At the fellowship I'm a part of, it's not too uncommon to hear phrases like this bantered about: “I got a download from God last night” or “God really down-loaded on me while in prayer this morning.” It's 21st Century lingo to describe those “light-bulb moments” (yes, a 20th Century descriptive phrase) when we suddenly have personal insight into a verse of Scripture or the character of God. As much as I get what they mean, my experience suggests that God rarely deposits truth into our soul in toto as you would get a string of binary code in a software program; rather, he sows a seed into the soil of our heart that in time, given the soil is good, bears fruit. But the moment the seed is cast a subtle turning point in your spiritual development occurs even though you may or may not be cognizant of that fact at the moment. But the truth remains that something new is growing in secret.
Turning Point : Fall 1993 – Manifestations Happen
|This was the sanctuary I was used to|
I wasn't raised in Pentecost. I was raised Lutheran (ALC, for those who care). So when I began attending Madison Gospel Tabernacle (MGT), a Pentecostal assembly, following my graduation from high school I was not only a new Christian but new to Pentecostal culture as well. Instead of standing sober in a chancel of wood and stone, people worshiped exuberantly with hands raised in a carpeted, modern sanctuary. Instead of the pastor leading us reverently from the Lutheran Book of Worship, a happy-go-lucky worship leader flanked by his band of guitarists, drummer and back-up singers led us joyously in gospel choruses projected on an overhead. Unlike a normal worship gathering of Lutherans where everything was done according to the book, many at MGT felt compelled to belt out a “Praise the Lord!” or “Alleluia!” during worship as the whimsy suited them. Frankly, if the worship hadn't made me feel so alive inside, I might have sneaked out the back door for all the noise.
|And this is the one I moved to|
But there were other things that took getting acclimated to as well, namely prophecy, tongues and interpretation of the same. At many of the Sunday evening worship gatherings of MGT, a person or two would speak out in tongues and either give the interpretation or someone else at the gathering would. It took some time getting used to. I don't recall hearing anything that I felt personally applied to me but often after the tongue and interpretation were given several people would cry or give thanks to God for speaking to them. It didn't seem to do me any good but I was new to the group and apparently this is the way church “was done.” Shortly after I had become a Christian, I had been baptized in the Spirit and spoken in tongues myself but the experience was anything but ecstatic. In fact, in the first two years of my Christian experience in Pentecost, I attended a lot of prayer meetings, special services and went witnessing on Thursday nights but for all that I don't recall any specific “encounters” that made me open to the life of the Spirit. So, by the time I left for Bible school in the fall of 1982, in retrospect I was a Pentecostal who knew some of the lingo but lacked personal experience of the same.
I attended Christian Life College (CLC), a small Pentecostal Bible school in northwestern Chicago whose forte was preparing people for ministry. There was a prayer room there though as I recall it, it was rarely used. The main officers of the Bible college were committed Pentecostals, spoke in tongues frequently during chapel and in the worship services of the church that the school was connected to but for all that I don't remember a lot of out-of-the-norm spiritual activity. If anything, I heard a lot of mildly sarcastic comments from some of my instructors, many of whom were pastors, about, frankly, weird people in the congregations they used to serve. We were required to take a class called “Pentecostal Distinctives” but it was only 1 semester in 4 years and its focus was on past experiences as opposed to modern occurrences of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the life of a local congregation. I cannot speak for the rest of my classmates but for me the cumulative affect of all this was that by the time I graduated from CLC, my basic understanding of Pentecost was the “crazy”-stuff was behind us and as a movement Pentecost was becoming more mature and, er, palatable to the uninitiated.
|This is my normal worship mode today|
What this all meant, ultimately, was that five years later when I arrived at Chetek Full Gospel Tabernacle (CFGT), I was ill-equipped to deal with the committed Pentecostals in our midst. As I shared in the last installment of this series (Turning Points: Perspective), we were at that time an odd assortment of old-time Pentecostals mixed in with a lot of former Lutherans, Catholics and Methodists who were drawn to the non-liturgical style of our worship service. One dear lady named Grace who dressed odd and sounded like she was from somewhere way south, felt persuaded that it was her ministry to prophesy in every service and when she did there was no need for her to use a microphone. Her, “Yeah, thus saith the Lord”s were like a freight train coming through our little sanctuary. Her husband was a decidedly quieter man but I remember being weirded-out for awhile by the fact that he seemed to reference the prophecies he felt he had received in prayer and recorded in the back pages of his Bible as much as he referenced Scripture. The adult Sunday School class, that met in the sanctuary right before Sunday morning worship, to me often felt like listening to “Dueling Banjos” as two women – one “old school” Pentecost and the other from the Charismatic renewal of the 60s and 70s – would verbally spar over various topics as it related to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our midst. I liked them both and that old school lady and her dear husband enriched my life on those Friday afternoon visits at their home west of town in my early years in Chetek. But personally my agenda became how to nudge sacred cows like tongues and prophecy out to pasture – or at least to a pasture that was not visited on Sunday morning. I never spoke out against them but people who were close to me knew that I had issues when either or both or people of their ilk did something to disrupt the service I had planned.
Sometime during 1993, however, I struck up a friendship with a pastor from Cumberland and we began to meet regularly for prayer and fellowship. Kent pastored a fellowship size-wise much like CFGT but his background was very different than mine. Unlike me, he had lots of experience with manifestations of the Spirit – prophecy, deliverance, healing and the like. In fact, what so endeared him to me is that here was guy who I could relate to, who laughed at some of the silly things unique to our Pentecostal tradition, but made the life of the Spirit sound so...well...normal. So in the fall of 1993 when he invited me over on a Sunday night for a series of revival meetings his fellowship was hosting, I went. I had no idea what was in store for me nor how pivotal that night would become in my personal journey as well in the life of our congregation.
There were about sixty people present and after a few songs, Kent introduced the speaker – Robert Fisher – who though from the States had spent a lot of time in South Africa and so there was at times a slight Afrikaaner lilt to his accent. He was a lanky guy dressed in a sharp suit but he looked like he was here to make hay. After he stepped into the pulpit he didn't attempt any small talk or share a humorous anecdote to endear himself to the audience. No, as I recall it, he went right for the jugular. “You think you're hungry for God?” I recall him asking rhetorically, “Well, you're not and here's why.” In the span of fifteen minutes he shared whatever message he was going to share in John-the-Baptist fashion. And then he invited anyone who wanted to come forward to respond to his message to do just that. After giving us a dressing down like he did, I didn't think he would get many takers – if any.
|It was like this but even more bodies|
Across the aisle from me was a heavy-set lady who was quietly crying. She got up and using a pair of crutches hobbled her way forward to Mr. Fisher. He didn't lay his hands on her or touch her in any way. He just leaned in and prayed this prayer: “Fill her, LORD!” And in short order she fell backwards. Fortunately, there were two guys on hand who obviously had been cued in to expect this very thing. Honestly, my initial response was to inwardly smirk at this display but it wasn't my place and she was, after all, a woman (I never attended a Woman's Aglow meeting during my years in Chicago but I had been told that this was a very common experience in that circle). After she had been laying there for a few moments, she stopped crying, was quiet and then, began to giggle. Meanwhile Robert was busily praying for others in the same manner he had prayed for her who, by this time, had ceased giggling and was now heartily laughing. Just like her, people were falling over left and right and the front of the sanctuary was beginning to pile up with prone people all of whom were laughing. That first woman was laughing so hard now that she was actually rolling on the carpeted floor. And at that moment I finally got where the term holy roller came from and thought, “Oh, no...now I'm in for it!” From simply a sensory point of view, the night got sillier and sillier what with all the falling, laughing, rolling, guffawing and other antics going on. But inside of me I wasn't feeling creepy as in “This is too weird”; I was feeling joy. It felt right.
|I was like the guy on the right|
I'm not exaggerating when I state that this meeting went on in just this way for several hours. That lady who was the first to fall down laughed uncontrollably for two hours. (I never saw her again but I often have wondered if her gut ached terribly the next day for that remarkable display of laughter). By 10:00 p.m. the sanctuary was full of stricken people laying all over the place. What's more, the original catchers had long since joined the people on the floor and for the last 45 minutes or so I was the one doing the catching until I became the last man standing at which point Robert looked at me and said sternly, “What about you, brother? Do you want prayer?” To say “No, I'm good” would not only not have been protocol it would have been untrue. As much as my eyes were being offended by what I perceived as some kind of mass emotional experience, I was willing to be prayed for if only for the sake of receiving a taste of what clearly many of them were experiencing. And so with a few wobbly ushers to catch for me, he prayed, “Fill him, LORD!” and I, too, joined everyone else on the carpet. The moment he prayed, I experienced a gentle wave of, for lack of a better word, electricity that began in the soles of my feet and moved steadily northward until I released myself to fall back. I never lost consciousness. I did not have an out-of-the-body experience. I was fully aware of my surroundings. But when I finally picked myself up from the floor and later after I said my goodbyes to Kent and Robert, all I know is that I drove home very conscious of an incredible new-found passion for Jesus. I just loved him like I hadn't in a very long time. On that 40-minute drive home I worshiped, spoke in tongues and enjoyed his awesome presence like I hadn't since my first steps over ten years before.
It was a turning point for me, a seminal moment of change in philosophy. I was so excited about what had happened I told Linda, Randy, who at that time was serving as president of our board of trustees, and Mary, my barber and fellow-member of a small prayer group that met on Tuesdays and within two nights they joined me as I returned to Cumberland for another evening of ministry with Robert. Following this gathering, I told Randy I wanted to bring him to Chetek and with his blessing within the week, Robert pulled up in his mammoth RV to camp-out on our lawn for a Sunday thru Wednesday night ministry event. Few came after his “go-for-the-throat” Sunday morning message – perhaps 15 to 20 each night – and those gatherings felt like he was breaking up hard cement but stuff happened and a new dye was cast for CFGT and for myself albeit in embryonic fashion.
|People with issues like mine should read this|
In that moment of lying prostrate before the Lord in that Cumberland church, my love for Him had grown exponentially far more than all the years of quiet times, devotional reading and studying had ever accomplished. And while I lay there I also was cognizant that I had not just been ignorant of spiritual things but willfully so which is the greater sin. A few weeks later I confessed as much to our Thursday night small group and then to the whole family on a Sunday morning. As Job had recognized, I, too, had “spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know...therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3,6). And from that time on until the present there has been a growing sense of wanting God regardless of what it does to the neatness of our Sunday morning gathering or who may be scared off by that untidyness (and it has scared others away). Early on, two books were very instrumental in firming up that fledgling recommitment to the life of the Spirit – The Beauty of Spiritual Language by author-pastor Jack Hayford and When the Spirit Comes With Power by psychologist John White. Both men whetted my appetite for more and to not be satisfied with anything less than the supernaturally natural life. It's a journey I'm still on all these years later wanting maybe more than ever for the Holy Spirit to come in whatever way he wants to.
|A great read for those thirsty for more|