Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Church, Toowoomba – Date: 28 October 2017

For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

Mission Demonstrations

 

In 1996, I came to Toowoomba and began pastoring a church. I was young and keen but – as God made me find out later – (and it was humbling for me who was meant to be an educated expert on the Christian life) – I was a pastor that did not know much about the Holy Spirit even though I was reading the Bible every day:

 

In 2003, a Lutheran pastor from Ethiopia was scheduled to tour our denomination in Australia. His name: Gemechis Desta Buba. I had not heard of him and knew nothing about the tour but received a phone call from the district church office asking me whether I would host him on January 1, 2003, because they had a vacant time slot for that Sunday.

We prepared for his visit, scheduling a Sunday night service and expecting a few worship songs and his preaching. About three hundred people came from across our region. Most of them were traditional Lutherans. We sang about three songs before Pastor Gemechis began his sermon on the Lord’s Prayer. It was a solid exposition, but when he came to the place where he declared that God was giving us our daily bread fresh each day, he stopped in the middle of his preaching and announced that he felt God prompting him to call us forward for prayer. This was not our usual practice.

However, to my surprise, most people in attendance that night made their way forward to receive prayer with the laying on of hands. I was even more surprised when about two-thirds of those receiving prayer proceeded to fall down under the power of the Holy Spirit. What was happening? I ended up trying to catch our church members as they were falling backward onto the floor, and I was thinking to myself, What is this? Am I going to be in trouble with the church authorities? Yet, that night no one objected to what was happening. Everyone sensed the presence of God in the worship building. I had never been in a service like that one.

There was no hype. The music was not loud, and Pastor Gemechis did not raise his voice or become emotional in other ways. Consequently, the prayer time was very accessible to traditional Lutherans. Yet, there was a new level of power. Some experienced the Spirit flooding their bodies with the peace of God. Others were simply wondering what pushed them to the floor. When Pastor Gemechis prayed for me, I made sure that my feet were solidly planted on the floor. God had permission to make me fall backward, but I would not be nimble on my feet. This would not have been the German way of my upbringing. As it happened, I stayed upright but was touched nevertheless. I received healing in my heart. All the hurt and rejection that came with planting a new church were washed away. This was an incredible gift and quite unexpected.

We had a memorable night. It was the night when God surprised our congregation with an experience that would take us years to understand in all of its dimensions—but it set us on our way. For the next five years we would debrief what had happened and how the Spirit might want to work among us. This would be a slow journey…[1]

 

The night with Pastor Gemechis was exciting and different but I went home and told God: “Okay, you can make people fall to the ground. This is your church but you better show me where this is in the Bible.” I could not embrace and enjoy what had happened unless the Bible confirmed the experience and gave permission to have the Spirit of God affect our bodies in an orderly Lutheran church service.

God did not make me wait long but almost immediately let my eyes fall on the Bible passage of 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. I thought (that) I knew this passage, because it was a favourite for Bible-believing Lutherans and those that held up high the cross of Christ, and never expected an answer or guidance from there. I don’t even know why I read it but the words shocked me. There was truth that I never saw and never took in despite the Bible words being crystal-clear:

 

When I was first reflecting on Pastor Gemechis’ visit, I discovered that I had been misreading First Corinthians 2:1-5, which is a favorite Bible passage for Lutherans:

 

…For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

 

I was stunned. How could I get this familiar Bible passage so wrong? We Lutherans agree with the initial thrust of the reading. The central message of the Christian faith is “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” and we make the further correct observation that the cross of Jesus is hiding God’s power. God, in general, seems to work with the principle of being powerful in apparent weakness (see 1 Cor. 1:25-31). This worked on the cross as Jesus died but saved the world, and this seems to work in our preaching as we speak “foolish” words about a crucified Savior (see 1 Cor. 1:18) but offer eternal life. There is encouragement in our weakness because this seems to be God’s way of working salvation.

This had been my Lutheran understanding, but it was incomplete as far as First Corinthians 2:1-5 is concerned. The preaching may be “in weakness,” and there may not be any “wise and persuasive words,” but God purposed to back up the message of Jesus and Him crucified “with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” Faith would not come through preaching alone but would rest on a demonstration of “God’s power”—this is what happened on the night that Pastor Gemechis ministered to us in Toowoomba.

On further investigation, the apostle Paul summed up his entire ministry by explaining that preaching and demonstrations of power belonged together:

 

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:18-19).[2]

 

According to the Bible, preaching – plain preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified – is backed up by demonstrations of the Spirit’s power – signs and wonders through the power of the Spirit of God – so that people have some evidence – some supernatural encouragement – to put their faith in Jesus Christ and him crucified who was preached to them. Preachers were not to bewise and persuasive” – slick – public speakers that talk people into faith. Faith was not meant to rest on human wisdom and persuasive preaching performance but on the power of God – demonstrations by the Spirit of God – and that could include falling to the ground under the power of God, at least this was my reasoning.

On the night that Pastor Gemechis came to Living Grace, I was content with this Bible verse and what God seemed to explain to me, and it stirred me up to find out more about the Holy Spirit and how he is operating.

 

Over the years, I became more and more desperate to do ministry and mission work in the same way. My understanding had been that persuasive preaching would prove attractive to searching people and garner converts, but how would I make the virgin birth and the divine nature of Jesus plausible to the modern mind? Jesus and the disciples had their preaching always confirmed with healings, confrontations with demons, signs and wonders. I wanted the same in our church.

Year after year in report after report, I would express this goal for our church…[3]

 

I began living with 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and unpacking the importance and role of the Holy Spirit. I could see now where I went wrong and where my upbringing in the church went wrong.

 

At the seminary, the understanding was that an accurate interpretation of the Bible would yield the truth about everything—this was exciting! There were so many discoveries, but hidden beneath the surface there was also an omission in my learning. The Bible alone is not enough even though Lutherans, together with other Christian denominations, subscribe to the ancient slogan sola scriptura (Latin), which means in English that “the Word alone” is the sole source and authority over any teaching matter in the church. The slogan served a good purpose and is not in dispute; but at least in my personal understanding, there has nevertheless been an omission. I also needed something else.

When Jesus rose from the dead, He explained once again the purpose of His suffering and confronted the disciples with clear Bible teaching. In His own way, He confirmed the slogan of “the Word alone”:

 

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so

they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his

name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44-47 NIV; see also Luke 24:25-27).

 

Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to the Bible truths about His person so they would recognize that everything about Him was already foreshadowed and foretold in the Scriptures. They could trust “the Word alone,” and on the basis of the Word preach sound sermons. They were in good shape when Jesus left them later on:

 

…he left them and was taken up into heaven…[they] returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God (Luke 24:51-53).

 

After Jesus had instructed the disciples and left them praising God with joy, many of us would have considered them ready for action. When I finally graduated from our church seminary, I myself seemed ready for action because I also praised God, and there was enough learning in me to preach a solid exposition of the Scriptures. Therefore, with enthusiasm, I began to serve my first parish. The honeymoon period was great, and I may have looked like a young and promising pastor—but was I ready? I was not.

For all of my knowledge, plans, and programs, I presided over an aging and declining membership in an area that was younger than the national average. In six years, there was not a single convert.1 No one blamed me for the lack of results, because my colleagues did not fare better and the denomination had become used to the decline. Yet, I became desperate and with good reason—for I was not ready.

When the first disciples had understood the Bible with much joy, Jesus cautioned them not to rush into preaching but wait in Jerusalem. Something else was needed besides knowledge and praising God. The Word alone was not enough. This is what Jesus said to them:

 

…Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4-8; see also Luke 24:49).

 

It had never crossed my mind that I might need a greater measure of the Holy Spirit in my life. Pursuing knowledge and one theological degree after another, I valued “the Word alone” and assumed that “the Word alone” would get me across the line, irrespective of anything else. If the sermon was sound and true, it would not return empty. Yet, according to Acts 1, Jesus begged to differ and explained to His disciples that the Word of God alone was not enough but required the Spirit of God for power to unfold.[4]

 

Appreciating the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit for effective preaching, this is what I pursued. I wanted more of the Holy Spirit and, without being too precise in my expectations, I had the idea that preachingwith unction” (to use an old-fashioned word) would somehow make the difference. When Peter preached the first sermon after Jesus’ ascension, the Bible says that people werecut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and repented. I had the idea that, with more of the Holy Spirit in me (a greater intensity of his presence), the words would likewise have a more powerful impact. People would recognize the words as having life in them, just like Peter said to Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

 Nine years later God had another lesson to teach me. [And that was good thinking and true enough but – coming as another shock – it was not the whole story, and precisely the Bible passage which had come to me in the beginning – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 – spelled out the further truth. It embarrassed me in 2003 that I had been misreading a favourite Bible passage, but I was even more embarrassed – incredulous about being so slow on the uptake – (but also thankful) – when nine years later – in 2012 – God spoke to me again through the same Bible verses: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.]

 

The Jesus Tent

 

In 2012, I knew that God wanted us to do more mission work. Our evangelist had called me in January and said that he could not come back from holidays. He was exhausted mentally, physically, and spiritually.

This meant that the programs which he led could not continue because, as a former bikie he knew how to reach out to the people on the streets. I did not and there was no one else who could step into his shoes.

What were we to do? I was busier than ever with my coworker dropping out with exhaustion but, surely, there had to be some new mission initiative in our congregation.

 

With a Demonstration of the Spirit’s Power

 

In the past, we had run Alpha courses, a popular resource from London, with great success. Doing so had renewed many of our own members but, looking at the videos again, I was unsure whether this was the program for now. I tried to delegate discernment to someone else and asked one of our members, the father of a young family, to watch the videos and then pray about leading new Alpha courses at Living Grace, our church.

He did what I asked of him but came back with a “no.” He did not feel led to do the program and I was not surprised. This was not what we were meant to do in 2012. But what was the alternative?

None of the available resources excited me. Finally, I prayed: “God, what do You want us to do? What is a mission initiative that fits us and comes out of who we are and what You have been doing with us over the past few years?”

For some reason, I was drawn back to the key Scripture passage that had been important to me in the ten years leading up to that moment:

 

I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.…My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:2, 4-5).

 

A decade earlier, these Bible verses helped me accept a phenomenon that was confusing and surprising at the time. When a visiting pastor prayed for our church members, many of them fell to the floor. Where was this in the Bible? I had questions but relaxed when, rather quickly, God made me stumble across First Corinthians 2 and I took a closer look at verses 1 through 5.

This was a favorite passage for Lutherans like me because it magnified the cross of Jesus. But to my embarrassment, I discovered that I never knew what it said about a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. Preaching was not to happen “with wise and persuasive words” but “with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” so that faith “might not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.”

Without digging deeper into the meaning of these Bible verses, I accepted them as answering my qualms about people falling down under the Spirit’s power in prayer. These kinds of happenings were OK because the Bible upheld power demonstrations of the Spirit.

For years, I combined the passage from First Corinthians 2 with a second passage from the same author, the apostle Paul:

 

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:18-19).

 

Other verses mentioned Paul and summarized demonstrations of the Spirit:

 

So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders (Acts 14:3).

 

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them (Acts 15:12).

 

The passages from First Corinthians 2 and Romans 15 were constantly before me but only in 2012 did it dawn on me that they could possibly be the answer to my problem of finding a new mission initiative.

In both Bible passages, the apostle Paul summarized his mission work and described his method. I never understood this before but, in the opening verses of First Corinthians 2, Paul looked back at his church-planting work in Corinth. In the verses from Romans 15 he looked back at his entire mission career as recorded in the Bible. He spelled out precisely how he did mission work! Reading all of the verses again, I wondered whether mission work could still happen in the same way:

 

I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.…My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:2, 4-5).

 

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:18-19).

 

I knew no other pastor who would or could summarize his ministry like Paul. As far as I knew, no local Christians proclaimed Jesus by reaching out with signs and wonders, which are demonstrations of the Spirit’s power. However, I trusted the Bible and Paul’s report and began to wonder: “Can we possibly reach the people in our city by preaching a simple message about Jesus and Him crucified, and then expect God to back up the preaching with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power?”

It was risky. What if nothing happened? After years of preaching, I felt reasonably confident about the process of public speaking, and sermon notes on the lectern gave me a feeling of safety. But signs and wonders were absolutely beyond my control. I could invite people and announce that God would back up the preaching with miracles; but contrary to every other aspect of the service, I knew that I had no fall-back options in the event He did not come through. If the Spirit was not on the preaching, I could still go through my notes. If the Spirit was not on the worship, we could still sing the songs. But it would be impossible to do miracles in our own strength.

What were we to do? We had experienced healings before and outpourings of joy which manifested in holy laughter. We had seen God move in various ways but it happened mainly in church conferences among Christians, not among unbelievers. I could never predict what would happen or when.

Stepping out was an uncomfortable proposition. According to First Corinthians 2:1-5, an unbeliever would need to see a miracle during or after the preaching, in demonstration of the Spirit’s power. But I did not have a “miracle on demand” to offer.

Or did I? As I was deliberating and trying to find courage, I suddenly remembered that we did have one miracle that seemed very reliable.

On the last Sunday of 2009, I preached on the glory of God and spontaneously announced to the congregation that His glory had come to our church community. I reminded them of what had happened three months earlier when I preached on healing for six consecutive nights in another church: after one of those nights, two of our older church members had gold flakes on their faces.

This was an amazing miracle which we had not seen before. The same miracle occurred again at one of our morning services some time later. We also had a manifestation of the glory cloud in one of our prayer meetings (see 2 Chron. 5:14; Luke 9:34).

I was happy sharing these testimonies, glorifying God, and announcing that the glory of God had come to Living Grace. After I finished, I—also spontaneously—asked the congregation to come forward and check their skin, especially their hands, under the bright lights of the preaching platform, thinking that maybe they also had gold sparkles on their skin.

Every single person who came forward to check did indeed find gold sparkles on them. Whether the sparkles were made of real gold, I do not know; but they were golden in color and they were from God. On occasion now, they have different colors (mostly silvery) and sometimes the whole skin area can take on a golden or silvery sheen.

God granted us this miracle as a church. Ever since that Sunday, these miraculous gold sparkles (which most of the time look like fine body glitter) have always been in our church meetings and also at home. The miracle does not always manifest on every person, but it is always on some people. Moreover, it has always come when I’ve prayed for it in other places, away from home. Many a time, the gold dust appears at the mere mention of the miracle.

Thus, when I struggled to have the courage to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified with demonstrations of the Spirit’s power (“by the power of signs and wonders”), I remembered the miracle of gold sparkles and reflected on its abiding and reliable nature. Maybe this could be our stopgap miracle if nothing else happened after the preaching. After two and a half years of enjoying this manifestation among ourselves, maybe we could do something daring and use it in mission work.

I was not exactly full of faith but I knew the theory. In the Bible, signs and wonders led people to repentance and confirmed the salvation message (see Heb. 2:3-4). At our own church, we already had a few people who had become Christians because of the gold dust.

Finally, I was decided and suggested Saturday meetings with the title “Encounter the Supernatural.” The idea was to have one meeting before a free dinner and finish with another meeting after dinner. The word “supernatural” was not common among us but (so we reasoned), it had traction among the general public.

We had two such Saturdays with reasonable outcomes. Both times, approximately one hundred people attended. Most of them were Christians but we also had some unbelievers and a few converts. On both occasions, God came through with demonstrations of His power that confirmed the preaching. There were healings, gold dust, holy laughter, and a tangible sense of His presence.

 

A Mandate

 

After making a start with the “Encounter the Supernatural” meetings on Saturdays, another pastor from the Gold Coast approached me and asked whether I would be interested in doing a tent outreach. The tent would be available free of charge. Blinded by the bargain, I said yes immediately. I had never run tent meetings before or even been in one which invited people to experience God in supernatural signs and wonders. The Saturday meetings happened in our church building, which felt safe to me, but the tent would be in a public space, the central park in our city. What were we getting into? I thought maybe I was too hasty in giving this a go.

At the end of March, I approached the Toowoomba Regional Council with a request to book Queens Park, our most central park, for a few days in October. However, I could not get anyone to look at the application and give me some sort of preliminary approval.

After a few weeks without a response from the council, I paused and reconsidered what was happening. Maybe God was not opening the door. Even though we thought we had heard from Him and were excited about stepping out, I backed off and our leadership agreed to walk away from the project.

Finally, two months later, I received a notice that someone from the council was going to view the application the next day. After an additional two and a half weeks, I received a park approval letter. By this time, however, I was no longer excited. The letter came too late. No emotions stirred in me.

On July 10, 2012, we had a board meeting. I had prepared Genesis 18:1-21 as the opening devotion. It is the story of God visiting Abraham and Sarah and renewing His promise of a son and heir. At the time of the story, Abraham and Sarah were old and past childbearing age and seemed to have made peace with their barrenness. Sarah laughed at the suggestion (prophetic word) that she would have a baby at her age. According to her, it was too late, but that was OK with her. The pain had subsided. The grieving was done. There was acceptance of not being with child and she laughed freely (as did Abraham previously). Yet, God was now confirming the old promise of a son and resurrecting their hope.

At our leadership meeting, I also wanted to make the point that the long time of waiting for an heir and countless descendants had prepared Abraham for his future role. He was promised that through his offspring all nations on Earth would be blessed (see Gen. 12:3). After years of living with this promise, it was clear that Abraham had indeed become a father of nations. Something had formed in him that made him intercede even for the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Gen. 18:16-33).

As we began our meeting, I asked one of our members, Vicki Meagher, to read the opening verses of Genesis 18 but she could not get past the first verse and the clause “he [Abraham] was sitting at the entrance to his tent.” Whenever she came to these words, the Holy Spirit would overpower her so that she could not continue reading.

What was going on?

We had our meeting and at the end of it—as an item of information rather than discussion—I told the board that the park approval had come but was no longer relevant. Even so, Vicki said that she had “heard” the word tent throughout the meeting. She did not understand what significance this should have but, together, we began to connect the dots: God was bringing the tent outreach back on the agenda.

Vicki had been overcome by the Spirit when she attempted to read that the tent was the place where God met with Abraham. Maybe the tent was also where God wanted to meet with us. The Bible study was about Abraham and Sarah receiving back an old promise of God, and it seemed as if God made us share their experience. When we walked away from our hopes in what we thought was God’s promise and dealt with our grief (like Abraham and Sarah did), God renewed His commitment and gave us back the tent. It may have been a roller coaster of emotions but, as the time of waiting prepared Abraham for his role, so the time of waiting built fortitude in us.

Three months later, our church was to commence five days of prayer and fasting for the tent outreach. During the Sunday service, the same board member, Vicki Meagher, “heard” from God these words: “Utter in His presence.”

When she told me this later on, I asked her how she had heard God’s voice. Was it a voice inside of her or was it audible to her ears? She thought that it was so clear that she must have heard the words with her ears. She did not know what they meant. When we talked, I first thought that God may have said, “Usher in His presence.” This would have been a more plausible English sentence. But Vicki is very precise when she is listening to God.

A few minutes after Vicki heard about uttering in God’s presence, she felt compelled to speak out loudly (with authority): “The Lord is good; His love endures forever.” As she opened her mouth, the words came to her. (I remember that in the service I was sitting on the other side of the building and did not know that the loud voice belonged to Vicki. My thought was: “I hope that this is not another weird person.”) Then, Vicki shared how she felt a cool wind blowing in that side of the building even though the doors were closed and the day was quite warm. The cool wind seemed to come from God and, later, others also testified that they had felt the breeze.

We closed the worship service with the blessing and the singing of our last song, but no one left their seats. Everyone was quiet. I did not know what to do when a young mother came up and asked for permission to have the microphone. She began to repent with tears. She was heartbroken. She confessed how she was not ready for the fasting and prayer. She was not ready for the tent outreach. She had known about the call to put up a Jesus Tent but she left everything to the last minute and did not prepare herself. This young mother ended up lying on the carpet—sobbing. I knew that she had prayed the prayer of the church because only a minority of our members had so far engaged in the spiritual battle over the Jesus Tent.

On reflection, everything made sense. Vicki did utter in the presence of God when she spoke the words: “The Lord is good; His love endures forever.” The scenario came straight out of the Bible. One time, when God’s people were in trouble, they cried out to Him and He answered them, saying, “The battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chron. 20:15).

God gave them a great strategy. The worshippers were to go ahead of the army, proclaiming the goodness of God: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever” (2 Chron. 20:21). Then, in response to the worshippers’ praise, God would set ambushes against the people’s enemies and defeat them. As the worshippers uttered in His presence, the Lord, and not the people, would fight the battle.

 

…Jehoshaphat [the King] appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”

 

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated (2 Chronicles 20:21-22).

 

God seemed to promise us the same. As we declared His goodness, He would look after the tent outreach. God further confirmed this interpretation by the song that He had given to one of our worship leaders. It was a new song with a chorus that featured the words: “The Lord is good; His mercy endures forever.”

It was fun piecing everything together and hearing God in the various experiences (see Prov. 25:2). The whole church was involved and, in the end, we had an absolutely clear mandate to go ahead with the tent.

 

Time for the Jesus Tent

 

From the beginning, God gave us favour with the community. The local newspaper reported fairly and respectfully (even mentioning the gold dust) and recommended the tent as one of the top ten places to be in Toowoomba over the weekend. The mayor was supportive and the local Christian Leaders’ Network, through two senior ministers, laid hands on the team of pastors who worked together in the outreach.

For five days, we had meetings every morning and rallies every night. God amazed us. We did not have mass revival but about twenty people became Christians and many people who received prayer for healing were being healed. One man kept walking past the tent. Then he noticed that the closer he came to the tent, the more pain left his body, but as he moved away from the tent, the pain returned. His doctor had told him that it would take two years to be weaned off his medication but this was not what he wanted. Finally, he came inside the tent and, after prayer, was completely healed.

We had favor. Not even demons manifesting in people with shrieks and involuntary body movements could give the tent a bad name. This led to an invitation to be part of Easterfest in Toowoomba, Australia’s largest drug- and alcohol-free festival and one of the premier tourism events of Queensland. Then God allowed us to take the Jesus Tent to Oakey, our first destination outside of Toowoomba.

I learned that ministry today could look the same as Paul’s ministry in the Bible:

 

I resolved to know nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified.…My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power… (1 Corinthians 2:2,4).

 

…leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit… (Romans 15:18-19).

 

In the tent, we sang worship songs for half an hour, preached a simple Jesus message for half an hour, then prayed for and with people. It was not complicated. Anyone could do it. We had no big-name pastors or worship leaders or prayer ministers. All of us were humble local Christians; but it did not matter. As we prayed and even before we prayed, God confirmed the preaching with salvations, healings, and miracles.[5]

 

For nine years, I had been living with 1 Corinthians 2:1-9. For nine years, I had quoted this Bible passage and Romans 15:18-19 in one church report after another but never realized that both of these passages were summary statements of mission work describing how the apostle Paul reached out to unbelievers and how we could do the same like him. One reason for my blindness was that I knew no other ministry in Toowoomba or anywhere else in Australia that was taking these two Bible passages as blueprint for their ministry. (Maybe there were a few colleagues but I did not observe this ministry with them.) Who sought deliberately to have demonstrations of the Spirit’s power – signs, wonders and miracles – back up the preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified? I may have read books about this kind of thing happening in Africa and South America but not here. Would it work?

It did. The first night of the Jesus Tent, we had the miracle of glory sparkles and one senior Church of Christ minister saw it (as a church elder in the city, we had invited him to bless the outreach) and, even though he was not pursuing or expecting miracles himself (he used to be aggressively opposed to anything charismatic), he was the one who told the mayor of Toowoomba about the miracle and put it in a positive light. The Chronicle – our local newspaper – wrote positively about the tent and the glory sparkles. No one objected and at least five churches worked together in doing the outreach. Every day people were being healed in Jesus’ name and unclean spirits expelled from those who sought Jesus.

Coming back to the first sermon that Peter preached after Jesus’ ascension, his words – empowered by the Spirit – didcut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) of people. The Holy Spirit added fire to the words (cf. the disciples had tongues of fire on them when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit) but – in addition to the observations that I had made in 2003 and that had formed my expectations for the next nine years – the Holy Spirit did far more than that to gain three thousand converts in response to Peter’s first sermon – a single sermon. There were powerful demonstrations of the Spirit’s power – supernatural evidence that made people wonder and take note of the preaching.

 

Acts 2:1-13: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

 

Why did the crowd come? They heard thesound like the blowing of violent wind”. They heard the sound of a tornado or hurricane even though everything was calm in Jerusalem. The crowd came to investigate the sound that the Holy Spirit had made – thousands came. And when they came, they experienced the miracle of disciples speaking in tongues by the Holy Spirit and people from many different countries understanding them in their own native tongues. The Holy Spirit set up the crowd to pay attention:

 

When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? … we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

 

The disciples must have also displayed some other evidence that the Holy Spirit was operating in and through them – Acts 2:13: Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

 

Do you want to preach to a crowd of thousands that the Holy Spirit has prompted by his means to ask the question: “What does this mean?” Peter stood up and said:

 

Acts 2:22-24: Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

 

Acts 2:32-33: God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

 

Peter said to the crowd: “What you see and hear – the sound of a violent wind, the miracle of speaking in tongues and communicating in unlearned languages, even looking drunk – is the work of Jesus Christ. You rejected and killed him but he rose from the dead and, from heaven, poured out the Holy Spirit on his people.” Peter could even tell the crowd thatJesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.The crowd had known Jesus and had known the power that worked through him. They remembered the miracles – the healings, the multiplying of food – and it was now time for them to act on the evidence, exercise faith and submit to Jesus.

How would Peter have explained all of that – the miracle of the resurrection and the miracle of the presence of the Holy Spirit and the miracle and expectation that Jesus will return and bring this world to an end – without the Holy Spirit demonstrating with power that this was the truth?

 

Cf. Alice, Steve and Michael.

 

I give you just one testimony of how the Holy Spirit is still doing the same ministry of setting up the preaching of Jesus Christ. This is what Harold Baker, Rolland Baker’s grandson, experienced as pioneer missionary in China:

 

I wish now as best I can to tell about the day and night when the Holy Spirit in full baptizing power first came upon us there. In the morning meeting when we all stood to pray, as is our custom when praying for the Holy Spirit, there came a truly heavenly downpour from the Lord. Almost at once, involuntarily all hands were held high as praises ascended to Jesus. Very shortly everyone was half-jumping, apparently trying to grasp something just above but beyond reach. Tears were flowing as the jumping and reaching continued for quite a while. The saints said that they could see a glory-light just above them that for some reason they felt like grasping but could not quite reach. All had the same experience that morning; it made them happy all day.

In the evening after I had spoken as usual, we all again stood to praise and pray and expect the presence of the Holy Spirit. As we united in one voice in praise the glory the saints had seen in the morning service now came all the way down, enveloping the whole group in its heavenly splendor. They need not jump to reach it; they were in it.

The whole group began to jump and dance and rejoice mightily in loud voices. In their rejoicing, some of the women in trance joined hands and danced around in a circle laughing in hilarious, Holy-Spirit-inspired glee. They were surely happy, praising Jesus. Some of the women were joyfully hugging each other. Others were standing still worshipping and praising the Lord. This was a mighty jubilee in the presence of the King.

These did not “praise Him with loud clashing cymbals,” only because they did not have the cymbals. They did not “praise Him with the timbrel and dance,” only because they did not have the “timbrel.” But they did have the dance, and they praised the King like in Ps. 150. Even that dancing was itself “noisy.” What would it have been like if that night these devoted saints had had the “trumpet sound” and “the flute and harp” and “the strings and pipe and timbrels and cymbals?” Ps. 150.

Now as can be seen, things that night were exceedingly “noisy, disorderly, indecent, unreasonable” with all of those women with bound feet jumping and dancing on their heels. It was even unsightly. What about all the confusion and noise? Were things not going “just a little too far?” Was there not a lot of “flesh” in all this? Look how some of those women were sweating. It is “flesh” that sweats, not spirit.

Would not most of those good people you know decide under such circumstances that it was then, if ever, time to get out that good out verse of scripture which says, “All things should be done decently and in order,” and clamp down on what is going on beyond our knowledge? “God is not a God of confusion.” What passages of scripture does the devil use more effectively than the one about “decency and order” to cause men to misapply it in hindering the manifestations of the Holy Spirit?

I had long ago asked God for wisdom in this matter, and I got it many a time. I surely needed it this night, and I got it again. Now what was I to do? All that noise would surely bring unbelievers in from the street. What would be the result? Would they not think that we were all crazy? Should I clamp down the “decently and in order” verse? No. I knew better. God had started this. God must decide the “order.” I had learned to be “decent” and keep my hands off God’s “order.” I had learned that where Jesus had laid His hands on I was to keep my hands off. I was to be a spectator, not an actor. By thus standing back and looking on I have seen some wonderful things. So it was now.

Just as I expected, men and women from the outside came in. They stood on benches and chairs on order to see over the heads of those in the doorway. These, like myself, were spectators watching to see what would next take place.

After considerable time, the dancing and jumping gradually died down. All became quiet. All commotion and all motion ceased, except that on the part of one young man. He stood in the middle of the room. Not a sound, not a word. He then with closed eyes began by pantomime to act out the passion of Jesus. His silent motion showed himself being bound and led away. He bore his own cross. While we all watched in dead silence the crucifixion was portrayed. Then in silence the boy, still with closed eyes, stretched himself full length on the floor, where he lay motionless for quite awhile in almost breathless silence. Jesus was in the tomb.

After this period of continued silence the boy, still in a state of trance, rose to his feet and stood. A very prayerful, spiritual and Holy-Spirit-endued young married woman, also with closed eyes, was by the Spirit caused to step out from the others to the side of the young man still in trance, who then broke the silence by speaking a few sentences in other tongues. The woman in trance, standing near him, turning her face toward him seeming to listen very carefully to what he spoke in other tongues.

Then with eyes still closed, turning toward those in the doorway she said, “This is what he said,” interpreting the few sentences the young man had spoken. He then spoke a few more sentences in other tongues, and the woman still in trance, again turning toward him appeared to be carefully listening to every word. She then, as before, turned around toward the people at the door saying, “What he has said was this;” and then gave the few tongues sentences, a literal word by word, sentence for sentence interpretation, I am certain. This message by tongues and interpretation continued sentence by sentence for some time as everyone carefully and silently listened without a stir or sound.

I did not write down this message from the Lord interpreted into Chinese as I might easily have done. In substance it was something like this: “Please listen carefully now for this is God speaking to you. I made heaven and earth and all things and all men. I made all things good, but you have missed God’s intended good. What a pity, what a mistake! Now men are missing the best in life because they do not want to come back to God and get His help. So now it is that I send these to you who can tell you the way back to God and to a life of everlasting happiness after death. If men would now believe in Jesus, He would forgive all their sins and give them true life now and forever.”

This is only a hint of the kind of language used in telling those former ignorant persecutors how much God loved them and was yearning to save them now and for eternity. It is doubtful if a reader of these lines has ever anywhere heard such a loving appeal made to sinning men as was made by the message direct from Jesus — this sermon that Jesus preached.

When the appeal was ended the Spirit lifted from the young man and young woman, who at the same instant opened their eyes and without another word quietly took their seats. They did not know what they had spoken. We had heard from God through supernatural tongues and supernatural interpretation. Everyone must have known it. So far as I recall it, not a word was spoken as these at the door silently went away one by one. They had been talked to from heaven.

I inquired later whether anyone had heard any criticism from these one-time-persecutors. No. No one had heard a word of criticism. “Tongues are for a sign for unbelievers.” I Cor. 14:22. God does all things “decently and in order,” but He does not follow man’s ignorant order. The next day after this meeting which was so evidently God-conducted, some women came to the meeting who had not been there.

After my first visit, in the village where the daily meetings continued to me held, persecution stopped. The little group of saints at that place met daily for prayer, depending for encouragement and inspiration upon the young man and woman who spoke with other tongues and interpretation.

 

Having heard that where I worked there were some who danced in the Spirit, before the Spirit had fallen on this group, one of the most zealous saints wondered how they would get along. “We women have bound feet. We cannot dance,” she said. I told her that I never asked anyone to dance. The Lord saw to that. Well, when the Holy Spirit fell upon us, this good woman was the first to dance. She had never seen anything of the kind. Dancing was impossible, she supposed. If that dancing was not from God, how account for it.[6]

 

The Holy Spirit came with intensity and made everyone, including women with bound feet, dance before Jesus (in a trance), and jump for joy noisily (all hands involuntarily raised up), which brought the whole village to the church and watch with wonderment. Then, the Holy Spirit made all believers fall down before Jesus in prostrations, which was followed by a supernatural message in tongues and its interpretation. The sermon was heard; persecution stopped; and new people came to faith.

Is this what we want? Do you want to do mission work the Bible way – with demonstrations of the Spirit’s power backing up the truth (even if this is new to you)? Do you want the world to see us dancing in the Spirit? (This is not falling down. This is not looking drunk. Can anyone object to that?)

 

1 Thessalonians 1:5-6: Because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction… you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

 

This weekend, all of Christendom celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – renewal that came into the church worldwide through Martin Luther and his rediscovery of the Bible teaching on saving faith – and we celebrate because we know that reformation and renewal are good things and necessary (despite the upheavals) for the church. Therefore, this weekend can we consider embracing more purposely mission work the Bible way – preaching Jesus and him crucified with demonstrations of the Spirit’s power so that faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God?

Surprisingly, this is not always welcome especially in the church:

 

When the miracle of gold sparkles first came to our church and remained, it set me off on a roller coaster of emotions. I was happy—really happy—but the joy was muted because not everyone was. A good number of people, including many of my friends in the ministry, responded with either confusion, indifference, or disapproval, and therefore kept the miracle at arm’s length. So it happened that only one month later, for the first time ever, I welled up in tears in the pulpit and had the weird impression that these tears were not mine, but God’s.

What else did He have to do for His people to respond to Him? The miracle of gold glitter neither hurt nor smelled nor stained clothes. It was just beautiful. Years later, Francisca, our younger daughter, experienced the same kind of grief when she shared with a friend about finding the gemstones in the Brisbane church. God seemed to be so hurt when this young Christian turned a cold shoulder to the miracle and to God, who was giving it in love.

I always thought that people needed only an experience that proved to them that God was real and they would return to worship and the church. However, the opposite occurred. Many people saw the miracle of gold sparkles, but it made no difference to their commitment level to God and church attendance. We had church members who had been expecting miracles. They had even prayed for them. Yet they did not appreciate this particular one, calling it “fluff.” Some church members even left us because they heard from others that the miracle was worked by demons, not God. It took considerable resilience and concentrated effort to retain a childlike joy in the miracle and establish a culture where more of these miracles would be welcome.

To this day, I know that the miracle of gold dust (and other miracles) and my joyful acceptance of them make me and our church suspect in the eyes of at least some Christians. However, there is also good news. Numerous people have come to faith because of the miracles. And just when I thought the miracle might have had its day and I should be careful about making too much of it, I noticed that God made me hold conferences in other places where He used the gold dust to stretch the thinking of traditional and Pentecostal Christians in the most gentle and beautiful way.[7]

 

Miracles, even when it is absolutely clear that they are not produced by man, are not always received with appreciation. They do not always lead to repentance. Jesus had healed ten lepers but only one returned to thank God. Jesus himself became frustrated, saying:

 

Matthew 11:20-24: Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

 

Miracles can be misunderstood. On the day of Pentecost, there were bystanders that scoffed at the disciples accusing them to be drunk with wine. They can be consumed and enjoyed in selfish shallowness. All sorts of things can go wrong. The disciples became afraid when Jesus stilled the storm and the people of a whole region pleaded with Jesus to leave them after he had healed a demon-possessed man. According to the Bible, it was Jesus’ miracles that stirred up his enemies to kill him.

 

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus (Mark 3:5-6).

 

“Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father. Again they tried to grasp to seize him, but he escaped their grasp (John 10:37-39 NIV; see also John 10:31-32; Luke 19:37-39).

 

Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?” The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him (John 7:31-32).

 

…Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Therefore many of the Jews who…had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

… So from that day on they plotted to take his life (John 11:43-53 NIV).

 

Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:17-19)

 

Yes – miracles are not foolproof (forcing people to believe), but there is no plan B. We will not talk people into the kingdom of God and make it plausible to human logic that God is three in one, became flesh in Jesus Christ, died and rose again fully God and fully a man…

Jesus promised us that we would do even greater things than he did on earth.

 

John 14:11-14: Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do what I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

In my case, it took a long time to read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 with fresh eyes and appreciate a Bible method of mission work that was outside my frame of reference even in the church and my Christian upbringing. What the Bible is saying is not complicated but can we sayyesto it? Can we ask Jesus through the Holy Spirit to do the same among us here in Australia? We are not in control but we can ask. In our church, we put the verse above the platform in the front: “Jesus Christ and him crucified, not with wise and persuasive words, but a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” Are we together in this? “Jesus, please, demonstrate the truth of you and the cross among us in our nation. Please, we want to do mission work the Bible way.” Amen.

 



[1] Edgar Mayer, Surprised by the Holy Spirit (San Giovanni Teatino: Evangelista Media, 2012), 20–21.

[2] Ibid., 23–24.

[3] Ibid., 24.

[4] Ibid., 11–13.

[5] Edgar Mayer, Surprised by Miracles (San Giovanni Teatino: Evangelista Media, 2015), 13–23.

[6] H. A. Baker, Under His Wings, Iris 2008, n.d.

[7] Edgar Mayer, Surprised by the Holy Spirit (San Giovanni Teatino: Evangelista Media, 2012), 66–67.