The Exploding Church
Last year, I was a conference speaker at Brenda Hazel’s church in Jamaica, New York. One of the other speakers was “Surprise” (‘Surpresa’ in Portuguese) Sithole, who is the African Director with Iris Ministries in Mozambique. He told the story of the first time he raised a person from the dead.
Several years ago, he entered a remote village in Mozambique to hold evangelistic meetings. He received permission from the chief to hold Christian meetings for a few days in the evenings. On the first day, about fifty people attended. The second evening, about twenty five attended. On the morning of the third day, he was told there would be no meeting that night. “Why?” he asked.
A little eight year old girl had died of malaria. The family was in mourning, the village was grieving and the atmosphere of joy that had characterized the meetings would be out of order.
Surpresa asked if he could visit the family and found five women there, including the mother, mourning over the little body which they had wrapped and covered with a sheet. On receiving their permission to pray, he knelt down and began to call upon God. A few hours later, he looked up to find all the women sleeping.
Suddenly, Surpresa felt the little girl’s fingers clench tightly around his own.
He screamed with shock and surprise and woke up all the women. They were astounded to see her alive, breathing and struggling to get free from her grave clothes.
The entire village came out to the meeting that night, and every one of them accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
I’M THINKING TOO SMALL
While similar stories are now becoming commonplace in third world revivals, I realize that I’ve been thinking too small. I like to think of myself as a big thinker. I want the world for Jesus, don’t you, but stories like this make me realize that there is more.
The ‘Toronto Blessing’ has traveled to the far corners of the world. Christians have come to us from multiple nations, and Carol and I and our teams have traveled back to their nations. We have witnessed tremendous signs, wonders and miracles, coming in the awesome power of the Holy Spirit. Multitudes have been saved, filled and healed.
The revival continues strong to this very day, 12 1⁄2 years later. And multiplied millions have been blessed. Over four million have visited our church in Toronto since 1994. Many lives have been changed, and there is much good fruit and abundant blessing.
However, as I pop my head up and look all around me, I see the church in the west struggling to maintain slow growth. There are some amazing stories of mega-churches exploding, but for the most part, their growth is through transfer, people leaving one church for another that they think has more to offer.
George Barna’s recent 2006 report is nevertheless encouraging. The new research found that 45% of all adults in America meet the criteria that The Barna Group uses to classify people as “born again.” That number is up from 31% in 1983.
This means that the number of people professing Christ as Savior has increased from 31% in 1983 to 45% in 2006. This is very encouraging news. There has been a growth of 14% in 23 years. This is approximately 0.6% per year. But while we are congratulating ourselves on a job well done, let’s compare this to the explosive growth rates of 8% per year in many third world nations. Sometimes it’s much more such as in Africa, Latin America, and China.
"It's harvest time."
We need to ask, “What’s going on?” “Is this all really true?” “What is driving these mass conversions?”
What’s going on is that the Holy Spirit is moving across the earth like never before in all of history. Nothing like this has happened since the first century and the spread of the Early Church. It’s harvest time. The coming of the Lord is soon at hand. Ordinary believers are sharing their stories and lives under the anointing. Astounding supernatural miracles are happening all over the world as the “li’l ole yous” of this world dare to share, pray and believe the Lord for miracles.
Recently, Rolland Baker shared with me this amazing story of a young man who was raised from the dead. This happened on September 27, 2003:
"A few weeks ago, we (Iris Ministries) were holding a youth conference in the town of Slauslau, just east of White River in South Africa near Mozambique. Surpresa Sithole, our African director, and our five South African commissioners were holding three days of meetings in the town’s community hall, Friday through Sunday.
On Saturday night, September 27, the meeting was going beautifully until late. Many older Christians were there to support the youth, and everyone was having a wonderful time. Then a gang of drunken teenagers showed up outside the hall to throw rocks and do what violence they could to disrupt the meeting.
At midnight one of our commissioners, Franzie (short for “Francisco”) Shongwe, 28, went out to lock the gate to the hall to prevent more trouble. The gang jumped on him and began to beat him without mercy until he stopped breathing, and they left him for dead.
They all fled into the night, and the horrified church began to pray earnestly. The police were afraid to come out and pursue the case that night. An ambulance was called and called but never came. Finally someone took Franzie’s body to the hospital in his small car. As they were checking the body at 1:15 a.m., Franzie suddenly began to breathe again. The doctors injected him with painkillers and sedatives, and he slept through the night.
At 6:00 a.m. the next morning, Surpesa went to the hospital to visit. Franzie’s eyes were swollen shut, and his whole body was swollen and covered with bruises. He could hardly think straight and could barely communicate through his lips.
It looked like he would take a long time to recover.
Meanwhile, the church kept praying, and considering what they should do with the gang if the police caught them. Before long it was agreed that the church would forgive the murderers. Later in the morning the police did catch one of them, and at 2:00 p.m., they called the church to ask someone to come down and file charges at the police station. The church announced their decision that no charge would be made, which thoroughly agitated the police. This would encourage more crime, they said, and the teenager should be jailed at least eighteen months. No, the church was firm. The boy was forgiven.
As the same moment that the church made its decision to forgive, Franzie’s body was totally healed. Just after the police called, the hospital also called to ask someone to come and pick up Franzie. When Surpresa arrived at the hospital, he found Franzie totally well, with no swelling, no bruises, no scars and no problems whatsoever, as though nothing had had happened the night before.
Patients were not supposed to be released on a Sunday at this hospital, but there was nothing wrong with Franzie, and they had no reason to keep him. Surpresa did have to buy new clothes for Franzie whose own clothes had been torn to shreds in the beating.
The next morning, Monday, Franzie himself went to the police station with Surpresa to pick up the teenage criminal, who had been released into the church’s custody.
“Do whatever you want with him,” the police said. The church ministered to him with compassion, and within an hour the boy gave his heart to Jesus. Three weeks later, the boy was attending church, Franzie was doing perfectly well, teaching in Bible school, and the Kingdom is now advancing!
The following Easter, Heidi and I married Franzie, and our illustration for Resurrection Sunday was Franzie himself... He now travels and ministers widely in South Africa especially among the poor who cannot afford wheelchairs. Instead, the crippled jump out of wheelbarrows! He is much like Surpresa, utterly positive, always grinning and laughing, full of faith, willing to do anything for the Gospel, counting it all joy..."
If you find these stories difficult to believe, you need to check out what is driving this current revival. These fervent new believers are not constrained by the religious prohibitions of previous generations. They dare to believe the Bible as it is, believing that Jesus is our model.
Entire villages are being won to Christ as desperate people watch the blind receive their sight and the dead come to life again. Documented accounts declare how from 52 different nations, God has brought people back from the dead.
If this current trend continues, half the entire world will be on-fire, born again soul-winning Christians by the year 2028, who will win the entire world by 2038. The present rate will not merely continue, but will increase exponentially. As the Army multiplies, growth and fruit will come at even faster rates.
Friends, revival is not coming; it is here now. It has been here for years, and it is expanding. So what are you going to do? Watch it? Study it? Criticize it? Why not get involved and accelerate it? This is not a time to bury your talent but rather invest in the exploding, ever-increasing Kingdom of God.
I am not talking about religious good works full of striving for acceptance and approval, I am talking about the love of God and the power of God exploding in your heart so that love constrains you to serve your Master. James tells us that our works are a demonstration of our faith. No works, no faith, and by the way, no reward.
What is God calling you to do to demonstrate your faith?
How about getting involved in your church’s mission outreaches? Maybe God is calling you to start a cell group or a Soaking Center in your own home where friends can meet the love and power of God head on. This is how to learn to become a leader who helps people come into meaningful relationship with the living Christ.
In a few weeks, Carol and I will travel again to Eastern Europe. Revival is raging there. We are taking a team of eager young people who will be changed by their experience. Why? Because they will see miracles happen in the lives of hungry, desperate people when they pray for them. God will use them powerfully, and they will come home with their own stories.
This is the Kingdom of God coming to earth. Revival is about you being a recipient of multiplied blessings and then carrying the miracle working life of Christ into the hurts and lives of people. When you start giving away the blessing, God will keep you revived and you will never be bored.
He is sending you out to make disciples, at home and around the world. You are invited, even commanded, to get involved in the most exciting activity on planet earth, becoming a “carrier” of the Kingdom of God.
“Behold the Bridegroom is coming.” Remember, He is coming unexpectedly. The nations of the world are hearing and responding like never before in all of history. May He find you and me faithful. It’s time to both ‘Soak’ and to ‘Go’.