God-shocks and Surprises

I was shocked. It had been a week. We were on a camping trip with our family. Finally mustering up enough courage, I asked Debbie what she honestly thought about our visit to the Vineyard (see previous blog post – “Debbie Meets the Holy Spirit”). She replied that she had been secretly longing to go back.

So we did.

Night two at Woodbridge Vineyard was just as exotic and intense as the first. However, we found ourselves enjoying the worship music. This, despite the fact that the worship leader had a braid down to his buttocks and wore three stooges tee shirts.

Debbie, was conflicted. Even though a seed of hunger had been planted in her spirit during the last visit, she was still highly skeptical that any of what she was seeing was truly God.

At the close of the service, another miracle happened. Despite the fact that her insides were screaming “I don’t want these crazy people touching me!”, Debbie agreed to go forward with me for prayer.

Two young men approached us to pray. One prayed a blessing over us. The other began with, “I have something that may be from God for you”. In Debbie’s theology, God only spoke through the printed words of the Bible. She was thinking, “Yeah, right. God talks to you? This is going to be good!”

The young man continued, “Both of you were headed to the mission field. For various reasons, you were not able to go. You have felt terrible about this, like you have let God down. You feel like you have been passed over or placed on the back burner. However, He says that it is OK. Don’t beat yourself up. You will be able to go at a later time.”

All of this was absolutely true. This was our private pain that we did not discuss with anyone.

Debbie reacted with extreme skepticism. “Who are you and who told you these things about us?” she shot back.

The young man replied that no one had told him anything about us.

Debbie’s world, and theology, were rocked!

God knew, at this point, that Debbie needed proof that there was something real going on in these meetings or she would never come back. He had just delivered proof number one.

As we continued to pile our family into our minivan and make the two hour round trip down to Virginia on Sunday nights, God would faithfully meet us at the Vineyard. Each week, He would deliver another proof or He would hook us with something that would draw us back for another visit.

Week three was as emotionally intense as it was incredibly fruitful. Pastor Jim Robb was preaching a message on “forgiveness”. Debbie had heard scores of messages on this subject. She had been given many books on forgiveness by pastors trying to counsel her over the years.

She and her dad had not spoken or seen each other for three years. There was conflict that went back to her childhood. Her last counselor had advised her to cut off all ties with her dad because of the emotional volatility and depression brought on by any interaction with him.

At the close of Jim’s sermon, there was an unusual twist. Instead of just teaching the subject or having an altar call about it, Jim had everyone stand at their seats. He asked all of us to close our eyes. “Let the Holy Spirit now show you someone that you need to forgive” he instructed. “When he shows you that face or that event involved, lift your hands. As you lift your hands, imagine that you are lifting that person up to God and releasing them to Him”.

I had my eyes closed. I was in the process of lifting up my hands when I heard Debbie begin to weep and reach out to me. Her weeping became crying and that quickly moved into full on wailing. I stood there and held my wife as she shuddered and sobbed for half an hour. It seemed to me that with each sob, up out of her deepest parts came a chunk of pain.

Finally, the intense emotional experience was over. As I continued to hold her, Debbie’s physical body even seemed different. There was a new softness to her that I could actually feel.

Over the coming days, Debbie would remark to me that she no longer felt anger toward her dad. To me, she seemed happier and less stressed out. Later on that week, she emailed her dad and told him that she had forgiven him. Shortly after that, they saw each other again in person and completely reconciled. They are close to this day!

The Holy Spirit had truly begun, as Jim Robb had jokingly predicted, to reach down into Debbie’s deepest parts. He now had His hands on her heart and was proceeding to pull it up out of her throat! As intense as this first encounter was, it was only just beginning for her…and us!

Blogs Coming Up Next – “In Deep Doo-doo with Church Leadership” and “Debbie Gets Run Over by the Holy Spirit Express!”

Debbie meets the Holy Spirit

I had deeply troubled Debbie, my wife.

Having just heard me share about the most important moment of my life, she did not take it well at all. “Let’s just keep this between you and me”, she demanded.

I was on staff as an associate pastor. Debbie and the church had grown weary of my sermons on revival. The church’s pastor had actually come out with a statement deeming what was going on in Toronto to be of the devil.

My position, our friends, our whole life revolved around church. We had a lot at stake as far as she was concerned.

Still, I couldn’t keep myself from asking, “I want to take you and the kids down to this church. God is in that place!”

“Are you saying that God is not in our church?” she shot back. “What’s wrong with our church?” She was getting even more upset. “You can go down to this church yourself. I’m not going and you’re not taking the kids either!”

Suddenly it seemed as if my whole world caved in. Here was the most important person in my life rejecting the most important event that had ever happened in my life.

It had taken two weeks to gather up enough courage to tell Debbie the story of how I had encountered the Holy Spirit in Jim Robb’s office. (See the preceding post for details). Now I was watching my story and my new found life go down in flames.

God works in mysterious ways. It’s true. Miracles still happen…

Two weeks later, I found myself driving down to Woodbridge, VA to attend an evening renewal service at Jim Robb’s Vineyard church. I was not alone. Miraculously, in the car with me was not only my wife but also our four children. I didn’t know how she had arrived at the decision to actually go and I wasn’t going to ask.

Dropping the kids off in the church nursery, we walked down the long hallway toward the sanctuary. The music that we had heard out in the parking lot was now pounding even louder through the big oaks doors that led to the sanctuary. What would we find inside?

As we pushed open the doors, every fear that ever entered my wife’s mind became a technicolor reality. Our mouths must have gaped open as we gazed upon a church in the heat of Holy Spirit renewal. People were shuddering, shaking, weaving, dancing, whooping up the aisles, prostrate, on their knees, hands raised and lost in another world.

Debbie wanted to run out but instead found herself filing into the back row of the church and into the seat closest to the door.

After worship, she listened intently to Jim Robb’s sermon, trying to catch him in some biblical error so we would have a reason to leave. Jim never spouted any heresy. It was a solid message on Ephesians 6 and spiritual warfare.

As the message ended, Jim shouted, “Clear the chairs! We’re going to have ministry time! I turned to Debbie and asked her if she would like to go forward and receive prayer. It had been weeks since I had felt the Holy Spirit’s initial touch and I was desperate for more.

Debbie had all she could stand. “I don’t want any of these people touching me! You go up to the front but I’m out of here!” She grabbed the keys from me and stormed out of the sanctuary.

At a loss of what to do, I followed her out into the hallway as she steamed full speed toward the nursery to pick up the kids.

Suddenly, inexplicably, she spun around in the middle of the hallway. “Do you think we’re supposed to leave?” she asked me. “Maybe we’re supposed to go back in”.

I was dumbfounded. One moment she was determined to flee this church and in a split second she looked as if she had changed her mind.

I found out years later that she had actually hit an invisible wall in that hallway. It was as if an angel was standing there blocking the way. She couldn’t pass.

Following her back into the sanctuary, we both filed back into the last row, actually the only row left by now. The worship band was playing a song about God pouring out His Spirit. Suddenly, Debbie began to weep. The tears were certainly a result of being scared to death, but there was more to it than that.

I later found out that after we came back to our seats that she became fixated on a young mother who was kneeling on the floor with her hands stretched out and lost in another place with God. Somehow in the midst of all the unearthly strangeness of what was going on in the room, Debbie found her heart drawn to what that young woman had. She suddenly wanted it desperately herself and began to weep.

Church dismissed. Jim happened to be standing by the door as we left. I took the opportunity to introduce him to Debbie. A knowing smile spread across his face as he told her, “Don’t look so scared! Just wait. God wants to reach down inside of you, grab hold of your heart, and pull it up through your throat!” That was exactly what she needed to hear on the way out the door! Not!

Picking up our children and driving home, we said nothing to each other about the evening’s events. In fact, we did not discuss it for a whole week.

What happened next rocked our spiritual world…

 

 

When God Rocked Our World

We were nice Moody Bible Institute graduates minding our own business when God, the Holy Spirit, rocked our world.

It began in me as a spiritual hunger. I knew there must be something more. My spiritual life was all about praying through a rote prayer list, managing a daily Bible study routine, and attending church.

Church singing was fun and the sermons were okay, but it was hanging out with our friends that we really enjoyed.  We would often talk with our friends during the praise time.

I had started reading books on revival. Revival, simply put, was when God visited man in powerful ways throughout history. In revival, God would pick a geographic location, a church, or even an individual and show up in a concentrated way that He didn’t elsewhere.

I read reports of people experiencing profound intimacy and closeness to the Holy Spirit.  I wanted this for myself and my family. I reasoned that if God has brought revivals in the past, then He must be bringing revival somewhere in the present.

One night I was watching TV. Peter Jennings, of all people, was doing a documentary on “present day revivals”, of all things!  I watched in rapt attention.  Faces, places, and stories were all a wonderful blur, but one woman’s testimony stood out.

“I love Jesus more than I ever have, the Bible has become a new book for me, and I can’t stop telling people about Jesus”, she emotionally testified.  That was all it took for me.  I had found it.  God was still doing revival.  I had to have this for myself!

I made note of the Christian movement experiencing this revival.  The next day, I called through the yellow page listings for churches in my area that belonged to this movement.  A number of answering machines later, I actually got to talk to a live voice.

The voice belonged to a pastor an hour away.  He and his church, he said, had been deeply touched by this revival. He invited me to come to his office and hear about it.

Soon, I found myself sitting across the desk from Jim Robb, pastor of the Vineyard Church in Woodbridge, VA.  I listened intently as he told me his story.

Jim had traveled to Toronto to witness this revival for himself.  He was skeptical and wanted to return home but God wouldn’t let him. He stayed for a month, attending the meetings and being highly offended by what he saw.  Not much happened to him personally while there.

When he returned to his church, revival spontaneously broke out.  It was like something had gotten on him while he was in Toronto and came back with him.  People spontaneously repented, restored severed relationships, and encountered fresh intimacy with Jesus.

As I listened to his wonderful story, suddenly I began to cry.  I don’t know why I was crying but tears suddenly started to stream down my face.  I wasn’t sad and I wasn’t emotionally excited.  It just happened like I wasn’t in control of it.

Suddenly there was a weight that seemed like a thousand pounds that sat on my body.  This weighty substance then entered my body.  It began to diffuse throughout my being.  As it spread, it felt like liquid love flowing through my veins.  I felt totally clean, accepted, and perfectly at one with God.

While this was going on, my eyes were closed and I still had a sensation of sitting in my chair.  However, at the same time, I felt like I was in a far away secret place all alone with Jesus.  It was like being deep in a cave with no one there but this consuming cleansing presence radiating inside me and vibrating all over me.

I could hear Jim’s voice, seemingly far away, asking if I was ok.  I didn’t want to answer.  I didn’t want to move.  I wanted this feeling, this intimacy to last forever.

After some time in this state, my mind began to worry.  I grew concerned that I might not be able to come out of this experience and continue my day’s plans.  After all, I had a work agenda to follow today, complete with appointments that I must show up for.

As I became distracted and preoccupied, the wonderful Presence left as suddenly as it came.

Now my concern was “how do I get this back?” I HAD to have this encounter again! I was hooked.  I needed more.

The pastor and his staff prayed for me, believing that God would repeat the experience.  Nothing happened.  I left.

As I left the office, I walked out into bright sunshine that mirrored what was going on inside.  Wow.  That was God.  He actually touched me in a tangible way.  I feel so clean and in love with Him and every person on the planet! It was like my grey life was all lit up with color now.

As amazing as this encounter left me feeling, I was still desperate for more.  When could I meet with God like that again?

The answer was not to come for several weeks.  First, I must tell my wife about this, the most incredible experience of my whole life!  Surely, she will love hearing my story.  I couldn’t have been more wrong about anything in my life!

Debbie’s story will be on the next blog.  It is ten times more awesome than my story.  Jesus REALLY rocked her world!

The God Zone

“An open letter to the doorkeepers of the house of the Lord around the world.”

In the God Zone, everything of man dies.  Man’s agenda ends.  There is no strength to deliver things that were conceived in the soul.  When it is allowed to expand and take over the atmosphere in a church meeting, the God Zone consumes everything in its path.  It is the jealous fire of God devouring all before it.

However, as fierce as the God Zone is, it is very fragile.  Its desire to honor the free will of men allows it to quickly dissipate when it realizes that it is not being appreciated or entertained.  When the will of man rises up, the God Zone will back down. It will give way.  It will yield and give place to the desire of men.

When the desire of men is unanimously for it, the God Zone is relentless in its pursuit of the control of a worship service and of people’s lives.  Planned song lists are, figuratively speaking, torn up in the Spirit.  Messages conceived by the soul never come to their long anticipated birth.  They die in the heat of Holy Spirit passion and spontaneity.  Demons infesting and surrounding the saints begin to loosen the grip of their claws.  As the God Zone deepens and intensifies, these foreign invaders come whimpering or screaming out.  Hearts steeled in their opposition to the will of God suddenly melt like wax in His heavy presence.  “Yes Lord” is no longer a phrase but an actuality in the life.  Old habits die.  New habits arise.

A curious thing happens.  If allowed to exercise its free reign, the God Zone over time constructs something very dear to it.  Remember that Jesus was a carpenter by trade.  If His Spirit is given freedom and enough time, it constructs an invisible replica of the tabernacle right in the midst of the worshipping saints.

The outer court with its ocean of cleansing water and its forever burning sacrificial altar invisibly materialize.  It can’t be seen but it can be felt.  Worshippers progressively feel washed inside and out.  Human wills sacrificially bend to the greater Will of God.  Decisions are made to go around the world or to go around the block.  The fiery sacrificial altar burns up man’s ego, desire for recognition, lust for promotion, and jealous guarding of position.  Petty grievances and major offenses catch fire and vaporize.  Relationships restore.  The walls between people combust and fall to the ground as ashes.

If allowed to build further, the Spirit of Jesus constructs the Holy Place.  Light is suddenly shed on the Word in a way never before experienced.  Things make profound sense that wouldn’t otherwise – mysteries in the Bible and mysteries in one’s own life.  Truly prophetic words,  genuinely from the Spirit and not from the well-meaning heart of man, begin to effortlessly flow into the service.  Vision abounds.  The face of Jesus is seen.  The celestial elevator’s doors open and individuals, even groups of people, make spontaneous trips into the heavenlies.  There is a tangible substance in the very atmosphere.  This substance when ingested feeds the deep, deep hunger.  Spirit-birthed and God-bourne worship, prayer, and intercession rise up as sweet smelling incense to the Throne.

The climactic work of the Holy Spirit, the Great Builder, as the God Zone is allowed to run its course, is to construct the Holiest of All.  Here, it is just the worshipper (as it was with the high priest) alone with his God.  The worshipper is cognizant of no one else – just himself and Jesus in this most intimate place of the God Zone.  Mighty angels, in hushed silence, extend their wings into a canopy covering this amazing place.  The blood of the Lamb cleanses and sanctifies the very deepest recesses of the inner man.  It is the “thirty minutes of silence in heaven” place where no words are necessary.  One is enjoying the most intimate company of his very Best Friend.  Actually, the spoken words of man would cheapen this precious moment of time and space.  Wept tears wash the feet of Jesus.  This is the place we were created for.  A place of indescribable intimacy.

The jar of hidden manna, the rod of true authority, and the Law written on the heart are all gifts bestowed on the true worshipper in this place of intimacy.  They are gifts he gets to leave with, change the world outside with, and bring deliverance to the captives with.

Few find this most holy place.  Few church services ever swerve into it.  The invisible crystalline structure created by man  is allowed to prevail and thrive unhindered and unchallenged.  Many “houses of worship” do not know deep worship.  Those houses of worship that do know deep worship, in the majority of cases, don’t let it run its free course and arrive at its full destination.  The before-ordained song list must be followed, despite its ebb and flow into and then back out of and then back into the flow of heaven.  Sometimes spiritual whiplash occurs as the worship ping pong ball bounces back and forth between celebration and intimacy without the constancy of God-initiated flow toward a God-intended destination.

The congregation may be brought to the very door of what is aforementioned and then it is time for the other mandatory requirements on the list of the agenda of man.  An offering must be taken, announcements must be given, a preplanned message must be delivered.  All of this is well and good if it is business as usual for the church service.  However, when Jesus is knocking and deep worship is flowing, man’s “honey do list” becomes anathema.  We have not arrived at the goal of the worship set when the heavy, thick presence of God is felt.  This is not the time to transition to the Roget’s Rules of order followed by virtually every church on earth.  The deep presence of God is not the cue to move on to other things.  It is just the beginning.  It is an open door and invitation into the crux and core of what the heart of God actually desires for that worship service.  Walk through that door.  Take the congregation with you.  Experience the inexplicable waiting beyond the open door.  Don’t trade it for the ordinary and mundane.  Any church can do an offering (install an offering box in the back and trust God to fill it).  Any speaker can deliver announcements and sermons.  These things are all well and good.  However, the exceptional officiator will see past the checklist and program through to the extended welcoming hands of the Father and the heavenly invitation represented by the arrival of the weighty manifest Presence of God.

There are also time and logistical constraints to be reckoned with.  Another service might follow.  One service must be wrapped up to allow the next service to begin.  People must be allowed to get home to their burning roasts, family obligations, and televised sports games.  One day, God is going to be allowed to come so strong and linger so long that one service will effortlessly crash into the next and so on.  People will have found what they are truly longing for and have no desire to leave the worship service for lesser things.

The above and aforementioned cannot be manufactured by the will of man.  Man can try to insert all the right elements and force people to stay for hours.  All of this will result in pain and suffering and a counterfeit of the real.  True deep worship is a gift to the church body.  It is a crown jewel to be jealously guarded and protected and valued.  Few are the churches that find it.  Once found, let deep worship have the freedom to run its full course.  Let it construct the invisible heavenly tabernacle among men.  Dare to be different.  Dare to trash the denominational playbook.  Color outside the lines.  There are scores of churches in town where regular church can be found.  The God Zone kind of “church” is the treasure that the heart of the Father is longing for and earnestly seeking…as are the prodigals.

Let it come….