Caught in a Fire Storm
“Suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit...” Acts 2:2, 3 – Living Bible
If you check The Weather Channel as often as I do, then you are used to the “storm report.” Whether it is a blizzard, flash flood or hurricane, these events unleash violent disturbances on the earth.
The sustained winds of a hurricane can cause telephone poles to snap like toothpicks, and roofs to fly off buildings like kites. Consider a wildfire during dry summer months. Even when fire-fighting helicopters drop their load of water over the sea of flames, it looks like a mere drop in the bucket. The fire is out of human control, and efforts to quench it seem hopeless.
God the Father sent His only Son, Jesus, into the world and unleashed a hurricane of power and glory. He destroyed the grip of sin in people’s lives. He also shook whatever could be shaken. He uprooted false piety and wreaked havoc against controlling rulers. Those in the religious establishment were unable to discern the storm advisories given by their own prophets and plotted His murder. But the brutal death of Jesus on the cross backfired as an earthquake shook the temple and ripped the veil from top to bottom. There was a period of silence for three days, but on the third day, He rose from the dead.
Then on the day of Pentecost, it was as though the back end of the storm came and brought God’s power to believers with a mighty wind. The Holy Spirit spread through the ranks spawning thousands of little “tornadoes.” They were filled with God, and the Jerusalem church exploded out of control. Common people were working the same types of healings and miracles that Jesus did. Even more astounding, they were claiming to know God intimately.
To the old spiritual world, this was a huge disaster and no Pharisee could put out these flames. Down through the ages, the enemies of the cross would infiltrate the ranks with false doctrines, but in every case, God would faithfully send His winds to fan the church back into the flames of her first love, and restore the truth. Perhaps you have read about these revivals and prayed for something like this to happen in your lifetime.
CAUGHT BY HIS FIRE
In 1994, my wife, Winnie and I heard rumors of something happening in Florida with a South African evangelist named Rodney Howard-Browne and in meetings in a little church in Toronto. We decided to see for ourselves and decided to go to Florida and Toronto. Little did we realize that we were headed straight into the pathway of a Holy Ghost tornado.
Our first stop was the Carpenter’s Home Church in Lakeland, Florida where the revival firestorm had already broken out and had begun spreading all over the world. Next, we visited Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. As we stepped inside the doors, God dropped us into a fiery whirlwind.
The wind of the Spirit was moving violently upon God’s people, and what we saw blew us away.
At the end of each service, there were thousands of bodies lying on the floor in the wake of God’s power. People were being tossed by an invisible, dynamic force; some were vibrating like paint cans on a shaker while others were flopping like freshly caught fish in the bottom of a boat.
I had read about things like this but had never seen them. Now, they were happening right before my eyes, but the amazing thing was that no one seemed shocked. While the room seemed to be filled with a spiritual power surge, the people on the ministry team continued to walk from person to person calmly looking relaxed and casual, as though everything was perfectly normal.
You see, Winnie felt at home with the intensity present in the atmosphere of those first Florida and Toronto meetings. She was responding to the Holy chaos as though it were a kind of rhythm, giving in to the experience with childlike trust. For almost a decade, I had been praying for her as she had lost the tangible sense of His presence due to unkind religion. She was in desperate need to come back to her first love with Jesus. Here in the flash flood of God’s love, Winnie got what she needed. On the other hand, I thought, “I was just fine” and had not realized until that moment that I too had become spiritually stale.
Now, as I look back, we were both just as backslidden, but in my case, it was more difficult to discern because I had camouflaged my dryness with all of my religious activities. This thunderstorm upset all my carefully manicured messages, while for Winnie it was a lifesaver and a passionate reunion with Christ.
Suddenly it became obvious to me that my concept of church as I had known it was over. I had been sorely in need of revival. This encounter was the answer to my prayers; except it had not arrived in the package I had expected. Nowadays I jokingly say, “Before renewal, our life was a tropical depression. Now for the past ten years, we’ve been living in category five hurricane of blessings.”
It took the fire of God to burn away that religious starch and restore me to my first love. I had had a supernatural conversion and baptism of fire, and yet it took another Holy Ghost storm to set me back on course. We always need His fire.
In 1974, I arrived in the United States as a refugee looking for freedom. Born and raised in Bulgaria, I grew up despising the Communist government for their cruelty to people. As a teenager, I expressed my rebellion by forming a rock band. We became very popular but the police shut us down because we were stirring up a cultural revolution.
Eventually, I escaped through the Iron Curtain and traveled to America. I met up with the “Jesus people” in California and in a dramatic encounter with the Lord, I was saved.
The Jesus people told me to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I experienced an open vision of heaven and saw the throne of God covered with angels. All of them were being overcome with high levels of ecstasy. As each wave of glory passed over them, they squirmed violently as sounds of pleasure came out of them. Suddenly out of their midst came balls of fire shooting at me in the chest. Waves of heat surged through my body like electricity. God was pouring out a steady stream of His liquid substance, a mixture of pure love and joy, directly into my heart. It felt so good that it almost hurt.
As this deluge of pleasure passed through me, I did not know what to do other than to jump, spin and make noises. I was alarmed because no one had prepared me for this. I was a new Christian and had never read Psalm 16, which says, “In His presence there is fullness of joy and at thy right hand are pleasures forever more,” and certainly, no one had explained the “tongues of fire.”
As I kept seeing the vision, I reached a point of divine saturation. I panicked and screamed, “I’m dying, please stop.” Since then I have learned never to say, “Stop” to God. Instead say, “More Lord, just strengthen my inner man to handle your consuming presence.”
In Toronto, I rediscovered that God is a consuming fire. Even though religious forces attempt to put it out, His love always prevails. He faithfully brings us back to single-hearted devotion to Christ. And, in order for us to experience His love fully, we must let Him flow through us by maintaining a constant “give away” motion. God’s love, if it is to be freshly experienced and owned permanently, is a gift to both receive and to give away.
LEARNING TO GIVE IT AWAY
Not only did we have a fresh encounter with God in Toronto, but we have also encountered a host of others who were once dead from religious works, but who are now revived by God’s presence. Missionaries Heidi and Rolland Baker are among those people. Their friendship has brought a new dimension to our ministry. Visiting them in poverty-stricken Mozambique where they have planted thousands of bush churches has started a new fire within us. Months after our first trip there, I was still choking with emotion, seeing the sweet faces of the orphans and their little hands reaching out for hugs, thirsty for love.
What changed us the most was the service at the church they started in the middle of the Maputo city dump, a place where the starving forage for food. The children there were singing their hearts out during worship while the same Holy Spirit that I have witnessed manifesting in ‘clean’ churches fell upon us right there. He cleansed the filthiest place imaginable with the sweet fragrance of His love. Now we have learned to search other garbage dumps like the one outside Bucharest, Romania because Jesus lives there right in the midst of those who have been discarded by society.
We literally circle around the world every year caught up in His magnificent whirlwind.
His love will even send us to dangerous places like the refugee camp in Khartoum, Sudan where our team witnessed close to two-thousand healing miracles. We have been invited to Sierra Leone where innocents have had their limbs chopped off by the cruel ravages of war. We are fully expecting to see Jesus manifest His creative miracles when we go there, too.
Being a native of Bulgaria, another favorite mission of mine is to bring busloads of Holy Ghost-drinkers to the poorest gypsy neighborhoods. You can join us next summer, and I guarantee you it will change the way you view the River.
SCARED FOR LIFE
So while some people say that the renewal is over, I have been convinced that the River of God’s love is here to stay. I have been scarred forever by His fire! Its purpose is to ravish our hearts with the beauty of Jesus and create in us a new heart, which longs to do His will.
God is using the foolish things of this renewal to confound the sophisticated “wisdom” of our culture.
For example, there is nothing like letting God the Father use you to hug the necks of a bunch of gypsies in a rundown East-European ghetto, or feed widows in Turkey, or spend your Christmas with orphans in Nicaragua.
I find it difficult to sleep at night from seeing their images branded on my heart. I have seen it happen repeatedly among the destitute, even among poor Muslims, people yielding to the affections of the Man “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross...” When religious piety points the finger demanding better performance, it “burns us out.” But Christ restores our fire with a loving embrace. That is how I caught the fire and how I keep it.