LIFE IN THE COLD

Post-Renewal Woodbridge was cold.

Jim decided to end renewal services (see last blog). He believed that the Holy Spirit would now cooperate by showing up powerfully during the regular Sunday morning service. The Holy Spirit didn’t get that memo.

In fact, we began to see the manifestation of a principle that we have seen repeatedly ad nauseam over the decades in church after church. That principle is “once you have revival and God sweeps your house clean, don’t ever go back”. In other words, when Revival is allowed to end, the “demons” that were swept away come back seven times stronger.

Was there control or abuse in your church? It will absolutely be suppressed during a period of renewal but afterwards, watch out! Your fellowship will be out of the frying pan and into the fire in any number of categories of church unpleasantness.

We dug in deeper to other sources of Holy Spirit fire like our home group and churches that were still in renewal. Our passion to find Him in the streets outside of the church increased as well. We were expanding our outreach with the poor in neighborhoods and parks, even to the Muslims in nearby Falls Church, VA.

I was in Jim’s office one day for this very purpose. There was a sound system mothballed in a church closet that would have been valuable to us on the street. I was asking Jim for permission to use it.

This was the opening of a door for him to share with me his displeasure for our emphasis on going to the streets. “You need focus on your involvement here within the church” he said. Actually, we were very involved in church, in almost every ministry it had!

Jim continued, “If you must do outreach, focus on the people who are like you. Reach the ones in your social class who will likely start coming to church here and tithe. Muslims don’t go to church and they don’t tithe!”

He was not through. For an hour, Jim began to rip at my involvement in other ministries like home group. “Take kinship group, for example” he said. “The Vineyard way is one worship leader, one guitar. What you are doing by allowing everybody to bring an instrument and participate is not how we do things around here”.

Our home group was exploding. People came for the serendipity of it. So many people attended that it was often difficult to fit everybody in. Worship was gorgeous though. The Holy Spirit orchestrated the various voices, instruments and spontaneous selection of songs into a vehicle that seemed to transport the whole room into the heavenlies. Everyone owned worship. It wasn’t a one man show. God directed it with His dancing hand alighting on various members heads and inspiring them. The time in the word was also very much a group discussion, without one leader monopolizing. It was very animated and filling.

I gulped. Doing home group this way would be hard to give up. I was doing my best to internalize this and other criticisms while maintaining a good attitude.

This initial meeting led to other meetings that reached the level of intolerable. In the very office where I had my very first encounter with the Holy Spirit (see “When God Rocked Our World”), my life and ministry with Him were now being shredded.

Tension reached the apex when Jim finally declared, “Dan, you know what church is all about?”

“What?” I asked.

“Church is about only two things – butts in the seats and money in the plate” he said.

I couldn’t believe my ears. It was hard to comprehend that this was actually happening. Here was the man who we had revered, who the Holy Spirit had tremendously used to lead our whole family to Him, spouting the incredible. Jim was our spiritual father. We owed everything to him. I wanted so badly to dismiss what I was hearing but couldn’t.

Thoughts were racing through my head. How could I continue to bring my family here, knowing that this was the MO of the operation now at the Woodbridge Vineyard? I didn’t want my children growing up in this.

After talking things over with Debbie, I showed up for what was to be our final meeting. I announced to Jim that we were reluctantly going to have to leave the church. We would attend a church plant of his.

Jim went ballistic. “How could you leave a place like this where God changed your life? You would have to be an idiot to leave a place like this!”

It got worse.

“Do you know what shepherds do with sheep who stray away from the fold?” He asked.

“What?” I responded.

“They send the dogs out after them!” he threatened.

I winced.

“Do you know what else shepherds do to those sheep? he asked. “They break their little legs so that they can’t run away any more!”

It was time for this sheep to run.

Someone in church leadership found out that we were leaving. “Run”, she said. “Run, and don’t look back”.

We ran. We ran from the amazing place where we had found God.

Jim forbade us from involvement with any church functions like home group. Also, we were to no longer have any interactions whatsoever, even outside of the church, with any of our church friends. It was like being Amish and being shunned. We obeyed.

Life got colder.

Thankfully, we found the warm fire of God’s presence almost two hours away in north Baltimore. Without that, we might have frozen solid. The commute was worth it’s weight in gold for keeping the fire and passion alive.

It is with heavy heart that I write this blog. My intention is not to spread the dirt on church leadership. It is a warning. We honor Jim as one who God used to literally save our lives. However, he was a great man trapped in a very ungodly system – 21st century American church.

Jim is gone now. Tragically, he died many years ago. If he could speak from heaven, he would probably revise his “two things” policy. He would likely now declare that church is about these two things instead:

1. “Once you get Revival don’t ever, under any circumstances, let it go!”

2. “Think and do church outside the box of the Religious Machine!”

It will be amazing how the first seconds in heaven will change perspective and hindsight immediately…for all of us.

Next – “Of Rats and Men” and “Face to Face”

THE DEATH OF RENEWAL

Before we knew it, as suddenly as it began, it was over. The night Jim made the announcement, it rained. It was as if God, Himself, were crying.

Renewal was over.

The staff was tired, the worship band was burned out. Jim said it was time to quit. He assured us that the Holy Spirit would show up in even greater power during the regular Sunday morning church meetings.

He didn’t.

Back when we were considering a relocate from Baltimore to Woodbridge, VA, we had a lot to give up. Our friends, family, home school group, my church staff position all had to be left behind if we moved to live close to where renewal was occurring in Jim’s church.

Terry was a wise man. He was my first pastor. I attended his church as a teenager in the Jesus movement and grew by leaps and bounds. I sought his advice about our move. He counseled us “You never know how long a move of God may last. I think that you should consider jumping in with both feet”.

So we did. We left our former life behind and moved. It turned out to be the best thing that we had ever done. Now two years had flown by.

Jim’s life had been powerfully touched in Toronto. He became a “carrier” of the “good bug” of Renewal. He had carried it back to his church. His church “caught” it from him and it too was turned upside down for the better (see previous blog – “When God Rocked Our World”).

When Jim excitedly announced his plans to start renewal services on Sunday nights, he said “even if I’m the only one in attendance, it doesn’t matter. If it’s just me and God, that’s fine. I’ll just worship and pursue Him by myself even if you all don’t come”.

Jim was determined. He was going to press into God and get his first love back. Most of his church followed him in his determination. In response to their hunger, God came. He showed up powerfully every week. So many lives, including those of our family, were incredibly influenced by those meetings.

As time passes, resolve can diminish. The enemy hates Renewal. He will wear down the resolve necessary to remain in Renewal with his various attacks and strategies. Criticism, worldly draws, excesses, pressure from hierarchical decision makers, and sheer exhaustion can certainly take their toll on churches in Renewal.

People started staying home. “Touched By An Angel” was a very popular program on Sunday nights in those days during the late 90’s. We used to joke that people were staying home to watch “Touched By An Angel” when they could be at renewal meetings, getting touched by the Holy Spirit, Himself! There may have been more truth to that than we realized.

At any rate, Jim announced that he and the team had reached the end of their resources. It was over.

We tried to believe that He would show up in the same amazingness on Sunday morning. However it remained church as usual – good church, but certainly not Renewal.

The story is told that Leonard Ravenhill visited a group of the few remaining eyewitnesses of the New Hebrides Revival. They would meet from time to time and retell the stories of the Revival to each other in hopes of keeping the memories alive. One of them turned to Leonard and cried in broken voice, “once you have Revival, don’t ever let it go!”

Our leaders had let it go. We never have. It burns in our bones.

God was closing the door on one adventure yet opening up a different door for us. New “adventures in God” awaited. Sometimes God has to kill one thing in order to raise up an even better thing. Yes, the stories and encounters got even better for us despite the Woodbridge Renewal’s demise. Stay with us as our story continues.

Next- “Life in the Cold” and “Of Rats and Men”

GOD-CHASING

How do you chase God? Can you catch the wind? Is it possible to hold Spirit in your grasp and not let it go?

He beckons, “Seek Me with all your heart and you’ll find Me”.

He desires seekers. At the root of seeking is dissatisfaction. Only the hungry will find Him.

We had it all.

God came powerfully during our church’s renewal meetings on Sunday nights (see previous posts). Heaven would come down and we would go up. There was nothing like it anywhere then or any place since. Yet..we craved more.

Friday night kinship or home group meetings were full of His manifest presence. We had a BYOI home group where we encouraged everyone to “bring their own instrument”. Worship was stratospheric with all the group members contributing to its flow with guitars, congas, flutes, violins, keyboards, and voice. Spontaneity and group participation was the name of the game not only in the music but also in scripture reading, prophetic words, discussion, and prayer. We loved each other. We were like family. During prayer ministry at the end, we could trust each other with our deepest secrets and see victory birthed though prayer. Several hours would pass and no one wanted to leave. Sometimes we didn’t leave, we would stay all night. Despite all of this…we craved more.

Almost every night of the week during those years in the late 90’s, we had other “watering holes” that we would visit. God was descending upon many churches in the region and we would attend their special meetings and savor the taste of their particular blend of renewal. A team from Brownsville came up from Florida to hold extended meetings at Hylton Chapel in Woodbridge where we lived. Worship, preaching, and intercession were passionate and we would lie for hours on the floor afterward “soaking” while renewal music played. Debbie and I would be going on a date and she would turn to me and say “let’s not go out to a restaurant tonight, I just want to to be with Him”. So we would find a meeting and join others in the presence of God. It would seem that all of this exposure to God-meetings would satisfy but…we craved more.

Then Tommy Tenney came. He didn’t exactly come to town. His meetings were a three hour round trip away in Baltimore. Three hours is an insignificant distance according to “revival time” where time and expense just don’t seem to matter. Tommy verbalized the cry of our hearts. We had been ruined for life. We had tasted Him. One taste of God yields a lifetime of addiction. You can never get enough.

Tommy would tell the story of how the manifest presence of God first showed up in his life. He was a visiting speaker at a church in Houston. One night, Tommy stood at the back of the church while the pastor read 2 Chronicles 7:14. Suddenly, there was what sounded like a thunderclap inside the church sanctuary. The pastor was thrown backward and the acrylic podium fell forward – in two pieces. It was as if the podium had been split in two by lightning. The dread of God filled the sanctuary. People wept, repented, and truly found God. Tommy was changed forever. He became a God-addict.

Week after week, Tommy spoke at a large church venue in a northern suburb of Baltimore. After we endured an hour of busy Pentecostal style singing (we called it “marching music”), suddenly a young woman would begin to quietly play on the piano and sing. Heaven would come rushing into the meeting room. God was there. You knew the difference. Seconds ago, it was just church, now it was just God.

Deep called out to deep during that next hour of Holy Spirit saturated worship while the lady at the piano played. We and others would slide down in our chairs and onto the floor, almost as if we were melting. The weight of His glory presence was so thick.

Tommy would take the mic at just the right moment. Quietly and respectfully, he would seamlessly transition to the message. He would not change the atmosphere with his preaching, he would speak into the atmosphere, now thick with heaven. Not wanting the attention to be centered on him, he would ask that those who were in a place with God to ignore him and continue focusing on the face of Jesus. One could continue soaking not only through the hour of deep worship but also through the hour long message and into the ministry time. Those were wonderful meetings, yet…we craved more.

Our leaders sat us down. They had a serious talk with us. “Debbie and Dan, you go to too many church meetings. If we didn’t know better, we would say you are both God-chasing”. Wow! Guilty as charged. We were God Chasers. They nailed it. We were not put off by this rebuke. We just felt sorry for them…and continued craving more.

This period of time was unusual. God was everywhere. All over the map, you could find churches and groups that were experiencing intense Holy Spirit renewal. Unfortunately, these days it is a different case. The ocean of renewal seems to have dried up into little puddles isolated here and there. To get a flavor of this period go to You Tube. Enter “Revival Fire” into the search engine. Fast forward 16.5 minutes into side one, plug your device into a sound system, put your head back, and listen to the most phenomenal 30 minutes on the Internet. If you plan to do this while you are driving, be careful. You may have to pull over.

All we can say is “Lord, do it again! We are hungry for You. We thirst for Your deep presence. Come Lord Jesus. Saturate this land with revival once more!”

NEXT – “The Death of Renewal” and “Of Rats and Men”

HEALINGS

Debbie could not believe her eyes, literally! One moment she was bemoaning the fact that she now had to wear progressive lenses and the next, she was seeing perfectly without them.

It happened during worship.

Gary Shelton, a worship leader that the Holy Spirit used mightily to usher in renewal at Toronto was leading worship the morning it happened. God likes Gary, He likes him a lot. He always shows up powerfully when Gary plays. The atmosphere would be charged with heaven. At times, we would even hear angels joining us in the room as we sang. Heaven dipped down to fill our sanctuary. We just knew there were all kinds of angels present, including those who minister healing.

Debbie hated those glasses. She couldn’t get used to them. While in worship, she took them off. Laying her hands on her eyes, she prayed simply, “Lord please heal my eyes”.

Instantly, she saw! Across the large auditorium, she could suddenly read the smallest print! An eye exam confirmed that she now saw 20/20.

You hear of things like this happening, then it happens to you.

God heals. He heals today.

Earlier that same weekend, we were in a conference session worshiping to the sounds of the amazing David Ruis. Heaven came down. The manifest presence of God was heavy and thick in the auditorium. David called for a moment of silence. He quoted Revelation where John noted that there was silence in heaven for half an hour. He asked everyone not to move, speak, or clap. We were now to all stand in reverent silence and awe of Almighty God.

All of a sudden, Debbie fell to the floor. Then she began to giggle. The giggling quickly became full-on gut busting laughter. During this period of silence, her hysterical laughter was the only sound happening in the room of over a thousand people.

Debbie is not one to seek attention for herself. That is not her personality, at all! The Holy Spirit was on her in an irresistible way. She was experiencing the horror of being a spectacle in front of all those people. At the same time, she was experiencing the “who cares” joy of being deeply touched by the hand of God.

David Ruis walked off the stage.

As Debbie lay on the floor, a missionary with a powerful prophetic gift, called out that someone was being healed of serious medical conditions. She rattled off a list of things that fit Debbie to a “T”.

Debbie got up off the floor, healed of multiple issues. She was entirely symptom-free and able to go off of all the medications prescribed for those conditions.

There is something about the healing enriched atmosphere present when God shows up in power during worship. Some churches get to experience this and some don’t. Those houses of worship who get to experience this privilege, so often only allow their church people to bask in it for only a few minutes before it’s time to take the offering or transition to the sermon. Yet, this is the time when the Holy Spirit is significantly present to heal not only bodies but also souls. Can we linger a little longer in His presence? Could we shorten the sermon or eliminate some announcements and let the saints marinate in the rich juices of heaven a little longer?

We have seen Yahweh Rapha, “the God Who Heals”, in action many times firsthand with members of our own family (see previous blogs). Backs headed for surgery, , blood pressure, neurosis, demonic oppression, emotional pain, compulsions, and garden-variety viruses have all succumbed to His healing power. He loves to heal. He has done it through individuals possessing the gift of healing and He has done it sovereignly as with Debbie’s story above.

Sometimes we try to help God out with our healing. We are so desperate for it that we become almost cultish in our mind over matter approach. Over and over, you hear fellow believers say they are “claiming their healing”. Many of them go off their meds, imperiling their lives in the name of spirituality.

Case in point, emboldened by the aforementioned healing victories, Debbie and a missionary friend were praying about her thyroid condition. Like any other good charismatic, she claimed her healing on the basis of that prayer. In a show of faith, she went off of her medication. Six months later, she was sitting at her doctor’s office very sick. Her MD, a Christian himself, scolded her, warning her to never go off her thyroid medication again. Then he doubled it.

When God heals us, we know it. We are symptom-free. He does not do this healing thing half way. When pain and symptoms are gone (and we have test results) then it may be time to go off our meds. Certainly, we would also want to be under the supervision of a doctor as we did so.

So this is our experience with healing as far as it relates to our family. It is mysterious. It certainly involves the “now and the not yet”. God heals more and more often than any of us give Him credit for. However, there are many walking around claiming a healing when they are not yet healed. This pseudo-faith is actually presumption, endangering lives and grieving The Holy Spirit.

Our hearts go out to those who are in pain and who desperately need a touch from God. Why isn’t everyone healed? Could the answer lie in the fact that the kingdom is here but not in the fullness that it will be in the Millennium? Could it be, as scripture says (LK 5:17), that the power of God needs to be present to heal? Is it a factor that too often our worship meetings never approach that zone where the power of God is sufficiently present to heal? Healing evangelists like to blame failures on the recipients’ lack of faith but could it all be more a matter of timing? So many questions.

All we can do is to continue to pursue this God Who loves to heal us. We will keep on knocking, seeking, and asking until He comes through…and we won’t settle for anything less than the real thing.

Next – “God-chasing” and “The Death of Renewal”