not an Israelite, and that he was singled out as the model of 'election', by redemption, into the future messianic Kingdom of God.

The 'testing' of Job began when he was afflicted by the death of all his children and livestock in five separate incidents (7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys, 7 sons and 3 daughters), and then in a second 'testing' when he was given "painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head", he still refused to question the authority and goodness of God.

The main section of the book is written as a poetic "dialogue" between Job and his three Edomite "friends" who (along with his wife) try to comfort him - mostly by pointing out that he must have sinned to merit such punishment. But Job has two, oft-quoted responses. In the first place he says:
"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised",
But Job's response to Bildad the Shuhite's argument that every wicked person gets paid in full, in this life, for his wicked deeds, while the righteous prosper, is one of the most dramatic and prophetic in the Old Testament. Indeed it is the central theme of the aria "I know that my Redeemer lives" in Handel's Messiah. I don't think there is anywhere else in the Old Testament that the resurrection of the righteous dead with the future coming of the Lord is articulated as clearly (Job 19, 25-27):
"I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes".

Of course, with the poetic dialogue between Job and his comforters taking up almost 39 of the Book of Job's 42 chapters, it is hardly surprising that there are many, many other gems giving revelation of the nature of God, the nature of His desired relationship with all, and the nature of his planned 'Kingdom' including the reward of everlasting life.

Apart from the message of 'redemption' mentioned briefly here - Job also talks about it in chapter 14 ("If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer you") - I have come across many things that I thought were 'new' revelations through Paul, or at least 'New Testament' concepts. The righteous will indeed suffer in this life and be persecuted; their afflictions are not a 'punishment' for sin; but if 'tested' it is to spiritually prosper the individual as in the refining and purification of gold in the fire ("When he has tested me, I will come forth as gold").

When Job finally ends his often angry arguments with his friends, he still maintains that he had not sinned. At this point a fourth, younger friend joins in the dialogue to show that both Job and the three other counselors are in the wrong. In four short poetic speeches, Elihu considers Job's insistence on vindicating himself rather than God reprehensible, and that the friends' inability to refute Job or to understand the extent of God's wisdom and sovereignty was a twisted condemnation of God.

Then God himself then enters the debate, asking Job "who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?" God had not, as Job alleged, wronged him. The Lord asserts his justice as sovereign, and Job is told to leave all this, including his own vindication, under God's control.

The penultimate test for Job is passed when he accepts with remorse that he had spoken "of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know ... therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes". Here we see Job, with Satan out of the picture, still being refined as gold towards perfection in God's sight.

The final test, and for me the most revealing one, comes in the final section of the last chapter. The Lord had said to one of Job's friends,
"I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly".

When this happened (and Job's own forgiveness of them was prayed to God) , and only then, do we see the restoration of Job's prosperity and blessings (Job 42, 10):
"After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before".
So the Lord "blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. He had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1000 oxen and 1000 donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters". Only the daughters are named, interestingly enough, and Job lived to see his grandchildren to the fourth generation. It is also significant that although Job's possessions were all doubled, only seven sons and three daughters were then given to replace those that had been killed previously. His conviction of a future resurrection (when he would see his "Redeemer" face-to-face) was not something only for himself, but also for his doubled family of 14 sons and 6 daughters.

The Book of Job is known as one of the "wisdom" books of the Bible. It is too easy to miss the message when we bring our own wisdom to reading it. The real 'prosperity gospel' that it teaches only begins with a belief that the Redeemer lives and having a desire to serve him that is greater than the value we place on family, health, possessions or even life itself. The final stumbling blocks (as if the first weren't enough) are to repent humbly of self-righteousness and to be forgiven as we forgive others. Is this message from Job different from that of the New Testament?

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Skeletons in the cupboard? The highs and lows of Christ's geneology.

I'm one of those people that usually skips over the long lists of genealogies, places or tribes when I'm reading the Bible. But for some reason - maybe I was thinking that there must be SOME reason for them being there - this Christmas I took a closer look at the first chapter of Mathew which begins: "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:"

We have two genealogies of Christ from the gospels - one in Mathew and one in Luke. On the surface, these introductions to the birth of Christ provide him with an impeccable lineage from King David to both Mary and Joseph as his biological and 'legal' parents respectively. Indeed it was because they were of the 'house of David' that they visiting Bethlehem ("Royal David's City") for the Roman Census at this particular time.

The other high points of this lineage include the central biblical figures of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah (one of the 12 sons of Jacob from whom the Jews - the tribe of Judah - were descended). Also we later have King David, and his son King Solomon (who built the first temple in Jerusalem) as further links in a continuous family tree down to Joseph. The later names do differ between the two genealogies (at least for the generations between King David and Mary and Joseph), as it is believed Mathew traces the legal descent of the house of David using only heirs to the throne, while Luke traces the direct bloodline of Joseph back through David to Abraham and further still back to Adam.

Given that Mathew's listing emphasizes Jesus's birthright to the throne of David, it is interesting that he alone chooses to include four women (besides Mary) in the family tree. Why these four women? The reasons may be shocking to some. All four were of 'low' estate - either they were not Israelites, or they were involved in adulterous relationships with the men in the genealogy, or both. There can be no reason to think that Jesus
was who he claimed to be simply because of a sort of high spiritual or royal inheritance.

The four women mentioned in Mathew's account are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah the Hittite).They are certainly worth knowing about.
1 This is the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4 Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6 and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
[Mathew, Chapter 1, 1-6]
If you think the Christmas story is a sanitized one, prepare to be shocked by the story of these four female 'ancestors' of Jesus. But I should state the obvious - there is no suggestion that the blame for the adulterous side of this story is to be laid exclusively on the females!

the mother of Perez

Tamar was a Canaanite woman married to Judah's son Er. When Er died, his brother Onan refused to take Tamar as his wife as was the custom. When Onan also died, Tamar returned to her Canaanite home with Judah's promise that if she lived as a widow she would have his third son Shelah when he was old enough. But this promise was broken, and when Tamar heard that her father-in-law, Judah, was coming to shear sheep near her own father's house she took off her widow's clothes and disguised herself with a veil at the roadside. The unabridged version of what happened next is from Genesis, chapter 28:
15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”

“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.

17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.

“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.

18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?”

“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.

20 Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. 21 He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”

“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” they said.

22 So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’”

23 Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.”

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”

Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

25 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.
27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” 29 But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. 30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.
And so we have "Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar".

Rahab the
mother of Boaz

Rahab is commonly referred to in the New Testament as 'Rahab the harlot'. It was in her house or inn built into the walls of Jericho that the Israelite spies stayed, and when Joshua took the city in the first days of the conquest of Canaan, her life was spared because of her help in hiding them. A scarlet rope hanging from her outer window in the walls - the same window that the spies made their escape from - was the given signal. Joshua honoured the promise and the Canaanite Rahab, who now confessed her faith in the Hebrew God, married into the Israelites. In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews says:
30. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. 31. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.[Hebrews, Chapter 11]

And in James, chapter 2, we have:
25. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies?
And so we have "Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab".

Ruth the mother of Obed

Ruth was a Moabitess who married two Jewish farmers despite the statute in Deuteronomy explicitly forbidding Jews to accept Moabites into their assembly.

In the first place she married Mahlon, one of the sons of Naomi and Emilelech in her own land, but when both her husband and father-in-law died, she returned to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi. Here she met her second husband Boaz, who was a near-relative of Naomi's, while gleaning in his fields at harvest-time.

There is no implication of immorality in the familiar story of Ruth, quite the reverse in fact, but a parallel is frequently drawn throughout
the Old Testament between the sins of adultery and intermarriage with gentiles.

And so we have "
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth".

Bathsheba the mother of Solomon

Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a foreign mercenary fighting for King David in the Ammonite war about 1000 bc. When the war was in full swing, David watched from his palace as Bathsheba bathed on the roof of her house below. He sent for her to spend the night with him, and when she fell pregnant, David sent orders for Uriah to be placed in a battle position so that he would be killed. Guilty of murder and adultery, David eventually married Bathsheba after the baby of their first union had died.
Bathsheba then had four sons to David, including Solomon who was to succeed to his throne.

And so we have "
David was the father of Solomon whose mother had been Uriah's wife".

What does all this mean? The stories of these four women, all gentiles, who are included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, maybe draw a cautionary line in the sand about the veneration of his lineage - not just in terms of the morality of key figures like David and Judah - but more significantly about the Kingship of Christ over Jews and Gentiles alike. One thing seems clear; these four women were deliberately selected for inclusion for SOME purpose - and one that would have been transparent to Mathew's contemporaries.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A Trinity of Psalms: King David's vision of Christ, 1000 b.c.

When Saint Patrick was a herd on Slemish mountain in county Antrim, he found liberation in the words of Psalm 23 which begins "The Lord is my Shepherd ...". Thousands of years earlier, and thousands of miles away, King David had written this Psalm with its images of shepherds and green pastures that struck a chord with Patrick.

I don't understand the replacement theology of some "New Testament Alone" churches. There are many reasons why it doesn't hold up, but for me it is like trying to ride a 1-wheeled bicycle, or rather, a 2-wheeled bicycle with one of the wheels removed. I heard two sayings recently that struck home. The first was that "Christ is in every page of Genesis", and the second was:
"the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, while the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed".

The 23rd Psalm is the one that every Christian, of any denomination, still knows best. Maybe it is because it contains a complete summary of the gospel message that very few folk read it in the context of the two psalms that embrace it, the one before and the one after. It sits in the middle of a 'trinity' of psalms (Psalms 22, 23 and 24) that take the central one out of the realms of symbolism and metaphor into the sphere of prophetic detail.

The first Psalm of this trinity is Psalm 22 and it is a quite stunning vision of Christ's death and passion on the cross, while the third Psalm 24 is a breath-taking vision of Christ's victorious entry into and enthronement in the Kingdom of Heaven - on the third day.
It is only when I read these three Psalms together that the full impact of those 3 pivotal days in world history comes alive.

Psalm 22 (I have highlighted some verses for reasons which will be obvious to anybody familiar with the gospel accounts of the Crucifixion)

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 8 "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him." 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax;it has melted away within me. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. 25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. 26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him — may your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. 29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him — those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it.


Moving then to Psalm 24, the scene moves to the Resurrection, but not from the perspective of the empty tomb on the third day, but that of Christ's triumphal entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Psalm 24

1 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.
3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart

7 Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is he, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty— he is the King of glory.


With these two pillars of support to the 23rd Psalm, like the prelude and finale to a pastoral symphony, I leave this (King James) version of the old, old story without further comment.

Psalm 23
1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Instinct for God - from before 'original sin'?

When birds migrate half-way round the world, they know where they are going 'by instinct'. I suppose if any one bird was unfortunate enough to have a more developed brain so that it was aware of other options and choices, this instinct would be drowned. But then it could always just join a flock and follow for the sake of it.

The patterns birds make in the sky when preparing to migrate are hypnotic. They seem to take on a collective mind, and can even appear like a single organism. This picture looks to me like a giant fish in the sky.

But what of mankind? If we have 'original sin' in our make-up, ought there not to be a remnant of even earlier (before the fall) perfect connection with God? A connection that would be truly 'original', although it could not again be wholly innocent or perfect in this world.

This train of thought began with wondering why 'fasting' seems to have no place in the religious tradition I was brought up in. Everything I read about fasting, and its association with prayer, seems to make sense. Not only did Jesus fast for 40 days, but he appears to have taught self-denial (of power, wealth, possessions, etc.) - or at least that all self-centered worldly desires should be secondary to the love of God, and the love of one's neighbour. His example was such: born in a stable with nothing, died on a cross with nothing and lived 'without a place to rest his head'. Where the prosperity gospel comes from, Heaven alone knows!

I was told that fasting can actually bring on a sense of elation - is this true, and why? The one thing I'm sure about is that when my life is busy, busy with 'stuff', and when my mind is a constant buzz of 'interests', even religious 'duties' do not bring me to a frame-shaking sense of His presence. Maybe fasting is a state of mind, uncluttered by the world, where the voice of God can actually be heard.

Before I finally shake off my denominational baggage and head off for a hermit's cave, I suppose I better reflect on the fact that fasting and self-denial was never an end in itself, but a preparation.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Wrestling with the Truth

When Jacob wrestled physically all night with a man who turned out to be God, surprisingly, neither prevailed, and finally God dislocated Jacob's hip to bring the struggle to an end. I can understand why Jacob ('father' of the 12 tribes of Israel) got disappointed - no, not disappointed, but angry - with God when things were not going well for him on his return to Canaan after 20 years exile. Can we prevail over God to get his blessing on our plans, when he has some other thing in mind for us?

When disaster hits or you miss out on "the one good thing" that you wanted above all else - a job, a partner, a house - or even a 'good thing' like a cure from an illness or the 'fixing' of a broken marriage, the first question is, "Why, (me), God?" Has it all gone wrong as a punishment? Is it a test of my faith? - (and yes, it certainly is doing that all right!) Where is God's plan for me in this mess? How could a Sovereign God let it happen?

When Christian people I know have been thrown to the edge of depression by such 'undeserved' traumatic events, I used to find it very hard to answer their questions, until it all happened to me.

The answer to my own anguished prayers at a time of extreme trauma came when I was drawn, for some reason, to read the story of Jacob wrestling with the "Angel of the Lord" in Genesis, 32.

Although Jacob and Esau were twins born to Isaac, it was the second-born twin (Jacob) that was destined to inherit God's promise given to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. But Jacob - whose name means 'deceiver' - thought he had to give God a helping hand by tricking Esau out of his birthright. When Jacob fled his brother under the guise of finding a wife from Abraham's kinsfolk in Haran, he had to work for 7 years for his first wife (Leah), another 7 for the wife he wanted in the first place (Rachel), and another 6 years for the flocks and herds he accumulated.

But this was all just a preparation for his return to face Esau and fulfill God's promise in Canaan. Afraid of Esau's reaction, he divided his flocks and household in two (one with each wife) and sent them on ahead to meet Esau. Alone, Jacob wrestled with the "Angel of the Lord" all night before crossing the river into Canaan.

The part of the story that hit me was that rather than let Jacob proceed as his old deceitful self, the Lord disabled him to ensure his submission. Only then did God bless him and renew the covenant promises given earlier to Abraham, and with the blessing, re-named Jacob as "Israel".

Why did this story strike me so forcibly?

Because I had been "crippled" in my own circumstances (both in health and in work situation), and I couldn't understand why my prayers had been falling on deaf ears. Then I could see that I was wrestling with God myself. I would not give up things, good in themselves, that had become the most important things in my life, and let God's plan take over whatever that might prove to be.

Any Christian will see how the teachings of Jesus demand the highest levels of trust, obedience and self-sacrifice. Sometimes God permits us to have life-crippling experiences to put us back on the track He wants us on.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Third Person, Singular

Can we see the wind?

Well, we can see what it is doing to the trees and the direction it appears to be pushing them.

As an unseen force, I like the image of wind as the breath of God, or the Holy Spirit. The third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, might be the hardest one to understand, but it is the one which gives understanding, power and life itself.

I don't particularly like the image of the Holy Spirit as a dove. In the Genesis account of creation, the Spirit of God existed with the Father and the Son (the Word) in the Beginning:
'Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the water.' (Genesis 1, verse 2)
This is the only occasion, I think, when the Spirit is described as being in a waiting and apparently motionless state, but I suppose 'hovering' does imply a bird-like activity. The Hebrew word used here for 'Spirit' can also be translated (and is elsewhere in the Old Testament) as 'Breath' or 'Wind'. So in the creation account of Adam, ' the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life'. In Job 33, verse 4, Elihu says to Job, 'The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.'

Of course the New Testament gives us the whole picture of the Holy Spirit, not only in the Pentecostal experience of wind and tongues of fire at the birth of the church, but before (in the teachings and promises of Christ), and after (in the teachings and experiences of the Apostles).

I used to think of the Trinity as being the same thing in 3 different forms - a bit like water being liquid (normal water), solid (ice) or gas (steam), but the parallel breaks down if it is taken too far, and stops being helpful. Sometimes you can hear a hymn sung hundreds of times before particular words strike home with a new understanding. This happened recently to me with the hymn "Breath on me, Breath of God. Fill me with life anew." At the same time I came across Jesus' own illustration of the Holy Spirit as being like the wind in John 3, verses 6-8:
'Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at me saying, "You must be born again." 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.'

We are all control freaks as far as being in control of our own destiny is concerned. It is hard to trust and obey an unseen God when it means letting go and sailing in faith with the Wind. But if I don't and just drift along with the earth's flow, where will I end up?

Yes the question deepens, and we have all the gifts of the Spirit, baptism of the Spirit and so on. But then the denominational wrangles emerge and create a storm of their own. I think it's best to keep it simple so that you can actually feel the breeze that is directed at you.