Some of you who know me well know a bit of my Christian journey. I was baptized as an infant at Ontario United Methodist Church in Ontario, Oregon and I asked Jesus to be my Savior when I was 13. I remained a very immature but zealous Christian until college. In college I wanted to party so I decided to become a liberal “Christian.” God by his grace brought me back to the faith with some relationships, some books and with my own inner struggle. For the next few years, while I was a youth pastor at a United Methodist church, I tried to embrace mainstream Evangelicalism. It was actually a very good time where God’s presence was very evident in my life and where I began to ask the Holy Spirit to take control of my prayer. I felt called to seminary and went to Asbury where I was richly blessed by God.
God messed with me a lot during my first year at Asbury. I came out of that year broken. I struggled regularly with fits of depression and anxiety. I told a friend that I felt “weak.” I also struggled with doubt a lot during that time. There were weeks when I had to will myself into being a Christian. But during that time God continued to meet me, I would say, miraculously. When I returned home to Washington from seminary in 2006 I was invited by a good friend and brother in Christ, Josh Monen, to a church service that was a ministry of a local Pentecostal church. The ministry was called ‘Fan the Flame,’ taken from 2nd Timothy 1:6 - “For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” I was suffering the first time I went. The service was held in a barn in the countryside not far from my house. We worshipped and there was a short message. Then there was a prayer time. A family went up to be prayed for and I imagined that the service would wind down and I would talk with my friend for a while and go home. But that’s not what happened. As I said, I was suffering. I was standing about halfway back in the congregation, minding my own business, when the guy who had preached, Ross, pointed at me and said something like, “you need prayer.” He couldn’t have been more right. I went up and balled my eyes out before a whole congregation of people (something I had never done before and couldn’t imagine myself doing) while brothers and sisters layed on hands, prayed, prophesied and spoke in tongues. I asked for healing and I received it. I was free of the frightening depression and anxiety that had plagued me for months and it has not returned since. That was the first miracle of that summer. Fan the Flame continued to amaze me throughout the summer. I’ve commented to Josh that Fan the Flame has been the only place where, on a Monday, I was excited about what might happen at church on Sunday that week. There were a number of amazing things that happened that summer but one other thing is worthy of note. I’ve mentioned it on this blog before. One Sunday we had a guest preacher at Fan the Flame. I came to the service as usual not knowing what to expect but excited about what God had in store for that night. After he had preached, the guest preacher began telling random people from the congregation to stand up. He would then lay his hand on their head, pray, speak in tongues and prophesy. I am a skeptic. My natural reaction to every situation is to find a naturalistic explanation. I was skeptical about this preacher. I didn’t want him to prophesy over me because I loved Fan the Flame and I knew that if he said something that wasn’t true, I would be devastated. He walked down the center aisle, pointed at me and said, “stand up!” I obeyed and he began to speak in tongues and prophesy. He said something to the effect of “you have been hurt by a church in the past and you still need to forgive them.” First of all, I was happy that what he said was true. But I was also able to remain skeptical because I thought to myself, “lot’s of people have been hurt by churches - he could probably have said that to three quarters of the people here.” The fact was that I had been hurt by a church - the liberal church I had grown up in. But I thought I had forgiven the people there. After the service I went up to the preacher, Frank, and I let him know that what he said was true but that I felt like I had already forgiven those people. He looked at me and said something like, “I have something more to tell you - you are bitter about that church and that bitterness is affecting your theology.” I was surprised about having been contradicted but two words he used surprised me. The two words were “bitter” and “theology.” As I thought about it, I realized that this guy who didn’t even know me told me the same thing that the guy who knows me best, Blake Brodien, had been telling me for months at seminary. Blake had been telling me that I was bitter about liberalism and this ‘prophet’ now said the same thing. The other word that struck me was “theology.” This struck me because I was studying theology - and bitterness certainly was affecting it. In fact, I’d be willing to say that bitterness about liberalism was the primary force driving my theology. As you can imagine, that is a pretty unhealthy source of theology. As I thought about this true prophet’s words I grew more and more amazed. I was so amazed that I later asked my friend Josh whether he had talked to this preacher about me before the service - he hadn’t. On further thought, another aspect of the words of this prophet which struck me was that what he had to say was what I really needed to hear. At the service, before he prophesied over me, I had thought about what God would probably want to say to me through a prophet. I thought about the obvious struggles with sin in my life. I thought about lust among other things. But the struggle that this prophet hit me with was something that was very real but also something that I was in denial about. Hearing that I was bitter from him made me finally listen up after my best friend had been telling me the same thing for months. I would be lying if I said that the bitterness was gone - it’s not. But I’m aware of it and I realize that stoking it and feeding on it is keeping me in a kind of bondage that God wants me to be free of.
In my experience with Pentecostalism, I have seen little of what seems so problematic to those on the outside. That’s not to say that the problems aren’t real. But in my experience, Pentecostals are a group of people who value intimacy with God above all else, who believe the Bible and who are willing to live self-sacrificial lives. They are also aware of the marvelous and miraculous ways in which God acts in people’s lives today and they expect miracles in their churches. I believe that God honors this openness to His power by doing amazing things in Pentecostal churches.