It's good to be back after a break and I even got the odd complaint that I had been away for too long. Blogging, like anything else, is something you have to watch and for me it is helpful and necessary to lay the blog down every now and then and regroup.
Many years ago I listened to a speaker who in his opening talk said he was 'just a fat bloke on his way to heaven'. His talks during that week captivated me in so many ways and so did all the charismatic goings-on around them. The man's name was John Wimber who sadly died of cancer not long after I heard him teach. I have had much happen in my life since those early personally messy Christian days. I am now a little more rooted in my understanding of the gospel (which was a word that mystified me or to put it better I failed to fully grasp in my first Christian years) , of grace and, most importantly in my story, of justification by faith alone. Freedom came through this revelation rather than through speaking in tongues or experiencing physical healing both of which I had.
I have been discipled and encouraged by many along the way which is crucial, I've read a book or two, I've even been to Vicar Factory but in truth I never ever want to grow up out of my 'first love' experiences of the Spirit. Newton has some good insights into what growing actually looks like. What I have been mulling on since listening to this talk are three important words: Gospel, Spirit and Kingdom. Too often it seems, we divide into 'Gospel' people or 'Spirit/Kingdom' people and the truth is we are to be both but being such a people is the challenge.
If Wimber is remembered for anything it might be for the rediscovery of 'the third person' of the Trinity in the Church of England (among others) on the back of what is sometimes described as the charismatic renewal. For the history of this and the curfuffle this caused Martyn Lloyd-Jones Volume 2: The fight of faith tells the story, although Murray seems to commentate through seemingly disapproving cessationist eyes. MLJ came to his own conclusions on the Spirit in his work Joy Unspeakable which is when some think he lost the plot by advocating a second blessing, while others think he finally found it. You can hear the whole fascinating MLJ story and the debates that raged told here. Sadly, the church remains terribly divided over these matters to this day.
I will always remember Wimber's lovely question that he asked his pastor described in 'The way it was' (and I paraphrase) and it has always stuck with me,
"When do we do the stuff?" said John
"The stuff?" his Pastor replied confused
"Yes, the stuff I have been reading in the Bible (he had been reading Acts)"
"Oh, we don't do the stuff any more"
"Really? Why's that? Surely God is the same yesterday today and forever"
We read this at the beginning of Acts which Wimber took to be the story of what following Jesus was meant to be look like:
'....I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach....He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the Kingdom of God' Acts 1v 1-3
The rest, one might say, is history. The remarkable things happening with Alpha and at HTB, St Mary's and through the Trent Vineyard and its movement, NFI and many many other churches would not be happening without this remarkable and humble man's influence (accepting of course providence and all that :) If you want a read on this then 'The Way in is the Way on' is a good place to start as is Simon's incredibly helpful book on the Holy Spirit called God inside out for some grounded theology and helpful explanation of all these, at times, complex issues. I also commend Arnold's Three crucial questions about Spiritual Warfare for more good teaching on this issue. At the outset, I do think robust teaching, pastoral wisdom and insight is so important in an arena where too often things can end up in a car crash. Being a 'charismatic with a seatbelt' is a good thing because without it one can get nastily thrown through the windscreen when the wheels come off.
I listened to John Peters, a C of E Vicar, give what he describes humorously as 'a rant' about the importance of the Spirit. If Wimber made a disciple or two, and he did, then John Peter's is one of his most vocal and effective in this land having seen literally thousands pass through the church he planted in London. When it concerns matters of the Spirit it is good to be in safe hands and John has been blessed with those although, as you will hear, he is very honest about his failings. This talk called Healing (4th December 6.30pm) contains incredible testimony to two divine healings and is remarkable in its force and passion to communicate what John, for one, feels can so easily become a forgotten or ignored truth. Francis Chan in fact entitled his excellent book on the Spirit 'The Forgotten God'. The testimony alone caused me to sit up straight- one of someone who regained sight in one eye and another of someone healed of a congenital heart condition. What follows then is John's explanation of why each of us should pursue the things of the Spirit and in many ways it is his 'one' sermon that he has given hundreds of times. I do admire John's fiery zeal, courage and no-nonsence unreligious manner that has got him I imagine into some Driscolesque hot water down the years.
There is much food for reflection here. I try to navigate a course my old Vicar directed me on of being a man of both the Word and the Spirit. Sadly, it seems too often we all more easily land with a bias to one rather than the other. This sermon is a call to take note and listen up if you are more cautious on these matters, not least because if these testimonies be true you will be forced to do so (you can either see or you can't so it is surely pretty easy to prove or discount?) We must all work out our theology of healing and you have one even if you think you don't. This talk will at very least leave you with a few things to ponder as it has me and do please dig into the Scriptures anew. If you are already pursuing the things of the Spirit and the charismatic is not new to you, this may be an encouragement or a prompt to pursue the Spirit even more earnestly and with greater faith (Ephesians 5:18).
For an alternative angle on this, I also commend P J Smyth's talk called Suffering Sickness and Healing which my pal, who also happens to be a Consultant surgeon, said is quite the best he has ever heard on this subject of suffering and healing.
For any interested, St Mary's are running a training day called Third Person: How to pray for people in the power of the Spirit on Jan 21st that I am attending with a few others from our church and you might like to come along.
If you want to dig deeper into some teaching on the Kingdom then do check out these.