Experience Counts

This article was originally published in The Global Voice: Global Outreach Developments Int’l Newsletter: Issue 19, March-April 2005. You can read the whole edition here.

It’s amazing how much of a visual people we are in our American society.

On May 19th, literally millions will line up at movie theaters across the nation to witness an “epic event”: STAR WARS EPISODE III. George Lucas’ saga about the battle between good and evil will come to an end with the final episode of a three series prequel connecting a new generation of Star Wars with an old. The dazzling special effects will wow people into buying the DVD collector set even after they’ve already spent $10 to see the flick at the theater.

After the movies release people will say things like, “Hey, did you see the new Star Wars?” People will respond in a variety of ways; perhaps with anticipation of seeing it or reminiscing their favorite scene. But no one will get upset with anyone for bringing it up. No one will feel guilty for having a scene re-enacted for them. In fact, it might even be the water cooler topic of conversation for a week or two and whoever has seen it could be the hero of the break time banter.

This type of behavior is in amazing contrast with that of our friends from 3rd world countries. I say this in light of the 2-D reality which makes us think we are experiencing life. When Elias (our Kenyan Director) was here I couldn’t even get him to watch “The Passion” without falling asleep. This was the movie that our American pastors were saying was the “greatest evangelism tool in history.” It just wasn’t ta reality for him; at least the 2-D aspect of it and not to mention he is part of a holistic/oral/experiential culture (I had the same response trying to show this film in Uganda: no interest).

How much of what we know comes through these pseudo-realistic mediums; literature, film and oration? I describe them as pseudo-realistic because sometimes we can think that when we’ve seen a movie, read a book, or heard a testimony we actually know what we’re talking about. But once experience has triggered a reality in the human heart and mind, transformation is ignited with such a force that the person subjected to the experience is forever ruined to their former reality (a former reality which was most likely based upon pre-conceived notions, imagination and ignorance). It’s these kinds of transformed people that I work with day to day. I am this kind of person; ruined in many ways to my former reality.

The enigmatic reality of experience has the power to change a person’s paradigm reaching into their day to day living; something that knowledge through books, films and oral communication cannot do.

Some people want to discount experience and write it off as inferior in comparison to the doctrines of this, that, and the other. In their ignorance they fight a battle that God never intended for them to spend their energies on. It seems people are more concerned with arguing over things that exist in the realm of thought, rather than contend with the reality of humanity and its behaviors in the day to day. For example, do you know what it’s like to be hungry? Do you know what it’s like to lose your child due to your inability to stop her diarrhea? Do you know what it’s like to be without any option to feed, clothe, provide shelter, or educate your family? Unless you’ve experienced these things, you know nothing about it. Experience counts…

Romans 8:15-16 when we cry, “Abba Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

The above verse testifies to the experience of the witness of the Spirit confirming we are children of God.

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—

This verse shows that the credibility of John’s letter was found in the testimony of those who had experienced Jesus.

2 Corinthians 1:5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

The experience of comfort is affirmation that in the midst of enduring suffering we are sharing in the experience of the sufferings and comfort of Christ.

Galatians 3:2-4 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain?

In this text Paul calls attention to the experience of the Galatians to bring remembrance to the fact that their salvation in knowing God was a product of faith and not works of the law.

Experience is perhaps the most intense of teachers in that you can’t evade its lesson without paying the price. With experience lecturing you, all pre-conceived notions are challenged with that which is in front of your face. Experience with God can move a person to believe in the impossible and live the illogical when confronted with the chaos of circumstance.

Experiencing God is more than just reading about him, watching his life in a movie or listening to an orator’s explanation of his attributes. To EXPERIENCE God is to KNOW HIM! Jesus is alive and we, His children, can give a living testimony to the fact that we are growing in our relational knowledge of Him day to day. There is no book, film or oration that can have an impact on a person like an encounter/experience with the only living God: Jesus Christ!

Jesus said “what you’ve done for the least of these my brethren, you’ve done unto me.” He spoke of feeding, clothing, visiting and showing hospitality to those who would be considered the least in society. Therefore, our action towards “the least of these” is in direct connection with our actions towards our God. To have an encounter with one who is considered “the least” is to have an encounter with God.

Of all the people in the world, whom the almighty creator of the universe could relate an experience with them as an experience with him, why did he pick the poor and underprivileged? Why didn’t he pick kings, princes, generals, presidents and rulers? What is so profound about the experience with someone in this condition that it could be an encounter with God?

You’ll never know until you experience it! But beware; such an experience will ruin you. Such an experience could be an encounter with God! I’m talking about a real experience where you suffer with the people. Not a fabricated one where one takes one of their two weeks of vacation a year to go and make themselves feel better by passing out food, playing with children and clothing needy people, only to return to their sanitary hotel and eat some of the country’s best food. I’m talking about really getting to know these people—not just answering their need by throwing food or money at them, but helping them carry the burden of their condition by joining them in it until it is relieved.

If you have had this authentic kind of experience, then you must understand why the ladies wrote the articles in the health portion of this newsletter the way they did. If you have, then you know why we continue to do the things we do. If you have visited, touched, fed and reached out to people in need, you know that it is where you are guaranteed an encounter with God. If you have not had an experience like that, then listen to people like this: they have something to say. Join them in carrying the burden they have because of what they’ve seen; join them in this kind of suffering. We need you!

If anyone wants to make me, or anyone else feel guilty for continuing to bring up our family in need around the world … then enjoy “Star Wars.”