When I was a kid, my world was rocked by a movie called The Never Ending Story. A boy finds an old book, and as he reads he is drawn in to the adventure story. There are mythic creatures, heroes, and enemies; a beautiful empress (one of my first childhood crushes) and a world in peril. At some point, he realizes that he is actually in the story himself; that what happens in the story is connected to him in some way. Beyond his imagination and his connection with the characters, his choices in the world have a direct impact on the world in the book. As “imagination” dies in the real world, “The Nothing” claims more of the fantasy world.
The book of Acts in the Bible is sort of like this story. It doesn’t really have an ending; it ends abruptly with Paul in prison, almost like it is unfinished. This has led some people to believe its author died before it could be finished, but other people believe it was intentional. The book of Acts functions as a history of Christianity, telling the stories of the earliest followers of Jesus. Maybe the author intended it to be unfinished to imply that the story of Christianity continues with future readers. The story isn’t over, there is no ending, it continues with you and me. Reading the book of Acts, we might find that this story is our story: that we are actually connected to the book. In that regard, maybe it is the Never Ending Story.
This month in Echo, I am challenging our students to read through the book of Acts as we examine some of the episodes from the earliest days of the Jesus Revolution. As we explore the adventures of the first followers of Jesus and their quest to advance the Kingdom of God, we will be constantly asking the question: how can I find myself in this story?
Week 1, we talked out the role of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit sometimes doesn’t get much press. In the old creeds and catechisms (the way the Christian faith has been handed down for generations) Jesus and God the Father get paragraphs of explanation, but the Holy Spirit barely gets one line. Early in Acts, Jesus promised his disciples that when He left them, they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” That word baptized literally means “immersed.” John (the baptist!) immersed people in water as a symbol of being washed to be cleansed of sin. Jesus is saying to the disciples that they will be “immersed” in the Holy Spirit. It will be like they fell into the pool: they will be soaked, drenched, surrounded, and covered by the Holy Spirit. Pentecost, the event that follows, is when the first Christians receive the Holy Spirit. This event is what opens the book of Acts, clearly demonstrating that everything that follows is the result of the Holy Spirit working through these first Christians.
This is AWESOME. The Holy Spirit at work through the followers of Jesus a major theme in the book of Acts. You will see over and over again the phrase “…filled with the Holy Spirit.” It is very clear that what is happening is not because of the people, it is because of the power of God through the Holy Spirit. They did some amazing things in this story. Thousands of people join the Way of Jesus through their ministry, people are physically and spiritually healed, and dramatic miracles take place all because of the activity of the Holy Spirit.
Some of the time, we do not experience God like we could because we are too impatient. We do not give God the chance to show up. We want our relationship with the King of Heaven to work like the microwave: giving us what we want immediately at the push of a button. The thought of waiting for days in prayer like they did in Acts 2 sounds boring and tedious, because much of our faith experience is just “going through the motions.” What if we recognized that we serve a God that wants to be experienced? What if we prayed and worshiped like there is a God that is real and powerful and wants to be with us and near us on the other end of our songs and prayers? If we could settle down, tune out all the distractions, and invite the presence and power of God into our lives? It might not be fireballs and whirlwinds, but we can be sure it would be something that would impact the way we live out the mission of God in this world.
Jesus taught that the power behind his extraordinary life was the Holy Spirit, and that this power was going to be given to His followers when he returned to heaven. I was taught growing up that there was a part of God that was best understood through experience, and that this was the Holy Spirit. The biblical metaphors for the Holy Spirit are wind, fire, water, and oil. All these things are hard to contain, fluid, and evoke some sort of mystery. Maybe this is a case where our head can get in the way of what God wants to do in our hearts. What I do know is that the times in my faith journey that were most transforming were when I encountered the real presence and power of the very real and very personal Holy Spirit. Not as a nice idea, but as the actual Person of God reaching down to earth.