teachings and Devotionals
On a recent trip to Israel and Ethiopia, I had the privilege of meeting with a number of national leaders, church planters and pastors. They shared with me their glowing testimonies and compelling stories of the power of God to transform lives...
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A REVEALING RESULT OF PENTECOST
Two of these interviews I share with you today for your encouragement — one from northern Israel and one from rural Ethiopia. But before I do that, allow me to explain to you the significance these stories hold as to how Jesus is building His Church worldwide.
May 20th, 2018 is Pentecost Sunday. This important biblical event is celebrated by the church 49 days following the resurrection of Christ (Easter). It signifies the coming of what Jesus referred to in Luke 24:49 as “the promise of My Father” — that being the gift of the Holy Spirit. This unprecedented experience of having God come into and upon believers in Christ was revolutionary to say the least. The same infilling by the Holy Spirit today is unique and special for those of us who know God and have been born again.
However, in a large majority of “Bible-believing, born-again churches” today, remembering and celebrating this miraculous day has virtually evaporated. We eagerly remember Christmas and Easter, and even change Thanksgiving into a pseudo-religious feast. Possibly, at church on this particular Sunday, someone will quickly note, “Oh, by the way, this is Pentecost Sunday,” and then the service will move on quickly. But few people even acknowledge the momentous day this was for believers.
On this special day, some 2,000 years ago, believers were supernaturally empowered for evangelism and church growth. In my estimation and from my experience, this is the motivating force behind millions of people turning to Christ at this time in history. And now to my stories.
Two weeks ago, I was interviewing 10 radically converted and anointed church planters in extremely rural southern Ethiopia. This area of the country has been historically resistant to the Gospel until about one and a half years ago when suddenly the hearts of large pockets of people began to soften towards the Good News. The region is 98% extreme Muslim, but the Gospel is spreading rapidly. In just one small area during the last few months, over 1,000 people have put their faith in Christ and have been water baptized. The leader of the group told me that the number of new converts appears to be doubling every few weeks now.
One of these church planters shared that he had traveled 44 miles to meet with me. He was born into a family with a father who was a witchdoctor who worshiped demons. He grew up seeing and experiencing the powers of darkness every day, but knowing that it was evil and wrong. Miraculously he found and started to read a Bible, looking all the time for a way to live a good and godly life. One day, while he was reading, he had a vision. He saw a blinding white light that shone on him, and out of the light came a loud, echoing voice. The man in the vision said, “I will show you a way of righteousness because I am the Son of Righteousness.” He had this dream/vision three separate times over several days. Then, he searched out some Christian believers who explained the vision and prayed to free him from demonic forces. Obviously, he accepted Christ.
This newly born-again Ethiopian church planter then went and removed all of the demonic paraphernalia from his father’s house, took it to the local church, and burned it. In the last few years since his conversion he has seen dozens of Muslims accept Christ, as well as his parents. (Note: His father’s house that was used for witchcraft is now a church and a house of prayer.) He explained that there are not enough trained church planters to reach all the villages that are crying out to hear the Gospel. Regularly, these evangelists walk and preach 12 hours a day — every day — to reach the lost.
It was then that this man’s partner in ministry (another powerful church planter) spoke up. He explained to me that the power displayed in their lives through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling has opened up doors for them and given them enormous respect in the community. Even though they are persecuted regularly with beatings, stabbings, and other physical abuse, they continue on in ministry, undeterred.
At this point, this brother uttered these words that astounded me:
“Before, we used to chew a narcotic type leaf called ‘khat’ for fulfillment in life. Before, our lives used to be meaningless, but now God has given us purpose. We used to spend time in useless places, wasting our lives, but now we are spending time in useful places, where God is working.”
Then they looked at each other — gave a little bit of a grin — and said:
“This truth that we have come to understand is very exciting. It is driving us to travel and witness about what we have discovered.”
Just a few days before going to Ethiopia, I was in Haifa, Israel, meeting with two young Russian Jewish pastors of a burgeoning Russian congregation. Empower supports this outreach that has grown to minister in numerous ways, to over 400 Russian-speaking immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
This too has traditionally been a difficult area of ministry, seeing few conversions. But just a few years ago the situation took a major shift. Hunger for God amongst this people group is expanding widely and quickly, with Russian Jewish congregations popping up throughout the region.
At supper, these two pastors shared with me two incredible stories that you need to hear.
Bus Tour Excursions
The first took place on one of the bus tour excursions for Russian Jewish immigrants to local biblical sites. Empower sponsors these day-long trips that finish with dinner, music, and testimonies. The bus had stopped on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, close to where Jesus set up His “head office” for ministry.
When the pastors explained who Jesus was and the meaning of the Gospel, and then described that many people were likely water baptized here, the response was amazing. Half of the tour group — 14 people — wanted to follow Messiah Yeshua and asked to be baptized just like He instructed. After the people accepted Yeshua as Savior, the leaders explained exactly what water baptism entails, and the new believers walked into the water and were baptized. On the next bus trip the same thing happened. This, the pastors said, is the typical story of people starving for an explanation of who God is, and how they can know Him. Empower has supplied and distributed thousands of copies of God’s Word to similar eager seekers and new believers.
The second story they shared with me was about Holocaust survivors from the Second World War, to whom they are ministering. This story touched me deeply to the point that, even as I’m writing this now, I sense an incredible heaviness.
When the pastors told me about how they provide food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other needed items to these people, I asked them how old the people are, since the war was a long time ago. They explained that many were children taken to, or even born in, the concentration camps. These innocent children were used during their young lives as mere slave laborers, existing only to serve the needs of the factories and soldiers. After the war, most of them led miserable lives, lacking self-worth and never experiencing love. That is until they moved to Israel and came into contact with Messianic believers in the Russian congregations, and through Christians who showed them love. Now, in their advanced years, they are gobbling up the Word of God, experiencing God’s love for the first time, and accepting Yeshua as Savior and Messiah.
These two pastors, filled with an energy that only the Holy Spirit can supply, and with eyes glowing, could not convey to me fast enough all the miraculous events that were transpiring before their eyes. Then one of these brothers said to me:
“This can only be considered to be a work of the Holy Spirit… This is exciting!”
Seldom, do many of us here at home in North America refer to their Christian walk as being exciting. But these two encounters, in two countries, in a period of a few days, were God’s way of awakening me again to this truth — the Gospel of Jesus is exciting! It is what I read about in Acts 2. At that time, the effects of this outpouring of God’s Spirit were misconstrued to be drunkenness, when it was simply their utter excitement and joy in discovering the Truth. It is this same excitement, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit that propelled the new believers to carry the Gospel everywhere in the known world of that day. Today, I see this same powerful move of God at work in the national ministries with which Empower partners.
The Bottom Line
This is why I get so enthusiastic about what God is doing. And it is why I encourage others to help us, at Empower, to support these massive works of the Holy Spirit occurring in the national churches of the world.
There are three things that I want my children and grandchildren to remember about me when I’ve gone to see Jesus in heaven. Dad and Grandad believed that, 1) The Word of God — the Bible — is the only guide to eternal life and Truth; 2) the supernatural act of being born again is real and the centerpiece of all meaningful existence; and 3) that Pentecost unleashed a power for living that the world tries to imitate, can never duplicate, and will never understand unless they know Jesus personally. This is what makes life and the Gospel so exciting!
Thank you for supporting the work of Empower. Have a wonderful Pentecost.