On one occasion, while [Jesus] was eating with [his followers], he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water,but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?”
So, sometime over the first two years at Bethel University, God snuck into my life and lit a match. My heart was suddenly aflame for God and I gained a voracious appetite for not just reading but entering into God’s Story. I’ve told the story many times, but essentially there was a moment when I experienced the sudden shift away from reading about Jesus and his followers to actually being swept up into the story and letting it begin to change my outlook on my own life.
I was a scared, confused 20-year old trying to figure out what to do with my life. I knew I wanted more than a safe, suburban life of working 9-5, raising some kids and attaining all that the American Dream had to offer. My peers at the time seemed happy with playing video games in all their free time. I wanted more. There had to be more.
I opened the Book of Acts one night, in search of something more. I immediately could sympathize with Jesus’ friends in the opening scene. They loved and respected Jesus, as did I. They had spent the past few years sitting under his teachings and admiring his remarkable way of life. So did I. Now they were trying to wrap their minds around the full meaning of his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, as was I. They all caught a glimpse of the new Kingdom “life that is truly life” and were excited to experience more of it. But…and this was the big ‘but’ I was wrestling with, too…now Jesus was returning to Heaven and leaving them on earth.
“Now what are we supposed to do?” they must have been thinking as they scratched their heads. Well, in this opening scene, they’re told that they should wait for the promised “power from on high” to come down and clothe them. The Holy Spirit was going to fill them and empower them for the grandest life adventure of all. But in this scene, as Jesus ascends from their presence, we see a humorous scene of 11 guys staring up into the sky, confused, scared, frozen, paralyzed, stunned.
The angel smacks them upside the head, and says in effect:
“Dudes, snap out of it! Stop staring into space. He’s gone. He will no longer be with you in the same, physical sense. But if you were paying attention, you’ve been given some pretty big marching orders. Go pack your bags. Go say goodbye to your old, safe, predictable life. You’re embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. You’re going to receive power in a few days and then you’re going to go change the world. Jesus is going to be with you in an even more amazing, intimate way by his Holy Spirit. Thousands of years from now, others will be still talking about your life and your call. Scared, confused college students facing their own uncertainties about their future and experiencing their own paralysis, are going to read about this moment and be jolted into their own holy adventure. Now, get moving!”
That’s my paraphrase of this scene. And when I read this in the Dining Center in the fall of 1999 at Bethel University, I heard my name called. I found myself in their shoes. I heard Jesus telling me to prepare for a new adventure. My life would be a life of following in the footsteps of the apostles — Peter and Paul, and James and John — of surrendering all my own ambitions to Jesus and committing myself to continuing the story of Acts and the advance of the Christian revolution in my life.
This was the most exciting awakening in my life. But it would also lead to some of the loneliest years of my life, too. From that moment on my best friends became long-dead ancient men and women I read about in a book. As I packed my bags and prepared to set out into a life of all-out pursuit of a life shaped by the Book of Acts, I looked around at my friends and family and realized my passion and outlook made me a sudden foreigner in my own world. I found few companions on this journey. I found many weekly church attenders, good moral people following Christian principles, people who make great neighbors and Boy Scout leaders but would make poor apostles.
The American church was light years away from the ancient Jesus revolution movement launched in Acts 1. I quickly grew very disgusted with American Christianity. I was young, zealous, and on fire for Christ. Like many new Christians, I became very judgmental and looked down my nose at those who didn’t share my new found zeal and passion. I was in love with the early church and apostles I read about, and I was bitter towards the comfortable, half-committed, lukewarm version of disciples I was encountering all around me.
Jesus wrecked my life.
I was miserable. Very lonely.
My only friends were in books.
I spent my weekends watching Bible movies that brought these ancient men alive for me. I wanted to jump through the tv screen, leave this world behind and go back in time and tag along those dusty Judean roads. Those roads seemed to lead somewhere exciting. The roads my peers were all traveling seemed to lead to a nice, polite but weak brand of faith.
I am ashamed of the judgmental, ungracious attitude that accompanied my next few years (and still does sometimes) as I slowly grew into my new Christian clothes. But I think this was a necessary step in my faith growth process and I’m thankful for those years “on fire in the wilderness.” I’m also thankful for those friends and family who have forgiven me for scorching them with my wild flaming faith torch I was waving around back then.
Acts 1 (and the rest of the Book) turned my world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6). I’m still recovering.