Friday, January 27, 2012

“A Return to Awe and Amazement” by Garris Elkins

Recently, in a time of corporate prayer, I sensed the Holy Spirit ask me a question, “Am I awed by God or impressed by man?" While this question was asked within the quiet confines of my heart, I knew it was for all who were present that day.  A few minutes later I asked the question out loud for all to hear.

I think the question surfaced, in part, because for the last few years the second chapter of Acts has been unpacked for me in new ways.  I am seeing things in the text that I had missed on many past readings.

What I began to notice in Acts 2 was the repeated experience of people being amazed by God or awed by His presence. Whenever the Word repeats something I take special notice.

The entire city of Jerusalem was affected by the supernatural uproar caused on the Day of Pentecost. Acts 2:6 reads, “When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.”

Verse 7 goes on to say about those who came running, “They were completely amazed.” This was not a partial amazement, but a total and complete amazement at what God was doing. Today, we might say, “They were blown away!”

After declaring how awesome it was to hear the wonderful things God had done in their native tongue, the text continues in verse 12, “They stood there amazed and perplexed. ‘What can this mean?’, they asked each other.” They were stopped in their tracks by the experience – they just stood there – amazed.

Peter went on to preach his famous Day of Pentecost message.  After the message these amazed listeners asked, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter told them to repent of their sins, turn to God and get baptized, and then they would receive the amazing Spirit of God. After Peter finished speaking, 3,000 amazed and awestruck people were added to the Church.

This amazing work of God did not stop on the Day of Pentecost.  God’s work birthed a community of faith who were ruined for anything that wasn’t amazing or awe inspiring. A normal and predictable Christianity would not hold the attention of this group.

Later on in Acts 2 the believers formed a community and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, common meals and prayer.  Verse 43 says, “A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.” Pentecost was not a terminal event locked in history.  The events of Pentecost began unfolding forward into the developing history of the Church and has gone on for the last 2,000 years.

I used to think the signs and wonders produced the awe within this first community of faith (vs.43), but the text says the miracles followed the awe that had come over them. The awe of God first fell in their midst much like the Spirit fell just days before on the Day of Pentecost.  Once the awe arrived the miracles soon followed. This awe of God falls into our midst because if comes from Heaven, not from what we do on earth. Our works can be impressive at best.  God’s works are awe-inspiring and leaves people standing in amazement

In some ways I think our greatest need in the Church today is to have the awe of God fall upon us.  It has been too easy to get impressed with all the Church does with our latest leadership strategies, stage lighting, good music and all the other stuff of ministry. These elements are not evil and might be needed in certain assignments, but at their best, they can only impress.

Peter told the crowd assembled on the Day of Pentecost that God had publicly endorsed the ministry of Jesus by doing powerful miracles, wonders and signs through Him.  Today, God wants to endorse the ministry of His Church in the same way.

I watched a NASCAR driver win a race and he held up an energy drink from one of the paying sponsors who had endorsed him for the race.  I am wondering if we might rediscover a sense of awe in the Church if we held up things before the world that would endorse the supernatural ministry of Jesus in our midst. I think this would create the kind of awe and amazement that would have our communities come running to see what was happening. That would be truly impressive.

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