The book of Acts covers from the ascension of Jesus to the death of Simon Peter and Paul. During the Acts timeline, Paul writes 13 books, 14 if you are of the belief that he is the writer of Hebrews. Simon Peter and James write another three, leaving just five books written after the Acts of the Apostles ends around 70 A.D. Nearly every epistle needs to be read through the prism of the book of Acts. The epistles are written during Acts to saints, people who have experienced the only Spiritual experience found in the 40 years that the book of Acts covers. I mention this because there is a word that catches my attention throughout the book. The word is suddenly, and depending on the version you read, it’s found over a dozen times. Luke wants us to know that much of what people witnessed in the book of Acts happened suddenly. It wasn’t planned, choreographed, or manipulated. The Spirit moved indiscriminately, at its own discretion, independent of any groups, agendas, or schedules. As we’ve started our sabbatical, we’re taking the opportunity to visit churches, something I’ve longed to do throughout my pastorate. I wanted to visit churches with different dynamics, see their systems, experience their services, and get a taste of their vision and passion. In some churches we’ve seen incredible vision, experienced great worship, and heard profound preaching and teaching, but left feeling like there was no room for the Spirit to have its liberty. Great experience, incredible talent, amazing messages, but no room for a “suddenly.” An hour to an hour and fifteen minutes and it was on to the next service or next week. In other venues we’ve left feeling like we were being hyped, manipulated, almost as if they didn’t need a “suddenly,” they could create a move of God on their own. Sing a song fast enough, repeat the chorus a dozen times, have a few timely key changes, and boom! A move of God. We left those services feeling like this was their Sunday routine. A lot of show, but not much substance nor dynamic growth happening in their lives. Different in style, but still no room for an authentic “suddenly.” In nearly every venue we’ve felt sincerity, God’s love, and a desire by each church for people to see Jesus and experience His presence. After some of our recent experiences, I returned to Acts to see when “suddenlys” happened. What I’ve found is that “suddenlys” happened in times of where prayer was the focus, “suddenlys” happened without scripts and programs. “Suddenlys” came without hype or manipulation and happened when people took time to seek God, were praying for His will, and were more concerned about God approval than what a crowd might think. As we’ve visited different church communities, we’ve heard this hunger communicated by others, “we just want to find a place where God’s presence can be experienced freely yet authentically.” Today, more than ever I’m sensing we need less polished, programmed, and planned church. We need less hyped-up, manipulated, and self-created services, and more desperate desire for a “suddenly.” We need more of what John 3:8 says, “like the wind blows. . . so does the Spirit.” Structure is invaluable, being relevant is critical, and doing things decently and in order should be properly balanced, but at the end of the day we need more divine intervention and more indescribable but undeniable. I pray that pastors, churches and more importantly, in each of our personal lives, we begin to desire more “suddenly there came a sound from heaven.”
Pentecost: Do It Again
Today as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, I ask one thing. Lord, do it again. We live in a time where culture is divided, violence is out of control and immorality is celebrated. Humanity has no cure for what ills our nations and the world. Government cannot legislate the problems away. Education cannot solve the issues by teaching. There is one solution for our world. A move of the Holy Spirit. It has to come through people who will be like the 120 who patiently waited in the Upper Room for the promise. People who are willing to sacrifice their time, give up activities and personal desires and agendas and seek the face of God. Pentecost was not a religion, organization or cult, it was a sovereign move of God, promised by Jesus just before ascending into heaven. It was not fabricated, hyped up by music or manipulated by masterful wordsmiths. It was a “suddenly” that came to desperate people crying out to God. It was a room filled with men and women of all social standings and its initial outpouring was so multicultural that it was heard in 14 languages. There were no fences, no clicks and no limitations. It fell on political figures, rich, poor, educated and uneducated. It crossed ethnic backgrounds; Jews, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans and spread throughout the world. So powerful was the move that in Acts 17 they said, “these are they who have turned the world upside down.” That is what we need today. A Pentecost that turns the world upside down, or I would say, right side up. How does it happen? It’s as simple as it was 2000 years ago. Seeking God above anything else, making prayer a priority, asking God to move on our nation and pour out the Spirit. Acts 2:39 says, the promise was for all. The only question is, are we desperate enough yet?