September 4, 2008
life / pentecostal / charismatic / spirituality
Brother Maynard has suggested that September should be a month of post-charismatics giving voice to what apostolic leadership could/should look like. I’d like to propose a synchro-blog to get the ball rolling â€“ namely, as I’ve just shared my earliest “charismatic” experience (after becoming a Christian, that is), let’s remind ourselves and tell each other our stories of how we first became acquainted with, and eager for, the felt presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Should you be unaware of what a post-charismatic is, give the above blogs, as well as Mike Morrell‘s, parts of this blog, and several others, a perusal. In any case, I had actually been planning to give an account of my first encounter with the Spirit. In the near future, I believe I will be telling my story, in a very broad way, for the people of Revolution.
I spent a good part of 1997 and 1998 diving into various occult beliefs and practices, especially Wicca. I found good and bad there, and in addition to that it brought out good and bad that was already in me. One of the things that has always been a part of me for better and for worse is a desire for things to be supernatural, but authentic and life-changing at the same time. I grew up in the church, and did not find it to be any of those things.
In light of this, I wasn’t expecting anything in particular when I visited my first Pentecostal church, which was, and is, an Assemblies of God church in Salisbury, North Carolina. I visited because I had been bribed by a friend, and found myself sitting in a chair watching teenagers clap and sing to God, standing in front of an empty stage while a sound system played CDs. This in itself was radical to me, considering my particular upbringing, but certainly not enough to interest me.
My friend, in what I now understand to have been an incredibly perceptive moment of contextualization and maybe some syncretism, explained to me that I could try to invoke God and see what might happen. Being very familiar with invocations and the interesting experiences that they could bring about, and having never thought about the word in connection with this kind of God, I thought it was worth a try.
When I did this, it was as though I was entirely engulfed and surrounded by tangible power. I had no idea what to do about it, and decided not to do anything but sit there and experience it. I have no idea how long I sat there, and I remember getting up at some point to listen to a youth pastor preach, but I honestly don’t remember anything he said.
As an aside, that is not to devalue people who preach and teach well, but it is to say that for myself as a teacher, a preacher, a theologian, or whatever; my task is to chase after the heart of God and help others to do so as well. If that involves discussing the demise of Christendom and why that is a good thing, or discussing the relevance of Leviticus to postmodern minds, that’s wonderful. If it involves shutting up and getting out of the way, that’s also wonderful.
Anyway. That night, I learned that I wanted to go after God with my life, and be wherever God was and do whatever God was doing. It is this that has placed a drive in me to be at the cutting edge of things I’m involved with (be it design, theology, ministry, or social action), because that’s where change happens. A couple of years later, when I was in college seeking to learn more about all these issues, I was introduced to the writings of Brian McLaren and others like him, some who are known and some who are unknown. I mention him because this introduction occurred through the book More Ready Than You Realize, a book about sharing Jesus with postmodern people. In it, he writes this:
Then he [a friend of Brian’s] became serious and said, “Really, Brian, I want you to remember that you’ll never stop growing in Christ. I don’t ever want you to get comfortable. I want you to always find the curl of the wave, the place out in front where things are happening. Go to the cutting edge of things, and throw your energies in there. That’s where you belong.” Now, nearly thirty years later, I remember that moment vividly, and I realize that God was speaking to me through Dave that day.
I believe that at that moment, in a medium-sized church in a small town, I was given a drive for this. A drive to be at the cutting edge, always moving, always changing. I have not always lived up to this, any more than I have always lived up to the desire to be where God is, but these two desires have combined to be the shaping forces in my life.