Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Experiencing the Word" by Garris Elkins

Recently, I heard someone say how sad it was that some Christians were seeking an experience from God instead of focusing solely on Scripture.  When I heard those words something didn’t set right with me.  

This morning, as I read through 2 Peter, I came across that section of chapter one where Peter said in 16, “We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes.” Peter was describing his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter went on to say, “The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, ‘This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.’ We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.”

Many times we stop reading a sentence at the end of a paragraph, like the one above, but Peter’s thought continues on into the next paragraph with verse 19, “Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets.”  In other words, the experience Peter had with a supernatural God on the Mount of Transfiguration released a greater confidence in the message of God.

I have taught the Word a lot over the last 31 years.  Just doing some simple math, I have taught in public church services a minimum of two times a week for those 31 years – that works out to be well over 3,000 messages.  This does not include all the extra times between the weekly church services where I taught in other venues, like training seminars or conferences.  The final number could easily be over 4,000.  That’s a lot of speaking.

All the public teaching that takes place in the ministry schedule of an average pastor may be part of what has created a suspicion in some people’s minds about “experiences”. At times I think we forget what Paul said in Ephesians 4 about equipping the saints to “do” the work of the ministry.  Doing is always experiential.

A friend of mine, who spent years ministering in Africa, described to me what is called, “The God-Line.” In Western culture, where we place a high value on our intellect and on our ability to understand and define all that takes place around us, the God-Line is just below our head.  If we can’t understand it with our mind it is suspect and must remain below the line.  In the African culture, and most of the world not dominated by a Greek way of thinking, the God-Line is above their heads.  In other words, all of life is spiritual.  There is no separation between teaching and experience.

When Jesus sent out The Seventy in Luke 10, He empowered them to do the experiential part of life with Jesus.  He said to them, Heal the sick, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you now.’”  These first disciples not only shared God’s Word, but they expected some kind of experience with God to follow their sharing.  An experience with God is where people would see God’s Word come alive in their lives.

On the Day of Pentecost the Church was empowered to do supernatural works that would end up being processed as an experience with God. The early disciples got into a lot of trouble when they released these supernatural experiences in the cities across the Middle East.  If what they believed had not become such culturally disturbing experiences most of them would have died as old men and women without experiencing the pain of martyrdom. An experience with God that flows from the Word of God is both powerful and dangerous.

In the western world we have become really good in our presentation of God’s Word.  We have become skilled presenters. I am happy for that, but I think that in some cases we might have driven our religious car out onto the theological highway and simply parked it in the fast lane short of the destination called, “Experience.”  The Word without experience or encounter is only a lecture.

When God created the heavens and the earth the elements had an experience with God’s Word and became terra firma.  The formless, empty and dark places were joined together and became something tangible, emerging as physical by-products of God’s voice. When God uttered the words, “Let there be light”, some very powerful interactions took place – and this was just with natural elements. Imagine what happens when the Word of God is released into a human being?

Whether God’s Word is preached from a pulpit, or spoken prophetically on a street corner, the very evidence that we are alive and human is our response – we should have an experience when the Word enters our life.

Over the years, I have realized that God will expose some of us to experiences that we might find uncomfortable  – experiences that are outside our comfort zone or tradition.  Have you ever wondered why this happens?  I think I have part of the answer.  God allows this to take place so He can work on the gate of our heart.

The heart-gate is that place within us that can hinder or release our ability to experience more of God.  Gates can swing open or shut. As the writer of Proverbs said in 4:23, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

It is so easy to shut ourselves off from experiences because we saw someone do something that put us off.  We close the gate to our heart and then retreat into only what we can manage with our intellect – above the God-Line.  In the end, we begin to lessen in our impact in the world around us because the experience of the Word is absent from the presentation of the Word.

When Peter was describing what he saw and experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration that experience deepened his confidence in the message that Jesus, and all who went before Him, had proclaimed.

As we study God’s Word, it is good to walk in the kind of faith and obedience that will release those supernatural experiences that affirm what we have studied. In the end, we will begin to walk in a balanced confidence in His Word and with those experiences that confirm His Word.

Peter said something about “experiences” at the start of his ministry, 30 years before he wrote his two epistles.  In Acts 2:22, as Peter was trying to explain what had just happened on the Day of Pentecost, he said, “People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders and signs through him, as you well know.”   Peter was saying that, Jesus, the Word incarnate, was endorsed by God through the release of supernatural experiences. I am thinking He wants to do the same thing today.

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