We started something called FNL (Friday Night LIFE) at our church. If you’ve been around me lately, this is something very close to my heart (not so much the event, but the purpose behind it). I wanted to explain a bit about the vision and heartbeat behind it (sermon audio also avail).
The Vision of FNL
The vision of Friday Night Life is to cultivate a deeper Word and Prayer culture among young adults in the Chicagoland area.
The first sermon was called “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose”, which seemed appropriate since the TV series we give a nod to has that as its unofficial tagline. It’s a high school team’s motivational battle cry and I think it can be the church’s too.
This is a summary of that message.
1. Clear Eyes (to See the Ascended Christ)
Acts 1:9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.“
After spending forty days (Ac 1:3) with his disciples post-resurrection, we see Jesus exiting earth in dramatic fashion: he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (v.9) This was no smoke and mirrors but God’s very presence displayed before men’s eyes. “Cloud” in this passage was God’s shekinah glory, which was a visible manifestation of the presence and pleasure of God. His going was different than his coming; he came as a humble Son of Man (Luke) but left as the exalted Son of God (Acts). This shekinah glory powerfully underscored Jesus’ last words to his church: “receive my power” and “be my witnesses”. The ascended Christ was the flame and fuel of the apostolic movement. Therefore, we must see this ascended Christ.
The “two men”, presumably angels, interrupt their dazed gaze up at the sky with these words: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (v.11) Jesus went up in glory and he will come back in glory (“same way”). His second coming will be one of triumph. His first coming was to die for His people; his second coming will be as the mighty King and Judge.
If we took some liberty to rephrase it, it might go something like this: “Guys, Jesus is gone so stop staring at the sky. Remember what he said? Go home and wait for the Holy Spirit in prayer and then go out and be his witnesses. That’s the only way people will be ready to meet him when he comes back the second time. It’s not time to stare but time to pray and witness.”
What kind of Christ do we see? Is our Christ crippled and limp? Is he ascended on high as he should be? A right Christology is crucial to seeing rightly. And the more clearly we see Jesus, the more clearly we will show Jesus.
2. Full Hearts (with Word and Prayer)
Acts 2 is an action filled chapter: Pentecost Prayer is followed by Pentecost preaching (Peter) which leads to Pentecost conversion (3,000 converts!). In the subsequent verses, we see this newly formed church devoting themselves to prayer and the Word (along with generosity and signs and wonders by the apostles) and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Do you see the pattern? The Holy Spirit has birthed a new creation of God’s people who are addicted to the Word, prayer, and fellowship. In short, the church has been birthed and the proof of her life is a new appetite for the things of God. It is nothing short of Ezekiel 37 being fulfilled.
There is no mission for God unless there is filling by God. Word and prayer were crucial to the powerful and dynamic growth of the church because that’s where the power was. Spiritual power can only come as we listen to God and as we converse with God. Concisely said, spiritual power comes from God.
Dare I say, and I am indicting myself as well, that we live in an age of “an appearance of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5)? Some of us have run so hard and long after earthly powers of status, money, etc. that we’ve forgotten what true spiritual power feels like. In Acts, the power that God gives us is the power to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8).
Why do we need his power to be his witnesses? Because a witness loves like him, lives like him, and speaks for him. Who can do that on their own power? We need spiritual power to be Christ-like. We need spiritual power to die to ourselves and live in Christ. We need spiritual power to live, love, and speak. If Jesus is going to come out of us, he needs to go deep into us. Full-hearted witnesses are the only ones who can shine bright at their work, family, and society.
We talk so much about being missional these days that I am afraid we’ve lost the source – Word and prayer. Nothing happens until we sit before the Lord and get inundated with Him. What use of being relevant if we have no power? We’ve actually become irrelevant because we offer no holy alternative to their way of life.
3. Can’t Lose
Coach Taylor’s teams in the TV series didn’t always win every game. Their triumph transcended the football field. He formed men out of those boys while he also grew as a leader in the process.
Redemptive history is kind of like that. There is an insured victory that transcends this earthly life. We are being formed, through the good and the bad, into the image of Jesus. Nothing can stop this powerful sanctification of God’s people. Jesus keeps changing people’s lives and ushering His kingdom in. Every morning we wake up, we are one day closer to His return.
There is a supreme confidence that fills one’s heart when we look at the grand meta-narrative of God’s story: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8) History says it happened just as He said: Peter’s preaching filled Jerusalem and 3,000 were saved; Philip broke the Judean taboo and crossed over into Samaria; the gospel made its way into Caesar’s home (Phil 4:22).
Why wouldn’t we want to give everything to be a part of this redemptive drama? Don’t we want history books to say, “And they were witnesses in Chicago, the suburbs, in the midwest, in the US, to the ends of the earth”? Why have we stopped when He hasn’t? Shame on us for conceding defeat when the game is far from over.
As one preacher friend in Philly used to say to me (and now I say it to others), “Brother, keep on keeping on.” Amen, brother, amen.