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The Presence and the Power

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A new man at church asked if I would visit his hospitalized friend. I dutifully agreed and later that afternoon found myself beside the bed of a critically ill woman. The man had forgotten to tell me that she had a highly infectious case of hepatitis or that his “friend” was the woman he had been living with. He also forgot to mention that she was the daughter of a Hassidic rabbi!

Her temperature was nearly 105 degrees, and her strength was failing quickly. Because she was so sick, I decided to keep the visit very short. However, she would not let me go as she asked question after question about the Bible and Jesus. Finally, I had to leave. I asked if I could pray for her and then simply asked God to show her that Jesus was truly the Messiah.

A few hours later my telephone rang. In a very excited voice, this same lady told me that as soon as I left her hospital room, God had healed her. Her temperature had returned to normal. Her jaundiced color had also gone away. A blood test showed no signs of the disease that a few hours earlier had been ravaging her body. I visited her the next morning, and in more than 35 years of ministry, I have never seen anyone come to Christ more quickly or more enthusiastically!

Unfortunately, the story of my Messianic friend is fresh in my memory after many years precisely because things like that do not happen every day. But in the Early Church they did! And in some of our emerging churches around the world, they still do. Have you ever read the early chapters of the Book of Acts and wondered why the presence and power of God, which was so evident then to both believers and outsiders, is seldom found in modern churches?

That is a pretty important question, because without the obvious presence of God in our midst, winning the world for Christ is impossible. Unless and until people have reason to believe that God is really “with” us, our words will be unconvincing and our actions will not reflect “the power of His Resurrection.”

We are in the position of Moses when he stood before the face of God and refused to progress toward the Promised Land unless God Himself would lead them. Otherwise, Moses said, “‘[h]ow will anyone know that you are pleased . . . with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’” (Ex. 33:16)

I believe in the sovereignty of God. Consequently, I do not believe that we are ever to demand miracles or to “force” God to demonstrate His mighty power on our behalf. Nevertheless, my reading of the Book of Acts (and the whole New Testament for that matter) convinces me that three things are always true whenever the “presence and the power” are evident.

First, God’s people clearly understand and are focused on the mission that He has given them. Acts is a book about reaching the whole world for Jesus. Every sermon in its pages is an evangelistic one, and every miracle that is performed has the effect of bringing even more people to the Savior. As much as I would wish it to be otherwise, that is not the overwhelming preoccupation of most of the churches I visit. We pay evangelism lip service but little more.

Second, God’s people are “filled with the Holy Spirit.” That certainly was the condition of the believers in the Book of Acts. And it ought to be the condition of every believer in every age, but sadly, in the words of one wise observer, “we leak!” Because we do not deal with sin in our lives, because we do not know or live the reality of the crucified life, because “holiness to the Lord” is more a quaint idea from the Old Testament than the theme of every moment of every day, we neither understand nor experience the reality of what Paul described as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col.1:27).

Finally, wherever the presence and the power of God are clearly seen in the midst of His people, they are passionately and expectantly waiting for the return of the King! The coming of Christ is the “blessed hope” (Titus 1:13) of His people. We still sing (sometimes) about the return of the Lord, but I do not see much evidence that we actually live for it.

It is no coincidence that the environment that produced the ministry of A. B. Simpson and the birth of The Christian and Missionary Alliance was one of passionate commitment to the Great Commission, dynamic spirit-filled living with an emphasis on holiness and a fervent preoccupation with the return of Christ! I don’t know about you, but I want to see the presence and the power in my life and in my church. And I think I know what it would take for that to happen.

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