So here is a confession: I taught, preached, and believed that God didn't throttle back his power and didn't limit the work of Jesus' disciples to do mission in the name of Christ in our day. In reality, however, I had only experienced brief flashes of Jesus power and presence... until about four years ago. Everything changed for me after a set of events that happened in March of that year. What I believed could be true, I experienced as true and it continues till today.
Today, on a flight from Abilene, Texas, that would ultimately end up in Barcelona, Spain, I received a voice mail message from a bright young woman from China. She wanted me to know that she was ready to be baptized and was super-excited about our commitment to faith in Jesus.
This young woman had received her law degree in China. She is now doing graduate work in the U.S. She is part of an international experience of Jesus as the Lord opens doors, brings people together at just the right time, and leads all sorts of people to faith in places like Lima and Piura, Peru, as well as Chiang Mai, Thailand, Harvard University, Burmese refugee camps, Singaporean ministry interns, street kids in Cambodia, young adults from all over southern China, Bhutanese refugee immigrants to the U.S., as well as the rolling hills of Kentucky. If I were to try to explain the elaborate intricacies of timing, personalities, travel, closed doors, open doors, travel, and the influence of foster and orphan children, it would take you an atlas and hours to read.
Except for the mode of travel, the story has been Acts revisited with Jesus being experienceable, faithfully present, and real. This doesn't mean that everything has gone smoothly and that everyone has immediately come to faith. Far from it! Yet things didn't go smoothly and not everyone came to faith in the book of Acts. However, there is no doubt that Jesus was the experienceable and resurrected Lord, faithfully present Friend, and the real and active Savior.
For me, spiritual emotions have been closer to the surface as I've battled for the eternal destinies of people I love from different countries. Passion is always present — sometimes bubbling under the surface and other times erupting in joy, sorrow, frustration, impatience, and exhilaration. Mission isn't theory or a study of ancient documents, but an all-consuming undercurrent in everything I pray and think and do.
Maybe most important of all, I have experienced Jesus' promise in his closing words of commission to his disciples as true. This is not just theory, preaching, teaching, or theology; it is experienceable, present, and real!
In his last words on earth, Jesus promised us something incredible. As we "MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS" by crossing cultural boundaries ("GO!"), bringing people to genuine faith in Christ ("BAPTIZING"), and investing in them until the truth of Jesus becomes real in them ("TEACHING TO OBEY"), the Lord promised: "I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV).
Matthew, the gospel of Immanuel God with us, wants us to know that Jesus is experienceable, present and real through...
- the story of Jesus going back to the promises to Abraham and David down through Jesus' earthly ministry (Matthew 1:23);
- authentic community experienced as Jesus' family lives together with accountability, forgiveness, and reclaiming the lost (Matthew 18:20);
- service to those in need and most vulnerable (Matthew 25:40);
- and as we've seen today, through living out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
As our culture grows more and more secular, we don't need more big religious events, another seminar on how to do church well, or another great book that brings us comfort in the stained glass cocoon. All those things might be helpful to some, but they will be largely worthless unless we discover in our daily lives that Jesus is experienceable, present, and real through every twist and turn of our story. It is easy for us to sink into pious sounding slogans, celebrity driven churches, and country club facilities while we continue to live lifestyles that show no real difference than the lost neighbors around us. Before we can say with integrity our world needs Jesus, we need to know Jesus by experiencing his presence and power as real in our own lives. So...
- Let's get back into reading Jesus' story to know him better and see how we should expect him to be at work today.
- Let's turn to the Holy Spirit's direction on how to experience Jesus and pursue those four things with the expectation that Jesus longs to be experienceable, present, and real in the lives of his followers.
- Let's pray for the Holy Spirit to help us see God's truth clearly and convict us to pursue Jesus passionately.
- Let's get up each morning praying for the Lord we see at work in Acts to be at work in our lives and our churches today!
Our prayer and hope needs to be similar to the old prayer of David:
Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD.
Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly
(Psalm 3:5 NIV).