The power of Pentecost

The Gospel is explosive, says the Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi.
Published May 29, 2012

Several years ago Heather, Allison and I were visiting relatives in Peterborough and staying at her uncle and aunt’s home. One night there was to be a dinner party for family and friends. Heather’s aunt was planning on making a delicious roast with lots of side dishes and a grand dessert. She is a superb cook, and just thinking about all that good food made my mouth water. But that afternoon, just as we were about to go to the grocery store, the power went out. Everything – lights, air conditioning, and the entire electrical grid shut down because of a massive disruption in Ohio that affected the United States and Ontario.

So that night, relatives and friends still came to the house, but instead of a delicious roast beef dinner, we had appetizers and cheese, cold cuts and canned goods and whatever else could be found. Instead of roast potatoes, we had potato chips. Instead of homemade biscuits, we had crackers. We drank warm beer and soda, which gave us an excellent excuse for drinking all the red wine. It was a hot, humid Ontario summer’s night, but of course, there was no air conditioning and not even a fan. We still had a good time, but we would have had a better time had there been power.

Many people today are living without power. They are alive and functioning, but not as alive and functioning as they should be. They might even say, “I’m doing fine. Leave me alone. Life was meant to be like this.” If they have never been turned on to the power, they don’t know any better and may even feel satisfied.

Did you ever buy a toy that moves by itself, because it is powered by a battery? You push a button and it moves, or runs, or cries. Very often, you get it home, assume that it is ready to go, and then you read the small print, “Batteries not included.” Now, if you gave it to a child as a present, it could still be played with. You could cuddle it, or play house, or push it. It is still able to be used as a toy, and some children may think that is enough. But if you pointed out that by inserting the batteries you could still do all that you now are doing with the toy, plus it would walk and talk and cry like a real baby, there would be an additional degree of zest in playing with the toy.

The gift of life doesn’t come with batteries. That’s the small print on the package. You have to decide to add power. You can live life without power- many millions are-or you can decide to connect your life to power and become all that you are meant to be.

In the Book of Acts, Jesus says to his disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). That verse changed my life!

As I began my ministry as Incumbent of five small rural churches along the Gaspe Coast of Quebec, I did everything I had been trained to do in seminary: preach and teach and pastor, lead worship, administer the sacraments, and care for the sick and dying. But after one year in ministry, I found myself asking, “Where’s the power?”

After reading and re-reading the Book of Acts, it finally came to me: the Holy Spirit gives us “power” – dunamis is the Greek word – from which we get our words dynamic, dynamo and dynamite. On Pentecost, the Gospel exploded all over the landscape. The Book of Acts describes it like this: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

Some in the crowd thought the disciples were drunk, inebriated, stoned out their minds. In a way, they were. These Christians were drunk, not by wine, but by the power of the Holy Spirit – so “drunk” on Holy Spirit that they recklessly stood up before the crowd and spoke up for Jesus. And according to Acts, about three thousand persons became Christians on that first Pentecost.

So where’s the power in the church today? That’s the question, isn’t it? I don’t think our problem is any lack of good advice, or well-meaning intentions, or noble aspirations. As I learned on the Gaspe Coast, the problem is having the power to live out what we believe. It’s like the story of the pastor who had his badly worn New Testament rebound. With no room to print the whole title, The New Testament, the bookbinder abbreviated it to “T.N.T.” The Gospel is explosive! And when we who believe in the Gospel release the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the explosion of love that results is tremendous.

In her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle says that the early centuries of Christianity were the time of the Father, the Reformation was the time of the Son, and these days might well be the time of the Spirit. According to Acts 2, it is the nature of the Holy Spirit to descend freely, to blow where it will, and to empower people beyond our humanly imposed boundaries. What we thought we were unable to do by ourselves God does in us and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Could it be that the spectacular growth in what is being called “the new apostolic church” movement, particularly in Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia, is a modern manifestation of the Spirit – putting new wine into new wineskins? These churches are not simply charismatic or Pentecostal; they are Spirit-led and encompass solid biblical teaching, flexible structures, lay empowered leadership, clarity of mission, a positive, hopeful vision of the future, and the five-fold ministries of the New Testament: apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelists. They shun bureaucracy, hate hierarchy and favor freedom and flexibility in all aspects of their operations. They have an almost innate capacity to adapt to the local context, respond to culture and connect with the aspirations and needs of people at their own level of understanding. Their decisions are more prayed than made with a strong reliance on the supernatural. (1)

And are these churches growing! At the turn of the 20th century, there were no more than a few thousand Christians worldwide we would term “apostolic.” Today estimate are between four and six hundred million members of these churches – and to put that number in perspective, there are only about 80 million Anglicans in the world.

But you don’t have to be part of the new apostolic church movement to have the power of the Holy Spirit. The promise of Pentecost is that God by the Holy Spirit has given every Christian this power for our lives. Believe it or not, you already have the power. You only have to release it.

James Howell in his book The Life We Claim tells a wonderful story how an ordinary mainline church released the power of the Spirit. The church was hosting a homelessness program one evening. In the church was a homeless woman who was praying, sobbing. She finally shouted out, “God, can’t you tell we need some help down here?”

Something in that woman’s cry unleashed a power in that church that had not been present before. A lawyer in the congregation helped get her some money that was owed to her. The owner of some apartment buildings got her lodging. A dentist helped with her teeth, a tutor helped her children get ready for school, and a businessman came forth to offer her a job. (2)

There in that congregation was the power of Pentecost, shaking things up, enabling ordinary folks to speak up, stretching our self-imposed boundaries and creating the new thing we never thought possible.

One of the most insidious mentalities of many Canadian churches today is to think that we have no power and that we are helpless, hopeless folk, destined to decline and die without any ability to shape our future. But that is simply not true. You and I in this church have the power. You received it on the day of your baptism when the Holy Spirit came into your life and made you God’s own forever. We have the power, but we have yet to tap into that power, to turn on the switch of our souls and release that power from our lives. The power is there. It lays dormant deep within you. You need to release it.

There is a story about a famous old oil field by the name of Yates Pool. During the Depression in the 1930s, a man named Yates owned a sheep ranch. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough money to continue to pay on the mortgage, and it looked like he might lose the ranch. Like many other people at the time he was forced to live on a government subsidy. Each day as he tended to his sheep he undoubtedly worried how he was going to pay his bills. Sometime later a seismographic crew appeared on the scene and suggested that there might be oil on his land. He gave them permission to drill after a lease contract was signed.

At 1,115 feet, the men struck a huge oil reserve. Subsequent wells that were dug revealed even larger quantities of oil. Mr. Yates owned it all. The day he bought the land he also received the oil and mineral rights. He had been living on relief. He was a multimillionaire living in poverty. Even though he owned all that oil with its tremendous potential he didn’t realize he owned it.

How often do Christians live like we are poor and helpless, unaware of the extraordinary power at our disposal through the gift of the Holy Spirit! Today the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer in the church by virtue of our baptism. You may never have felt this power. You may never have expressed this power. You may never have been told that you have this power. You may never have thought yourself Spirit-filled or you may even shudder when you hear the term. But the mighty power of the Holy Spirit is within you-and if you would only release it, that power would revive your soul, refresh your spirit, renew your life and even transform the world.

In the upper room on the day of Pentecost, 120 followers of Jesus were gathered together, with doors bolted because of fear of the authorities. Then the power of the Holy Spirit fell upon them, they raced out into the streets, and by the end of the day 3,000 people became believers.

Today there are about 2.4 billion Christians in the world and the church continues to grow through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit still descends upon all and still enables a crowd of rather ordinary people to speak about the mighty works of God.

Let me ask you: Do you want more power in your life as a Christian? Are you tired of being stuck in a rut? Do you yearn for a faith that will strengthen you, enliven you, and empower you in your living? Do you want more power for your church to witness the good news of Jesus in your community? Do you want your church to be vital, vibrant place of faith where people experience God’s love and then share that love with others? Well, the power of the Holy Spirit is there for the believing. You have the power by virtue of your baptism. Release that power within you. Surrender your rights to God. Yield control of your life to Jesus. Open yourself up to the Spirit’s presence. Tap the Spirit deep within you and let that power flow and overflow in your life and in the world around you.

Remember: Whenever you testify to the mighty works of God in Jesus, and whenever you reach out in love to the people around you, the great miracle of Pentecost continues. Amen!

The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is rector of St. James Westminster in London, Ont.

Text – Acts 2:1-11

1. See C. Peter Wagner’s books, The New Apostolic Churches (Regal, 1998), Churchquake! (Regal, 1999), and Changing Church (Regal, 2004).

2. James Howell, The Life We Claim: The Apostles Creed for Preaching, Teaching and Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005) 46.

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