Starting a Church in a Former Communist Auditorium
But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.
— Romans 5:20
In yesterday’s Sparkling Gem, I recounted the time we baptized 926 new believers in a public swimming pool during the first meetings we held in the former Soviet Union. But there is more to this amazing story! As I stood and looked at all the people being water-baptized that week, I heard the Holy Spirit say, “What will you do with all these people now that they have been baptized?” In that moment, it was like a streak of divine revelation pierced through my soul — and I knew that God was telling me to take responsibility for these new believers. Denise and I were being instructed by the Holy Spirit to start a church.
Soon afterward, we began searching for a location to start a new church. When Jesus started his ministry, He announced that He was anointed to preach the good news of the Gospel (see Luke 4:18), so we felt we should name the church the Good News Church because the Gospel was such good news! Especially in the wake of the collapse of USSR when there was so much bad news all around in this part of the world, we believed this name would signal the truth of what the Gospel is.
After being rejected by several locations that we had investigated as potential sites for our church, we learned that an old auditorium formerly used by the Communist Party was available if we wanted to rent it. Within hours of receiving that information, I went to that auditorium to see if it would work as our new church building. There I was — surrounded by 680 leather-padded, theater-style, Communist-red seats. An enormous chandelier hung from the ceiling with gigantic, matching light fixtures that surrounded the circular auditorium. The walls were adorned with emblems of the Soviet Union that included a huge cameo of Marx and Lenin adorning the top left and right of the stage. The back rooms of the stage were filled with Communist paraphernalia — including flags of every Republic of USSR, a gargantuan bust of Lenin, and a huge copper emblem that celebrated one of the anniversaries of the Communist party.
When I stood on that stage and looked out onto those empty seats, I understood that this was the location where Jesus wanted us to start the Good News Church. We contacted the new believers who had been water-baptized and invited them to a full week of meetings in the new location. From the onset of those meetings, the power of God literally burst into that place and established the Church of Jesus Christ in that part of the world!
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During that first week, every chair was filled, and people crowded the steps and lined the auditorium each evening. The auditorium was packed to maximum capacity until the number of people attending overflowed beyond the limitations prescribed by the local fire department, and we had to begin holding multiple services each week to accommodate our burgeoning congregation. In the middle of that location — where Communist powers had once prevailed — the grace of God was being poured out!
That week I couldn’t help but be reminded of the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 5:20, where he wrote, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Paul said that sin “abounded” — from the Greek word pleonadzo, which describes something that exists in abundance. However, Paul went on to use comparative language to tell us that regardless of how immense sin and its dominion was in a person’s life, it is nothing in comparison to the working of God’s grace.
When I looked at that auditorium, I thought of how that building, like so many lives, was once dominated by a horrible working of sin. But regardless of what sinful decisions were made there, it is nothing compared to the grace now poured out upon us!
God’s grace is being poured out in a measure that is way above and beyond anything that that sin ever dreamed to accomplish. Paul said grace did “much more abound” — that was his inspired way of explaining the profuse, lavish, bountiful, and overflowing nature of God’s grace!
The words “much more abound” are actually a translation of the Greek word huperperisseo, which is a compound of the words huper and perisseo. The first part of this compound is the word huper, which means over, above, and beyond. It depicts something that is way beyond measure. It carries the idea of superiority — something that is utmost, paramount, foremost, first-rate, first-class, and top-notch; greater, higher, and better than; superior to; preeminent, dominant, and incomparable; more than a match for; unsurpassed, unequaled, and unrivaled by any person or thing.
The second part of this compound is the word perisseo, which depicts something that abounds in an extraordinary measure or something so profuse that it can be likened to a river that is overflow- ing and flooding beyond its banks. It is so full that it simply cannot be contained in a single location. Thus, when these two words are compounded to form the word huperperisseo, it dramatically portrays grace as a force that is measureless and which can never be exhausted. So this verse could be understood to mean, “Where sin existed in abundance, grace FAR exceeded it!”
This is not only true of that location where our first church gathered in Riga, but it is also true of you. Sin may have once existed in abundance in your life, but the grace of God has far exceeded anything that the devil or any past sin ever attempted to fulfill in your life. The grace of God working in you is higher, preeminent, unsurpassed, and unrivaled by any past rule of sin in your life. God’s grace in you is simply measureless and inexhaustible!
Just as the grace of God was poured out in that old Communist auditorium, it is now being poured out abundantly — without measure — in your life. This is your time to gloat over what God can do in a person’s life. There you are, a former temple of sin, and now you have become a place where God with all His miracle-working power is at work. It leaves one speechless to consider what God has done and is doing in you!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, although sin once dominated in my life, Your lavish, overflowing grace has abounded even more in me. Your grace far exceeds the work or influence of sin. Holy Spirit, I ask You to open the eyes of my understanding and help me begin to understand how to cooperate more fully with the grace of God that is at work in my life.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that the grace of God abounds in my life, teaching me to say no to ungodliness and yes to living a morally upright life in this present age. The grace of God working in me is unsur- passed and unrivaled by any past rule of sin in my life. In the areas of my life and thoughts where fear and other sins once held control, the grace of God released to me now holds the superior position, and I allow that grace to reign supreme.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- When you survey your life and the areas where sin once operated in you without restraint, what differences do you see now because of the grace of God at work in your life?
- How is grace abounding in your life? Describe the ways in which you are deliberately cooperating with the grace of God so its work can increase in your life.
- What is the most notable change that you have observed in your thoughts and attitudes toward others due to the measureless grace of God overflowing the banks of your life?