FACE TO FACE

It was 11 PM and God was still coming strong. Parents had their noses pressed against the storefront windows, peering in. ” It was too holy” they explained later. “We just couldn’t bring ourselves to enter”.

It was the debut night for Face2Face, the new youth group that we and our friends, Jeff and Maureen, had been charged with starting. The interesting thing was that the proceedings this evening had nothing to do with us. Our only role had become crystal clear in the weeks of prayer leading up to the launch. Jesus had shown us that we adults were simply to get out of the way and let the teens lead.

…and lead they did.

With very little prep other than their own private devotional lives of worship and intimacy with God (courtesy of the Renewal – see previous blogs), the Holy Spirit and His teens pulled off an amazing night.

From the moment the first keys were touched or guitar strings strummed, God poured into the room. Young hearts and old were lost in the deep worship of Jesus for hours. A young person delivered a rich message from the Word. Following that, there was more worship and ministry of the Spirit to each other via the laying on of hands. Teens were with teens, praying over each other’s needs and for more of His presence in their lives. These youth were hungry for God and couldn’t get enough of Him.

It was at this point that the parents witnessed, through the glass, the other-worldliness of what results when Jesus is allowed to be the Head and to orchestrate what occurs in a gathering. Some teens were still playing instruments or singing with arms raised, spirits lifted into the heavenlies. Others, under the weight of His manifest presence had dropped to the floor in Spirit-induced stupor and ecstasy. It truly was a sight that made one fearful of “touching the ark of His presence”.

Amazingly, it didn’t stop here. The same thing happened week after week. The teens would lead and God’s presence would powerfully arrive and linger. Parents would wait outside as the teens inside didn’t want to quit!

The young people began inviting their lost friends to come. Routinely, virtually every week, we would be introduced to one or two of their invited friends. These visitors would then tell us that they had never sensed God before that night. “God was here. We could actually feel Him”, they would say. In response to His tangible manifest presence, they had given their lives to Jesus, being led to the Lord by a peer and not by one of us “youth leaders”.

There were stories of kids who didn’t even know how they got there but found themselves in the meeting being touched by Jesus and getting saved. One unsaved teen was at the mall miles away and was supernaturally drawn to the industrial complex where our youth room was located. He stumbled into the meeting and found God.

The supernatural became common place for the teens. Each evening there were testimonies of heaven invading every aspect of their young worlds.

Youth retreats, outreaches, informal hangouts – the story was the same. The youth would lead and God would powerfully come, overwhelming everyone with His mighty presence.

The River of Renewal flowed in. It drew and carried the lost into the meeting. In the next blog, we will share how it flowed out, exporting the heaven experienced within brick and mortar to a waiting world outside.

Next – “Renewal in the Park” and “Mr Ed”

UNCHARTED WATERS

It was scary. What was God going to do? We were in uncharted waters. Jeff, Maureen, my wife Debbie and myself had been chosen to start a new youth group at our church.

We knew that we were being led to do something radical. This group would not be status quo. The last thing that we wanted to do was to provide a baby sitting service for teenagers. Pizza parties, movies, and games were all nice but we knew we wanted to see something more than that. Conversely, having a room full of young spectators watching us adults do all of the teaching and leading was also anathema to us.

Both couples had a vested interest in the matter. Jeff and Maureen had three teenagers with another on the way. We were contributing the same scenario with our teens. We didn’t want to disappoint our own kids with a flopped program.

“Program” was another anathema. We wanted the Holy Spirit to have free reign. Predictability and formula must be discarded.

In the weeks preceding the launch of the group, we would get together as couples along with our teens to pray and dream. It became clear that what God wanted was for the teens to do all of the teaching, worship leading, praying, and ministering. They, under the headship of Jesus, were to be in control of their own gathering. There would be no time limits. It would be God’s night to do whatever He wanted for as long as He wanted to do it.

…but would it work?

None of our kids had ever led anything like this before. Granted, they were all worshippers, seeking and enjoying His presence privately as individuals. As far as we were concerned, that was the only requirement to lead – knowing God intimately.

They had all been captives of a universal church system that stifles growth as sons and daughters of God. Having a professional minister (whether a senior, worship, or youth pastor) be responsible for hearing God for the sermons, worship set, etc. was growth stunting. We were all determined to have that system checked and stopped at the door. No “card-carrying” professionals allowed!

The date for the first youth meeting finally rolled around. The kids had chosen the name “Face2Face” for the group. The name chosen was indicative of their desire for intimacy with Jesus.

As we prayed together one last time before the start of this premiere gathering, the best we could hope for was that our uninitiated-to-leadership teens might stumble through things for a couple of months until they finally got the hang of things.

Boy, were we wrong!

Next – “Face to Face” and “Mr Ed”

 

DRUNKEN MOSES

Here we were again on the street – sidewalk to be precise. The city of Baltimore has wonderful wide sidewalks, even in the residential areas like the one we were in. This, however, was no normal neighborhood as you would find in suburbia. Gunshots were common. Substance abuse was rife. Our hosts’ car had been recently firebombed on the orders of the local drug lord (see last blog).

Seeing the hunger that the residents displayed during a prayer walk, our inner city home group thought it would be a great idea to have a kids outreach on the sidewalk outside of our hosts’ row house. The area was literally teeming with elementary age children and youth.

We printed fliers and passed them out just prior to the first night of the outreach. Our hosts’ children, who were more savvy to the neighborhood, joined our kids in canvassing the streets and handing out invites.

Our oldest, Brian, came back from his mission quite shaken up. He had naively invited a rough looking teen to attend. In response to his invitation, the teen threateningly looked him in the eye and warned “boy, you’re in the wrong neighborhood”!

Despite his jitters, Brian set up his keyboard on the sidewalk and began to play as we prepared for the outreach. All of us were a little concerned that we might have bitten off more than we could chew, safety wise. Brian’s amazing music filled the streets (and us) with a deep peace. It would be ok. God was here. We could now sense His presence strong. He was more concerned about reaching these kids than we were! Hearing the music, people came out of their row houses and sat on their stoops, obviously chilling to the sound and enjoying the invisible river of peace that was now flowing down their street.

Soon, we had about 35 kids and teens of all ages sitting on the carpet squares that we had placed on the sidewalk. There was a big red carpet on which stood the rest of our children who were now leading worship for the kids in attendance. We had set up a small PA system through which they played their digital drums, instruments, and vocals. The neighborhood kids loved it and joined in.

It was time for the gospel message. Right on cue, a dirt bike with a bad muffler began racing up and down the street while I was trying to speak. The kids were restless. I thought a story would be good at this point.

I began to tell the story of Moses and the burning bush. My intent was to show how Moses was changed forever when he encountered the presence of God manifested in the bush. To illustrate my talks, I like to choose a child to help act out the story as I tell it.

Looking out into the crowd, I thought that I had found my Moses and called him to the front. He was a young teen, rather large for his age. As I went on with the story, there was noticeably something terribly wrong. In addition to acting up and not being cooperative, my Moses was wobbly on his feet. Then, in the middle of my story, he fell over. Moses was drunk.

The crowd of kids died laughing! So much for my discernment!

Trying to avert disaster, I dismissed Moses and changed the direction of my talk. The story of the sheep and the goats came to mind. Using my large sketch board to keep their attention, I drew sheep on one side and goats on the other. After stating that one day, Jesus will separate them into two destinations, heaven and hell, I asked a question. “Do you want to be a sheep or a goat?” Instead of verbally responding to my rhetorical question, immediately the entire group got up and literally moved to the “sheep” side represented on my sketch board.

That might as well have been the altar call! However, I had Brian start to play his keyboard again as I delivered the invitation. You could almost see and feel the hands of God reaching out of the music and drawing hearts to Himself. Virtually every youngster in the group responded to repent and receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

While the heavy intoxicating presence of God saturated that inner city sidewalk, we moved through the crowd, laying hands on their heads and praying over them. We asked that the Holy Spirit, Who had just now invaded their world, would expand from a match flame into a raging furnace of love for Jesus in their hearts.

Many went out in the Spirit on the spot. Kids were laying all over the carpet pieces having visions and hearing the tender voice of the Father for the first time.

We continued to move among them praying. Some began to weep. We comforted them as stories of rape and molestation were uninhibitedly expressed in the safety of the presence of Jesus. Hugs and prayers for healing were given in response.

In the crazy insanity of a drug infested neighborhood, an obnoxious dirt bike still roaring up and down the block, Jesus was standing, touching and holding His new lambs.

Suddenly, a car drove down the street. Small objects were being thrown out the windows of the car as it drove along. We looked and saw women literally on their knees in the street frantically picking something up. Sherry, our host, explained later that the drug dealers, to increase their illicit business, would scatter drugs in this manner, hooking and re-hooking the residents.

As ministry time on the sidewalk continued unabated, a few of the moms who were on their knees in the street wandered over to our meeting out of curiosity. Hearing the music, seeing the children lost in God, and feeling the tug of the Holy Spirit themselves they asked “can we get saved, too?” We led them to Jesus and prayed over them in hopes that they would have a life-changing encounter with God as well.

Our outreach meetings continued for a total of three nights. Many more came to Jesus. Sherry and her husband would perform the follow up as they lived right in the neighborhood. God was good. He not only protected us but also reaped a great harvest.

Back in our church, word of what God was doing on the street got out. One of the associate pastors cornered us after church. “Why are you doing this on the streets? Don’t you know that God can even more powerfully use you here in the House instead? Why don’t you do it here. You can give puppet shows to our Sunday School church kids”.

We were not swayed. For us, the streets were where Jesus was. We needed to be where He was and no where else.

Back in the neighborhood, we had just arrived and were getting out of our minivan. Suddenly, Debbie had a strong impression. She could not explain it other than she knew it was time to leave…and leave quickly. I objected. There were things we had planned to do that day in the neighborhood. Why leave now? Debbie was not deterred. She ordered our kids back into the van. “We have to go now!” she again demanded.

Reluctantly, I got back in the van and drove us away. This wasn’t making sense to me at all.

Later we found out what the urgency was. Sherry told us that right after we left, there was a gun battle in the very place where our van had been parked.

The moral of the story is this. There is much fruitful ministry awaiting in the inner cities of America and the world. However, one must only go when God says to go. Conversely, when He says to leave, obey and do so immediately! He is Lord of His harvest. We must submit to His leading and timing.

Our very lives could be dependent on it!

Next – “Face to Face” and “Mr Ed”

OF RATS AND MEN

We were on our way back to Baltimore. It had been five years since we made the decision to move to Woodbridge, VA where a massive Holy Spirit renewal was in full swing (see previous blogs). Renewal was over. My company was encouraging me to move back closer to the center of my sales territory. Our pilgrimage had reached its end.

It was the year 2000 and Tommy Tenney was conducting powerful renewal services at a church in north Baltimore. We had been commuting several times a week to attend. It would be great to live closer now.

We had placed a deposit on a lovely townhouse in a nice Baltimore suburb. God changed all of that.

We were at church and the Holy Spirit whispered two things to Debbie. “I don’t want you living in that suburb, I want you to move into the city” was one whisper. The other was “find Sherry and JD”.

Debbie didn’t even know who these people were. After asking around the church, we found them and introduced ourselves. They lived in the inner city.

We listened to their story.

They had followed the Spirit’s leading to move into a dilapidated row house in one of the most notorious areas of Baltimore. Several times the building materials like copper plumbing were stolen out of their house as they tried to rehab it. The drug dealer, angry about what they represented, sent his minions and blew up their car.

As they watched the flames rise from their destroyed vehicle, their resolve to remain and to be a light in the neighborhood strengthened.

Sherry and JD told us that they were starting a home fellowship in this neighborhood and they invited us to come. We were intrigued.

I watched Debbie. Until now, she had been afraid of the streets of Baltimore. Stopping at intersections and seeing drug deals go down had almost made her hyperventilate before. Now I was seeing a strange new courage and determination coming over her.

The next day we went to cancel our contract. We had a contingency clause that would allow us to back out of the new house if our old house in Virginia didn’t sell. Despite our best efforts, we just could not sell that property. However, at this moment, it worked out to our advantage as the sellers voided the contract and gave us our deposit back.

It was a mixed feeling of “what now?”, “did we do the right thing?”, and “did we hear God?” as we walked out of the builder’s office. Literally, as we drove out of the parking lot, we got a call from our realtor in Virginia. “Your house just sold!” she excitedly reported.

Arriving at Sherry and JD’s place for our first home group meeting, we were quite on edge. It was a threatening, scary neighborhood. We rushed inside from our car. While the adults met, their children invited ours to play in their “back yard”.

On the way home we found out from our kids that their back yard was actually the alley. The garbage men were too afraid to come, so the trash piled up in the alley. They really enjoyed the game that they played.

“What game was that?” we asked.

“Hunting” they replied. “We hunted with sharp sticks.”

“What was it you were hunting?” we inquired.

“Rats” they replied!

“…and they were as big as cats!”

Next week we were back at Sherry and JD’s. This time we were there for a prayer walk around the neighborhood. It seemed to all of us like a good idea to seed the neighborhood with prayer to prepare it for whatever it was that God would have us all do there.

Fear ran high as we walked the streets praying with our new home group buddies. A combination of adrenaline and Holy Spirit boldness kept us out there instead of hunkering down inside the row house.

We came upon a bar. Striking up a conversation with one of the patrons, we learned that she was a severe alcoholic and consequently had her kids taken away by social services. When we asked her if she would like personal prayer, she responded in the affirmative. We laid hands on her and began to pray. Suddenly, she collapsed to the sidewalk in a heap. At that time, we didn’t know if she passed out in a drunken stupor or if she was overcome by the Holy Spirit.

Others came out of the bar. They all wanted prayer. People were lined up down the block patiently waiting for us to pray over them. We were floored by the hunger of the people.

As a postscript to the lady who lost her children, we ran into her a couple of months later. She told us that she had been dry since we prayed over her and that she had gotten her kids back!

Seeing the desperation and openness of the residents in the inner city and the open door that God was giving us was further confirmation that when Debbie heard the Holy Spirit say “Go!” that she was truly hearing from God.

We quickly bought and moved into a house in the city not too far from Sherry and JD.

A new era of our lives was beginning. Renewal in Woodbridge ended but the immense deposit that it made in our lives was permanent. God wanted it poured out on the streets.

Next – “Drunken Moses” and “Face to Face”