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Firsthand Experience of Jesus

By Rick Lawrence
Vibrant Faith Executive Director

First, we wake up.

Early in the 19th century, a Hungarian doctor named Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis discovered, almost by accident, that if he washed his hands between procedures the percentage of patients who died after surgery dropped from 25 percent to almost nothing. But his hand-washing strategy was considered so ludicrous by the medical establishment that Semmelweis was fired from the hospital and later died at a young age, crazed with despair over the wholesale, persistent dismissal of his discovery.

In his profile of Semmelweis, Dr. William C. Wood says: “I think there are…lessons to be learned from [his] life. The first is why there was such resistance to truth. People were too busy to investigate personally what he presented…The physicians of Semmelweis’ day, with few exceptions, did not examine the facts firsthand.”

As ministry leaders, our first responsibility is to help our people engage their faith in such a way that their knowledge of biblical truth, church doctrine, and the person of Jesus is firsthand. When we (consciously or unconsciously) make our storehouse of truth and relationship the destination rather than the conduit to the destination, we are handing our people a secondhand faith. And a secondhand faith has little chance of persevering through challenge and hardship and pain.

As ministry leaders, our first responsibility is to help our people engage their faith in such a way that their knowledge of biblical truth, church doctrine, and the person of Jesus is firsthand.

Jesus was determined to (subversively) guide people into a firsthand life. Over and over, He prodded the people of his time to think differently about the “givens” in their culture. His intention was to spur His followers to engage their cultural “truths” with firsthand experiences, not float with the spirit of the age or the accepted and unchallenged bastardizations of truth and goodness that ran rampant, both then and now.

For example, Jesus prodded His disciples to consider who was making the bigger sacrifice: the rich religious leaders who made a lot of noise when they gave out of their excess income, or the widow who put a penny into the temple offering even though it was all she had (Mark 12:41-44). Jesus was always questioning the conventional wisdom and common practices of his culture. And we’re living close to Him when we help people “push back” against the “givens” of their culture and develop a firsthand theology and lifestyle—one that compares everything to the truths Jesus revealed about his kingdom. We ask these simple questions:

  1. What’s the overall message of this belief or ideology, in one sentence?
  2. What “truths” is it teaching?
  3. What promises is it making?
  4. Who’s sending the message, and why?
  5. Are these messages, truths, or promises that Jesus honors?
  6. Since Jesus is the Truth, what are examples of Him living this belief or ideology?

The firsthand experience of Jesus and His truths is the path to life and transformation. In his freshman year of college, a young man decided to get a summer job as a camp counselor. He’d never really spent a lot of time at camps, so his first week serving and leading kids was a revelation. He was responsible for eight kids—getting them to meals on time, helping them with camp activities, and supervising their bedtime. Getting everyone to quiet down after lights-out was an especially tough job.

Midway through the week, the young man called his mother, who’d raised six children, and excitedly shared his experiences. “Mom,” he said, “you have no idea how hard it is to take care of all these kids. I have to get them up in the morning, take them to breakfast, be responsible for them all day….” Mid-sentence, it occurred to the young man who he was addressing. He paused, with some embarrassment, and then sheepishly continued, “Well, maybe you do understand….” His mother quietly chuckled on the other end of the line.

Our great gift to the people we serve is our determination to guide them into a firsthand relationship with Jesus and His Body, not settle for a secondhand facsimile.

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily. His new book, The Suicide Solution, was just released.

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