Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reflecting (On) What's Wrong, Part 18

So Few Real Spiritual Experiences

I’ve attended over 2000 church services in my life. I’ve probably listened to another two to three hundred sermon recordings. I’ve attended dozens of conferences and retreats on church-related and spiritual issues. I have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree form a Bible college and seminary. I went to Sunday school throughout my childhood. I’ve attended more Bible studies, small groups, and other church functions than I can recall.

And yet I can count the real spiritual experiences I have had on my fingers.

They are memorable moments that led to real transformation in my life. They came at unexpected moments: sitting on a plane returning from a missions trip, in a room I didn’t know existed at a conference center in New Mexico, at a worship rally at a youth conference where I was supposed to be a youth leader but ended up being a receiver, in a quiet church office with five other guys early one Friday morning. And perhaps a few others.

We need powerful moments of real spiritual experience I have come to believe. One of the problems with the church is that we don’t really experience God more often.

Spiritual Experiences or Emotional Highs?

Some cynics, like myself, may be reading this and thinking that these were just emotional highs, mountain top experiences, that really were no more God than any other day of my life. Perhaps you are right. But I’m not so sure. I have also had emotional highs. I haven’t counted all of those in what I am now talking about. But regardless of how one categories what I am describing, I think it is right to say that the church has a problem in that we, as her people, have far too seldom encounters with the Almighty, and that we have far too little of His power showing up in our lives.

In 30-some years of nearly weekly church attendance, dozens of conferences, dozens of retreats, etc., I can count on my fingers the times I have really felt the power of God move. Whether it was my emotions or the real thing doesn’t matter for the purposes of these writings. I’m just saying its rare. And that is in many ways another aspect of the problem with the church.

It Was Very Different Back in the Day

This is in stark contrast to what we read happening in the book of Acts. God’s power would show up seemingly out of nowhere all the time. And that is what led to amazing things. Not human effort. A simple reading of the book of Acts reveals this.

It all started with the famous Acts 2, “Day of Pentecost” scene when a group of Christ-followers were huddling, or should we say hiding, when “suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house were the were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled wit the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Usually when those verses are read, everyone automatically jumps to their own denominational theological interpretation of what they mean. But regardless of which view you take on what exactly was happening, the bottom line is that God’s power blew into town seemingly out of nowhere, and before anybody could even figure out what had happened (“amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’”) three thousand people began Christ followers as a result. Three thousand people in one day! God’s power showed up and amazing things happened.

And it did not stop there. Those three thousand lived transformed lives. And I don’t just mean they sinned less. They changed their whole idea of living. They “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and man wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common, selling their possession and good, they gave to everyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Let me suggest that it is just as amazing, probably more amazing in fact, that these three thousand people changed their lifestyle like this than it was that they began Christ-followers on the same day. They got together, hung out, listened to their leaders, sold their extra stuff and gave the money away to those in need, met in each others’ homes and ate, hung out in larger groups in the temple courts, etc. All of this because God’s power blew into town seemingly out of nowhere.

Could it happen in our world today?

Over and Over in Acts

This story line is repeated over and over again in the book of Acts. The Jewish leaders persecute the Christ-followers, which forces them to separate from each other and scatter to other cities and other regions. But then God’s power shows up wherever they land, and communities of believers are born all over the ancient world.

A royal official from a then prosperous place called Ethiopia is riding a chariot, reading an Old Testament scroll, trying to figure out what the heck it is talking about, when suddenly God’s power blows in, this time in the form of a guy named Philip who is literally sent up to the chariot, and the next thing you know, an Ethiopian official becomes a Christ-follower. We don’t read the rest of the story, but the church is soon born in Ethiopia, one can bet. It all started when God mysteriously sent Philip to a chariot, and the mysteriously whisked him away afterwards.

A nasty, evil, savage church persecuter (who later called himself the worst of sinners) is on a mission to shut down a church and harm some Christ followers. As he travels on the course of this evil mission, the power of God blows in from seemingly nowhere in the form of a blinding light. The blinging light and the voice of God strikes the agent of evil. A few years later, after some supernatural training, this same guy shows up transformed into the greatest missionary of all time, and makes disciples and plants churches all the way from Jerusalem and Europe, sending the church on its eventual track west that will bring it to someday to the United States and, if we could trace our faith history back far enough, probably led to the eventual conversion of this author and of most of these readers. It all started when God’s power blew in unexpectedly through a blinding light from the sky.

A somewhat racist Christ-follower had a mysterious dream, trance, vision, something, one day when he got a little too hungry on a hot afternoon. Through that experience, God blew into town mysteriously and told the man to give up his racism and get the picture that God loves all people. At about the same time, a person of another race, who had been seeking God in his own incomplete way, got a mysterious gust of God’s power that prompted him to send for the recovering racist. The result was a Roman official’s household became a house church in a prominent Roman city, and the gospel again began to spread in an unexpected place. It all started when God’s power blew onto a rooftop unexpectedly and mysteriously.

A missionary team has a strategy mapped out and a trip planned. Then a vision in the night convinces them to go the opposite direction. I could go on and on.

The book of Acts is concentrated with stories of God’s power mysteriously and unexpectedly showing up, and the result being the church spreading and people becoming Christ followers. I could write about many more. Constantly, the power of God moved, and that led to church growth, church planting, and disciple-making, etc etc.

Where Did That Power Go?

That’s what we miss in today’s world. We have plenty of theology, plenty of strategy, plenty of methodology, but we could use some power from on high, some Pentecost wind, some instantaneous miraculous healings, some blinding lights from heaven, some dramatic rescues, some unexplained visions, some people mysteriously disappearing from the side of chariots, etc. We are missing the key ingredient to mission in our current existence.

We miss that power when it is not present.

More on this in the next post, including a true story from my years in Vegas that, sadly, illustrates what happens when that kind of power does NOT show up. I wish I knew why.


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