As much as I love humor, I generally avoid any kind of joke involving the Divine. God’s glory inspires many emotions, but amusement does not seem to be an appropriate one. However, there is a corny old joke that makes a valuable point.
A man was trapped in a flood on top of a barn. He prayed, calling out to God and a voice came from heaven saying, “I will save you, my son.” With that confidence, he relaxed on the roof and awaited his rescue. Soon, a man in a canoe came by and told him there was room in the front. The man said no because he was waiting for God to save him. As the waters continued to rise, a motorboat came by and offered him a ride. Again, he turned it down and awaited divine rescue. Finally, as the waters neared the top of the roof a helicopter flew by, dropped a basket and yelled down for him to crawl in. He waved them off and sat there anticipating the divine deliverance. It never came. He went up to heaven and asked Saint Peter a question. “What happened? The voice told me I would be rescued, but it never came.” Peter looked at him and said, “What are you talking about? We sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter.”
It may be instructive that my deck overlooks a corn field ready for harvest. But if you can forgive the groaner and look at the point, it not be a complete waste of your time.
Sometimes, we look for solutions when God has already given one.
Few would argue that all is well in the American church today. What is ain’t what oughta be. The best debater would shudder to defend the thesis that our churches are all God intended. Our convention’s Annual Meeting has become a yearly time of mourning over statistical decline, baptismal paucity, divisive movements, and disturbing trends. We find ourselves longing for the halcyon days when the SBC was only plateaued!
Our agreement ends there. We have a problem. What is the problem and how do we solve it? That’s the rub. Seldom do I attend a Baptist meeting of any sort in which a new explanation of our problems or solution of some sort is not offered.
- The rise of Calvinism has caused our problems and it must be contained. Or, for others, the lack of Calvinism is the root of all evils and all we need to is embrace the TULIP and our denomination will flower.
- The failure of evangelism is the source of our ills and we need to get out knocking on doors.
- There is a lack of theological discernment in our pulpits and we need bold preachers “calling out” sin and theological error to fix our ills.
- Charismatic chaos has filtered into our denomination and must be excised totally.
- This new program that worked at Biggie Baptist of Bigtown, AL must be brought to every church in America.
- We need to go back to doing things the way we did them in the glory days of the 50s and 60s. If we did today what we did then we would see today what we saw then.
- If only we’d all become missional; follow the trends based on the latest research, the force would be aligned.
- We need smaller churches, or bigger churches, or whatever churches.
I have varied feelings about the validity of these viewpoints. Some are helpful, others are not. This is not about analyzing those. The point here is simple. What if 2000 years ago God provided a solution to our problems that has been available to the church but often ignored? Is it possible that we strategize and programmatize and reorganize and motivate and relate and promote and point fingers and do all sorts of things while often ignoring the root cause and divine solution?
To make my point, permit me to introduce you to two groups of men.
The Twelve Disciples
If Jesus had any kind of ministry analysis done, there’d have been a scathing section on leadership selection. You need excellent leaders and Jesus – not so much. The twelve men chosen to follow Jesus, to live with him and learn from him seldom got much of anything right except that decision to follow Jesus! They were low-class fishermen, tax collectors, and political radicals. A true basket of deplorables. They were the spiritual equivalent of the Keystone Cops; the Twelve Stooges – good-hearted and sincere, but incompetent. They bumbled and stumbled their way through Jesus’ earthly ministry. Their de facto leader, Peter, spent most of those days with his size 12 sandal firmly lodged in his mouth.
Read the gospel stories. In Matthew 16:5-7. Jesus warned the disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and they got into a discussion about the fact that they had forgotten bread. Clueless! Jesus predicted his death and resurrection repeatedly and they were still shocked by the events when they took place. In one of the great bonehead moves of Christian history, Peter tried to take up a sword to prevent the crucifixion. He tried to stop the Savior from dying. Let that sink in. When Jesus was about to be taken into heaven one of the disciples asked if he was about to establish his kingdom then, demonstrating that to the very end they still thought Jesus had come to establish an earthly and political kingdom.
- The disciples were power-seekers, constantly striving for supremacy and arguing about who would have the greatest position of prominence when Jesus became king.
- The disciples were confused, never understanding the words of Christ or the purposes of God. Even after the resurrection, when Jesus taught them for 40 days, they still did not understand the purpose of God’s kingdom.
- The disciples were cowards. When it came time to stand with Jesus they turned tail and fled. We vilify Peter for his cowardice but remember that he was the only one who even made it that far. The others were in hiding, hearts aquiver, knees trembling.
Oh, yes, they loved Jesus and were committed to him, but they bumbled and stumbled their way through all of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus loved these bozos but they never seemed to get anything right. They left everything behind to follow Jesus, yes, but they couldn’t seem to get much right in the following.
The Twelve Apostles
There is a second group of men. Like the Disciples, they were unlearned and ignorant but committed to Jesus. But this group, called Apostles, turned the world upside down in a generation. They were men of wisdom and insight, who understood the message of Christ and proclaimed it clearly. Within about 35 years, they took the gospel throughout most of the Roman Empire. They wrote letters that are still devoured today for their spiritual truth.
- The disciples were power-hungry status-seekers, but these men took up their crosses to follow Christ. They were no longer motivated by personal power and privilege but about the purposes of God in this world.
- The disciples were confused, but these men knew what God was doing. They were the agents of God’s revelation, “The Apostle’s Teaching,” which formed the basis of the New Testament.
- The disciples were cowards, but these men were bold. One stood before a hostile crowd and proclaimed Christ, and God added 3000 to the church. Each of them died the death of a martyr but one, who died in exile after a long life of service to the Savior.
The Twelve Apostles were radically different than the Twelve Disciples.
There are three significant observations to be made about these two groups of men – the Disciples and the Apostles.
1) They were the same men. Well, Judas stopped hanging with them (all-time worst pun?) and was replaced, but by and large, these were the same men. Peter was still Peter but he was a completely different man. John and James had not been replaced, but they had been unalterably altered.
2) The change was instantaneous. These men did not go through a long process of growth, or therapy, or rehab. Their transformation was instantaneous and dramatic.
2) Only one thing changed. The disciples became apostles because one thing changed, and only one.
- They did not go to seminary and get a theological degree to get their systematics in order or learn to exegete from the original languages.
- There was no curriculum or program that revolutionized the nascent church.
- They did not change their musical style, adopt any kind of cultural position, restructure or reorganize the church. They knew nothing about reorganizing churches.
- They did not establish a new ecclesiology which straightened everything out.
- They did not apply Flake’s formula in their Sunday School or establish relational small groups.
- They did not “build it and they will come.”
Some of these items I mentioned have great value, but none of them was the key. None of the miracle fixes that have been advertised to me at conventions, by mail, or electronically over the last few years was available to them. They had no buildings, no programs, no resources, no organization or structure. They had few of the leadership qualities we view as essential.
And they turned the world upside down in a generation.
Why? Because Jesus baptized them in the Holy Spirit and fire, just as John had predicted. That is all. They were in the Upper Room praying when the Spirit descended on them as tongues of fire and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Every one. Filled full. And nothing was ever the same again.
Suddenly, the power-grasping disciples became God-glorying, self-humbling Apostles. Suddenly, the confused disciples had insight into the mysteries of God. They understood the gospel and proclaimed it clearly. It didn’t take a class. It took the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, the cowardly disciples became bold Apostles who took the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Where the disciples failed the Apostles succeeded.
Could It Be?
Could it be that my corny joke is actually a sad commentary on the modern church? “God, why won’t you revive and restore your church? Our church is plateaued and our denomination is declining. Where is your rescue, Lord? Why won’t you show us the way?”
And God says, “I showed you the way almost 2000 years ago, when I took 12 bozos and used them to change the world. I sent the power of the Holy Spirit on them and they went places they never thought they would go, said things they never thought they would say and did things they never thought they would do.”
Could it be as simple as the fullness and power of the Spirit?
I am beginning a series of posts called “Baptist in the Spirit” that will examine the role and ministry of the Holy Spirit. I will begin with a study of the development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, in the Gospels, in Acts, and then in the Epistles. I will take a deeper look at 1 Corinthians 12-14, and possibly a couple of the other key texts on the work of the Spirit. Then, I will deal with some of the weighty issues surrounding the Spirit’s work in believers and the need for us, as Baptists, to seek the power and filling of the Spirit on a daily basis.
- When does the Baptism of the Spirit happen and to whom?
- What about the Gifts of the Spirit?
- What about Tongues? (Also titled, “Much Ado about Nothing” or perhaps “Making Mountains out of Molehills.”)
- The Word of God and the voice of the Spirit – Does the Spirit speak to me?
I am fully aware that series tend to lose steam on blogs. Either the author loses interest or the readers do. Whether you lose interest or not, I intend to follow through, Lord willing, because I believe this is crucial.
If Jesus was filled with the Spirit when he began his ministry, and if it was the filling of the Spirit that empowered the bumbling disciples to become world-changing Apostles, does it not follow that the fullness and power of the Spirit is essential to us and is a topic worth our time and attention?
Everything changed when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Maybe, if we follow Paul’s admonition to daily seek the filling of the Spirit, we might see the power the disciples saw.