05 March 2007

Kids with mad healing skills

I wanted to write something else down here, more for the sake of recording it than for anything else.

A couple of weeks ago I went to my very first healing/revival service. To be blunt, I’ve never really seen anything like that before and I’ve been pondering the whole thing ever since.

I want to be careful about how I speak on this topic. The Word says that we can tell a tree by its fruit, and I don’t have any significant doubt that I was in the presence of genuine miraculous healings, so I want to be sure I’m not slandering a move of the Holy Spirit – but I also was puzzled and a little unnerved by the whole thing.

A little background: as I understand it, there is a church in Redding, CA that has been having a significant healing ministry there for some time now. And I understand there are a long list of well documented, miraculous healings coming from that church (Bethel) for everything from the flu to cancer. At some point, they also started a “school of supernatural ministry” for high-school ages and up. Some time after that, they started sending out teams, largely made up of high-school aged believers, to offer this ministry to others. Some time after that...I’m almost there...one of those teams wound up visiting McMinnville, OR which is just down the highway from me. Following?

So one Saturday about three weeks ago I found myself in the community center with what must have been 500-600 other folks waiting to see what this was all about. This is a ministry characterized by something known colloquially as ‘Holy Laughter’ in which the kids pretty much act like they’re nine sheets to the wind. It’s sort of cute, mostly endearing, but I also found it pretty disruptive when I wanted to hear what the (older) pastor was talking about. Part of their ministry is to share this laughter and they come around touching folks in the audience – some of whom follow suit and start laughing drunkenly. I also went up to be ‘blessed’ in this way and though I did not bust out laughing it was undeniable that the touch of these kids had a palpable electricity to it. You could feel...something...in their touch, something big. Did my doubt and reservation prevent me from participating? That’s a fairly reasonable conclusion I think, but I can’t say that I really regret it. I see in myself a certain weakness where ecstatic experiences, even Holy ones, could lead me to seek the experience more than my Lord so maybe this also passed me by simply because I wasn’t ready for that kind of thing. But I digress...

When the laughing thing had sort of built over 45 minutes or so, and the crowd was pretty awake, then the healing prayers started. It was pretty chaotic really. With a crush of people pressing into the stage area and these 15 or so teenagers praying and prophesying and speaking in tongues. A few years ago I would have been very uncomfortable but this night I really wanted to understand something about healing because it’s been on my heart for years (ever since Carol Austin died if you want to know) and if this is what a healing service looked liked, I wanted to see it. But it’s hard to say what I really saw. I know there was an old blind woman right in front of me who came to be healed. A young man with a partially bleached fin of hair prayed for her in earnest...she was not healed. But other folks right around me were announcing significant success - an apparent full recovery from a torn ACL, instant delivery from bi-polar disorder including a man who was at the home church a few years ago and was healed from the same thing – three years and no medication after 20 years with it. Arthritis, lupus, emphysema...unless I want to call all these people bald-faced liars then I was in the immediate presence of genuine healing...and I was curiously underwhelmed. :(

I confess that there is it least some doubt in my mind. How do I know emphysema guy didn’t make the whole thing up? I never saw him before his healing – maybe he was never sick. Lupus? A disease for hypochondriacs! Bah! Humbug!

Healing remains for me a subject that rests comfortably in my mind, but not yet in my heart, which is odd because I was ‘the hand’ in at least one healing...I think. It’s additionally odd because God routinely pings me on the topic. He’s often asking me to pray for somebody’s healing, just this weekend I prayed for Jim MacIntosh – a man in a wheelchair, and I try to be obedient even though I strangely ambivalent. It’s like that guy in Mark, “I believe. Help me in my belief.” And it’s not bitterness or anything ugly like that – I’m not envious of those laughing, healing teens, but something is definitely not connecting in me.

When Odin was in the hospital, I prayed fervently for his healing...and it didn’t go anywhere. When I talk about the miracle that he survived at all, I mean it, but I’m also disappointed. And perhaps that’s at the root of all this. I mentioned Carol Austin earlier. Rebekah and I were in this small group with Carol and her husband who were both (by all appearances) some of the most faithful and solid Christians I’ve ever met. Before Carol knew she was sick she had a vision of Jesus approaching her in church and saying, “Don’t be afraid. You’re healed.” Her response was something like, ‘That’s great Lord – healed from what?” A few weeks or months later she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. For about a year and a half, we prayed in agreement and in faith for nothing more than that Christ’s words to Carol be true and seeing her faith made it easy to agree with her. But in the end she died and I don’t think I’ve really processed that very well. Healing is so mysterious and so long as nobody we love is sick we can sagely ponder the inscrutable nature of God.

But when your son is dieing...
Mysterious seems capricious.
Inscrutable looks a lot like fickle.

I don’t know, maybe I’m a little (a lot?) pissed that Carol died. Maybe I’m sorely hurt by the un-answer to my life’s most earnest and desperate prayer. I’m told that the pastor at this church in Redding started this ministry because his own son is deaf and he longed to see healing there. Something like 1000 healings later and his son is still deaf – in fact, his son has prayed for several other deaf people...who’ve been healed.

I’ve taught that our ability to fight and defeat the demonic rests solidly on both the authority granted to us by Jesus, but also and perhaps more immediately our own ability to believe in and appropriate that authority as valid and real. Do we have the same kind of authority to heal? It would seem the 70 did...and yet if I went to church on Sunday and found that crippled Jim HAD been healed, would that cement my belief in miraculous healing or would I check my calendar for Odin’s next outpatient esophageal dilation and remain ambivalent?


risa said...

I've been chewing this one over in my mind a bit this week, not sure how to phrase a response. If I had been there, I'm sure that I would have been equally unnerved.

Do I believe that Jesus heals miraculously? Yes! Do I believe that he can use anyone as a vessel for healing, even teens or children? Yes! Do I believe in "tongues" and "prayer languages"? Well, yes... but admittedly I am often skeptical about how they are used. Do I believe in holy laughter? Um...maybe? Can't say that I have a frame of reference for this one.

While I worked at a summer camp in college, there was one large Portland-based church that held their junior and senior high camps there. For two weeks out of the summer, I found myself surrounded -and mystified- by these charasmatic youngsters. Another staffer and I decided to attend one of their evening worship services, and were quite possible the only two people in that room NOT speaking in tongues or some secret prayer language. Part of me was utterly fascinated, completely intrigued by the freedom these teens expressed in their worship. Another part of me froze, however, disturbed by the commands of the worship leader, "Everyone speak in tongues! Right now! Everyone speak in tongues!" A very cold and skeptical part of my mind kept saying This isn't right. The Bible instructs that tongues be used one person at a time, and always with an interpreter. So there I sat, judging these folks around me and the "legality" of the way they were conducting worship. (Pharisee anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)

I know that this isn't exactly the same issue as you brought up, Chris, but it's where my mind automatically went as I read your post. Sometimes I get in the frame of mind where I focus on Satan being the Great Pretender, twisting God's gifts and, well, jacking us up. That's when I find myself most skeptical. At other times, I think I'm just being quick to dismiss things that aren't comfortable for me, and maybe these folks have a freedom and a gift that I'll never have if I remain a Doubting Thomas.

Tough subjects to think about, Chris... Can you teach spiritual gifts, train people how to heal or laugh in the Spirit? Believers and skeptics alike, how might we be distorting or inhibiting what Jesus may be trying to do? How do we ride the current of the Father's will when the outcomes are so different and some find healing while others do not?

BIG STUFF here. Thanks, Chris! :o)


Marilyn said...

There's so much I could say here but this just isn't the best forum. I guess Devin and I are going to have to come for a visit ourselves as I would love to discuss this topic more and you know actually meet you guys.

I grew up in the midst of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. Church just wasn't church unless there was some sort of "move of the spirit." This could mean prophecy in tongues with interpretation, a healing service could "break out," being slain in the spirit, holy laughter, individual prophecies, etc. I've been witness to miracles and to well the not so miraculous. I've participated in almost all of the above.

And I know a little something about not being healed. I was diagnosed with scoliosis almost 20 years ago. I've been prayed over repeatedly by average Joe Christian to the latest and greatest traveling evangelist, apostle, missionary, or healing pastor. As far as I know, my spine is still just as crooked today as it was at the time of my diagnosis. Not only that but over the years on top of scoliosis has been added a herniated disc and nerve damage.

There have been times in the past of confusion, anger, disbelief, and grief. I've come to a place of acceptance of my condition I think. As much as I can. There are still days I still feel a wee bit bitter but I have to trust that God knows best. I assume there's some greater purpose. Maybe it's nothing more than a test of my faith or maybe it's preventing me from doing something that would only bring me greater injury or pain. It is definitely beyond my understanding.

One thing I would say is this. In my past experience I think it made me very narrow minded about God. I had a very specific idea of what constituted a miracle or a move of God. To be healed by God meant a very specific and instantaneous thing. Then once I had been having severe neck pain for several months and one Sunday our pastor gave an altar call for anyone who had been experiencing neck pain. I thought, wow, this is it, God's actually going to heal something related to my spine. I went up. I lifted my hands. I prayed in tongues. I got prayed for. I did everything I was supposed to do. Afterwards I felt...the same. Pain was still there. I thought well I guess this isn't it. However, that night in my sleep the Holy Spirit woke me up. Not like all the way awake, just enough to hear him speak. He told me to pay attention to how I was sleeping. I had been sleeping with both hands under my head with my shoulders scrunched together just inches apart. He told me to sleep keeping my shoulders straight. So, I started sleeping hugging a pillow in order to keep my shoulders apart until I had made a habit of it. I haven't had that neck pain since I started sleeping that way.

I said all that to say this. Don't limit God's ability to heal to any one thing. God heals in many ways and in His own time. Sometimes I think He evens heals through doctors. Crazy I know.

I know the Pentecostals and those like them like to think they have the market cornered on healing and what not. I'm here to say I don't thinks so. I don't think they know any more than the rest of us they just try more. I think they're more willing to be humble and admit how hungry they are for something tangible from God.

I do think they have some of the best music services. I miss the music. I miss being able to get on my knees before God and cry at an altar with fellow believers. I miss actual expressive worship. They worship God out loud and with their whole being. There's room for true passion for God.

Risa said...

Thank you for sharing your experience! Yes, you and Devin should definitely come to Oregon for a visit! We'd all love to see you guys (or meet you for the first time in many cases)!
While Tualatin Foursquare is not uber-charismatic, there is definitely arm-raising and flag waving, and whooping and shouting (from Chris as often as not) and lots of prayer and intercession. Then you can head up to City Bible Church for an all-out Pentecostal jam session! ;o)