The Promise

There it was, a simple sentence written in the margin of my Bible.  “I want to see this in my life.”  However long ago that was written, the yearning has only intensified since then.  The catalyst for this heart cry?  It started days ago as I read about Jesus speaking to His disciples before ascending to heaven.

Acts 1:8 NIV But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

My attention was gripped by this verse more than ever before, as I put myself in the place of those disciples.  What did Jesus’ statement mean to them, and what effect did it have on them?  Those in the early church did not know what the power of the Holy Spirit coming on them would be like.  As for being His witnesses, they may have had ideas – before the night Jesus was betrayed and they all scattered.  The rest of the book of Acts lets us see the changes His Holy Spirit made in them, and the changes He made in the world through them.

Is this what we see in the church today?  Is this what I see in my own life?  Maybe our pre-conceived ideas of “being His witnesses” and “the power of the Holy Spirit” have limited us.   We emphasize “be my witnesses” without equal emphasis on “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes.”  As such, we rely on our own self-efforts to do something for Jesus, as we do witnessing.  But Jesus called us to be witnesses to others day in and day out as the life-transforming power of His Holy Spirit works in and through us.  Succeeding chapters show example after example of the early church being witnesses everywhere they were – because they received the power of Holy Spirit, Jesus’ promise to them.  They relied on Holy Spirit power to make them what they could never make themselves – representatives of Jesus Christ in word, action, and life.

Acts 5:15-16 NIV  15As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.  16Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

These powerful witnesses of Jesus Christ include Peter, the one who denied Jesus three times.  The same Peter who was so zealous that he cut off a non-believer’s ear “for the Lord.”  It’s the same Peter, but there’s been a change.  This Peter now reaches out to heal ears, not take them off.  Now, the sick are laid in the streets so that Peter’s shadow will fall on them.  People come from all around to see Jesus’ witness, and they are all healed!

This is what I want to see in my life – not by faith alone, but by sight!  And this is what I want to see in the whole body of Christ.  Jesus’ promise was not to the early church alone, but to us, as well.  I’m unwilling to settle for less than what the early church experienced.  In fact, I want to see more, but as a participant, not a spectator.  The world in 2011 needs to see the reality of Christ and His power at least as much as the world in the first century.  What will it take, Lord, for us to see?

The Radical Way of Jesus

While I might not agree with everything he has to say, what Bishop Michael Curry stated in his address to the recent convention of his NC diocese resounds within me.  I share some of the Winston-Salem Journal article here:

A church should not be concerned about its own life, but instead should follow the steps of Jesus . . . Jesus was trying to get us to understand that we need to move beyond our own individual self-interest . . . We need to go beyond our various ideologies and go where God dreams for us to be. . . The church’s goal should not be to build bigger churches, start a lot of new churches, or even fill up the pews.  I’m not convinced those goals are born of the gospel.  Instead, the goals should be to live, witness to, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to make disciples . . .

You go, Bishop Curry!  Some of these statements are radical departures from “the way we do church” in 2011; yet, it sounds like the very heartbeat of our heavenly Father, as made clear in His Word.  Why should it be so radical, then, even to the eyes and ears of Christians today?  Have we bought into the world’s ways, the world’s ambitions, the world’s ideas of what constitutes success?  Have we become more competitive toward one another about which church or denomination is “best”, rather than competing against the devil for the souls of the people who haven’t yet believed and received Christ Jesus, their only hope of salvation?  Have we lost our focus, our purpose – which is truly to know Christ and to make Him known to others?

It’s time to break out of the four walls of the church (an overused cliché, but relevant here).  Maybe, it’s really time to break down those walls and not try to build newer, bigger, or better ones.  It’s time for us to realize that Jesus Christ came for a lost and dying world, tearing down walls everywhere He taught, that the world could know Him.  Why, then, do we insist on our walls, still believing we can reach the world for Christ with them?

Please don’t let this be just food for thought.  Let it become a catalyst for action.  We’re not going to make disciples – followers of Christ – of our Jerusalems, Judeas, Samarias, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), until we let go of the old way and do it Jesus’ way.

The Great Equalizer

It occurred to me on the way home from church yesterday, as I observed the beauty of the snow all around, that snow is the great equalizer.  It covers unsightly land, making one place as pretty as every other.  It can even cover a huge landfill of garbage and makes it look like a beautiful, unblemished hill.  With the snow, even the uneven places are leveled, so that the rough places become smooth.  Sure, we know that the ground underneath is still rough, uneven, and in some places unsightly.  For the moment, however, when it’s covered with snow we see it as beautiful.

Isaiah 42:16 I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.

Isaiah 40:4-5 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.  5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.  For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

How like God to make Himself known to those who will see – right in the midst of a weather phenomenon!  He washed us with the perfect and precious blood of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, and we became whiter than snow.  Our sins have been forever covered.  While snow is the great equalizer of the landscape, Jesus’ blood is the great equalizer of men!

Psalm 51:7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Covered by His blood, He sees every one of us as whiter and brighter than the pristine snow-covered landscape on a sunny morning with crystal-clear blue skies.  God knows the sins were there before, but now and for all eternity He knows and sees only the righteousness of Christ.  All those imperfect places in us are made plain and smooth – perfected in Christ.  All those things that make us unequal in the natural and even less than human in some cultures, are of no consequence in God’s eyes – because we are in Christ.

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

It is for this purpose that Christ came – that we might be in Him, cleansed from our sins for all time.  Let’s celebrate this Christmas by receiving the fullness of His gift to us.  Let’s look at ourselves and others as He does – whiter than snow – all because of His blood.  Jesus’ blood – the great equalizer!