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By JOHN AVANT
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2006 John Avant
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE BIG QUESTION
I love Indian food. Just a few months ago, after years of mouthwatering waiting, the first Indian restaurant opened in our town. I could hardly wait for that first bite of flaming, curried goodness. My friend Gary was my lucky lunch partner for that meal. We had shared some wonderfully deep spiritual conversations over the years, but on this day he was quieter than usual. That meant that nothing much was being said, since my mouth was stuffed with chicken vindaloo.
Suddenly, in a voice edged with conviction and bordering on frustration, Gary blurted out, "Where is the power that raised Jesus from the dead, John? Where is it?" Now, it took a lot to make me pause, fork in midair, and delay my next bite long enough to figure out what he was talking about, but he had my attention.
"I'm confused," he said. "I'm happy that we're all discovering our purpose. That's really important. I believe in worship and fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, all that. But there has to be more! It's supposed to be supernatural-following Jesus. Where is the power the New Testament church had? Where's the power of the resurrection?"
Wow! Gary had no idea that the same question he was asking right then had been burning in my own heart as intensely as the spices in my mouth.Our church had just finished the 40 Days of Purpose campaign, and it was incredible. My friend Rick Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life had given our church a clear focus, just as it has for thousands of other churches. Our church was large, healthy, and growing. What more could I ask for?
Authentic power. That's what I was asking for! Power to fill the purposes of our lives and our church. Power to ensure that worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism didn't just become "the stuff we are supposed to do to be a good church." I wanted the power that ignites the purpose. I wanted purpose on fire!
And if I were completely honest with myself, I didn't often see it. Could I really say that our church resembled the church in the book of Acts? Overflowing with the power of the Spirit and transforming our world? No. Not consistently, at least.
And what about other churches? I have the chance to speak at many, and it seemed to me that virtually all of them faced the same power outage. In fact, many weren't even concerned with the lack of power. They were too busy with the vital issues of daily church life-like whether to clap in worship, why the youth group's music had to be so loud, and when their Sunday school classroom was ever going to get painted-to even notice that the power of God seemed absent.
And if I really wanted to be honest, even among the churches that were growing and baptizing large numbers, few of them were reaching many truly unchurched converts. A staff member of a new church in our area told one of our staff that they had nearly emptied a couple of other churches when they started up. And he seemed to think that was a good thing! Sounds like swapping fish among aquariums more than fishing!
And in my own denomination, as in evangelicalism as a whole, when some really do begin to see the unchurched reached, the reaction from other church leaders is rarely rejoicing. It is usually criticism of contemporary methodology, which may be based more on jealousy than on any legitimate concern.
What's going on? Are we just all out of power? Is it no longer available to us? To our churches? Do we have to choose between business-as-usual church life and wild claims of the supernatural from ego-centered guys on television begging us to send for their anointed prayer cloth for a donation of only a hundred dollars?
Where is the power of the resurrection?
Great question, Gary. Maybe the question that must be answered for our churches to matter again, for our lives to be fueled by New Testament fire instead of by the dead wood of our own efforts.
I didn't have a full answer for Gary that day, but I do know where it can be found. I've been there. Let me take you there.
A STEP INTO POWER
I stood quietly by myself on a bright, beautiful morning, waiting for the crowd in front of me to clear. Was the day as beautiful as this day, Lord? Finally, I saw the chance I had been waiting for. The last person exited, and no one else was waiting. I could go in for a few minutes on my own.
I stepped into the garden tomb just outside the walls of Jerusalem. I was struck by how small it was. Such a tiny place to change a whole world. I reached out my hand and touched the coolness of the hewn rock. I knelt and touched the place-what may indeed be the very place where the body of Jesus once lay. Overwhelmed, I stood, and then I saw it. The view Jesus had as He stepped out of the tomb. I was frozen-transfixed by the strange thought that I could not step out. I could not take the same step my Lord took-the step that saved me, the step that opened up a new life for me that I did not deserve. I could not step out of the tomb.
But in one moment of utter, life-changing amazement it hit me-I already had! "Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2:12). I stepped out of the tomb with Jesus on the day He rose! Even then, I was on His mind. Though it makes no sense, I was His choice. I was raised with Him!
And so I stepped out of the tomb-again. And in that step is found the answer to Gary's question. Here was resurrection power. Walking with Jesus out of the tomb! But what would it mean to live like that? How would it flesh out in the real world? How would it change us and our churches? What do you look like when you come out of the tomb? Well, that's what this book is about: living in the realm of the resurrection. A place we might not be used to living in. But it is a place that is meant for us-a place I hope we can go to together.
Authentic power is far from absent in our world today. I have seen it many times-often in the most unexpected places. Places where the realm of darkness does desperate battle with the resurrection realm. Let me take you to one of those places. A place where a variety of very different power seekers saw their lives connect in quite an unlikely way.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD ...
Abdul could taste it now. The power was almost in his hands. For so many months he had dreamed of this day- the day when the arrogance of the Americans would be shattered. His humiliation and rage at the enemy presence in his country had reached a boiling point. For America to have any power in the Middle East, in his homeland, was beyond unacceptable.
For so long he had worked to keep it all under control-so that the plan could be a safely kept secret until the right time. Today was that time. No more need for caution. Today all his wrath could overflow. The vengeance of Allah could be unleashed. It was time for the Americans to feel the fire. Time to strike! Time for power!
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CITY ...
Mustafa understood well Abdul's quest for power. For so many years it had been his quest as well. How he had poured himself into the study of the Koran. Surely no one had worked harder to please Allah, to know his mighty power. Mustafa would not settle for the watered-down teaching of so many of the weak Muslims. The compromisers. Pandering to the infidels. No. He would give his life to the defense of the truths taught by the prophet Muhammad.
How many could claim with him to have memorized fully half of the prophet's words? And one day he would have the entire Koran committed to memory. He had the best teachers to guide his understanding. As he read the doctrines of the great leader Osama Bin Laden, he felt the contagious power of his hatred grow. With his booming voice, he was the perfect one to chant the call to prayer at his mosque. "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet!" As his words rang through the streets of his city, people bowed by the thousands, brought to worship by his call-his call. What power!
But as Mustafa thought back on those days, he found it amazing that he had once been that person. That person was dead, and with him the shadowy evil he had once called power. Something new burned in him now. Something stronger than the hate, something he had never before seen but had, in some deep place inside, been searching for all his life. Something had risen in him. It was the love of Jesus. The urge to kill out of hate had been conquered by the One who died out of love-for him.
And now it was time for the prayer call again-for his powerful voice once more to be heard on the streets of the city. His call would not come from the mosque now, but from anywhere God placed him. And his call was a call of truth seldom heard in the Middle East-"There is one God, and Jesus is His Son!" Mustafa knew full well that prison might be his home after people heard his call. He had been there more than once already.
But there would be no stopping him. No prison walls could contain the call. He had found a passion and a power that overwhelmed him with joy. He was born again! With that thought, he began to laugh. It started small but soon rose from his mouth in uncontrolled ecstasy. Others had to know this life, this peace. This power. Still laughing, he arose to the call.
He had been foolish. It wasn't the first time, but it was the first time it had cost him his passport and visa. It wasn't very smart to go to an area of this Middle Eastern city known to be occupied by terrorists, but he had been with friends and it seemed relatively safe. Now his bag had been stolen and, with it, his way out of the country and back home again. How stupid! He knew better. He'd been in thirty countries and had never carried his passport in his bag before. There was nothing to do now but head to the American embassy.
No reason to get too upset. He had learned on trips like this to go with the flow and look for the surprising ways that God would work through the most unexpected and sometimes unpleasant events. He had also learned not to get too worked up over what he had no power to control. After all, with what his purpose was here, there was no hope of accomplishing it in his own power anyway.
He had come here to join the war on terrorism. And though he had deep respect and support for those fighting with conventional weapons, his weapons were different. He had come with a passionate belief that the most powerful force on earth is the conquering love of Jesus Christ-a love that could pierce the darkness of the Middle East, even the hate-filled hearts of the most fanatic Muslims.
Most Americans found that hard to believe, but he knew it to be true. He had seen it in the eyes of his friend Mustafa. He had heard it in his laughter, which filled a room like the contagious joy of heaven itself. Even now he held in his hands the most amazing photographs he had ever seen-a picture of Mustafa as a radical Muslim and a second picture of him after he met Christ. The transformation was impossible to describe. It was what "born again" looked like. He would show these pictures to as many people as he could in America. People had to know this power, to see it.
But for now, he had a purpose in this land so far from home. He had traveled here not as the American with all the answers, swooping in to the rescue, but to support the already-growing army here-the army of God's people, transformed by His love, assaulting the darkness with the light of Christ. He had come to be with them for a little while. To learn, to love, and then to go home to support their battle from overseas. He was after the power of God that could literally change the Middle East. A lost passport was a minor inconvenience in the midst of this war.
So on a beautiful spring day, a little frustrated, but happy to be in the hands of the Head of the army, he walked into the American embassy building.
... Abdul's team was ready. The rockets were in place and all nine men knew their responsibility. Soon media from all over the world would be reporting on their glorious accomplishment. Abdul had watched with uncontrolled glee as the towers fell on 9/11. Even though he saw the devastation only on a television screen, he felt as if he were there. This was his battle too, and now it was his turn. Now he would see the destruction of Americans with his own eyes, by his own hand, and the Americans would watch it on their TVs. No more shame at the power of the enemy. Today, the power was his-and Allah's, of course. And so Abdul turned his attention to the preparations for the rocket attacks-the rockets to be launched into the embassy building of the United States of America.
BACK AT HOME ...
At first glance, sixteen-year-old Amy didn't appear very powerful. But power was exactly what she was after. She felt something-something that stirred her, frightened her, and left her with an uneasy feeling that something was very wrong. So Amy did what is available to so many but chosen by so few.
She entered the realm of resurrection power. The realm of unimaginable strength.
A young girl slipped to her knees in her bedroom in Georgia, and the heavens opened. Though she could not see it, demons screamed around her to stop. Angels drew their swords and struck. The same power that rolled a stone away from a tomb was unleashed by a mighty hand. And it all came at the quiet whisper of one teenager: "Jesus, protect my daddy!"
The power of God moved like an unseen wave across the world. All the carefully formed plans of the enemy inexplicably began to unravel. The power of the invisible realm had penetrated the visible. Prayers had been heard. Prayers were being answered. The evil anticipation of Abdul and his cohorts was transformed into the bitter rage of frustration and defeat as government forces suddenly burst in. How had they known? How could this be? And their dream of terrorist victory came to an end. They would not end this day in celebration of American deaths, but in a prison cell. The rockets, ready for their appointed destination, would never be launched. And a cry of rage rose from the realm of spiritual darkness.
On the other side of the city, another cry was beginning. A chant that would be strange to Western ears but a familiar sound in the Middle East. A call in loud, cadenced Arabic. Familiar in sound but not in content. Something was different here.
Mustafa stood on the street, tears of joy streaming down his face, the power of God shining from his countenance, and cried, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life!" And many of those who heard it knew, as Mustafa had come to know, that they were hearing for the first time the words of truth. The power that Abdul had sought, Mustafa had found! And there was no stopping it now.
As I sat in the embassy building that day, I had no idea of the drama that was unfolding. The drama that I was very much a part of. The drama that could have taken my life. I was the foolish American! I didn't find out what had happened until I went back to the hotel room and discovered that it was all over the news, all over the world. But that's the way it is with the power of God. He moves in a resurrection realm, an invisible realm, but with very visible results.
I want to know that realm, and I want you to as well. I want to live in it-in the reality of the power of God. I want to live out what I really believe-that adventures like the one I just described are real-and not uncommon at all. They are going on around us all the time. We're just so trained to live in the visible that we rarely even think about the invisible. And that's really tragic.
I lived that adventure during a visit to a country in the Middle East. I've changed the names, but "Mustafa" really is my friend-one of the only full-time evangelists in the world who once followed the teachings of Bin Laden. Abdul represents the nine terrorists who were arrested that day. And others were killed in battles with government forces while I was there.
But what kind of adventure is it if you don't even know you're in it? God's kind!
Excerpted from AUTHENTIC POWER by JOHN AVANT Copyright © 2006 by John Avant. Excerpted by permission.
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