An Overcritical Society


While I was painting my new digs yesterday, I was listening to an audiobook called Love Does, narrated by the author himself, Bob Goff. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first. Whenever I see a new Christian book get a lot of attention and it’s written by an author I’ve never heard of, I fear that it might be off in some serious doctrinal sense or something. But I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one had caught my eye a few times.

By the end of the first chapter, I was in awe. By the end of the second I was cracking up. Three hours later I had experienced every emotion under the sun. This guy is clearly the most interesting man in the world and has so many crazy stories that I am just awestruck. It is by far the most interesting, hilarious, and enjoyable Christian book I have ever read.

It’s full of stories that all find a strange way of relating back to God. And for that reason, there are a few (and I mean very few) critics of this book. From what I can tell, nearly everyone love is. But I was checking it out on Amazon today when I saw that someone gave it a one star review. Feeling anger come over me (as I hate one star reviews on anything), I clicked on it to see what could possibly make someone give this book one star.

And as usual, the one star review was a bunch of crap. They took things too seriously and saw the enjoyable jokes and stories as sin and stupidity.

This picture isn't me dissing XKCD. I think that site is typically hilarious :D

Let me just tell you that when you live a life of criticism like this, you become bitter and difficult to be around. No one likes it when someone’s there to rip everything a part. I know this because I’ve been that guy plenty of times.

  • “Yeah, that album is their worst.”
  • “Yeah, that movie was awful. I know you liked it but…”
  • “Yeah, he’s okay at guitar but…”
  • “Yeah, but etc…”

Look, we all have preferences and thoughts about things, but if you find yourself consistently leaving negative comments on every YouTube video, book and music album that comes out, there’s actually probably something wrong with you—not with the things you’re rating.

  • That’s why people who talk too much trash on online video games now have to pay money at times to play online games.
  • That’s why YouTube is trying to figure out how to stop people from leaving awful comments on videos and is thinking of displaying your actual name so you can’t hide behind the internet.

I had an ex who once told me that there was absolutely nothing words could do to hurt anyone. All they are, are in fact, words. It was as though we were back on the playground singing, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” But we all know that’s not true. I’ve never been in more pain from the things people have said to me than the physical pain I’ve experienced.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:6-12)

I know: the irony (and perhaps hypocrisy) is that I’m criticizing critics. But my goodness—grow up! You live in a world full of creativity and there is no need to be so overcritical about every little thing, ESPECIALLY in the church!

  • You know why so many pastors burn out? Because for some reason, people think that their pastor needs to know everything they don’t like about what they do or say.
  • You know why worship leaders go to another church? Because for some reason, we give the worship band one star because she’s flat, he hit a wrong note, that beat was lame, and the intro was just a bit too loud.
  • You know why that new person left? Because for some reason, she saw more love at the bar with her drunk buddies than she saw in the pew next to her.

Despite our call from Jesus not to judge one another, we consistently whack people in the face with the 2×4’s sticking out of our eyes.

Over the past two months or so, I’ve been practicing holding my tongue more than I ever have in my life. Yes, things still slip out here and there, but I’ve found that when I just shut up about things that annoy me, I don’t care much about it. I don’t give it room to fester in conversation—I don’t give it the ability to overtake my thoughts.

I can feel an incredible change in my life because of it.

Alright, there’s my thoughts for the day. If you leave a nasty comment on this blog post or leave one star, you’ve obviously missed the point.

More thoughts on this post? Read my post All Christians are Called to Missions, listen to my message Forgiveness under the Luke series on the 1208 iPhone app, or read Greg Boyd’s book Repenting of Religion.

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Intimacy

Today I have something burning on my heart that I’d like to talk about. And chances are that unless you think my blog title is referring to sex, you won’t read this post. But, should you have a little extra time on your hands and feel like doing some reading, then read on!

Now this post is aimed at both charismatics and evangelicals and when you read what I have to say, I want you to realize that I’m writing to you as both a charismatic and an evangelical. In other words, take what I have to say knowing that I’ve experienced your churches, your worship, and your overall way of life. I’m not just targeting you for the sake of an argument—I’m just trying to present some ideas to you in hopes to grow you in your relationship with Christ.

A Letter to Charismatics

First off, I’d like to write to those of you who consider yourself to be charismatic or Pentecostal. Again, I write to you in love and also in generalization. For that reason, if you don’t believe you fit my description, then just read on for some thoughts rather than critique.

You charismatics are known very well for hosting the presence of God. You speak in tongues, you work miracles, and you pray as though apocalypse is upon us. People call you crazy. People think you’re literally insane.

But you know better. You know that the Holy Spirit has fallen upon you even though there’s countless numbers of people who don’t believe it to be true. You know for certain that you’re experiencing God and you even yearn for your insulters to share that experience. You want them to get “whacked” by the Holy Spirit. You want them to get their mind boggled by the presence. You want them to see visions and receive gifts from God. You create an environment in which the Trinity operates freely.

You know the presence—the intimacy—of God. You’re addicted to it. You cry for more and more of it to be imparted because you just can’t get enough of His presence. And honestly, who could? I mean, when the real and tangible God is obviously among you, why would you want anything else?

But that’s also part of the problem. Now this is going to come out a little weird, but I’m going to say it anyways:

Some of you are so addicted to the intimacy of God that it’s almost all you know of Him. You base much of your understanding of God off of your experience. You scoff the rest of the church for their doctrines and theologies, even though your own experiential understanding of God is in fact theology—it just tends to be weak and honestly, a bit apathetic.

You’re not always up for doing the research because half the time your getting revelation to go off of. And revelation is great and all, but I think you’ll find that if your revelation is true, it’ll be proven in the word of God. Want to preach a strong message? Do some homework. God gave you 66 books of revelation to go off of.

And furthermore, what exactly is intimacy?
And can you have it just by feeling the presence of God?

You wouldn’t call that intimacy within the context of a spouse, would you? I know the analogy becomes a bit crude, but I think it fits. I mean, if you just feel your spouse and your entire relationship is based off of being in their presence, would you call that intimacy?

Is sex itself intimacy?
I would say it’s not.

You can’t truly have intimacy with a person unless you’re at least adamantly searching to know everything about them. It goes beyond just presence. It requires loving God with your heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Perhaps that’s why people can operate in the gifts of God and yet still find themselves on a path towards hell (Matthew 7:22-23). Perhaps we can spend so much time seeking out the presence of God that we just never take the time to know Him.

Again, I love charismatics and on top of that—I am one. It doesn’t take very long to surf the hundreds of posts on this blog to figure that out. But unfortunately, when we focus so much on feeling and so little on knowing, we end up saying things like this:

Up through ‘its’ and ‘isms,’ theories, creeds, doctrines, and schisms; issues and movements, blessings, experiences, and professions, we have come… We need no more theology or theory. Let the devil have them. Let us get to God. (97)

I’m not going to lie. This quote infuriates me. It’s the quote that got me wanting to go on this entire rant and it comes from Frank Bartleman’s book Azusa Street. That’s right, the same book I’ve written positively about in not one, but two posts in the past week.

And it’s fine, I know that I’m not going to agree with everything a person has to say. But when you get to the point of attributing the study of God to the devil, you’ve crossed a line. I have few problems with Bartleman and I love the guy (I even suggest you read his book!), but seriously—pay attention to what you’re saying and the implications thereof.

Doctrine and theology are a must in your faith and will bring support to your Christian life like you have never known before. Stop tearing it apart just because the church you used to go to relied too heavily on it.

A Letter to Evangelicals

Which brings me to my statement to evangelicals. Now I don’t really feel like I have to say a lot because generally, you’re the vice versa of the letter to charismatics.

You’re focus tends to be on understanding who God is with your mind. You love doctrine and theology because you know it brings you closer to Him. You know that the better you understand who He is, the better you understand who you are supposed to be. If you could just wrap your mind around Him, you would be the able to find the intimacy you’ve been looking for.

But what exactly is intimacy?
And can you have it just by knowing God?

You wouldn’t call that intimacy within the context of a spouse, would you? Again, the analogy becomes a bit crude, but I think it fits. I mean, if you just know who your spouse is and your entire relationship is based off of the knowledge of who they are, would you call that intimacy?

Is knowledge itself intimacy?
I would say it’s not.

What I do believe, is that there is an emptiness that can be found in most evangelicals today. They know all about God and who He is, but they don’t feel Him. They believe that the Holy Spirit’s presence and intimacy is among them where two or three are gathered, but they have little or no idea of what it looks or feels like. Or perhaps they’ve heard the rumors from Pentecostal circles and simply don’t believe it.

Either way, you should know that God is looking to have you experience Him. He loves that you know who He is, but He longs to show you more. He wants to be tangible and real to you and He wants to fill that void you feel. He’s not looking to just be head-knowledge. He is actually longing for you to have an experience of Him.

When you reject this longing in your soul, you’ll find yourself with pharisaical tendencies. You’ll live completely out of what seems right and possibly even establish meaningless traditions. Your doctrines and theology will reign over God’s presence. You’ll cut Him off from your church and the freedom of Jesus will be replaced by 2,000 years worth of post-New Testament law.

Now I’m not dissing tradition. Actually, you’ll find I’ve been using it a lot lately. And on top of that, I speak to you as a fellow evangelical. I know, I told the charismatics that I spoke to them as a fellow charismatic, but it’s true. I speak to both of you from your side of the fence, because I live on both sides of the fence. And until all of us man-up and realize that we can learn something from each other, we’re going to continue to live in half-intimacy (if there even is such a thing).

Within the Balance

Which brings me to my final point. Charismatics and evangelicals need to stop avoiding each other. That’s why we have these problems. Far too often we find one thing wrong with each other and try to avoid that thing completely. But the truth is that God is operating in both streams of churches even though both streams have their own problems.

But there are a few churches out there who have found the balance between the generalizations. Sadly, they’re kind of rare at this point, but we pray for a generation that will find themselves in the blend. Furthermore, we pray that it will be our generation.

Rather than hope for the future, we strive for the present. We no longer place our desires in our children’s hands, but rather we look to find our God in the here and now.

I know I’ve been harsh today, despite the fact that I just wrote a blog post yesterday about gentleness, but I guess sometimes you just have to flip some tables to get attention. I also apologize for using stereotypes and generalizations and if you don’t find yourself within what I have to say, then don’t take it personally! Actually, try not take anything personally if you can. Instead, consider my advice and see if you find any of it to be true.

Continue the conversation here.

———————————-

Liardon, Roberts, and Frank Bartleman. Frank Bartleman’s Azusa Street: Includes Feature Articles from The Apostolic Faith Newspaper. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2006. Print.

The Crazy Lady

It’s somewhat odd how you can actually assign physical expression an actual location in a sanctuary. At this church in particular, it was approximately the first four pews on the right hand side of the sanctuary. It’s not that others in the room weren’t expressive, but rather that the majority of the hands raised and passionate-closed-eyes could be found in that specific spot.

That was the area were the youth group sat. We had taken over front of the church and weren’t concerned with keeping our distance from the stage. But despite our passion for worship (at least for a time), I still thought there had to be more of myself that I could give—specifically in regards to physical expression.

David always came to mind; how he danced around for God in a loincloth. How he—a king—put his entire reputation on the line for God. I can see the people around him: staring and judging; judging and staring. And I can see it quite clearly because of that one memorable worship service.

Something happened that day. Something no one saw coming. Something that makes that particular worship service one of the only Sunday morning services I can recall at that church. The congregation was singing praise songs when a lady that no one had ever seen before went up to the front of the sanctuary. She started dancing around and if I remember right, she was hootin’ and hollerin’ too. It was a bit uncomfortable for your average white people church. Actually, it was A LOT uncomfortable. I had one of those moments of severe embarrassment—you know; where the situation has absolutely nothing to do with you, but you’re so incredibly embarrassed for someone else that you can feel your entire being turning red?

The problem was that I knew that that was what I wanted! That was the crazy lady I wanted to be! (Err… you know what I mean.) She was loving God with all of her body and just like David she gave up all of her dignity in that moment! I don’t think anyone in the church had never seen her before and I’m certain that people thought she was crazy. But it didn’t matter to her because she was praising her God. Like David.

I never saw her again after her few minutes of fame. The pastor eventually confronted her and said something, after which she decided to leave. Looking back, I wish I would have had the strength to join her in worship. Just imagine how different the service would have been if I have done that. Then they would have had to kick the children’s pastor’s kid out too!

Now don’t get me wrong—I know that you can’t judge someone’s heart in worship by checking out their physical expression, but let’s face it: sometimes your stature makes your heart stand out. I am so incredibly sick of leading worship for people who cross their arms and stare blankly into the distance with a “when-will-this-be-over-so-I-can-sit-down” look on their face. I mean, I’ve been there too, but there are some people I can literally count on week after week to approach worship with that form. On top of that, those are the same people who always approach me after the service to tell me how much they enjoyed the music!

Now, let me just be honest here and please, try to take this as kindly as you can:
I do not care if you liked the music.

Yes, I’m going to do my best to use my talents to praise God and I eagerly hope that I am bringing you good music, but if you’re not going to worship, I could care less what you thought of the music. I am not up there to keep you entertained.

Okay—serious moment over. This is not a post to tell you that you don’t know how to worship, but rather to encourage you to always give more and more of yourself every time you worship. I am quite aware that you can worship God with all your heart while standing still in the same way that you can by bouncing around the room like a crazy person. But always seek to give more or even to push yourself out of your comfort zone. I speak to you not as an expert, but as a hopeful striver.

So in conclusion:
Crazy people try slowing it down sometime.
Slow people try crazying it up!

The Importance of Experience

Out of the four components of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, experience would probably have to be the hardest source of theology to sort out. This is simply because every single person in the entire world has their own experience. We have one Scripture, debates about tradition, opinionated reasoning, but a million experiences, each unique in their own way. And on top of that, we continually endure new experiences, which changes our outlook on life and could potentially remove us from those whom our ideology was once compatible with.

This is not to downplay the importance of experience whatsoever. In fact, we have no choice but to approach life through our own experiences. It’s impossible to read Scripture without incorporating our own life into it or even to be truly affected by Scripture without experiencing it. Tradition continues over time typically because it gave someone some sort of experience, and we can hardly reason about anything without incorporating our own experiences into our debate. It is not only essential to use experience in our faith, but it’s impossible to do otherwise despite what some might say.

This is where the problem comes in. The hundreds of different experiences we have can cause us to disagree with the legitimacy of the experiences of others. If we are not open to at least considering their experiences (no matter how insane or unique they may sound), we will most likely find ourselves creating God in the image of our own experience and the experiences of those who have lived a life similar to our own.

Actually, due to the fact that America seems to be processing individualistic Christianity, we may rarely even find ourselves looking to agree with others on experience anymore. “Why do we need them anyway?” we ask ignorantly. “After all, God looks and acts exactly like me.”

Though we won’t say this out loud, it is how many of us think. But when we allow ourselves to experience God more fully rather than judge experiences from a distance, we may find ourselves changing in opinion. Darren Wilson, for example, had this opinion of God before he discovered that God still did miracles today: “There was one thing I was pretty sure of: no matter what God did, He was very, very normal. And He always made perfect sense.”

The issue of experience is especially seen in the fight between evangelicals and charismatics. At the extreme of evangelicalism, we write experience off as emotionalism or enthusiasm. Therefore, if we’re caught crying or reacting to a worship service in any way, we’re told that we are doing so because the music is really good or the message was well written—not because we’re experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, many evangelicals write charismatics off as insane.

Emotions are high in charismatic circles and their experiences of God are weird, confusing, and at times, naturally impossible. If they shake on the floor under the power of God, evangelicals write them off as insane. If they cast a demon out of a Christian and evangelicals call them heretics. If they see sick people get healed, evangelicals will even resort to calling them demonic.

So what do we do with all of this? Is it possible for us to experience an evangelical-charismatic lifestyle or do we have to choose one or the other? Well, it is in my opinion (and experience) that we can indeed live in a blend of the two. In fact, I’d even say that Christianity at its maximum potential is found between the lines of the two and not on one side or the other.

The problem with charismatics is that because of their experiences, they are not very reasonable people. And let’s face it, if you grew up in a church where people were prophesying, healing the sick, doing miracles, speaking in tongues, (which are all gifts of the Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10) you probably wouldn’t care too much about trying to be reasonable. After all, this kind of phenomena denies the natural world and is fairly difficult to explain rationally. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to explain, but difficult. I myself have experienced (or at least seen) these gifts take place in church services and because of this, I affirm them to be true. I would even take a step further and affirm sightings I haven’t seen, such as manna appearing in Bibles, gemstones popping up on the floor, rain pouring down inside of churches, and even gold teeth appearing in people’s mouths.

And it even gets crazier! So crazy that I hardly even want to mention these phenomena, because it makes me look completely insane for considering their validity! But, these sightings have been documented throughout time and visited in John Crowder’s book, The Ecstasy of Loving God. In his book, Crowder mentions past and current phenomena that have taken place within Christian circles. These phenomena include levitation, glowing faces, trances, invisibility, walking through walls, sleep-preaching, prolonged fasting, and much more.

Do I know why God does all of these things? No, I don’t. But I don’t always need a firm reason to believe in signs and wonders because I believe in a supernatural God who can do supernatural things. That is not to say that I don’t search for understanding in these things, but rather that I am capable of believing despite my inability to fully understand.

I do, however, need to borrow the reason and even a little bit of the skepticism that evangelicals have. Since charismatics have been so exposed to God’s signs and wonders, they have at times become emotionalists and enthusiasts. This is not always the case, but at times charismatics do on occasion push themselves so hard to feel a move of God that they eventually find themselves either faking it or fooling themselves into thinking that they are experiencing Him. This is why a little bit of skepticism is good to have so that you can discern what is and isn’t of God.

It also becomes dangerous when you live off of experience alone, which both charismatics and evangelicals are capable of doing. In charismatic circles, if you ignore Scripture, reason, and tradition and focus primarily on experience (which has been known to happen), you will find yourself not only preaching weak messages, but even bordering blasphemy at times. God has given us more than just experience to live off of in our faith, and denying other components will put us in situations where the gospel becomes misrepresented and misunderstood. That is not to say that experience is blasphemous in and of itself, but rather that it has potential to get to that point if it is given an overemphasis. That’s why it comes fourth in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It is given a chance to be screened by Scripture, reason, and tradition so that we can see its legitimacy.

But as I said, evangelicals are capable of doing this as well. In their own reasonable, unemotional way, they can deny charismatic experience and go so far as to attribute Satan with the phenomena that takes place in charismatic churches. Now this is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is identified by Jesus as the unforgivable sin (Mt. 12:22-32; Mk 3:20-29). This turns that accusation into a much bigger deal than evangelicals have made it out to be.

If the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind (Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27), then surely we need to learn how to combine evangelicalism with the charismatic movement. Evangelicals tend to need a little more heart and soul and charismatics tend to need a bit more mind. Now I realize I’m stereotyping a bit here, so I would like to say that there are churches and speakers out there who have learned to blend the two together quite nicely. But for the most part, many of our churches still have a long way to go.

For most of my life I have lived without even knowing what a Pentecostal was and so I know quite well how most evangelicals feel when first discovering the charismatic movement. We ask questions. How do we know these things are from God? Do we have these gifts? Is this just a bunch of hype or is there really something to this? These questions are good to ask so long as we actually search for understanding, but unfortunately, most Christians don’t pursue the questions due to fear, confusion or disbelief.

Altogether the aspect of experience is a difficult one to grasp, but I think that if we’re going to move in the power of Jesus and true Christianity, it is essential that we seek to have experiences in which God empowers and rejuvenates us. Whether we find that experience in the quiet of our room or in the loudness of a conference, we should seek for it with a heart to get closer to God. No matter what side of the experience spectrum we fall on, we all, as Christians, desire some kind of experience with God, don’t we? This is why it seems foolish to me when people advise others not to seek an experience with God.

After all, the Bible is full of stories in which God gives Himself to His people so that they may experience Him. When we refuse the experience of His nearness, we become like Israel who begged Moses to speak instead of God, because they feared that they would die if God spoke (Ex. 20:18-19). While we certainly would be afraid of God making His appearance to us in the same way that He did to Israel, I think many today are dying so much to experience God’s presence and hear His voice that they would be willing to hear Him speak—especially those who have been told not to be emotional, but believe that there has to be something more to this thing we call Christianity.

The experiences of God found in charismatic circles is for everyone, but unfortunately many reject it. This isn’t new at all. In fact, with every revival there has been phenomena and those who rejected it. Author Howard A. Snyder points out that even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed in “healing, miracles, prophecy (in the sense of foretelling), discernment of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues” (95). But since many Christians (even Methodists today) lack experience with these gifts, they create doctrines and scientific reasoning as to why these gifts aren’t experiences of God, even though the phenomena Snyder listed above are all Biblical.

We all seek experiences of God. Whether it’s to know Him better with our soul, our heart, our strength, or with our mind, we as Christians look to experience God in some way. I believe, however, that we will find God most clearly when we seek Him in all of these ways and not in just the aspects we are most comfortable with.

Works Cited

Crowder, John. The Ecstasy of Loving God: Trances, Raptures, and the Supernatural Pleasures of Jesus Christ. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Pub., 2009. Print.

Finger of God. Dir. Darren Wilson. Perf. Darren Wilson. Wunderlust Productions. DVD.

Snyder, Howard A. The Radical Wesley & Patterns for Church Renewal. DownersGrove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980. Print.

John Wesley and the Power of the Spirit

Very few people today are aware that John Wesley was a charismatic who experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in very real and very tangible ways. Most Methodists today are so unaware of this that if they ever experienced the Spirit in the same ways as Wesley did, they would write the experience off as emotion, science, or even as demonic before they ever considered the idea that God was interacting with them. But for Wesley, the Holy Spirit’s power was found not only in experience, but in almost everything related to the Christian faith.

Howard A. Snyder explains that “Wesley’s understanding of the church and Christian experience can be described as charismatic because of the place of the Holy Spirit in his theology and because of his openness to the gifts of the Spirit” (The Divided Flame 57). One will find this statement to be true just by reading Wesley’s journals. He references the Holy Spirit time and time again. Wesley walks so closely with the Spirit, that it seems he cannot be separated from God’s charismatic ways of presenting Himself.

Sadly, many Christians today are offended by the same kind of charismatic works the Holy Spirit did in Wesley’s time. This offense is not in any way new. There were very many people during Wesley’s time that were also offended by the Holy Spirit.

That is not to say that the Holy Spirit’s power in and of itself was offensive, but rather that those who did not believe or understand it were offended by it. That is part of the reason Wesley had a hard time with his opponents. They were people of reason who thought the “power of the Spirit” at these Methodist meetings was actually the power of emotion and in some instances, insanity. Wesley writes about one such situation in his journal:

We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came, among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case. Today one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out into ‘strong cries and tears’. He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears. He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud, nor yet any natural disorder. But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God (52-3).

This story is enough to baffle many Christians today, but even Wesley himself had experienced similar emotion and physical expression. One particular morning, he found himself in solitude when he had an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Wesley tried to put this experience into words by writing it down in his journal:

The love of God was shed abroad in my heart, and a flame kindled there, with pains so violent, yet so very ravishing, that my body was almost torn asunder. I loved. The Spirit cried strong in my heart. I sweated. I trembled. I fainted. I sung. I joined my voice with those that excel in strength (26).

This is hardly the weirdest thing that Wesley had seen the Spirit do in His lifetime. Even though he recognized these simple physical expressions (shaking, crying, sweating, fainting, trembling, and singing) to be caused by the Holy Spirit, he had seen in Scripture and in his own life that the Spirit was capable of doing much, much more.

One of the popular acts of the Holy Spirit seen among charismatic meetings today is known as being “slain in the Spirit.” Those who are familiar with this work recognize it when individuals fall to the ground. Once there, they typically enter either a calm state of bliss, or their body is sent into convulsions. Many understand this to be the work of the Spirit, while many others claim it to be the work of insanity. But if we look to Wesley to find an answer, we would see that he believed this to be the power of God.

In fact, in one particular situation, a Quaker was attending one of Wesley’s meetings and was growing angry with the supposed work of the Spirit going on around him. Wesley describes him as “biting his lips and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunderstruck.” God personally settled the debate for this Quaker by slaying Him. When he finally arose from the ground, he stated, “Now I know, thou art a prophet of the Lord” (53). This is an obvious change in mindset for this Quaker, who only moments ago was angry at what he thought to be fraud. God, however, showed him otherwise.

This is not the only time something like this has happened in Wesley’s life. In a similar situation Wesley watched some people convulse more violently than he had ever seen. Wesley prayed that God would not “suffer those who were weak to be offended,” but despite his prayers, one woman was very angry. But then, Wesley documents her having “dropped down, in as violent an agony as the rest,” despite her disposition towards the act. Altogether, at least 26 people endured these violent convulsions during one service on June 15, 1739.

And this is not the only time Wesley references this act of the Spirit. On April 21, of the same year, Wesley documented a man trembling violently and then sinking down to the ground (50). In another situation a “three persons almost at once sunk down as dead” (57). And then, on a wider scale, the Spirit performed this same type of work on New Year’s Day, 1739. It was approximately three in the morning and John and Charles Wesley were in prayer with about sixty other men. Wesley wrote that “the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground” (29).

On April 26, Wesley felt the Spirit urge him to say something he had not planned on saying during one of his sermons. Wesley, certain that this was of the Spirit, obeyed and as a result saw the power of God come on different individuals.

I was sensibly led, without any previous design, to declare strongly and explicitly that God ‘willeth all men to be thus saved’ and to pray that if this were not the truth of God, he would not suffer the blind to go out of the way; but if it were, he would bear witness to his Word. Immediately one and another and another sunk to the earth: they dropped on every side as thunderstruck (51).

Stories similar to these are documented all over Wesley’s journal, as are other works of the Spirit. But as these stories continued, so did the criticism. Many people still did not feel that these supernatural events were of God and so they rejected them completely.

But despite their rejection, John Wesley saw both spiritual and emotional healing come from people’s experience with God as they fell to the ground and convulsed. Many times they would rise to their feet with a true understanding of God’s forgiveness of their sins. Wesley also was privileged to see actual physical healing happen. Wesley, it seems, “was convinced that the Great Physician is committed to the ultimate healing of both body and soul, and that some degree of physical recovery is available even in this life—if we allow it to begin” (Maddox 147).

In one such case of physical healing, a woman by the name of Ann Calcut “had been speechless for sometime.” Wesley and some others began to pray for this woman and just about as soon as they had started, her speech returned to her. She was apparently healed of some other problems too, since Wesley speaks of a fever leaving her and that “in a few days she arose and walked, glorifying God” (258).

In another story, a middle-aged woman was “restored to a sound mind.” Many were able to testify that only a few days earlier she was “really distracted, and as such tied down in her bed” (100). But Wesley believed the power of the Spirit to be greater than the pain and sickness of the world, and so he prayed for this woman regardless of what many saw as a dead end. God heard the prayers of Wesley and others and He restored the woman to health.

Even Wesley himself had experienced physical healing! On May 10, 1741, Wesley had become quite sick. He had pain in his head as well as his back, a fever, and a cough that was so great that he could hardly speak. But then a miracle happened to Wesley as he “called on Jesus aloud.” As he spoke, his pain disappeared, his fever left, and his strength returned. And on top of that, he felt no weakness or pain for many weeks after (194).

But perhaps one of the craziest healing miracles Wesley ever saw was at the deathbed of Mr. Meyrick, on December 20, 1742. A doctor had told Wesley that this man was not expected to make it through the night. This word was confirmed when Wesley arrived at Mr. Meyrick’s side:

I went to him, but his pulse was gone. He had been speechless and senseless for some time. A few of us immediately joined in prayer. (I relate the naked fact.) Before we had done his sense and his speech returned (306).

Wesley was obviously impressed by the finger of God upon this situation as he then wrote in his journal, “Now he that will account for this by natural causes has my free leave. But I choose to say, This is the power of God” (306). It was a miracle! God had answered prayers and raised the dead! But this was not the end of the story. Five days later, on Christmas, Mr. Meyrick was expected once again to not make it to the morning. And so, on December 25, Wesley recorded in his journal the continuation of a miracle.

I went up and found them all crying about him, his legs being cold and (as it seemed) dead already. We all kneeled down and called upon God with strong cries and tears. He opened his eyes and called for me. And from that hour he continued to recover his strength, till he was restored to perfect health. (306)

Another work of the Spirit that many Christians today either caution against or do not believe in is that of dreams and visions. But, just as Wesley believed in the Spirit’s power to heal, slay, or simply bring a person to tears, so did he believe in the supernatural power of dreams and visions. We are able to read his opinion on this matter in his journal. There he includes a summary of the letters he wrote to an opponent who had advised him against believing in dreams and visions.

What I have to say touching visions or dreams is this: I know several persons in whom this great change [being free of sin to do the will of God] was wrought, in a dream, or during a strong representation to the eye of their mind, of Christ either on the cross or in glory. This is the fact; let any judge of it as they please (59).

Towards the end of his response to his opponent, Wesley grows stronger in his opinion of the existence of this work of the Spirit:

…God does now, as aforetime, give remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost, even to us and to our children; yea, and that always suddenly, as far as I have known, and often in dreams or in the visions of God. If it be not so, I am found a false witness before God. For these things I do, and by his grace will testify (60).

As we have seen already, the Holy Spirit made Himself known to John Wesley in many ways. But what we have not yet talked about is Wesley’s involvement with the Spirit in liberating demoniacs. Christians have read in their Bible’s about the Spirit’s power to do such a thing, yet many today have not seen anything like it (outside of Hollywood’s representation). But Wesley saw it in his own life many times.

One man, by the name of John Haydon, was reported to have been reading a sermon, when “he changed colour, fell off his chair, and began screaming terribly and beating himself against the ground.” Wesley arrived at the scene only to be accused by the demon as “a deceiver of the people.” The demon pretended to be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in hopes to turn people against Wesley, but Wesley fought back. He and all the others there began to pray. Soon, Haydon’s “pangs ceased and both his body and soul were set at liberty” (55).

Sometimes these demonic deliverances did not take too long. For example, it only took about fifteen minutes to deliver one particular woman from “the pangs of death” (94). But other deliverances lasted much longer, such as Wesley’s encounter with the young woman from Kingswood. He describes in his journal not only the physical manifestation of these demons, but he also records what the demons spoke to him (109).

I found her on the bed, two or three persons holding her. It was a terrible sight. Anguish, horror, and despair, above all description, appeared in her pale face. The thousand distortions of her whole body showed how the dogs of hell were gnawing her heart. The shrieks intermixed were scare to be endured. But her stony eyes could not weep. She screamed out, as soon as words could find their way, ‘I am damned, damned; lost forever. Six days ago you might have helped me. But it is past. I am the devil’s now. I have given myself to him. His I am. Him I must serve. With him I must got to hell. I will be his. I will serve him. I will go with him to hell. I cannot be saved. I will not be saved. I must, I will, I will be damned.’ She then began praying the devil (109).

Wesley and the others with him began to sing a hymn that was popular at that time, which was written by John’s brother, Charles. “Arm of the Lord, awake, awake!” they sang, which caused the demoniac to immediately sink down. But then, the demon manifested again, this time even more intensely. Charles joined John in prayer around 9:00 and together they prayed past 11:00. Over two hours were spent on this exorcism alone. These are only two examples of deliverances that John Wesley took part in, but he documented many others in his journals as well.

Perhaps we can even find the Spirit’s work in Wesley’s shift of emotions. Author John White seems to understand these moments to be divine in nature as he reflects on Wesley’s famous experience at Aldersgate, where his heart was strangely warmed.. “Wesley has been accused, and perhaps rightly, of too great a concern with his subjective states. But were those feelings of warmth, of trust and of assurance merely the psychological result of the reading, or were they the results of divine illumination, imparted by the Holy Spirit at that very moment?” (53).

It seems that from day-to-day, Wesley took part in God’s supernatural ways. The Holy Spirit worked through him constantly, whether it was through an exorcism, through a message, through a healing, or through many of the other miracles the Spirit performed. The power of the Spirit was a constant in Wesley’s life. But it is important to note that just because Wesley was charismatic, does not mean that he lived without reason. Snyder points this out in his book The Radical Wesley:

Wesley was a man of reason in an age of rationalism; yet he was roundly charged with enthusiasm or fanaticism because of his stress on experience and his openness to the expression of emotion… He was always clear as to the priority of Scripture, especially from 1738 on, and his experiential emphasis was guarded from pure subjectivism not only by his respect for Scripture but also by his emphasis on the witness of the Spirit, the work of the Holy Spirit testifying to and confirming the Word in present experience (71).

If we decide to ignore all of the supernatural encounters found in Wesley’s life or even if we choose to write them off as insanity or mere coincidence, we will find ourselves admiring an incomplete and fictional John Wesley. This revivalist, so it seems, was quite charismatic in his approach to church, because he allowed the Holy Spirit room to work through him not just in the natural, but the supernatural as well. And if Wesley had not done so, it is possible that many would not have been touched by God in the way that they had been.

Works Cited

Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. Nashville,Tenn.: Kingswood, 1994. Print.

Snyder, Howard A., and Daniel V. Runyon. The Divided Flame: Wesleyans and Charismatic Renewal. Grand Rapids, Mich.: F. Asbury, 1986. Print.

Snyder, Howard A. The Radical Wesley & Patterns for Church Renewal. DownersGrove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1980. Print.

Wesley, John, William Reginald Ward, and Richard P. Heitzenrater. The Works of John Wesley. Vol. 19. Nashville: Abingdon, 1990. Print.

White, John. When the Spirit Comes with Power: Signs & Wonders among God’s People. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988. Print.

Road Trip to The Ramp (Video)

Yesterday I wrote about how God spared us from some crazy weather during our time at The Ramp out in Hamilton, Alabama. While there’s still much more to say about my road trip, I have compiled a video to show the following things over 5 days:

1. The importance and joy of friendship (and stupidity).
2. Finding God in nature.
3. What a crazy fire tunnel looks like.
4. Burning when the event is over.
5. Freedom and other experiences from The Ramp.

And if you have extra time, my friend and I will further illustrate friendship and stupidity in this video:

So many links in this blog post today.

Celebration in Church

I was just talking the other day about how we should celebrate more in church and then the next day this happened:

I know, I hate cell phone videos too. They’re so low quality. But I forgot to bring my camera. So note to self: always bring camera.