HEAR LIFE

 In From Jim Lyon

“Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them, and it filled the house where they were sitting.” —Acts 2:2 NLT

There was a sound from heaven. It was the sound of life, the Spirit of their Maker, the One who spoke the world into being, imagined them before the foundation of the world, and chose them to be His holy temple. It was the descent of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost Sunday of the post-Resurrection age, the birth of a new epoch of human experience and promise.

The disciples of Jesus, crowded together we believe, in that singular Upper Room in which they had already experienced so much, sat spellbound, the recipients of new life, transformed. What they had understood intellectually, what they had learned and witnessed in the company of the Son of Man, was now made suddenly into an experiential reality. They no longer were observers of events and ideas circulating around them; they were now to be animated by the events and ideas planted inside of them.

They were now to be possessed: possessed and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God. They were changed. The world would be changed.

And hell would never again be able to rest secure, believing the world was inevitably in its grasp. Easter signaled that Jesus reigned supreme; Pentecost signaled that this Lord of lords and King of kings was commissioning an army to take back what hell had stolen. Here. Now. Forever. The kingdom’s present tense would now be fully engaged.

I was in the seventh grade when I responded to the gospel for the first time, surrendering my life to Christ. I gave Him then everything I knew how to give. I was at the First Church of God in Roanoke, Virginia, attending a youth convention. Just twelve years old, attending the convention was the adventure of a lifetime. I traveled without my parents, in the company of a few other junior high guys. We roomed together, hung out together, went to the mall and the convention services together.

hear-life

At the close of an evening service, the pitch was made. I do not know who was preaching or from what text. But, I remember thinking about life, death, heaven, and hell. Somehow, I comprehended what was at stake: eternity. I knew I did not want to find myself in hell, I knew I did not want to be a mess-up in this life, and I knew that Jesus was the answer. As the hymn of invitation pleaded mournfully (the year was 1963 and the invitation hymns seemed to me then to be melancholy), I struggled in my pew. I won’t do it. I will do it on another day. I don’t want people to stare at me. I’m not sure I want to surrender everything at age twelve—maybe when I’m in my twenties (an age so far in the distance that it could be hardly imagined).

But something, some One, was striving deep inside. He whispered, prompted, encouraged, and called. “Let Me make you new.” “I will keep you and lead you and watch over you.” “I will give you hope and a future.” “I love you and forgive you.” My mind recalled the bruises of conscience, the sense of sin and failure that every now and then stalked me, even at age twelve.

I stepped out from the pew and walked down the aisle, kneeling in its center, as others had already filled the front, in prayer. Some guy came and knelt by me; like the speaker, he was unknown to me. He talked me through a prayer of salvation, admitting my sin and helplessness, claiming Jesus as Lord; I surrendered into His arms. I trembled. It was powerful, definitive, clear.

The guy who prayed with me told me two things, as we stood up. First, he told me I should start reading the Bible every day. Second, he told me I should speak with my pastor at home, telling him of my experience and asking to be baptized. I did both.

I am describing an event, a marker in my life, that has often been termed justification. I was justified by the blood of Christ, made blameless in the sight of heaven; He hung on the cross to pay my dues in the fixed, cosmic moral order. My sin was erased from the record, by grace, through faith. Guilt was replaced by peace. It was real. Felt. Liberating.

A few weeks later, I bore witness to my newfound walk with Christ in baptism. It was a Sunday night; my pastor immersed me in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As a junior high school student in the 1960s, I was very concerned about how my hair would look after I came up out of the water. I had invited several friends from school; the first-phase Beatles inspired mopped haircuts for boys; I was self-conscious. But, when I dried off and changed clothes, I was excited. I had obeyed Jesus in a precise and important way, “Repent, and be baptized.” I felt fully alive, alert, and hopeful.

Following the service, there was a cookout outside for students. The soft light of evening turned the sky from blue to violet, stars began to appear, the air was warm. I stood apart from my peers, for a few moments, standing under a tall fir tree. I looked up toward heaven and whispered a prayer of thanks. There was something at once empowering and humbling about forming these words in my mouth: “I am all Yours.”

In that minute, I suddenly felt bathed by the most extraordinary sensation: a kind of whole-body enveloping of warmth, acceptance, love, and peace. Like my conversion, it was powerful, definitive, clear. It was as if God Himself were embracing me, cradling me in His arms, surrounding me, breathing into me. I stared at the stars and sky above and heard a voice whisper back, “You are Mine. I love you, Jim.” He called me by name. It was the sound of life, fresh from God’s throne. I shuddered and felt more tranquility and peace than I had ever known. I felt more whole than I could have ever imagined. I believe I was then sanctified, or set apart, by the filling of the Holy Spirit. I had been justified, now I was also sanctified. Both intersections profoundly changed me.

Many years have passed. I have experienced several fresh fillings during that time, days when I am overcome by the presence of the Most High, in His Spirit. I have tasted, repeatedly, that astonishing sense of acceptance and all-encompassing love that I knew that spring evening so long ago under the tree.

But, I have also had some desert spells, where the Presence seems far away, when the power, confidence, and wisdom, that comes alone from the Spirit cannot seem to be found. At times, I’m too busy, I suspect, to be fully immersed (“baptized”) by Him, continuously. At other times, I am tempted to take matters into my own hands and problem-solve, act out, or propose by the light of my finite reason alone. And, at still other times, I cease to be sure-footed in the Way, distracted or discouraged from stepping carefully in the Lord’s footprints ahead of me.

Churches, I think, travel similar paths. I have served two churches on staff—one in Seattle for twenty years, the other in Anderson for twenty-two years. Both have had their “times and seasons,” their “ups and downs.” I have been privileged to visit hundreds of congregations in the United States and Canada and in almost seventy other countries of the world. They, too, have their moments of spectacular anointing and their desert days otherwise. There is some mystery in these things. “Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit” (Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus, John 3:8).

But, there are in our own history some things certain:

First, the Church of God was birthed by a move of the Holy Spirit, supernaturally, brought into the world by the prophetic voice of a generation.

Second, the Church of God was propelled from its birthplace into the world by a teaching that elevated the promise and necessity of the Holy Spirit’s possession, of both justification and sanctification, to realize every believer’s potential in Christ and the Movement’s viability.

Third, the Church of God emphasized the experiential nature of the Spirit’s filling and possession, secured by complete surrender into the will and way of God, in Christ.

Fourth, the Church of God was both a channel of, and a witness to, supernatural manifestations of the Spirit that confounded skeptics and gave life, in Jesus’ name.

Fifth, the Church of God, in every generation, must experience the filling of the Spirit, fresh and new, if it is to thrive and fulfill its heaven-sent destiny.

Sixth, the filling of the Holy Spirit cannot be manufactured, it cannot be cajoled, it cannot be accessed by procedures, programs, or human ambition; it can only be found in humble and absolute submission before the Cross.

Seventh, sometimes we must wait for the Spirit. The disciples had to wait in the Upper Room. Our Upper Rooms also invite us to gather together, pray, listen, defer. But, with clean hands and hearts, the Spirit is sure to ultimately descend and bring life. You will be able to hear it.

Hear life. It’s a phrase that captures the first Pentecost and speaks to us still today. It is a frame for all five of our Regional Conventions, opening across the country this year. These are not “how-to” breakout sessions, populated with the next new thing. These are Upper Room conclaves, in which the Church of God can gather and find, as in days of old, a fresh wind of the Spirit. Without that wind, we are lost. With that wind, nothing is impossible.

Movements are never birthed or sustained by Excel spreadsheets, another sermon on why some other fellowship is less than we are, or strategies calculated by human reason alone; movements are animated by the possession of the Holy Spirit.

I am, once more, at peace, waiting upon the Spirit, under the stars and sky, as I did fifty-three years ago. Join me.

Receive Life. Hear Life. Embrace Life. John 14:26 captures the Lord’s words: “But when the Father sends the Counselor as My representative—and by the Counselor I mean the Holy Spirit—He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I Myself have told you.”

Jesus is the subject.

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