Have you heard about the 'revival' that is going on in Florida at the moment?
Neither had I until the Sunday before last, when the pastor in our church preached a whole sermon about it (which you can download here, if you want). The basic message of the sermon was: God appears to be working though these people; people are being healed; but they do things differently from the way we would do them; but if God is working through these people, who are we to judge them...?
The thing was, the preacher didn't go into detail about what they were doing that was different, or even what was happening, so I was a bit confused. So I had to go and read up on what is happening.
It seems that a few months back, a preacher called Todd Bentley (of 'Fresh Fire' ministries in Canada) was invited to speak for a few nights at a church in Lakeland, Florida. It was just a routine thing. But a few nights into the run, stuff started happening, so the team stayed a bit longer. And the stuff kept happening and getting bigger and bigger. Within a couple of weeks the church they were meeting in (on a nightly basis) was overflowing and they moved into a stadium (yes, a stadium!) down the road - which they managed to fill on a nightly basis. You can watch all this - every night - on God TV (on Sky or online at www.god.tv).
What stuff? Well, people were claiming being healed in remarkable ways. And (unusually) people were being healed in the streets of Lakeland during the day, not merely in the meetings in the evenings. They (the Fresh Fire folk) say that they have been given an anointing which is highly transferable - in other words, they heal you one night, you can then go on and heal someone else the next day, they can go on... and so on.
And now, as is often the case with such 'revival' type happenings (although the Fresh Fire folk have stopped calling this a 'revival' as revivals come and then go, but they think this current season is here to stay) various members from the Fresh Fire team have started going out into other parts of the world to share the blessing. And some of them have come to a place only a few miles from my home. And I went to a meeting last night...
But before I tell you about that, I have to tell you about my take on the Florida stuff.
-Todd Bentley in Florida-
Last week I listened to a downloaded podcast of one of Todd Bentley's sermons from Lakeland. It was quite an ordeal. I have now heard the words 'anointing' and 'impartation' enough times to last a lifetime. Also, Todd Bentley has one of those voices that sounds like he should be voicing a comedy character in an animated movie - not quite like, but with similarities to the voice of Pumba in The Lion King. And he went on and on and on and on making the same point over and over and over again. But there was nothing fundamentally flawed with the message, it was just delivered in a manner that I don't relate to. Very Pentecostal. However, there was nothing astoundingly new or original in the sermon I listened to.
I've also watched clips of the healing services, etc., on YouTube and - to my untrained eye - it all just looks like exactly the same sort of stuff we've seen for years with the likes of Benny Hinn at the front [note: due to many things I have seen and heard, I am quite skeptical of Benny Hinn's alleged healings]. Indeed, I've read some reports who compare Todd Bentley to Benny Hinn. So we see people coming to the front at meetings, being prayed for, some falling over, some not, a few people shaking, some weirder manifestations, and so on.
But for all my skepticism, it would appear that some people are genuinely being healed. On one YouTube video clip, there was someone with x-rays of a broken arm (taken before the meeting) and an unbroken arm (after the meeting). Sure that could be faked, but it would have to be deliberate false witness, not merely being carried along by emotionally driven belief (which is what I believe most of the 'false healings' to be). Certainly, I can see no evidence that any of the Fresh Fire team are doing this as a show or for personal gain. They seem to believe it, they seem to think that this is the way that God is healing people through them, and lives do seem to be being transformed. Of course, we'll have to wait a while to see if there are lasting benefits, but I'm prepared to believe that (at least) some of what is going on is the hand of God at work.
[As a quick aside, way back in 1994 when the 'Toronto Blessing' stuff was happening, a team from Toronto came to Edinburgh and I went along to some of the meetings. There I saw weird stuff, fake stuff, genuine stuff and found myself doing 'carpet time' in a church for the first time in my life. There followed a spate of other 'Toronto-esque' meetings in various churches, some of which I was at. One in particular was truly awful, the preacher (an American whose name I thankfully can't remember) was a smug, egotistical, control freak who quite definitely was simply pushing people over at the front - so much of what was happening was clearly fake, entirely due to emotional manipulation and certainly not due to God. And then I saw a preacher who I respected more than most - one of the most practically holy people I know - rolling about on the floor in laughter making miscellaneous animal noises. Having known this man for several years, I know that he would not be taken in by the hype or the emotional stuff, but would only go under the influence of the Spirit. So despite all the nonsense that was going on in that place, Jesus lived up to his word "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matt 18v20), but on that occasion I suspect it was in spite of what was going on at the front, not because of it. And I must say that the man I respect fell under the influence of the Spirit very early in that meeting and was completely oblivious to what was going on at the front - I like to think God took him aside to spare him from having to listen to all the nonsense.] But anyway...
- Craig Kinsley in Broxburn -
One of Todd Bentley's associates, Craig Kinsley, who was at the original meetings in Lakeland, has come over from the USA (with his wife Lori) to Scotland, essentially to bring the anointing with him and pass it on to folks here. They're having meetings in Broxburn Academy every night between now and Sunday - hosted by New Life Christian Fellowship. I went last night to the first meeting he was speaking at (Craig is the second speaker from Fresh Fire to come to Broxburn, someone else came a few weeks ago and another speaker is coming in a few weeks time...).
I know I have a tendency to err on the side of critical skepticism (as all three of you, my regular readers, will have noticed by now), but I'll try to rein in my skepticism here, because I really did want to go into this with an open mind. Was God there? Was he going to do stuff? Or was it all just hype?
The meeting allegedly started at 7:30, but it was fully 8pm before things got going. We were meeting in the assembly hall of Broxburn Academy - which is a fairly drab rectangular space with no particular artistic merit and certainly no 'atmosphere'. After a short welcome by someone from NLCF, we went into a time of worship - mostly songs I knew. Starting with 'Days of Elijah' and 'The battle belongs to the Lord' (haven't sung that for a few years) and a few other - stereotypically pentecostal - songs declaring the triumph of Jesus and the defeat of the devil, before lapsing into songs of longing, 'Rain Down', 'Sweet mercies' and the like [Marcus, I kept on expecting the keyboard player to sneak the 'Hill Street Blues' theme in during 'Sweet Mercies' like you used to do, and was disappointed that he didn't...]. The band were generally quite good and refreshingly down to earth, but they did labour each song a bit too much and over-syruped a few of them. I have never sung 'To be in your presence' quite as slowly as we did last night. Every line took about a minute. The band was clearly just the regular band from Broxburn, not an imported professional bunch, but they did a good job. The worship leader was great on the keyboards but didn't have the greatest singing voice. The drummer and bass player did their jobs perfectly (i.e. made good music, but you hardly noticed they were there) and the two other vocalists were good, but oddly positioned at the opposite side of the stage from everyone else. The musical highlight was when one of the vocalists (the bloke) started playing his trumpet brilliantly. Trumpets in worship can be horrible grating things, but this was really smooth and soulful. And I'll not pass comment on the time he played the panpies during one song (only one though, phew). The worship was fine, but went on for well over an hour - which was too long.
However. In addition to the five members of the 'worship team' on stage, there were four other folk with 'woship team' badges on. These folk spent most of the hour waving huge flags about in front of the stage, often obscuring the words on the screen - just as well I knew most of the songs. I have nothing against flags in worship... no, actually, strike that... I do have something against flags in worship, but can tolerate them if they're used sparingly and discretely. If you must have flags, have them at the side or (preferably) at the back. Not in front of the screen. What was going on at the front with the flags (and also with sticks with no flags, which was even weirder) was not worship, it was performance, and a distracting performance at that. At least there was no interpretive dance.
So the worship was an OK, but overlong experience with dull moments and annoying flag waving. This was followed by a short "say hello to the person behind you" (who turned out to be someone I know) break and an uplift of the offering. In big buckets. And the guy at the front kept emphasising that we should be generous, God loves a cheerful giver, who cheques should be made out to, and that they were tithing the offering and sending 10% to Fresh Fire in Florida. Which he said far too many times and every time he said it I heard it as "we're keeping 90% of this for ourselves" - there were only about 300 folk there last night, in the previous run of meetings they had up to 1200 people a night. They must have raked in -literally- buckets of money. I passed the bucket without putting anything in.
Then Craig Kinsley took the mic and started speaking. Having listened to the Todd Bentley sermon I was expecting the worst, but Craig was a reasonably engaging speaker with no annoying quirks, no repetition, no comedy accent, etc. Phew.
He started by giving his testimony (which you can read on his website if you want), basically he was raised in a fairly dead church, went off the rails, did drugs, came back to God, went to the Pensacola revival and had a serious vision, which turned him around and set him off on the track of ministry. All fine so far. Then he said he was going to preach prophetically (slight warning bells) and spoke at length about what is happening in Lakeland and what he believes will happen worldwide in the Church in the next few years - actually he didn't put a timescale on it and acknowledged that he wasn't sure if it will happen in his lifetime. But he believes that the end is nigh and the second coming will happen 'soon' [note that, of course, Jesus himself had no idea when the second coming would occur and - as Tony Campolo once said - the only people who do know when the second coming will be are tele-evangelists]. But before the end we will see Churches meeting in stadia, whole cities turning to Christ and whole nations being transformed. It was a great, motivational, message. Nothing I hadn't heard before, but nothing terrible. Hope (as I have said before) is a very good thing indeed. But the thing that struck me about this message was that it was remarkably unremarkable. For all the hype, there was really nothing outstanding about it, it was just a bloke (albeit one who claims to have had angelic visitations and actually seen Jesus in a vision) telling his (believable) story and describing his hopes for the future - which he calls prophesy. Along the way he did dip into the bible a few times (Malachi 4 and Hebrews 11) and made some reasonable points about faith, life and healing. But he did speak for the best part of 80 minutes, which was way too long.
Then we got to the ministry time. I had arrived at 7:20, worship was about 7:55 to after 9pm, Craig spoke until about 10:30 or so. It was already late and I knew this could go on for hours yet. What I really wanted now was to see the stuff, perhaps be prayed for myself (still undecided), and then go home before midnight, knowing that I would likely be woken twice in the night by my young son (1:55-2:10 and 6:05-6:20 it turned out to be, with daughters finally waking me for good at 7:05).
Early on in the night I had a bit of an internal discussion with God regarding why I was there. Two things are worthy of note. One was that I noticed a lady a couple of rows in front of me with badly arthritic hands - very swollen joints, at unusual angles, and I thought 'if I see her hands healed, I'll know this is real'. The other thing was that I made an unusual request of God - and I don't know where this came from - but I asked to see the tongues of fire... Anyway, that was earlier.
When it came to the ministry time, Craig called out for a few specific groups to go forward for healing. The very first group he called forwards was those with arthritis, and the lady in front of me went forward. He also called for those with chronic diseases, things the doctors had never got figured out and a few other specific things. Maybe about 80-100 folk went forward. Much to my annoyance, he didn't call forward anyone suffering from migraine. If he'd specifically called for that, I'd have gone forward. But I didn't really fall into any of the categories of folk he called out. So the folk who went to the front lined up in two rows and Craig wend from one, to the next, to the next, and blessed them, generally spending not much time with each. For most of them he seemed to hold their head in both hands, say a few words (he had the mic off at this point, so I have no idea what he said) and then do a little jerky thing with his hands just before letting go and moving on to the next. Perhaps about half of the people fell into the arms of catchers and were lowered to the floor. With a small minority, however, he held them in different ways and spent longer praying with them. However, he managed to get through all of the folk at the front in only a few minutes. He then turned his attention to those who hadn't gone forward and commanded blessing - of various types- on us. He told folk to put their hand on wherever they needed healing (I placed a hand on my head) and commanded healing for those people. He did mention back pains and migraine specifically there (but that was after he had told us to put hands on the places in need of healing). He then called a few of the folk who had been at the front and had returned to their chairs to come forward and testify. An old lady with hip problems reported that the pain had gone and she could waggle her hips, a younger lady with problems following a shoulder breakage reported that her arm was all tingly as if something was happening.
And then it was 11pm and the folks I was with decided to go. I decided to leave too.
I hadn't seen the tongues of fire. And I hadn't specifically seen the hands of the arthritic lady. But I kind of feel that I did see her healed. Remember, the original doubting Thomas thought he needed to place his hand in Jesus's side before he would believe, but actually needed less evidence than that...
Those are my thoughts at the moment, I may have further reflections as time goes on, but that's more than enough for now. Thanks for reading this far down the page, now please comment.