Empowerment: Is it In You?

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series The Coach in Your Corner

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(Acts 2:1-12)


In sports a lot is made of the mental attitude of the athlete. Teams psych themselves up. Coaches give stirring half-time soliloquies, but power is never simply a matter of talk or hype. Power is proven in the game.

Back in 1965 the University of Florida Gators were talking a good game, but they lacked the stamina to prove it on the field. By half-time their football team was usually depleted. They sat in the locker room exhausted and went out for the second half listless. Researchers at the University of Florida began to study the problem and discovered that the Gators? devastating defeats were due to ongoing dehydration in the Florida humidity. Dr. Robert Cade and Dr. Dana Shires came up with a specially prepared beverage that ensured the team retained a proper balance of electrolytes and water while they played. They gave their elixir the catchy name of Gatorade.

Thanks to Gatorade, the Gators went 7-4 that year and 9-2 the next, winning the Orange Bowl in 1967. They did it by outplaying and outlasting their opponents late in the game, because they had staying power when others didn?t.

It?s that kind of staying power Christians need to win in life, too. Oh, we can talk a good game, and we?re pretty long on hype sometimes. Power isn?t, however, a matter of words but demonstrated effectiveness. As the folks at Gatorade love to ask, “Is it in you?”

Pentecostals have existed for the last 100 years because they rediscovered the source of effective staying power for Christian service. Jesus called it the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The key to confidence for early Pentecostals was that they knew and experienced firsthand the infilling power of the Holy Spirit. Is it in you?

You can know you?ve got the power: it IS in you.

How can we know? How can we be confident that the power of the Holy Spirit is with us? The early Pentecostals knew they discovered an essential truth when they saw a curious pattern outlined in the Bible. The book of Acts describes what happened when believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit. It tells us something fascinating: They spontaneously spoke out in languages they had never learned. Let?s look at the first time it happened in Acts 2.

Acts 2:4 (NIV)

4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

This miraculous gift gave the 120 believers who were gathered in the upper room a dynamic prayer language that provided evidence (and confidence) that they had indeed received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. They knew, however, something that we often forget today. The real proof of power is in the game. The expression of power is what happens on the field. This raises the proverbial question at a deeper level. Is it really in you? Sometimes we believe our own hype. We need to avoid the appearance of power in favour of the demonstration of power instead.

Is it in you? Avoiding the APPEARANCE of power

In our media-saturated world, it?s easy to get a “made-for-TV” image of what life ought to be like.

Hollywood has a way of creating perceptions of how things ought to be. If we determine reality according to the way Hollywood defines it, we could end up very confused. Have you ever noticed how in the movies??

? It?s always possible to park directly outside the building you?re visiting.

? Cars that crash will almost always burst into flames. ? Imagine rear-ending someone in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and then running out of the car screaming and looking for cover. It?s absurd, isn?t it?

? It doesn?t matter if you?re heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts; your enemies will patiently wait to attack you one by one by dancing around in a threatening manner until you?ve knocked out their predecessors.

It?s kind of funny when we think about it. Life isn?t like Hollywood portrays it, but too often we?re content to accept caricatures for reality. Sometimes we let caricatures define our expectations of what reality should be, and then we get frustrated when life doesn?t tally up.

This is true in church life, too. Made-for-TV-church images abound about what the Kingdom ought to be like, how church ought to be and how the miracle-working power of God ought to operate. Sometimes these ideas may create anticipations and expectations that our day-to-day faith life simply doesn?t measure up to, and we?re tempted to throw in the towel.

Pentecostals tend to romanticize the following verses until real life let-downs cause us to give up.

Acts 1:5-8 (NIV)

5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” ? 8 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.”

This is a classic Pentecostal passage. Jesus predicts, 50 days after His resurrection, that there?s a day coming when power will be outpoured; a day when the church will be born with power? power available to every believer so that the entire earth will be filled with the knowledge of God. The promise of Pentecost is something that happened to the church on a given day. It?s a promise God makes to the church across space and time, a promise He makes to you and me.

Acts 2:39 (NIV)

39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

The danger is that we can get an unrealistic image in our minds about what the promise of Pentecost should look like. Everybody will agree, however, that no matter what kind of Pentecost we imagine, it?s the Pentecost experience in the book of Acts that we need. Pentecost means power if nothing else!

Pentecost means POWER!

Pentecost means power, but just what kind of power? We may each have our own idea of what power looks like. There?s a distinction between two types of spiritual power (or two paradigms of Pentecost) ? peak-moment empowerment and every-moment empowerment. It?s the difference between power in the exceptional moment and the staying power that Christianity requires.

PEAK-moment empowerment vs. EVERY-moment empowerment

Our spirituality sometimes is built on the peak-moment empowerment rather than the every-moment empowerment that Scripture teaches. When we think of power and Pentecost, we tend to think of it in terms of three facets of spiritual power?witness, service and miracles. These are peak-moment experiences.

For instance, when we think of Pentecostal, Holy Ghost-filled evangelism, we often have images of the sweaty, shouting evangelist, flailing his Bible around. He has lightening in his eyes, and thunderbolts in his pointed finger. We tend to think of it as the power to proclaim, rather than the power to attract.

i. Witness: power to PROCLAIM vs. power to ATTRACT.

There were plenty of mountain peak moments of proclamation in the book of Acts. Consider Peter who proclaimed the gospel on the Day of Pentecost itself, and saw 3,000 people added to the church in just one day. In order to be successful Christians, we need more than peak-moment empowerment (such as was demonstrated on the Day of Pentecost). We need to remember that it?s the every-moment empowerment that made the early church an incredibly attractive force.

The church in the book of Acts was highly attractive, and as a result thousands of people in Jerusalem alone were daily added to the church. Luke summarized this attractive force (every-moment empowerment) like this:

Acts 5:13 (NIV)

? they were highly regarded by the people.

There are churches of varying sizes in our community. Some are large churches, some are smaller. Sometimes we can feel good about filling our buildings on a Sunday morning. Yet if we think about the early church, we realize how they outstripped all our efforts with their incredible power to attract. In spite of oppression, persecution, and even martyrdom, the early church was held in high regard by the masses, attracting more than 10,000 converts (out of an estimated 100,000 living in Jerusalem at that time).

If we listen to the world around us, it?s not hard to pick up its undercurrent when it comes to the gospel. It goes like this: Jesus ?yes,? church ?no.? When Gandhi was a young man practicing law in South Africa, he became interested in Christianity. Deciding to attend a church there, Gandhi was put out at the door by a white elder and told that his kind was not welcome. Later he said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

It was the early church?s power of attraction to people of all kinds, and their ability to be like the Christ they worshipped that caused them to grow. So the question persists?is it in you? Does that kind of power translate through our church?

There?s another facet to the promise of power. Some of the best devotional writers of the 19th century, people like F.B. Meyer, Andrew Murray or R.A. Torrey, always spoke of Pentecost as power for service. We often see Pentecost power as a power to persevere rather than a power to care.

ii. Service: power to PERSEVERE vs. power to CARE.

Again we tend to romanticize the power to serve. We think of that unique, long-suffering saint who hangs ?tough,? and stays ?true? against huge obstacles, great oppression, rebellion and persecution. We think about biblical heroes like Stephen who stood preaching to the Sanhedrin while they lifted their hands to kill him. Or what about those recognized Christians who made big sacrifices such as Mark Buntain and Mother Theresa? It?s easy to excuse ourselves from real discipleship by saying, “I couldn?t do that so I guess there?s no Pentecostal power for me.”

Of course, there are moments of extraordinary perseverance, but they happen as an expression of believers who experience the every-moment power, the kind of power that helps us cultivate ongoing, caring relationships with one another.

The members of the early church were people motivated and moved with compassion. Look at Acts 4:34-35.

Acts 4:34-35 (NIV)

34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

It?s hard to know whether they cared for the people because they experienced such deep community, or they experienced community because there was such significant care. Whichever way it works, the two go together. There?s no meaningful care without community, and no real community without care. That?s why Pentecost is often called the birthday of the church. It was the catalyst of a new kind of society that was transformational.

Greg Paul is the founder of Sanctuary, a ministry in Toronto for street people. He?s written a book called God in the Alley that chronicles some of the lives he?s encountered that have reintroduced him to a Jesus he?d never known before. Sanctuary has truly created a transformational community that honours people where they?re at, and gives them dignity in Christ. It?s not perfect, but it works on a day-to-day, every-moment basis. Sanctuary is about broken people meeting broken people incarnationally, and introducing them to Jesus.

Is it in you? Do you have the courage to incarnate God?s world in your world?credibly, honestly, and with real care?

iii. Miracles: power to PERFORM vs. power to EXPERIENCE.

The other common facet we automatically think of is power for miracles. Often we see it as a power to perform rather than a power to experience the supernatural.

The Bible talks about how the apostles performed miracles, but if we look a little closer, we may notice the emphasis isn?t necessarily on the apostles as individuals, or on their unilateral ability to heal, their power to perform. Instead the scriptural testimony points to the power of the community to experience the miraculous. For instance, there?s an interesting, literal translation found in Acts 5:12 NASB: “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.”

Notice the passive verb. Nobody was making these things happen; God was at work! Miracles were taking place. Circle the words ?the people.? That?s where the miracles were happening. What the early church had is a sense of the miraculous in their midst ? every-moment power rather than peak-moment power.

There?s a distinction between the New Testament model for spiritual power and an idea that?s all too common among us today. It?s the “man of God” model which suggests that spiritual power is available to one person in the crowd?the one with the most charisma, the biggest voice, and possibly the biggest ego?while the rest of us stand back and go ?ooooh?aaaah.?

The New Testament model is that every believer is a candidate for spiritual power. God can use anyone of us anytime He wants. This is the anointing power of Pentecost that took a once exclusive power from priests, prophets and kings and turned us all into a kingdom and priests to our God and made us all prophets of the Most High! At Pentecost we all become recipients of a moment-by-moment, existential empowering that makes the church a vital, exciting place.

Acts 2:43 (NIV)

43 Everyone was filled with awe?

What ?filled them with awe?? Our knee-jerk response is miracles, what else? Wouldn?t we be ?in awe? in a world filled with signs and wonders? Take a closer look at the verse. It doesn?t say that ?many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles, and then they were filled with awe.?

Acts 2:43 (NIV)

..and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

Instead the priority is on the sense of wonder, mystery and awe. It wasn?t the miracles that made the church thrilling, it was the presence of God. In that atmosphere of awe, God deigned to perform signs and wonders.

C.S. Lewis, in his classic Miracles, expresses well the tremor that passes down the human spine at the suspicion that perhaps God might be real, that He might be more than mere projection.

“There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (man?s search for God) suddenly draw back. ?Suppose we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that!?” [Lewis, C.S. Miracles. (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001) p. 150]

We might come to church on Sundays, thinking, “Ho-hum, here we are. Razzle me, dazzle me, do something to entertain me.” We?re never anticipating that anything will actually happen. Is it possible that we would be ?in awe? if it did?

Pentecost is the true basis for Christian spirituality, the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit, who along with the Father and the Son makes up the Trinity. The Christian response to popular spirituality (with a small s) is Spirituality (with a capital S) ? life charged up with the personal Spirit of God and lived out in the world.

Annie Dillard is a provocative writer. She always pushes the envelope, sometimes too far, but listen to what she says about the attitudes of people in the church.

“Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?…Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up batches of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake some day and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.”

This is the God who calls us out into His presence. Do we realize that when we come to celebrate God together we?re entering a danger zone? How do we find such awe (or a proper fear of God)? How do we experience such a God? What does it take to move into this dimension of spirituality? Is it in you? Is that sense of the mystery of the divine among us in such abundance that it?s our worship of the Lamb that?s filled with ” ?wows? and ?awesomes??” Or have we lost the wonder of worship?

It?s all about being filled with the Spirit.

“For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit? But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:5, 8).

How can we be baptized in the Spirit? How do we experience His fullness so that we walk in wonder and awe? How can we be filled with the power to attract, care and experience God? It can happen for you just like the believers in the book of Acts.

Is it in you? How to be baptized in the Spirit?

i. Ya gotta SEEK it!

Acts 1:14 (NIV)

14 They all joined together constantly in prayer?

They had been told as Jesus ascended into heaven that the Holy Spirit would come. So they set themselves to seeking that encounter with God. Seeking is a matter of prayer. In Acts 1, it meant corporate prayer, gathering as a group and seeking the Lord together. In the Psalms, it often means personal prayer. Whether we?re alone or with others, the truth is that we have to seek the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

ii. Ya gotta WANT it!

Acts 2:1 (NIV)

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

These believers were serious contenders. The Day of Pentecost was 10 days after the ascension of Christ. Pentecost (or the Holy Spirit) didn?t come immediately. The early believers waited together (praying and worshiping) for 10 days before they received the inundation of spiritual power. That?s not so easy for us microwave-nanosecond-high-speed-hook-up post moderns. These people were intent on meeting with God.

iii. Ya gotta be OPEN to it!

Acts 2:4 (NIV)

4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

When they finally were baptized in the Holy Spirit, the Bible says they “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.” The Spirit did the enabling, but they did the speaking. If the Spirit prompts you today, will you be willing to come forward to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of tongues?

If you?re open to it, He?ll do it. And if He does it today, if He fills us everyday, we?ll become the kind of ?powerful? church we read about in the book of Acts. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the doorway to another dimension in your walk with God. It will give you a new boldness in Christ (endue you with power). It allows the Holy Spirit to function even more in your life, to give even more than is needed to walk with God.

Is it in you? Once you receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of tongues, and the proof of everyday, anointing power in your life, people won?t have to ask. They?ll see the working of the Holy Spirit in your life, and they?ll simply know.

Coming next week: Performance ? Spirit-filled living ? the power to overcome obstacles and develop the character of Christ.

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