Thanksgiving, Earthquakes and Emotional Breakdowns

Yesterday I was reflecting about the meaning of being thankful. My mind went to the usual–and accurate–places; I am thankful to God, for my family, friends, etc.

However, the more deeply I thought about it, a vivid memory surfaced–one that I had not recalled for at least two years.

On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, Port Au Prince, Haiti was hit with a magnitude 7 earthquake, devastating the impoverished island nation. That day, over 300,000 people lost their lives, 300,000 more were injured and over 1,000,000 became homeless.

Through Divine providence, I found myself in Port Au Prince, Haiti just a few days after the quake. Working with our good friends, Kurt and Debbie Holthus of Hope International Ministries, I was a part of a group of surgeons, surgical nurses, logistics experts and ministers. Our job was to do whatever we could to help.

The first few days on the ground were a bit tumultuous. We were sleeping on the grounds of a walled, half-built elementary school in the city. There were guards standing at the locked gate, keeping watch over our truck and over a million dollars worth of medical supplies as well as our personnel. I was laying on a concrete floor in a sleeping bag and couldn’t seem to fall asleep; there were constant after-shocks and chronic Voodoo drums surrounding us.

As I lay there trying to sleep, I could faintly hear some singing coming from the street in front of our gate.  I nudged my buddy, Pastor Ken Cramer, who was in the next sleeping bag, and asked him if he wanted to join me in checking out the singing in the street. Within a couple of minutes, we were both standing just inside the gate, listening to a group of people sing songs in Haitian Creole on the other side of the wall. Suddenly, I recognized the tune they were singing: Fanny Crosby’s classic, “Blessed Assurance!” By this time, Kurt Hothus had joined us and we convinced the guard to let us out of the gate to see who was singing.

The three of us quickly sat down on the curb, against the compound gates and as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. There were dirty mattresses neatly fit together in the center of the street, and upon them, were probably 30 or more people singing as their children were falling asleep on their laps. Their houses had been destroyed and they were afraid that further aftershocks would cause nearby buildings to topple down on them, so the middle of the street was the safest place to be.

As our eyes became familiar with the darkness, we could see the people’s condition.  There was a woman with a broken leg; her foot was twisted around and lying on the mattress in an unnatural position.  There were sleeping children with bandaged heads.  Most of the people lying on the mattress pallet were injured in some way.

The three of us found ourselves almost unconsciously singing along to the familiar tune of “Blessed Assurance,” though we were singing in English.  I looked over at Kurt and Ken and they, like me, had tears streaming down their cheeks as the language/culture barrier was collapsing.  Overcome with emotion, my heart felt like it was going to explode with a peculiar mixture of sorrow, pain, empathy, joy and belonging.

As the song came to an end, the lady with the twisted, broken leg began to lead the next song.  It was obvious that the song was particularly meaningful, because the whole group began to raise their hands and cry as they sang this song with more passion than we had yet heard.  I looked at my companions and asked them if they knew what song this was, but they, like me, recognized the familiar tune but couldn’t figure out the English lyrics.

All of the sudden, I was able to subconsciously attach English words to the familiar tune:

…and now, let the weak say, “I am strong,”

let the poor say, “I am rich because of what the Lord has done…”

These dear brothers and sisters were lying injured, on dirty mattresses, in the middle of an unsafe street, with no food, having lost everything singing, “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart.”

To say that I was overcome would be an understatement.  I don’t remember ever crying that deeply; it felt like the sobs came from my very soul.

Ken, Kurt and I quickly went and got these folks food and help.  Though we would move the next day–and not see them again, I relived this vivid, life changing memory again yesterday and yet another time in writing this.

Gratitude is not based on how much we have, our present condition or our sense of security.  We give thanks because of what the Lord Has done for us.

Have a blessed, authentic Thanksgiving.

19 Years Ago…

Nineteen years ago this May, Rochelle and I graduated from Central Bible College in Springfield, MO.  We did not know exactly what God had for us except that we were called to teach on the Holy Spirit in itinerant ministry.  I began to travel immediately after graduation by myself, then was joined by Rochelle after our wedding four months later.  We ran the wheels off of our little VW van as we drove coast to coast in ministry those first few years!

We are so grateful to God for His faithfulness as we celebrate the completion of our 19th year of full-time ministry.  We could not have made it without our family and faithful prayer partners — thanks for your love and support!  Thanks for believing in God’s call on our lives; we love you so much!

As we begin our 20th year of traveling and teaching on the Holy Spirit, will you join us in believing the Lord of the Harvest to call many more into the ministry?  Will you agree with us for an increase in fruitfulness and souls?  Will you pray for an increase in the anointing upon us?

We are believing God for the strength, protection, wisdom and sensitivity needed to enter our second decade of ministry — and believing Him for the greatest harvest we have yet seen.

Thanks for standing with us in prayer!

Love and Gratitude,


Pentecostalism is NOT the same thing as the Word of Faith Movement

I am generally opposed to negative posts, but a constantly arising issue needs to be addressed: what Pentecostalism is NOT.

Pentecostals are having a bit of an identity crisis because of decades of Christian media influence and a general lack of discernment on our part. I can understand when a poorly-researched secular writer lumps us in with other groups who share a doctrine or two with us, but unfortunately, many of our own can no longer detect the difference.

I am not saying that those in the Word of Faith (WOF) are not true Christians or that they are insincere or not effective in ministry. I simply want to point out that they are a different stream than classical Pentecostalism.

Though our Word of Faith friends share many of our doctrines, they also have many critical differences from Pentecostalism:

—Classical Pentecostalism does not embrace the “Prosperity Gospel” and its potentially materialistic ways; in fact–while we are thankful for God’s blessing–Pentecostalism has a rather developed experience and doctrine of suffering.

—We do not embrace the metaphysical definitions and formulas of faith expressed in the WOF’s “positive confession” doctrines. For example, the Assemblies of God actually has an official doctrinal position paper against such teaching.

—We do not embraced the tangled Christology of the WOF’s “Born-Again Jesus” doctrine (that Jesus had to be Born Again in Hell prior to his resurrection).

—We reject the idea that God operates by His own personal faith, i.e. “God has to have faith that what He says will actually happen.” God has no higher object upon whom to place His faith; he doesn’t have faith in that sense–He has omnipotent power!

—Pentecostals do not embrace many of the WOF’s healing doctrines and practices. We believe that God can and does supernaturally heal but we also keep His sovereignty intact, allowing Him divine prerogative to delay or deny such a request. We do not believe or practice that God must act upon our behalf because He is “legally bound to do so.” Nor do we believe that the sick person has defective faith if healing doesn’t come; this assumptive practice only leads already hurting people into condemnation–something that was never a fruit of the ministry of Jesus.

You may notice a subtle theme in these differences; many WOF teachings tend to empower and deify man while robbing God of His sovereignty and volition.

What do you think?

21st Century Pentecostalism: Bland Burgers with No Secret Sauce? PART TWO

Have you ever seen a devotional book that has only a snippet of scripture for each day along with several paragraphs (or pages) of the author’s thoughts and reflections?  Devotional books are a helpful, practical tool to consistently assimilate the Word of God into our lives—and for that I’m thankful—but could it be that having a partial verse excerpt along with greater amounts author’s content may not satisfy our RDA of scripture intake?  Perhaps we need some more Word in our diet.  Don’t throw out your new devotional, just make sure to also dig into the Word for yourself.

Here’s where I feel the Holy Spirit is applying this principle to the church:  our corporate practice of Pentecostal spirituality often overlooks the public reading of scripture.  It is very easy for leaders to take a “devotional book” approach to constructing a worship service, insomuch as the only scripture read in some church services is the preaching text.

Paul encouraged Timothy, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tim 4:13).  I think we practice the exhortation and teaching part with passion and diligence, but do we truly value the public reading of scripture enough that we “give attention to it” as much as teaching? 

Rochelle and I were recently ministering at a church that valued publicly reading the Word so much that it was an essential part of each service—and not just an obligatory snippet.  The leadership would either begin each service with or after worship read a pertinent chunk of God’s Word.  They would typically read together out loud as a group off of the projection screen.  How refreshing!  The paragraph/s read were prayerfully selected, relevant to the direction of the services and had a noticeable effect on the spiritual climate in the room.

I would like to dare Pentecostal leaders to evaluate how much scripture is read in the worship contexts they lead.  I would even suggest the occasional cutting back of other non-essentials to make room for longer portions to read.

I vividly remember a leadership retreat while studying for the ministry at Central Bible College.  The speaker that night was Dr. Terry Bleek and his entire message was simply the reading of Psalm 119.  At first—I must confess—I looked at my watch in disbelief, but in a matter of minutes the room’s spiritual climate changed.  By the time Psalm 119 was read, the room was seized with a new passion for reading the Word.  Some students spent hours that night digesting large portions of the scriptures, as the Word had become its own appetizer.

As Pentecostals, we are people of the Word.  We believe in the inerrancy of scripture and in the transforming power of words inspired and preserved by the Holy Spirit.  I believe we need to rediscover this biblically essential part of our public worship times; perhaps this would stir up a greater hunger for the Word in all of our hearts?

What do YOU think about the Lakeland, Florida Healing Revival?

Now lasting over 50 consecutive days, Lakeland, Florida is once again the topic of both the revival hungry and the skeptic–and everyone in between.

With what began as a five day meeting with Canadian Evangelist, Todd Bentley, Auburn, FL’s Ignited Church has jumped into the international spotlight. Web-casting and live satellite coverage on GodTV have given immediate international attention to the mixture of traditional revivalism and unusual phenomena. If you’ve witnessed it you are either supportive, cautious, confused or in opposition.

I have studied revival movements closely and have noticed that there has never been a 100% God, 0% human revival. Gordon Anderson rightly noted that a “mighty rushing wind kicks up a lot of dust.” The Lakeland revival is no diferent. No one can deny that God is not at least 1% involved there, but deeply concerning doctrinal issues along with sensationalism have raised the eyebrows of many–myself included.

So at what “God” percentage do we condone or condemn a revival movement? I propose that God is certainly at work in Lakeland but the movement is too young to either totally endorse it OR to totally write it off.

My reason for keeping my opinions on hold is that God uses imperfect people. The only perfect person ever used of God is God Himself, Jesus. Even the “Super-Apostles”–Peter and Paul–both evidenced faults in their latter years: Peter with false doctrine (Gal 2:11-16) and Paul’s broken relationship with Barnabas and John Mark. The good news is that both issues were reconciled after some time and/or correction; the “God percentage” was in a state of increase. This principle does not, however, excuse long term resistance to correction and/or arrogance.

My present judgment of the Lakeland revival follows suit. Though I have distinct theological concerns over issues there, I feel my present responsiblity is to pray that Todd Bentley (and the leadership) grows and learns; that they would know God’s grace and correction so that they can continuously decrease, thus allowing God to increase. This, by the way, is my prayer for our own ministry as well.

In conclusion, I do not think there is any specific “God percentage” (i.e. God 50% and human 50%) upon which we can base our judgment at this infancy stage of a potential revival, but rather we look for growth, deveolpment and doctrinal improvement. Are things getting better or worse over a certain period of time?

I pray that Todd Bentley quickly distances himself from the more alarming doctrines (such as guidance by “Emma” and others) and transparently yields himself to some needed restraint in the promotion of extra-biblical experiences and sensationalism. These issues are critical, but none are too hard for our great and gracious God to handle.

Please join me in praying for Todd Bentley.

What do you think? Let me know.

For Pastors: Leadership of Public Vocal Gifts

This post is for those in Pastoral leadership or for those who lead a small group or Bible study. These are comments to get your thinking processes going about the administration of public Spiritual gifts.
Let me know what you think; click HERE to leave a comment.

As in every aspect of spiritual leadership, the leader sets the tone for those they lead. The administration of supernatural vocal gifts is no different; the leader sets both the spiritual and communal climates in which the gifts will (or will not) flow, steering the direction of the group they oversee. Over the years I have witnessed leaders over-correct and create a climate of fear or under-correct and create a three-ring circus. Once again, balance and Spirit dependence are the critical issues.

As a general rule, it is more common to be in an environment where more gifts need to be manifested than less. This single fact should change our approach from one of pre-correction to one of cultivating an openness to the gifts. Perhaps our teaching shouldn’t begin with all of the corrective measures of 1 Corinthians 14, but instead with the enabling tone of chapter 12 first, “let’s learn about how these gifts can build us up.” Why vaccinate the whole group for a disease that only a few unteachable ones will ever catch? After the climate of openness is set, then progress to teach about divine order.

A practical starting point is to be more entry-level in our approach. Many are afraid that a public utterance in tongues will freak out the visitors. An easy solution is to simply commentate and explain what is happening. “The Bible tells us that God sometimes speaks to us through prophetic gifts; what we just heard is a public gift of tongues. You can read more about it in 1 Cor 12. The Bible instructs us that we are to now wait for someone to tell us the meaning through another gift, interpretation.” Seizing corporate teachable moments can do more than preaching a 10 week series; but don’t neglect to offer biblical teaching from an enabling perspective as well.

Seizing the moments can also facilitate helping our people enter into a new realm spiritually. “While we wait for the interpretation, God may desire to use someone who has never been used this way before. If you have ever desired God to use you in this way, why not invite Him to do it now? If you sense the Holy Spirit moving on you, ask Him if He wants you to speak out and give the interpretation today.”

A simple welcoming of the gifts to flow in your pastoral prayer each service opens people’s hearts to being used. “Holy Spirit, we welcome your supernatural gifts to flow in this service. As you desire, would you enable some who have not yet experienced your gifts to beautifully experience them today?”

As leaders, we define the culture for the expression of spiritual gifts; fear or openness. Avoid public correction unless you know from the Spirit that it is absolutely necessary, because harsh public correction will create a corporate fear of humiliation.

If you do sense that correction is necessary, ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, he’ll give it to you. I have a pastor-friend who was having some challenges with uncorrectable, unsubmitted people arrogantly abusing the vocal gifts. Though he was tempted to call down fire from heaven upon them, he prayed earnestly for a peaceable answer. A short while later, he was visiting a shut-in who had been a spiritual pillar of the church, delivering the previous week’s recording of the church service for her to listen to. As they visited, this saint asked a beautiful question, “Pastor, when I listen to the church service tapes, I can surmise that some utterance gifts are happening at times—but I can’t hear what is being said. I love the moving of the Holy Spirit and wish there was some way that I could hear these gifts on the tapes.” God had sent the answer! The next Sunday morning, the pastor told his congregation about his conversation with the saintly shut-in, asking if those who were sensing a gift bubbling up would move to a microphone near the front. The people understood his rationale and it immediately put an end to those unaccountable manifestations. He also remarked that many people in the sanctuary later positively comment that they could now hear the utterance gifts clearly over the PA system—for the first time.

Have your leadership create a biblical policy to help those who are abusive in the gifts. Perhaps first a gentle visit after a service with a few elders. Second, if things don’t change, a visit with the pastor and the first group of elders followed up with a nice but firm letter recalling the conversation. If that doesn’t work, an official discipline and forbiddance of the offender to use vocal gifts for a set time. If the person arrogantly disregards the discipline and blurts out again, the only option is public correction—but with an adequate explanation telling of your church’s procedure. “We never correct this way publicly unless the person has disregarded our set disciplinary process.” While severe, this should stem off a culture of fear for those who humbly desire God to use them while, at the same time, reinforce the shepherd’s nature of the pastor—protecting the flock from harm.

Another New Book…

It is no secret that the late Dr. Charles S. Price has significantly influenced my life. He had one of the most renowned Pentecostal healing ministries of his day, and yet possessed a rock solid understanding of God’s Word and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

His clear teaching on the subject of faith has opened new worlds to me. He gracefully and kindly taught against the faith formula of the Word of Faith Movement (such as “positive confession”), yet his message was anything but negative; in fact, his writing is some of the most faith inspiring material you will ever read.

Several years ago, my dear friend John Carver Jr. and I released two of Dr. Price’s books in one volume, The Meaning of Faith & The Sick are Healed. Destiny Image published this collection for us and it is still available on our website or at your local Christian bookstore.

Now our ministry is re-releasing what I believe to be Dr. Price’s greatest book, The Real Faith along with a mini-biography on his life (by yours truly). I honestly believe that this is the greatest book ever penned on the subject of faith and I know it will deeply affect your life.

Click here to find out more information or to order your copy.

New Book Available Soon!

“Helping Others Receive the Gift” is a book geared for ministers, small group leaders and ministry students.

It is a practical resource about ministering the Spirit Baptism in a variety of contexts.

I just got word that it is going to press in the next few days; I’ll keep you posted when the actual release date is known.

See the September 22 post below for more details about the book.

Facilitating the Holy Spirit’s Moving: Holy Bingo?

I used to think that great moves of the Holy Spirit were, while most desirable, rare and enigmatic. Perhaps God had a bingo cage in heaven where each numbered ball corresponded to a specific church; if you had any spiritual luck (that’s a great term!) your church might be the big winner some Sunday.

While that illustration may seem a bit farcical, the implication is a common belief: God seems to only send great moves of His Spirit once in a century and you must be in the right spot at the right time–wearing a cotton-poly blend suit–to participate.

Once again my experience–or lack of it–had gotten in the way. Once again I trusted my own subjective judgments over biblical principles. Same song, different verse.

We learn from scripture that God has always desired to pour out His Spirit and that Pentecost was the fulfillment of His desire. Since that initial outpouring, the gate is open. In Acts 2, Peter explained that this promise is for us and for our children and all following generations, yet, we still live with a bingo mindset rather than an open catcher’s mitt mentality.

If God really wants to send His Spirit’s power to us, what must we do to facilitate it? Where can we find a spiritual catcher’s mitt?

This past year, God has been dealing with me about time and schedule in our conferences. I have noticed that I frequently operate with an “I’ll do what I think is best unless God interrupts me” premise. Perhaps this is the default setting for those in ministry who have grown tired of waiting for God to call his or her church’s bingo number.

Through prayer, studying the scriptures and introspection, I have consistently heard God challenging my bingo mindset. I have become more convinced that He desires more, not less, than I could ask or imagine.

He has shown me that if I get rid of my bingo cage, I’d see that I already have the catcher’s mitt. So do you. It’s called TIME. Chronology. Just few moments of “Selah” in the middle of a church service or Bible study causes everyone’s spiritual sensitivity to become more acute. Just a simple silent pause after some worship songs or prayer; a silent lifting of our catcher’s mitt to heaven. Long enough to feel out of control, then He shows us what to do next. We can always trust Him.

Leaders are afraid of dead air because it appears unprofessional and silence is uncomfortable to us input-junkie Americans. We need flashing lights and subwoofers to enhance our Gen-X sacrament of baptism in vats of Red Bull–high energy thrill rides whose script disallows any time for failure.

We as leaders fear the unpredictable; but that is exactly the nature of the Holy Spirit. His wind blows unpredictably; Jesus said so.

I dare you as a pastor, Sunday school teacher or small group leader to give a few quiet, uncluttered corporate moments to try on the catcher’s mitt again. After all, it’s what the people we lead really want to experience anyway. Just a minute or so is all it takes before you hear the wind beginning to gently blow.

I guess it has always been blowing; we just couldn’t hear it over the racket of our bingo cages.