SERMON: Catch The Wind Of The Spirit
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 40:28-31
DATE: February 26, 2017
You know, back in September the weather people on TV started to talk about what kind of a winter it was going to be. And as I recall they were saying that it was going to be colder than normal and wetter than normal which, of course, added up to snowier than normal. They may have gotten the wetter part right, but not the colder and so the result has been really no snow to speak of. But one thing about this winter that has struck me is that we have had quite a few windy days. When you have the kind of extreme temperature swings that we have experienced, one of the side effects is wind. And we’ve had a few days and nights when the wind has howled pretty good. But not nearly as much as in the New Orleans area a couple of weeks ago, when tornados hit and caused lots of damage. Our twenty to thirty mile an hour winds are nothing compared to the 100 mile an hour winds of a tornado. And I already saw one report that said our mild winter was going to translate to a more active than usual hurricane season this Summer and Fall in the Atlantic Ocean. Now, I have been caught in the middle of a tornado one time in my life and we were once evacuated from the Beach as a hurricane approached. And one time is enough for me. But there are people who make a living chasing tornados and there are always people who choose to ride out a hurricane rather than evacuate. People who choose to be in the middle of the storm. Now when you watch the coverage of an approaching hurricane on the weather channel, one of the things you always see is someone with a surfboard, trying to catch one of the big waves that are kicked up in advance of the storm. In spite of all the warnings to the contrary, there they are trying to catch the wave. How foolish they are. From time to time there are those who play it too close and are swept away in the current. But they find the thrill of the big ride, worth the risk.
Well, I have, of course, shared with you before my prowess as a wave rider so in one sense I understand what drives those surfers. Because while I shake my head when I see those news clips, there is that part of me that always wonders what it would be like to Catch one of those big waves. I can only imagine how exhilarating that would be.
Rick Warren pastors the Saddleback Church in Southern California and in typical Southern California fashion , he compares the church with surfing when he writes in his book, The Purpose Driven Church:
Surfing is the art of riding waves that God builds. God makes the waves; surfers just ride them. No surfer tries to create waves. If the waves aren‘t there, you just don‘t surf that day! On the other hand, when surfers see a good wave, they make the most of it, even if that means surfing in the middle of a storm.
Our job as (the) church, like experienced surfers, is to recognize a wave of God‘s Spirit and ride it. It is not our responsibility to make waves but to recognize how God is working in the world and join him in the endeavor.
The association of God with the sea and the waves is an ancient Biblical theme. The Psalmist wrote:
The seas have lifted up O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea – the Lord on high is mighty.
And somewhere around 700 B.C. the prophet Isaiah spoke these words for God:
For I am the Lord your God, who churns up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord Almighty is His name.
And eight centuries later, James wrote:
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
Those words seem to echo Paul when he writes to the church at Ephesus:
It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God‘s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith, and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become
mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
Now, I have my doubts that Isaiah or James or Paul were surfers, but I have no doubt that they were men who knew how to catch the wave of God’s Spirit and ride that to new Spiritual heights. To be able to catch that wave , we must come to a few basic understandings.
First, you have to have the right equipment. The first time I went into the ocean, I had one of those plastic air mattresses that are fine for floating around on in a pool, and even sleeping on, but are not suitable for wave riding. They are too big and bulky, and they are not sturdy enough to stand up to the pounding of the waves. I soon learned that canvas floats were better, but even better than that were hard boards that were called boogie boards. Now when you‘re talking boogie boards, you’re talking big money. And so I made my own out of a styrofoam float. And then I was all set. You see, I think that as Christians, that no matter how much we want to, we are often ill prepared to catch a Spiritual Wave. Because we go in with faulty equipment, and so we are tossed about by other winds and other waves . To ride the waves we need the equipping of God‘s word. Paul talked about the winds of false teaching that we often try to catch hold of. Those winds blow strong in our world, sometimes with hurricane force. And they may feel good for a moment, but before we know it we are out of control and washed out to sea. We need to equip ourselves with God‘s word. And with prayer. With the presence of God. And we need to be equipped with faith in His presence that no matter what waves may come, we will not be overwhelmed. Remember when Peter tried to ride the waves. A storm came up and the waves battered the boat that he and the disciples were in and they looked up to see Jesus walking on the water towards them. And Peter was so emboldened by His presence that he looked at the waves and said, “Lord, I believe I can ride these waves, if you‘ll just call me to come.” And he gets out of the boat and takes a few steps. What an exhilarating feeling that must have been. But then a big wave battered him and he lost sight of Christ and began to go under. To ride the waves we need to be equipped with a constant and abiding faith in almighty God. Paul tells the Ephesians that as a church, if they are to ride the waves of God’s Spirit and no longer be tossed to and fro by other winds and other waves, they too must be equipped with “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Spirit.
Then secondly we need to be able to discern what is a “surfable” wave. It did not take me long to realize that not all waves were ones to be ridden.
Some were too big. And if you tried to ride them they would crash down upon you, pushing you to the bottom of the ocean and twisting you in several different directions at the same time. And then there were others that looked great but lacked the force to carry you very far at all. Discernment means the ability to recognize the waves of God‘s Spirit and grab hold of them. So many times in my life I have tried to ride the wrong wave. They look good but in the end they take me nowhere or they dump me and twist me around, and leave me sputtering and gasping for air. The writer of Jude understands those kind of waves when after listing a number of sins like the sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah, the defilement of our bodies, the rejection and slander of the things of God; writes this:
These . . . are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm – shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted – twice, dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame.
Rick Warren says that while many try and teach you how to ride a wave
you’ll never find a course that teaches ‘How To Build A Wave“. Surfing is the art of riding waves that God builds. Only God can create waves – waves of revival, waves of growth, and waves of spiritual receptivity. . . Our job as (His) church, like experienced surfers is to recognize (the wave) of God‘s Spirit and ride it. It is not our responsibility to make waves but to recognize how God is working in the world and join him in the endeavor.
I think that is a profound lesson for the church to learn. You see, too often we try to create the waves and channel the waves rather than simply let God take us where He wants us to go. But only God can make waves. I remember several years ago the big sensation were these wave pools. They had one in Lexington. And I remember the first time I went there with the church youth group. And I got all excited thinking that somehow they could duplicate the action of the ocean. And we all got in the pool and they turned on the wave machine, and what a let down it was. It just kind of rocked back and forth. I was so disappointed. And I must not have been the only one, because those wave pools didn’t last very long.
Only God makes the waves worth catching, and we in the church must be about the task of discerning which ones to catch and which ones to leave alone. Warren goes on to say:
In other words, church(es) . . .should stop praying, “Lord, bless what I’m doing” and start praying, “Lord, help me to do what you are blessing.“
And then, thirdly, we must have the patience to ride God’s wave to its‘ fullest. This has always been hard for me. But I have had to learn that God does not always move as quickly as I want Him too. And that my task is not to hurry God, but wait and ride where He wants to take me. Isaiah says that it’s the ones who wait on the Lord who will soar. It’s been a tough lesson for me. One that I have to learn over and over again. And it’s a tough lesson for the church sometimes. It was a lesson that Isaiah‘s people also had to constantly learn and re-learn. In their impatience, they turned to other gods, other ways , tried to catch other waves , and the result was conquest and exile and oppression over and over again. But God was always faithful, and in His time He restored them. And He would say to them through the prophets, “I am your God, who churns up the seas and makes the waves roar.“ Sometimes in our impatience we take the first wave that comes along, or we jump off too soon, and so we miss the waves that God is sending our way. Warren again, says:
Today, God is creating wave after wave of people receptive to the Gospel. Unfortunately, . . churches . . .are missing the spiritual waves that could bring revival, health, and explosive growth to our churches.
But here’s the thing that we often forget. There are no rideable waves without the wind to stir them up. That’s why there are always those who are out there in the ocean as a hurricane approaches. The greater the wind, the better the waves. And for the church that means relying on the wind of the Spirit. Remember on the day of Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit to the Disciples is described as a great wind that created a wave that swept the Disciples all over the known world with the truth of Jesus Christ and the church experienced explosive growth. The Disciples did not create the wave, they simply grabbed hold of it and rode it to glory. When we catch the wind of God’s Spirit we can soar to unimagined heights of service and devotion and love. We can soar like we’re on the wings of Eagles.
Rick Warren concludes :
we’ve never tried to build a wave. That’s God‘s business. But we have tried to recognize the waves God was sending our way, and we’ve learned to catch them. We‘ve learned to use the right equipment to ride those waves, and we‘ve learned the importance of balance. We’ve also learned to get off dying waves whenever we sensed God wanted to do something new. The amazing thing is this: The more skilled we become in riding (God’s waves), the more (waves) God sends!
And that has always been true at St. Luke. The leaders of St. Luke have always been faithful and courageous in catching the waves that have been stirred by God’s Spirit. And several years ago, recognized the opportunities for service and witness that God was opening to us and the dream of a life center that would serve as a center of witness, and study and service was placed into the collective heart of the church. The wind of God’s spirit blew into hearts and you rode the wave of that dream and created this magnificent facility, this tool for ministry. We have ridden the wave to great heights of ministry and service – literally serving thousands of all ages every year in a variety of ways. It was a costly undertaking but one that continues to pay great dividends in human lives. But God did not stop placing his dreams in our hearts. He continued to send the Wind of the Spirit into our midst, building new waves of mission and ministry for us to ride and so two years ago we began to imagine the kind of places those waves might take us, the great heights we could soar in, if we would be faithful and courageous in catching those waves. And so we created the Balloon Fund and said imagine what we could do if we could pay off the debt on the Life Center in ten years rather than the 20 that was originally projected. If we could do that it would save us one million dollars over the life of the loan. So we began the Save a Million initiative and adopted the balloon as the symbol of how we can soar. And we began to dream of all the waves that we could ride with that additional million dollars to invest in ministry. And really it’s much more than that because nearly 20% of our ministry budget is going towards our mortgage payments. So today is a celebration of the first two years of the initiative because in the last two years we have actually paid off an additional two and 1/2 years of the mortgage. And it is a day to dream about all that God wants to do through us, if we will remain faithful and catch the wind of the Holy Spirit. Won’t you join us as we continue to soar to new heights propelled by the winds of God’s Spirit.