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The word Pentecost has special meaning for more than 500 million Christian believers worldwide. They not only joyfully tell the story of Acts 2 (called by some "the most-read chapter in the Bible"); they also experience the Holy Spirit just as the early disciples did.
Fifty days after Jesus' crucifixion, on the annual Jewish festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem, God launched the church of Jesus Christ with a mighty outpouring of His Holy Spirit. Here's how the Bible describes the event:
"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4).
We must understand some basic things concerning the nature of the prophetic. Few, in fact very few, prophetic words are ever sovereign declarations that will come to pass without any conditions being met. Most prophetic words are invitations into a process of becoming. Often, the Lord is more interested in our becoming a word and not just getting, releasing or receiving a word.
The prophetic at its best is partial, progressive and conditional. That is not the fault of the prophetic person—it is the way it works biblically, historically and how it works today.
The Bible is filled with accounts of God's supernatural protection. Remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace? What about Daniel and the lion's den? God has no problem bringing you out of threatening circumstances. Time and again He has proven He is well able to get the job done.
But God's protection is not automatic. There are choices you have to make for God to be your refuge. The psalmist says: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust'” (Ps. 91:1-2, NKJV).
Every day from every direction the winds keep blowing. The continuing war with Iraq coupled with the ongoing global war on terror threaten to disrupt the peace and calm so many of us have taken for granted. Since 9/11, it has been easy to see that we in America were not prepared for this period of instability.
Often there is a parallel between the natural and supernatural realms. In the supernatural realm today, the winds of war are blowing as well. The church in America needs to be prepared for the spiritual challenges that lie on our very doorsteps. But are we?
In Judges 3 we read how a generation of Israel was somewhat oblivious to what war was really about. The Lord remedied this situation by allowing some enemy nations to exist so that "the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war" (see v. 2, NKJV).
For Christians, learning to do "war" means gaining measurable victories over the kingdom of darkness. Think about it this way: When a thief gets saved, stealing diminishes; when a wife-beater gets saved, a family might be restored; when a drug dealer gets saved, drug dealing decreases in one neighborhood. As James 5:20 says, "He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins."
There are five primary ways for us to effectively fight the good fight of faith--the kind that changes lives for Jesus.
The will to work, fight and win. Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, "It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it." The Bible says that the Jews in Nehemiah's day "had a mind to work" when it came time to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in the face of their enemies (see Neh. 4:6).
Knowing and having faith in Jesus' victory at Calvary and how it has changed countless situations, lives and families through the ages ought to provide plenty of motivation for pressing through to victory.
Righteous living. A clear heart and life allow us to stand in the face of adversity as well as to draw inner strength and stamina for undertaking spiritual action. Without righteousness, the devil can rightfully accuse us of attitudes and actions we have not repented of.
If our lives are not right with God we can pray the prayers, sing the songs and yell the formulated declarations but our voice is a shout with no clout. The condition of our heart matters: "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8).
Prayer. So much can be said about praying, but I like what James wrote best: "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). The "much" it avails includes the power of God being loosed in us and through us as we fight for the lives of our family, friends, cities and nations. I have watched it thwart the works of darkness and help open the doors to evangelistic ministry.
The Word of God. God's Word ought to be stored up in our lives so that when we need it, we don't have to run to a bookshelf to find it. The Word is to be hidden in our hearts where it is available to be brought to our minds by the Holy Spirit on a moment's notice. In this way, Scripture becomes "the sword of the Spirit"--ready to be used when we face a situation in our own life or in another's. Is your ammo ready?
Winning people to Christ. This could be the most underused or even forgotten weapon of spiritual warfare, especially when influencing families, neighborhoods--even cities. There is no spiritual weapon that can replace evangelism. There is no spiritual substitute for evangelism, for it is the primary way of actually reaching out and touching another person with the life, love and gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of the easiest ways to measure the victories of our war is with this question: Are lives being changed and people getting saved? People coming to Christ and lives being transformed are a sure way to measure if our ministries or churches are effectively waging war in our communities.
Let's not be like the Israelites in Judges who knew nothing of war. Every day gives us great opportunities to make a difference. Let's move to the front lines.
Many Christians give up before they ever reach their full potential. You can find grace to finish the journey.
God is the Good Potter. I am most often the Not-So-Good Clay. My job is to spin and to stay put in the center of the wheel.
The Potter’s job is to design. Sometimes I don’t appreciate how fast the Potter spins me, or how tightly His skillful hands force my shape.
Ordinary believers should see God's power demonstrated regularly in their lives. Here's how to make sure you do.
Once when my children, Daniel and Madison, were small, our family visited Los Angeles. Both the kids were acting their age, poking each other in the back seat of our rental car and making accusations such as “Mom, he looked at me!” and “Mom, she breathed on me!”
I pulled into a service station to fill the car with gas before returning it to the car rental agency. As I did, a young man approached—he was wearing a bandana, had a bucket in his hand and started washing my front window. My first reaction was not very spiritual. I was about to tell him to go away when the Holy Spirit intervened.
All of us who follow Christ are called to the task of evangelism. Sadly, witnessing to unbelievers about the Christian faith is a scary prospect for many churchgoers.
I often hear their worries expressed like this: "But what if I get into a discussion and don't know the answer?" or "What if they get angry with me?" or "What if I end up looking stupid?"We all struggle with the fear of being rejected. We also are afraid we will "lose" the argument. But we must understand that evangelism is not arguing.
First Peter 3:15 says: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (NIV).
In Philemon we are encouraged to "be active in sharing [our] faith, so that [we] will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ" (v.6). Note that both of these verses are intended to be applied within the context of active evangelism--not passive religious discussion or arguing.
Jesus never argued with anybody. He certainly had His differences of opinion with the Pharisees, but He didn't fight with them.
The Bible says we are called to be witnesses--not debators. To be effective in evangelism we must simply learn to rely on the Holy Spirit's power--and be prepared to respond to the questions others have about our faith.
In my many witnessing experiences on college campuses, I've learned to lean on the Holy Spirit for guidance in my conversations. I've also learned that most people have the same common excuses.
But rest assured, God is not looking for expert witnesses who have doctorates in theology. He is looking for faithful witnesses who are willing to share their faith with others. Here are five of the most common objections people will express when you share the gospel with them:
1. Don't all religions teach basically the same things but just use different names for God?
Because of my father's job with the Canadian Embassy, I have traveled to and lived in more than 40 nations. I encountered a number of world religions, philosophies and ideologies in my own search for truth.
Looking beneath the surface similarities, the world's religions are significantly different. One major difference is the contradictory view of the nature of God.
For example, some forms of Buddhism do not teach about God at all. Hinduism teaches that multiple gods exist and that even rocks, trees and animals are part of these gods. Christianity teaches that God exists but that He is separate from all creation.
Because various world religions offer mutually exclusive definitions, they cannot possibly be descriptions of the same God.
Most religions see Jesus as a prophet from God but not as who He claimed to be--the incarnation of God Himself. The Bible describes Jesus in an unprecedented fashion found in no other sacred text--as "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14).
Other religions also deny that Jesus' mission was to give His life on the cross as a payment for our sins. Jesus is unique in that He not only claimed to be God but also proved it through His resurrection.
People who think all religions are the same usually ask, "As long as you are sincere, what difference does it make what you believe?" Consider Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden. Were these men not sincere? Sincerity is never a measure of truth.
And sincerely believing something doesn't make it true. You can be sincere and wrong at the same time.
2. Isn't it narrow-minded for Christians to think they're the only ones who are right?
I hear the "Christians are narrow-minded" argument all the time. Modern pluralists say they want a "tolerant" society that embraces all religions and lifestyles. They want a world where anything goes.
Yet Jesus never talked about tolerance but rather commanded His followers to demonstrate a far higher objective--to show love to all people. Though it is possible to tolerate someone without loving him, the reverse is impossible.
Jesus was not a model of tolerance. He was so intolerant of our lost condition, in fact, that He came to Earth to do something about it! He was intolerant of a number of things, including sin, hypocrisy and selfishness.
The issue is not really with us. It was Jesus Himself who said: "'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me'" (John 14:6, NKJV).
Jesus claimed to be the unique pathway to God and to eternal life. The important question is whether or not we have good reason to accept His position over all the other options.
I say this to people who think Christianity is narrow-minded: "Do you believe that 1+1=2? Do you believe that water boils at 212 F at sea level? If so, should you be considered narrow-minded, or do you have good reason for believing these are the only acceptable answers?"
3. I don't believe the Bible. It is a book of myths and legends put together by pre-scientific men marked by superstitions and fears.
When people bring up this objection, I usually ask them, "Have you ever read the Bible?" Unfortunately, most haven't. If they respond positively, I ask them, "How much of the Bible have you read?" Typically they have read very little.
If they claim to have read the entire Bible I ask them, "What do you believe the central message of the Bible is?" At this point most get it wrong. The vast majority of people who have a negative opinion of the Bible have formulated it before reading the text.
We must remember, however, to be gentle when reminding people of their inconsistencies so that we don't discourage them from further dialogue as we direct them toward the cross.
The Bible stands head and shoulders above any work of antiquity for both trustworthiness and bibliographical accuracy. The New Testament, in particular, offers a greater number of surviving manuscript copies (about 24,000) and a shorter time span between copies (about 50 years) than any other bibliographical work in the world!
Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix comment in A General Introduction to the Bible, "For all practical purposes the modern critical editions of the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible represent, with their footnotes, exactly what the autographs (original documents) contained--line for line, word for word, and even letter for letter."
The Bible tells us that "above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:20-21, NIV). Like most other sacred texts, Scripture claims to be divinely inspired.
The uniqueness of the Bible is that it is the only holy book in the world having substitutionary atonement as its core belief. Jesus satisfied the demands of justice from a holy God, enabling the guilty parties (you and me) to be forgiven and experience true freedom through His death and resurrection.
No other religion in the world can offer you that. As you read the Bible, the Holy Spirit makes the text come alive, giving new understanding and revelation in a personally applicable way.
Because it is divinely inspired it consequently is authoritative to all areas of life. It speaks beyond the intellect to the depths of the heart, empowering us to make positive inner choices (repentance and faith) that produce beneficial lifestyle changes (regeneration and sanctification).
4. If a loving and all-powerful God really exists, why doesn't He do something about the evil in the world?
This is a difficult question. We must come to the realization that evil is not just some vague force that hovers around somewhere; instead it is personal and lives within each of us. If God wanted to get rid of evil, He would have to get rid of us as well!
God created us with a free will because He loves us. We can each choose to love and follow Him or to reject and turn away from Him. Without free will there would be no love.
We all have chosen at various times in our lives to rebel against Him and follow our own inclinations. Realizing we are part of the "evil" that people say God "should do something about" gives us a new and humble perspective.
With free will comes consequences for the things we choose. We live in a culture that cries out for freedom of choice but hates the responsibilities that come with it.
Consider the many lawsuits that have been initiated against fast food restaurants because people chose to eat there but then got fat. This "passing the buck" mentality is symptomatic of our fallen nature (see Gen. 3).
If God were to limit the consequences of evil, our free will would disappear, and moral consequences would become a mere game. Suffering often teaches us life's greatest lessons. In fact, the Bible says that even Jesus learned through what He suffered (see Heb. 5:8).
The Bible does tell us that God is both "just" and "merciful." In His mercy, He is patiently giving us time to turn to Him and receive the forgiveness and life He offers. God also promises that He will put an end to all evil and one day will execute final judgment.
Ironically, the existence of evil should lead us toward belief in God, not away from it. Without God there would be no standard of right and wrong.
The concepts of both "good" and "evil" are moral values or judgments that denote the existence of a moral governor (God). Without God, we would have come into existence by chance, and whatever we do would have no meaning or moral value, positive or negative.
Some people claim to believe this is the case, but their responses to life often reveal inconsistencies in their own convictions. As soon as they complain about some "injustice" or "unfair" situation or claim that someone has "wronged" them, they are making moral judgments about what is "right" and "wrong."
These judgments betray their belief in standards that are ultimately above us all--standards that come not from us but from God.
5. I don't believe in God. What kind of proof can you offer me that He exists?
Science points to the highly complex order in the universe. We also see complexity and order in the human body. Elementary logic tells us that any type of design demands a designer.
At this point another question often arises: Where did God Himself come from?
According to the Bible, God is the uncaused cause of all things. He has always existed.
In the Bible, His existence is considered an axiom (a self-evident truth). Because of the abundant evidence of Him in nature, He in no way attempts to justify that He exists.
But evidence is found in written history. Jewish, Roman, Greek and other sources all support the miraculous events of Jesus' life. Examples include His fulfilling more than 330 specific prophecies recorded hundreds of years earlier and performing numerous miracles.
The single biggest reason I know that God exists is that 23 years ago He changed my life in a way that was humanly impossible. I found that in spite of doing well both academically and athletically, there remained a distinct lack of overall purpose and direction to my life.
The ultimate fulfillment I sought was finally realized when I accepted Christ. His forgiveness and love has completely altered the course of my life. His peace and joy are now a daily reality.
Like me, most Christians have a testimony about the ways in which Jesus has changed their lives. If you learn to share your story effectively and to answer the objections unbelievers may pose, you will find evangelism easy and will bring many souls to faith in Jesus.
Darwin Dewar is associate pastor of Church on 99 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He is also a chaplain at the University of Alberta.
Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our struggles are not with other human beings but with the devil and his demons. Satan, the enemy of our souls, attempts to defeat us with strategy and deceit through well-laid plans and deception.
But the devil is a liar. Jesus called him "the father of lies and of all that is false" (John 8:44, The Amplified Bible). He tells us things about ourselves, people and circumstances that are just not true. He does not, however, tell us the entire lie all at once.
He begins by bombarding our minds with a cleverly devised pattern of little nagging thoughts, suspicions, doubts, wonderings, reasonings and theories. He moves slowly and cautiously. He has a strategy for his warfare—he has studied us for a long time.