It is New Year’s Eve 2016.
I don’t know what your 2016 was like. Mine was certainly mixed with joy and sorrow. It was a year of both redemption and healing, and of God miraculously getting me from a place of despair and fear – and actually getting me to this nation I now call home.
It is cold here in the Middle East. I’m bundled up in a scarf and hat but I forgot my gloves and my fingers are struggling to work because they’re so cold. They slowly thaw out in the popular chain coffee shop in which I am sitting. My glass of tea helps to warm me. It’s strong brown molten goodness refreshing me from broken nights. In the moment, it helps me to keep on “keeping on”’. It gives me what I need to go forward. And the Word of God does the same for my soul as I contemplate the New Year dawning.
I have decided that this January I will reread Acts. Let’s see again, where it all began.
As we go into 2017 and into God’s new plans for his church, let’s refresh ourselves with Church origins. This is the reason why I am here, why I moved with my family to this country. I came for His church. That it may go forth from here.
In Acts 2 when Pentecost comes God sends his power on the faithful disciples. Before that moment where tongues of fire descend and rest upon them, I wonder how they were feeling. Possibly a little like I am feeling at the moment – but more! Cold, weary and in need of hope. They are facing the pain of losing Jesus. They saw their Lord and friend nailed to a cross, saw him face the agony of death – drawn out of three long bloody suffocating days. But then they saw Jesus whole again, with scar tissue in his side and holes in his hands – and he was alive, and he ascended back to heaven to His father, but not before promising them a comforter, the sweet and strong Holy Spirit.
So at Pentecost the disciples were praying. And in Acts 2:1-13 they experienced a new power, a warming most wonderful power. God himself in spirit descended on them. Fire burned through hearts, minds, spirits and glorious gifts are given. These gifts equip the saints to show the world the goodness of God.
The gift of Tongues pours forth from their lips in various earthly languages (excellent cheat for language learning?). Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamins, Judeans, Cappadocians, those from Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt and Libya, Rome, Cretans and Arabs all heard them and took notice and were amazed. Now my ancient/modern geographical knowledge isn’t all that but I am pretty sure those nationalities summarises most of the 20/40 window and are close to our neck of the woods!
So these people, they heard and they were stunned. They responded in 3 different ways. Some were amazed. Some were perplexed. And some scoffed and thought the disciples were wasted.
Understandably Peter saw the need for some sound explanation and addressed the multi-ethnic curious crowd (eloquently. No drunken slurring). He skilfully pointed them to the prophecies from Joel (v.17-21). He laid out with no holding back, what happened to Jesus. “Wicked people nailed our Lord to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death because it was impossible for even death to keep its hold on him!” (my paraphrase). Acts 2:37 says “The people were cut to the heart and responded”.
So. Back here in my corner of the Middle East as people party hard for New Years Eve, they dance, drink and eat in spite of, or perhaps because of, hopelessness from political unrest and terrorism.
As we, God’s people, go into 2017 in our adopted nation, in the wake of more terrible headlines, we remember Pentecost in desperation. We are desperate for those tongues of fire to rest upon us again. We need Him his power to descend so that those of this nation, those neighbouring and beyond are amazed. They will respond. Hungry hearts will open to the stories and prophesies of our Rab Isa (Lord Jesus) who came for the Cappadocians, Mesopotanians, Lyceans, Judeans.
It’s now New Years Day. New Years Eve for us was spent at home. Seasons of life and all that. We managed to stay up until midnight but only because my baby woke. There was no sweeter place for me to be as the clock struck 12 and fireworks exploded across the city than nursing my sweet boy in my arms.
We will faithfully trudge into January, back into language learning and the 9-5 of childcare, cultural contextualisation, discipleship, housework, team and family life. And we will do so seeking to have obedient hearts. I know that’s what He desires of us – obedience.
But we cry out Lord for another Pentecost. We get on our knees. We will obediently kick start and activate our spiritual gifts, so kindly gifted to us, which have lain unused for far too long. I am going to step out in prophecy, creativity. When my natural language learning skills run out I will use tongues. I’m going to pray for healing for people I meet. And people will respond in amazement to the hope of the Father in 2017.
In the light of the headlines in my nation, yours and others, let us remember that we have hope.
Hopeful New Year everyone.