The Spirit of God is blowing, and Christians can either follow that wind or be left in the past, a team of preachers said in a fast-paced dual-language sermon that opened the 2021 virtual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Daniel Martino and Antonio Vargas Jr., who serve together at Church of the City in New London, Conn., moved seamlessly together between English and Spanish, modeling a preaching format they often use at their multicultural CBF-affiliated congregation.
They drew upon the biblical story of Pentecost and its ramifications throughout the early church to speak of the power of God’s Spirit let loose in the world.
“We recognize that the Spirit will lead us where we need to go,” they preached, noting that sometimes following the Spirit creates unease. “We cannot control where the Spirit blows. But if it is the Lord’s will, there is nothing to fear.”
“We cannot control where the Spirit blows. But if it is the Lord’s will, there is nothing to fear.”
And in a season like the church is experiencing today, it is especially important to pay attention, they added. “The word of God does not change. But the Spirit’s direction might for this fellowship. The current or force of wind intensifies or lessens with time, but we know that the wind of God is blowing strongly in this season. If we do not catch where the wind is blowing, we take the risk to stay right where we are today.”
God’s Spirit renews the believer from the inside, through what is “not modification but total transformation,” they said, adding that the Spirit “comes to align and adapt our models” to God’s heart.
Following the Spirit is like rowing a boat with both oars, Martino and Vargas declared. Those two oars are “the wind of the Spirit and the power of the word.”
“If you only use one oar, you’ll find yourself going in circles for hours,” they explained. “But once you discover the aerodynamics of the boat, you’ll realize you’ll need the second one as well. The key to the first Christian church was learning to use both oars and use them with the same intensity.”
Rowing with both spiritual oars requires both communicating the message and being open to receive direction from the Spirit’s power, they explained.
This is a word of hope for these pandemic times, the preachers said.
“The pandemic did not remove our bold dream. It has only intensified the need for it,” they said. “Too often unexpected waves of change and turbulence can rock the vision the Lord has given us. We have to ask the question, ‘How has God used this pandemic?’”
The answer can be found in Scripture, they asserted. “When we look to Scripture, we find time and time again that God has provided two resources that stabilize us for communal renewal. We see in biblical antiquity and up until today the need for the wind of the Spirit and the power of the word.”
This can be seen in the powerful transformation of both Peter and Paul in the biblical stories, they added. “For both Peter and Paul, the word was the grounding force that set effective ministry. And yet it was the wind of God that led their ministry and penetrated the hearts of their audiences.”
Restoration, revival and renewal are to be found in times of uncertainty like today, they said. “God doesn’t just want to do something in us but through us. We need to be aware of the changing of the seasons and be aware of the times. When we use both oars … we recognize the Lord renewing our minds and facilitating us to go into uncharted and unknown territory — new territory toward justice, of a clear identity, of growth , new territory toward holistic diversity, racial ethic, ideological, theological, socioeconomic, gender and age.”
“We do not lose heart, because we are being renewed by the wind and the word. With us or without us, God is doing a new thing.”
For CBF, at the 30-year juncture since its founding, “it’s time to ask the question, ‘What kind of family are we aiming to become? Look around you in this moment, it is the wind that has united us together. And it is the word that has helped us remain. And yet are these the same people from the beginning? Have we extended our hand to new family members? Who is missing here? Who from the family of God has not received this invitation to the fellowship? Are we inviting people who can afford to be at the table? We often talk about expanding the table or even resetting the table, but as a fellowship let us aspire in this season to rebuild the table.”
There is plenty of evidence of growth already, they said, pointing to their own entry into CBF life as an example. “Today we celebrate how far we have come. We finally have started with the help of the Spirit the blueprints for this new space. Some of us are here today that we didn’t think we were going to be here 30 years ago, like us. Look how far we have come.”
Yet God continues to do a new thing, Martino and Vargas said. “Our hope for CBF is that we can remember what God has shown us and make these bold dreams a reality. We do not lose heart, because we are being renewed by the wind and the word. With us or without us, God is doing a new thing.”
They added: “Bold dreams are given to bold people … God will not give us dreams for us to sit on them. Rather, we should take these dreams as imminent and important. … God is also counting on the next generation of prophets and preachers and lay leaders willing to be used by the liberating truth of his word and the power and anointing of his Spirit.”