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Hunting Down the Holy Spirit

One interesting privilege I had during the Brownsville Revival here in Pensacola was meeting groups going to and from the revival. At the time I was a member of Pine Forest United Methodist Church, and groups would stay in the Family Life Center there in order to be in range to get to the revival which was around 10 miles.

They would come by bus, or less frequently in a caravan of cars, sleep on the floor, and then get up early in the morning to stand all day in line, hoping to get into the main sanctuary for the service. Sometimes they would try to talk to some of the Pine Forest UMC staff or members who had experience of the revival to try to find out what they were about to experience.

At the time I lived in a trailer on the campus of the church. I had volunteered to check all the doors late at night. It is very rare at a church when you can’t find some door unlocked when it ought to be locked! In doing my late night check I would occasionally find groups that had returned from the revival and were trying to digest their experiences. Thus I could hear from them both before and after.

I’m going to use these experiences to make a composite picture of two different pastors with whom I spent some time talking and praying during this time frame. There were many who could be represented by each of them, but I’ve chosen the extreme set of circumstances.

The first was on a second or third visit. He reported new growth and new activity in his home church after he had visited Brownsville. “It isn’t really anything like Brownsville. It’s unique,” he told me. “But I was really blessed here, and I’m bringing others in my group this time so they can be blessed.”

The second told me that he was close to retirement and expressed desperation that he wanted his ministry to count. To him, the revival at Brownsville represented the one chance of getting something real done in his ministry. Over time, his church shrunk to nearly nothing, and he had to move on.

I am left asking just what was the fruit of the Brownsville revival. Is it best represented by the first pastor or the second? Is it represented by those who rededicated their lives to God and to service and carried it out in the way God called them to do, or those who became desperate and tried to duplicate what they saw?

Those are, unfortunately, the type of binary questions that I tend to dislike. We tend to use the “know them by their fruit” model (Matthew 7:15-20). The problem is that quite frequently both sides have good “fruit” arguments. There are people who are greatly aided or even restarted in their spiritual lives. There are also people who go off the rails in one way or another, damaging themselves or others. The more adventurous tend to blame those who take some negative path on some force other than the revival. They claim the revival is good, but if you bring something bad there, the devil will get to work and ruin the result. The more theologically and spiritually cautious note the failures and are most concerned about those who are harmed.

In my experience, however, you can say that about almost any movement and certainly most churches. I have seen the same church congregation be a tremendous blessing in one person’s life, while it becomes the very last church that some other person will attend because he has been injured in some way.

Any time you have a group of people who are active, there is going to be a mixture both of people and of results. Even though Jesus doesn’t address this all that directly, I think a better model than the fruit is the weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). This doesn’t mean that one should not check the fruit, but rather that one must realize that when people are involved results will generally be mixed. I would want to have a very comprehensive knowledge of a ministry before I said that its fruit was totally bad and it should be rejected as a whole. At the same time, I think it is very important to observe danger signs and give warnings.

Amongst those things to watch are:

  1. A tendency to focus on visible but extraneous things such as being slain in the spirit
  2. Getting stuck, i.e. simply hanging around all the time “being revived” instead of finding a constructive calling and doing it
  3. A focus on a single person or place. Note that this doesn’t mean nobody should go anywhere to experience God’s presence. Elijah had an important experience after running to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19), surely a more daunting journey in his day than a bit of a flight to a church in Florida is now.
  4. Unbalanced emphasis either on personal experience and spirituality over study and community, or the reverse
  5. Desperation. Desperate people try to force things, and are very susceptible to pretending. If you must have a miracle, you just may invent one or see one where none exists.
  6. Duplication. What happened at _____ (wherever) must happen here. That’s how I’ll know God is working.

The question has been put to me by friends of whether I’ll find my way to Lakeland or at least follow it on GodTV. The answer is that this is not very likely. Is that because I have made a studied and negative decision? Well, simply the fact that I haven’t even watched it where conveniently available on TV should answer that. No, I haven’t made any studied decision. The things I have said are not, and cannot be directed specifically at Lakeland, because I have too little knowledge.

The reason, however, that I’m not involved is that I’m already involved with what God is doing in my life and in the life of the church congregation I have just joined. The Holy Spirit is moving at First United Methodist Church in Pensacola. It bears no resemblance to rumors of Lakeland. I can say emphatically that it bears no resemblance to Brownsville, with which I had some acquaintance. There are no large altar calls and nobody has fallen on the floor.

What is happening is that the church is experiencing steady growth. It is unable to accommodate all the activities of the members and the ministries to the community within existing space, and that space is not small. The ministers are preaching a strong gospel message, and people are responding. The leadership has determined that they are going to serve the community, help those less fortunate, and generally be a witness for Jesus in their downtown community. The senior pastor declared that the one and only reason for the existence of a church was to fulfill the gospel commission, or you could restate that to be a witness for Jesus Christ. I’m excited to be joining in with that in whatever way God calls me to do so.

Do I want to set one way up against another? No. Never. But it’s the latter to which I am personally called.

Peter Kirk wrote about a visit to the Dudley outpouring. I was interested in his experience. While he was unhappy with some elements he still received a blessing which he was able to bring back to his church. That is a positive testimony. He also provides a list of links to other comments on either Dudley or Lakeland.

Again, I’m struck by the “weeds and wheat” metaphor for these events. The ideal is often the enemy of the good, and I think this can be true in the case of outpourings. Unfortunately, many on either side expect one to either be wholly for or wholly against, using another set of sayings of Jesus as their model. Well, I’m wholly for Jesus and wholly against that other guy, but when a number of people are involved, I suspect the division is a little harder to make.

(PS: Peter Kirk has also written a great deal on the Holy Spirit, and I’ve been bookmarking some, intending to write, but I have simply not had time to do the subject justice.)

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  1. Again, I’m struck by the “weeds and wheat” metaphor for these events. The ideal is often the enemy of the good, and I think this can be true in the case of outpourings.

    May I share a personal struggle without giving too many details?

    A family member has recently been struck with excruciating pain due to a collapsing spine brought on by oesto-arthritis. Although my loved one is taking heavy prescription pain-killers, the pain is such that this person is considering ending their own life (totally atypical of their personality heretofore, but seems utterly rational given the pain they are in).

    The person is praying fervently for pain relief and told me the other day that they thought that God was answering the prayers in different ways by sending people to be present and help in practical ways.

    I would ask the question ‘Why is God answering prayer directly in Dudley and Lakeland but, because my loved one is not there, their prayers are answered by more conventional means?’ The sanest answer to my question would be ‘I don’t know; it’s a mystery’ and the cruelest would be ‘Your loved one doesn’t believe enough in healing’.

    Even if this were not someone I loved, I’d still have the same questions as a pastor. By necessity, most of my pastoral visiting is with people who are very ill and – 95 times out of 100 – also elderly. At some point, we must all die of old age. Many people suffer horribly up until that point. The charismatic answer is too facile.

    1. Even if this were not someone I loved, I’d still have the same questions as a pastor. By necessity, most of my pastoral visiting is with people who are very ill and – 95 times out of 100 – also elderly. At some point, we must all die of old age. Many people suffer horribly up until that point. The charismatic answer is too facile.

      I sympathize with this. In fact, the pastor who spoke at the healing service I mentioned in a previous post made that comment in his meditation.

      We also encountered this during our son’s battle with cancer. People would tell us that surely if we had enough faith he would be healed. God couldn’t possibly want someone to die at age 17.

      Of course the fact is that people do die at age 17 and younger, every day, many of them in pretty horrible ways.

      Even so, however, I cannot make that a blanket condemnation of such services as either Dudley or Lakeland, unless they make the claim that everyone will be healed or that they have some kind of exclusive. If we claim there is any healing, any protection, or any help provided by God outside of the support we give others in the community, then we have the same question: Why some and not others?

      For that question I can only say that I struggle with it, not that I have good answers.

  2. I’m not condemning it; I struggle with it. Dudley is eight miles from here and there are always those who think that this is the primary or only way that God does things – so pressure to jump on the bandwagon. I’m not inclined to bandwagon-jumping and I have my own prejudices – if that’s what you want to call them – that people will be better served long term by learning to pray deeply and find the still, small voice of God.

    Saying a prayer for your son.

  3. Thanks, Henry, for your assessment, which is much more balanced than that of most people who have only heard rumours of Lakeland.

    Pam, your situation is a difficult one, especially with your loved one. Their lack of complete healing is not because of their personal lack of faith, and I don’t think anyone at Lakeland or Dudley would say it is. Nevertheless I would suggest that it just might help if you or someone else from your church attended a meeting at Dudley, received the impartation of the healing anointing, which in some way I don’t claim to understand does seem to be passed on by physical touch, and then returned to pray for the sick one. Of course there are no guarantees, but since this person is desperate, what harm can it do to try that?

    1. Peter – if I might quibble with your wording. I’m not making an assessment. I’m talking about revival in general and things to look at if you are there. I have almost no knowledge beyond blog posts and correspondence with my former pastor on which to base anything.

      I would urge anyone who really wants or needs to know to go and find out directly. I can testify from the Brownsville experience that nobody who discussed it from a distance without ever attending was able to accurately assess and describe what went on there.

      That I do not feel a call to go should not be taken as a negative assessment. There are many things I feel no call to do that are really very good things.

      I appreciated your first hand write-up of your experience at Dudley. That’s relevant information.

      1. Thanks for the correction. Indeed it is important to get first hand experience. I have seen far too many people write off Todd Bentley on the basis of rumours and brief video clips. As I can’t make it to Lakeland, I went to Dudley to see what I could for myself. Also my pastor and my lodger are both currently in Lakeland so I will have plenty of chance to hear about it when they get back next week.

  4. Nevertheless I would suggest that it just might help if you or someone else from your church attended a meeting at Dudley, received the impartation of the healing anointing, which in some way I don’t claim to understand does seem to be passed on by physical touch, and then returned to pray for the sick one.

    Peter – What you say actually heightens my dilemma with your theology. You’re suggesting that I go to Dudley and then make an 18-hour international trip.

    Of course, I ‘could’ do that. I ‘could’ spend hundreds of pounds I’d not planned on spending and take a week off that I’d not planned on taking off. I’d do it if I were certain it would heal my loved one.

    Then you could ask me, well why am I not prepared to do it? Don’t I trust God enough? Don’t I love my loved one enough? If I do something that extraordinary and unplanned, should my loved one ‘expect’ healing for my efforts? What if the healing doesn’t happen?

    If your theology ‘works’ locally, then it should ‘work’ at a distance and I should be perfectly prepared to make this extraordinary effort. I have only my own lack of faith to blame if I do not.

    Lurking in the background there is always this question that would sound manipulative if it were spoken by one human to another: ‘Don’t you love me enough? Don’t you trust me enough?’ I think that’s why the theology makes me so uneasy. God is not a manipulative, dysfunctional father.

    1. Pam, you misunderstand me. I suggested you went to Dudley, not Lakeland. At Dudley they will pray for you to receive the anointing that they brought from Lakeland, as they did for me as described in my post about my visit. Now I realise that you are a busy minister. But I would hope that you could take one evening out to get an experience which might help to bring healing to your loved one and also revival to your churches.

      As for why you need to travel even as far as Dudley for this, I don’t know, but it does seem to be true that this anointing is transferred by touch. But then as an ordained minister you must believe in something like this because touching is an essential part of ordination as I understand it.

  5. Peter, I would have to go to the United States in order to touch my loved one.

    Yes, ordination is by touch but I don’t believe that ‘something magic’ happens when I’m touched. Any more than I believe that Salvationists who aren’t baptised aren’t ‘real Christian’. The touch of ordination is symbolic of being called to minister to the community by the Spirit.

    You’re saying that God won’t heal my loved one in the United States if I pray for the person from here but that God might do if I go to Dudley and then travel to the US to touch my loved one. Sorry, but that just beggers belief.

    1. Sorry, Pam, I didn’t realised this loved one was far away. But I don’t say that God will not heal from a distance. In fact Todd Bentley makes it very clear that he does by suggesting this very thing, sometimes also suggesting that people touch their TV or computer screens. For, as in ordination, the touch is only symbolic of being equipped to minister, and of actually carrying out that ministry. I believe you can and should pray for your loved one from a distance, but of course cannot guarantee any results.

  6. The Dudley outpouring continues with this week’s meetings to be broadcast live by God TV. Last week a man shared a testimony of a person resurrected from the dead! See my blog for more details.

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