|I used to work as a runner for an auctioneer, it was one of my early jobs, and it wasn’t fun. Running the lots to the customers was the easy part. The “unfun” part of it was digging through musty basements, creepy attics, and rotted barns collecting, sorting, and setting out the lots from estate sales. You never knew what you were going to find. When you go through every nook and cranny of a property you discover some interesting stuff.Pennsylvania law forbids the sale of explosives at auctions—this meant that one of the perks of the job was that any fireworks, flares, or ammunition we came across we got to keep.My eldest brother was coming home from seminary in Dallas with a new lady friend, and his arrival seemed just the occasion to bring out an old flare bucket from a recent auction. They weren’t road flares, but seemed to be naval flares or aviation flares—I still don’t know.
My brother was arriving at night, so we had a welcome home party all set, and we figured the flares were just the thing to impress the new girl and give the event its proper pomp. Experienced as we were with such things, we disregarded the smudged writing on the flares and tried out one of the long metal ones. It gave a satisfying fump as the tube kicked back and launched a bright ball of fire. We immediately decided these metal tubes were best suited for the evening and everyone (there were about ten of us) grabbed a tube or two and picked a spot along the edge of the road. Little did we know that our trial flare was defective. The tubes contained many flares, and were not intended to be held by hand. Our trial flare fizzled out after launching only one giving us very wrong expectations.
It seemed like forever, but at about 2 o’clock in the morning were heard my brother’s air horn blaring in our still neighborhood. We raced out, flares in hand, and lined up along the road about six feet apart. As soon as the truck came abreast of our line we set off our flares—the idea being to make an impressive rainbow of fire over the truck—surely this new girl would remember Pennsylvania.
I remember lighting that flare—the tube warming my hand as it lit and the satisfying fump as the flare shot high over the road. Then I remember a second fump after I had lowered my hand to my side—that and the burning sensation as the metal tube started to glow from the second fireball that it had just launched. Then I remember Mogadishu.
Screams of pain, grotesque shadows ducking, kicking, dodging, running; fire and danger everywhere. The realization that our expectations were woefully wrong was at once painful and shocking. Only the first shot was aimed, the second unexpected, and the subsequent shots searing, not only from the heat of the tube, but also from the fact that each of us was now a de facto “target” from a tube no more than six feet away. Some threw their tubes, others dropped theirs, still others bravely held on, despite the pain, pleading that each subsequent fireball be the last. The scene quickly disintegrated into a mixture of pain, chaos, and fear.
All things considered, it turned out all right. A few third degree burns; the truck took a number of direct hits—thankfully many were on the windows and left no marks (they ricocheted with a made-to-order-shower of sparks). The same could not be said of our neighbor’s house, which—thanks to some quick thinking and an abundance of water—sustained only a hole and minimal fire damage. My brother was thrilled with such an exuberant welcome—and thankful he had the windows up.
Things would have gone much better if we had known that our trial flare was defective. That trial flare set up dangerously false expectations. Those false expectations led to great pain and uncertainty. Our neighbors were not at all happy about what we had done to their kitchen, and only the grace of God kept us from skipping the PA welcome and ushering my brother and the new girl straight to their heavenly home. Accurate expectations are essential. I tell you this story to convey precisely that point. At this point in the life of FBCE we need to be clear on expectations.
The Acts 2 program is designed to present the opportunity to take your relationship with God seriously. It is designed so that a person can come in knowing nothing and leave a mature believer. But two expectations must be clearly stated: 1) the cost of following Jesus will be high, and 2) one must fully engage in the process to fully appreciate the opportunity.
You have heard so many times that salvation is a free gift. If you want to spend eternity in heaven with your sins forgiven and your guilt removed, all that is necessary is to place your confidence in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice to wipe your slate clean before God. This is what Jesus is talking about in John 5:24, “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life. If you have believed, you are going to spend eternity with God. This is the wonderful free gift of salvation.
But what about, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” or, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” What are those passages (and countless others like them) about? How do those passages contrast with “my load is easy and my burden is light”? And what about the “gospel” after all? Isn’t it supposed to mean “good news”? Taking up a cross doesn’t sound much like good news.
The Bible presents eternal salvation as a free gift, but following Jesus after salvation as having a price tag. When Jesus is talking about “following Him” (being His disciple), He is not talking about eternal salvation. We can be saved but be incredibly lacking in devotion and faithfulness, practically void of the abundant life.
Following Jesus will cost you everything, but let me be clear about that. C.S. Lewis illustrates it with a parable I’ve adapted here. Kids are playing in a backyard making mud pies when Dad comes home from work and calls to his kids, “Jump in the car, I’m going to take you out for ice cream!” But, the kids just say, “Naw, we like the mud.” Getting ice cream cost the children the experience of making mud pies and pretending to eat them. What following Jesus costs you is the “life” that the flesh offers (making mud pies). Following Him will cost you your addictions. Following Him will take you out of the driver’s seat so that you no longer control and manipulate situations and people or even yourself. Following Him will take you out of your comfort zone. Following Him will mean every other relationship begins to pale in comparison to your commitment and enjoyment of Him. Following Him means you no longer get to spend “your day off” however you want, because it’s no longer yours. Following Him means that you no longer respond in anger and vengeance to people who harm you. Yes, following Jesus will cost you everything—everything the flesh has to offer. But dwell on that a moment, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all those fleshly urges and desires were dead? The expectation of growing in our relationship with Jesus should be that it may be difficult at times; like surgery to remove a tumor is difficult. The process of exposing and healing the broken parts of our soul isn’t comfortable or fun, in fact it often feels like we are dying. So expect God to use a surgeon’s knife to heal your brokenness through the A2Gs, but don’t expect that to be painless or without sacrifice.
Now to the second point, full engagement. The Acts 2 process doesn’t force anyone to do anything. Even if you have signed up and are attending, it is still possible to hold yourself aloof—from the study guide, from the Word, from your other A2G members. So how do you grow closer to Jesus through the A2Gs? It is by fully engaging. Full engagement begins by spending adequate time going through the study guide, but that is just the beginning. It looks like being faithful in your attendance and in your prayers for the others in your A2G; it looks like devoting yourself to love those in your A2G without demanding they treat you kindly and respectfully. That sounds unrealistic, I get it, but you know what? That is what Jesus did and does. Right now Jesus loves each of the people in your church. As you grow closer to Him, you start to love as He loves, what He loves. As you walk with Jesus it is no longer unrealistic to love your church family without demanding they treat you well, instead it is the very essence of reality.
The question for each of us is simply this, will you fully engage in the process of knowing God and being changed by Him? The Bible shouts from almost every page that it is worth it, giving up broken ways of living is liberating, life abundant is found through engaging with reckless abandonment in Jesus and His people. So expect to get out of the A2Gs what you put into them.
As we conclude with relationships, I suppose it’s worth mentioning that things did not work out with the new girl. Improper expectations blasted any hope of that relationship. Something about “terrorized by fire out in the horrific Pennsylvania woods”. Apparently the scene was even more apocalyptic from inside the cab.