Sunday, June 12, 2011

Holy Spirit's coming — "Whatever could this mean?"

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 2:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'Whatever could this mean?'" Acts 2:12

"Whatever could this mean?" asked the onlookers as they heard the wind sound, saw the flames, understood the message of the "wonderful works of God" in their mother tongues.

One thing it meant was that the church would continue to grow despite persecution. It happened in Acts following the threats and mistreatment that scattered the believers. As a result they spread the gospel to the places they fled. And it continues to today. Consider the Shouwang (Lighthouse) Church in Beijing China.

Begun in 1993 as ten people who met in an apartment, the church quickly outgrew the space, splitting numerous times. When government controls were loosened the pastor brought his congregation into the open, renting an office building as a meeting place. In 2006, lawyers in the congregation applied with the State Administration for Religious Affairs Office to be granted official recognition. And they raised $4 million to buy a meeting place of their own.

Throughout this time the church continued to grow, holding multiple Sunday services, running a welfare program, and helping out during the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province.

The church's application for state recognition was denied, however, and shortly after that big problems began. One Sunday government officers burst into the Sunday service, declaring it illegal and writing down particulars of each person present. Calls were made to the congregants' workplaces and schools and they were threatened with dismissal. The government also contacted the seller of the property and he now refuses to hand over the key. A State-owned paper, Global Times, which at one point spoke favourably about house churches declared more recently: "All Christians as well as those of other faiths, are Chinese citizens first and foremost. It is their obligation to observe discipline and abide by the law."

Despite all this according to a New York Times article:* "Shouwang's ranks continued to grow."

What makes this church so attractive? "Beyond the appeal of spirituality and the promise of redemption, many converts say they are drawn by the intimacy and sense of community fostered by unofficial churches." Sounds a lot like the church in Acts, doesn't it?

What accounts for this growth despite persecution? It is one of the effects of the Holy Spirit's coming — that same Spirit that brought about a 2500% increase (from 120 to 3000) on the day of Pentecost, is still going about His work of adding to the church, government laws against it or not.

Let's pray for the Shouwang congregation. They are now meeting outdoors, refusing to again go underground even though, according to the article cited, "Most of the church's leadership is now in custody or under house arrest. Its Web site has been blocked."

And let's pray for ourselves, that Holy Spirit fire would infuse our meetings and cause similar multiplication in our churches.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, how mysterious are Your ways as you bring vigor and growth out of persecution. Please fill me with the boldness and passion that filled the disciples on the day of Pentecost and which grows the church around the world. Amen.

MORE: The Day of Pentecost

Liturgy for the Day of Pentecost begins with the Collect:

"Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

*Source of information for the article above: April 17, 2011 article by Andrew Jacobs - "Illegal Church, Evicted, Tries to Buck Beijing"

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