- Wednesday, June 17, 2009
A Swift Kick in the Dish
Returning to the Life You Were Born to Live
There’s nothing like the first game of a brand-new NFL season. Last year’s Super Bowl is now a distant memory, and the only action you’ve known for months on end is of the verbal variety. There has been talk of trades and talk of retirements and talk of the draft and talk of preseason games, which everyone knows count for zilch in the grand scheme of all things football. But then, finally, the day dawns when all that talk ceases and the ball is snapped for real. Everyone has zero wins, zero losses, and for the only moment during the whole season when this is true, your team has as much of a fighting chance as anyone to take home the big prize. What a rush!
You can imagine, then, how disheartened I was when I stood in front of my TV a couple of Septembers ago, remote in hand, anxious to set my TiVo to record the NFL-season-opening battle between the Saints and the Colts and saw my screen blank out. I pushed a few buttons, and it sputtered and spat. I pushed a few more buttons. More sputters, more spit. We have a dish on the side of our house, so I thought, Oh, I know what to do here. I’ll just restart the unit that controls the entire satellite system. It drew on the full extent of my technological knowledge, that single act of turning a little black box off, then on again, but it worked. And as the picture hummed beautifully back to life, I saw two words appear on-screen: Powering Up.
I stared at that phrase for a few seconds, thinking, Wouldn’t it be great if it were this easy to power me back up when I am behaving a little beneath my potential? What if every Christ-follower, for that matter, could just push a simple button when his or her picture was fuzzy or the signal was weak? We all lack clarity and consistency from time to time. We all need help maintaining a predictable picture of what the watching world needs to see, an image that accurately and faithfully portrays the character of Christ. Maybe a swift kick in the dish, a reboot, and a fresh shot at powering up could do the trick, if only that could occur in the spiritual realm.
Ready for a Reboot
If you’re like most Christ-followers I know, you’ve walked through a season or two when you really could have used a restart button. Maybe you’re in such a season right now: your picture has been breaking up and sputtering and spitting, and you know that the life you’re living is not the life God wishes for you to live. You’re fading in and out of obedience to his commands, and therefore fading in and out of true freedom, causing the people around you to wonder whether or not you really do follow Christ. You’re weary of the superficial and in desperate need of a massive dose of something supernatural that will enable you to face life’s struggles head-on and flourish in God’s goodness for days and years to come, but you just don’t know where to turn for help. If that is true for you, then you are not alone. I have served in a local church setting for nearly forty years, and if there is one thing I’ve heard Christians of all ages, races, backgrounds, and traditions say they desire more than anything else, it is the certainty that the power of God really can make a difference in their lives.
They look at their sorry circumstances and their below-potential behavior and want to know that Jesus really can change their hearts, their habits, their desires, their patterns, and their pain. They want to know that there is enough power for them to overcome the work of the enemy in their personal lives and the forces of evil flowing through the world at large, that there is enough power for them to prevail. To their concerns—and perhaps to yours as well—I say, there is! There is plenty of power awaiting you, life-changing, habit-altering, pain-alleviating power. It’s what powering up is all about, as even Jesus’ earliest followers could attest.
Common Men, an Uncommon Opportunity
Two thousand years ago a large group of believers led by twelve men qualified as the least likely people to change the world. They were known as “disciples”—handpicked followers who would co-labor with Christ. These were rural, ordinary folk. Common men, you might say. They were sometimes rude and sometimes crude and sometimes full of rage. One of them, John, was known as a “son of thunder” and had a bit of an agitated temperament to get over before he’d experience life in all its fullness. Another, Peter, often said the wrong thing at the wrong time. Occasionally he’d say the right thing, but it was still at the wrong time.
When Jesus was nailed to the cross, these once-devoted followers caved in to their fears about being associated with a dead king and chose to flee their Master’s presence. They ran and hid in the shadows and denied having anything to do with the Messiah. Even after Jesus was raised from the dead, the disciples wondered about his power. Sure, they said they believed in the risen Christ, but relying on a crucified leader’s power to continue on with the mission they had been given? Well, that was a different proposition altogether.
Jesus’ first followers were uneducated, untrained, and unfit for the massive opportunity they would be ultimately invited to seize. “I want you to go into all the world and make disciples,” Jesus would say. And incredibly they said yes. Armed with nothing but that twelve-word directive, the small band of brothers eyed their upside-down world and engaged wholeheartedly in the task of setting it right.
Despite having no financial resources, no elaborate buildings, no satellite technology, no cameras, no media to broadcast their movement, and no ability to produce PR flyers advertising their events, the disciples thrived in their mission for one reason and one reason alone: they had something that was better than all of the bells and whistles put together—the transforming power of God in their lives.
Because they looked to God’s power for their strength, they beat the odds.
Because they looked to God’s power for their strength, they stood firm against opposition.
Because they looked to God’s power for their strength, they persisted amid persecution.
Because they looked to God’s power for their strength, they gained some serious kingdom ground, living life precisely as it was meant to be lived.
I think there’s a lesson here for you and me both.
The God-Sized Gift
In the first chapter of the book of Acts we read that Jesus gathered his disciples around him on the Mount of Olives, which stands even today, just due east of the city of Jerusalem. Their heads were probably still spinning as they considered the roller-coaster ride of experiences they’d known during the three years they had followed Jesus. They had felt the joys of absorbing his firsthand ministry, the sorrow of witnessing the horrible ordeal of the cross, and the elation of knowing he was now resurrected.
Their Lord had chosen them, taught them, loved them, and prepared them and now was commissioning them just before he ascended into heaven. The disciples barely had time to grieve their Master’s impending departure, though, before they were given a promise—a promise that although it was true that Christ was leaving, “another” was coming to take his place (John 14:16). “[The apostle] John baptized with water,” Jesus would say on that mount just forty days after his miraculous resurrection, “but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). And what a baptism it was! The first verses of Acts 2 describe the fulfillment of that promise this way:
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (vv. 1–4)
This was the Day of Pentecost—the day when the Spirit of God, by way of three miracles, took up residence in every believer, and the church of Jesus Christ was officially born.
The Miracle of Sound
The first miracle of Pentecost was the miracle of sound, for those gathered heard “a sound like a mighty rushing wind.”
The word for “spirit” in the New Testament is pneuma, which means “breath.” “Spirit of God” is literally, “the breath of God.” So when this particular wind blew in and around that throng of believers, it represented the life of God, the very respiration of God now imparted to them, feeble and frail human beings.
The Miracle of Sight
But not only was there a miracle of sound, there was also a miracle of sight. You could say things went nuclear at Pentecost that day. A gigantic ball of fire exploded, and divided flames from its core danced atop believers’ heads, human candles quite literally ignited by the Holy Spirit.
It is a common image in Scripture, this idea of God as a consuming fire. When God gets involved, fire is often involved too. Remember the burning bush? Moses came to that bush, and the thing kept on burning and burning—a manifestation of God’s presence there. The same was true at Pentecost. Symbolized by a raging fire, God was with them in fullness of presence and in fullness of power. God, the grand consumer, cleanser, changer of everything.
The Miracle of Speech
There was a third miracle that day at Pentecost, and it was the miracle of speech. People from all over the world had gathered, and suddenly it was as if God hit his divine fast-forward button, and the gospel was disseminated to all tribes in one fell swoop. Instead of the good news reaching the nations, the nations had reached the good news. And they heard it simultaneously and in their native tongues, living languages spoken in their own unique dialects. Talk about a supernatural sensory experience! “My power I will leave with you,” Jesus had promised in essence. And with the ultimate love language now on their tongues, power is exactly what those early believers possessed.
According to Paul in the book of Ephesians, the power that Christ was referring to a few days before that Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:8) was the same power that brought him out of the grave (1:19–20).The Greek word that the apostle uses—dunamis (pronounced doo-na-mis)—is the word from which we get the English word dynamite and reminds us that there indeed is explosive power and, more importantly perhaps, dynamic power in the work of the Holy Spirit. When led by the Spirit, a continual source of strength and energy flows through the life of the believer.
How does this divine strength and energy—this dunamis—show up? Take a look at the promises of Scripture: in Romans 15:13, we are filled with hope because of dunamis. In Ephesians 3:16, dunamis equips us to serve God successfully. According to this same passage, in verse 20, dunamis allows us to do more than we can possibly imagine. According to Ephesians 6, dunamis enables us to overcome the enemy. According to Colossians 1:11, dunamis gives us perseverance in the tests and trials of life and the discipline to know righteousness each day. In Colossians 1:29, we’re told that dunamis causes us to work energetically for God. In 1 Peter 1:5, dunamis protects us. Second Peter 1:3 says that dunamis provides everything we need to live godly lives.
Jesus would tell his disciples, “These works that I have done, you will do, and greater works than these, you will do.”1 Can you imagine how stunned they must have been when they learned that all that Jesus had done was only the beginning and that they would be doing something even “greater”? This is the heartbeat of the book of Acts, which is simply a series of great works or “acts” that bear testimony to the power of the church when its people are fueled by dunamis. Even today the great works persist: whenever the sun shines on a corner of the world, it shines on someone preaching the gospel. Wherever the moon casts her beams, she illuminates someone saying a word for God. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the good news is being proclaimed. What joy this must bring our Father!
The Ultimate Before and After
What was true for those believers gathered at Pentecost remains true for us today: when the Holy Spirit infiltrates a human life, dunamis power starts to flow. And its first objective is accomplishing the renovating work of transformation. Spirit-led believers experience this transformation as they move from emptiness to fullness, from failure to faith, and from fear to courage. The end result? It’s the ultimate before and after.
From Emptiness to Fullness
Immediately after the trio of sensory miracles on the day of Pentecost—sound, sight, and speech—Acts 2 says that the apostle Peter preached a powerful message to all who were gathered, culminating with a crystal-clear invitation to have their spiritual emptiness filled with Jesus Christ. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” verse 38 says, “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
People wanted to know what to do to be saved, what to do to have their lives transformed. “Repent!” Peter exclaimed. “Turn from the direction you were headed, and start walking a new path. Stop sinning, follow Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit is yours.”
I still can’t read those words without getting choked up because I remember all too well what my life was like before I turned from the direction I was headed and started walking a new path. You’re reading the words of a man who knows he’s saved. I’ve done exactly what the Scriptures tell us to do in responding to the invitation to repent and receive Christ, and as a result the Spirit of God circulates through me, testifying that I belong to him and securing me in my faith. The fullness of God’s presence and power does not come through good deeds. It does not come through church membership. It does not even come through growing up in a godly family. It comes, my friend, only through salvation in Christ.
From Failure to Faith Transformation also means moving from failure and defeat to faith and spiritual fire. The believers at Pentecost lacked faith. They lacked fervor. They knew their past sins well and wondered if God could ever use people like them, given their significant track record of failure. I can certainly relate. On more than a few occasions I’ve asked God the question, “Is it really possible that I can achieve your mission when I’m this far from being perfect?”
So many believers stay planted on the spiritual bench because they have failed God in some way and wonder if the infraction will leave them permanently sidelined. They have lackluster prayer lives. They’re enslaved to habits they cannot break. They’re in bondage to sin they cannot shake. They can’t control their thought life, they can’t control their mouths, they can’t control their morals, they can’t control their appetites. They’re living in defeat and at great distance from the God who created them and loves them, constantly teetering on the brink of spiritual despondency because they don’t realize that with God’s presence comes his promise to renew us day by day, to fire us up moment by moment. Regardless of our past. Regardless of our sin.
God chooses to use the foolish in this world, failures and sinfulness and all, in order to shame the wise. He empowers us, he equips us, he tasks us, and he gives us great success, all for the purpose of showing himself strong. He provides strength in the midst of struggle, joy amid mourning, love to fend off fear. Think about this with me for a moment: when God uses people like you and me who are utterly undeserving and unworthy of being used, and he accomplishes magnificent things through us, who do you suppose gets the glory? God does!
When we as God’s people realize a measure of success in ministry, it is never due to our talents or abilities or wittiness or exceptional planning. Success always flows from God’s hand, and God’s alone. It is “not by might, nor by power,” Zechariah 4:6 says, “but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.”
When I was a young seminary student, the church I served in Ft. Worth had a great revival. It was amazing! People came to Christ left and right, and those of us who witnessed it were floating on a spiritual high like none we’d ever known. The next day I walked into my evangelism class, taught by a man I greatly admire to this day, Dr. Roy Fish. He asked me how I was doing, and I responded with a puffed-up chest and a hefty dose of piety ,“We’re all rejoicing in this incredible revival we had over at the church!”
To my surprise, Dr. Fish wasn’t impressed. His gaze searing my eyes, he said, “You’d better rejoice in the Reviver, not in the revival.” He turned to head toward his lectern as I nodded silently and sort of slumped off to the back row.
I was a bit humiliated, but Dr. Fish was right. Our spiritual victories must always be credited to the only One worthy of our praise—the great reviver and transformer of our failures, Jesus Christ.
From Fear to Courage
From emptiness to fullness, from failure to faith, and finally, from fear to courage—transformation’s work accomplishes them all.
As I mentioned, immediately following the astonishing impartation of the Holy Spirit, Peter began to preach with boldness previously not possessed. This is the same Peter, mind you, who had denied Christ on three separate occasions. But because of the Spirit’s transforming ways, a wimp was turned into a warrior for God.
Later on Peter and John were arrested and were beaten to within an inch of their lives and were told never to speak in the name of Jesus again. In Acts 4:13 city officials who observed the boldness of Peter and John admitted that these men must have had an encounter with Christ. How else could untrained and unintelligent men be so courageous and bold? That’s a question only the Holy Spirit can answer. So how does such transformation take place? Where is the relevance to us today? Let’s keep going.
Transformation for Today
On any sports team, it’s the coach’s responsibility to outline a strategy, come up with a game plan, and empower the team to execute it. One of my all-time favorite coaches is the late, great Tom Landry, who served for nearly three decades as head coach of the championship-rich Dallas Cowboys. This beloved brother in Christ was a faithful man who used his professional platform to share Jesus with as many people as possible. One day a reporter asked Coach Landry, “How do you do it? How do you keep producing winning teams year after year? How do you take a group of individuals with their own agendas and forge them into a unified unit, building them into a team that wins so consistently?”
Tom Landry replied, “My job is to get men to do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they always wanted to achieve.” Of course, what football players wanted to achieve always involved winning a championship title or a Super Bowl victory. And many, many times Tom Landry prepared his team to do just that.
Jesus knows how to prepare his team to win, too. While he was still here on earth, it was as if he huddled his team around him and said, “Guys, you only need to know two plays to power up and make this thing called life work well: wait, and go.”
Play #1: Wait
The first thing Jesus asks his players to do is to wait. “Do not depart from Jerusalem,” he told his disciples in essence in Acts 1:4, “but wait for the coming of the Spirit.” In response to their Lord’s request, the disciples waited, but not idly. Rather, they did what nobody would expect a rough, tough, manly group of men to do—they hosted a prayer meeting! A hundred and twenty of them gathered in an upstairs room and waited for God’s Spirit to come.
We are wise to do the same. Before we engage, we must disengage. Before we rush out, knocking things over and tearing things up for Jesus, we must be sure that the Spirit of God is filling and fueling our lives. Before we go, we must wait.
Play #2: Go
But there was a second part to the game plan. When Jesus rallied his team for the big game, he said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”2
“My witnesses”—that’s the mission you and I have been given. And no matter what age we may be in the faith—a rookie believer or a veteran—we are responsible to carry out the mission of Christ. Even a senior saint is held to this; there is no such thing as retirement from the work of Jesus. The word retired is not found in Christ’s vocabulary. Indeed, we are witnesses of great things: we know of our Lord’s death and his burial, we know of his resurrection, we know of the transformation that has occurred in our lives. And this is the message we are entrusted to share, a message we’ll explore further in Chapter 6.
Ready to Power Up?
There is no human explanation for what happened in those early days of the church as the Holy Spirit revolutionized and revitalized reluctant men and women, transforming them into bold, brave-hearted witnesses for Christ who would cause the gospel to explode throughout first-century Jerusalem. The events of the book of Acts are only explicable in terms of God’s propensity to take common men and women and accomplish highly uncommon things, all in the name of powering up. These followers were committed to sharing the gospel of Christ and to living lives worthy of their calling. And with God’s power, they did just that.
Maybe you are one who wonders, “How do I live out this thing called the Christian life? How can I be part of changing the world for good?” Or maybe you’re one who isn’t so concerned about changing the world quite yet; you barely got yourself out of bed this morning. Either way, it’s likely that more is in store for you than the life you’re living today.
If you want to be distinguishable from the world in which you live, if you want to know true worship—elevating, uplifting, God-honoring worship that is unencumbered by your sin, if you want to be a light in your corner of the world, if you desire a new beginning, the kind of power that makes everything strong and clear once more, a good, swift spiritual reboot, then it’s time to power up. God’s promise of power is not just for someone else—it is for you. Believe that God really can (and will) fill you with great power. Believe that he can and will use you to accomplish uncommon things. And then ask him to invade your personality and to grow your faith.
You’ll be a better man or a better woman because of it. You will begin to obey God’s commandments rather than living in rebellion. You’ll have the power to do it! You’ll start winning life’s battles. The struggles that you are facing in your home, in your family, in your marriage will still be there, but you will have the spiritual power to deal with them. You’ll have all that you need to live a godly life and to build Christlike character in you. You will experience the fruit of the Spirit. Do you know what it feels like to have patience or joy ooze right out of you? You stand there, knowing for sure it’s not you who’s conjuring up that thing. It must be God! And in that moment you realize that divine transformation indeed is running its course.
This is what spiritual engagement is all about. It’s a daring, vital faith in Christ. It’s the fullest work of God’s Spirit in the human life. And it is yours for the asking.
We need to get fired up again, my friend. We need revival. Many Christians have been to the cross for pardon, but they’ve never been to Pentecost for power. We don’t need another historical Pentecost, but do we ever need the revival that took place in the hearts of those gathered that day. And God is looking for any man, any woman, who is responsive to him and responsive to his Spirit, to accomplish great things in and through that person. Second Chronicles 16:9 says it this way: “The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” It’s an all-out search—a search for you and for me.
Oliver Cromwell, the seventeenth-century leader of England, was once concerned about a lack of silver coinage in his country. He commissioned a group of soldiers to scour the countryside in search of silver they could use to make additional coins. The soldiers returned from their trek and informed Cromwell that the only silver to be found was in the statues of the saints standing in the country’s many cathedrals. “Good!” Cromwell said with a wry smile. “Go melt those saints and get them in circulation!”3
It’s my deepest wish for you and me both that because of the Spirit’s all-consuming, all-powerful fire we’ll be melted into the image of Christ, fully and completely engaged, and that we’ll be put into circulation for him.
Think for a moment about your spiritual journey to date. There have probably been some highs and some lows, but as you consider the questions below, only take into account where you see yourself now. On a scaleof1 to 10—1 meaning “sputtering along”and10 meaning “absolutely prevailing,” where do you rank your spiritual life?
What infractions have sidelined you in life thus far? How would your life be different if Christ were given complete freedom to remove those sinful patterns for you now?
Do you find it easy or difficult to wait on God before moving forward with a determined course of action? In what areas might God be asking you to wait on him today?
Do you believe that you are destined for great, God-ordained things in your future? What is the primary emotion you feel as you consider the prospect of God accomplishing great things through you?
Powering Up: The Fulfillment and Fruit of a God-Fueled Life
Copyright 2009 by Jack Graham
Published by Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
1300 Crescent Street Wheaton, Illinois 60187
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided for by USA copyright law.
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