Monday, February 22, 2010

Charismatic Boons and Busts, Part II

In the spirit of the Rocky movies, I now offer part two in a series of Charismatic Boons and Busts. Whether there will be a part III will solely be determined by the amount of money I can make on this franchise. Which brings me to:

Bust: Money, honey. Sooner or later, all movements have to make decisions concerning the stewardship of the monies that flow towards the ideas and energy they generate. The charismatic movement is no exception. Keep in mind, that the past fifty years has produced a wide variety of sub-movements, churches, personalities, teachings and influences in the overall charismatic camp. However, even the casual observer will note that, as a movement, money, wealth and "giving" have been treated in ways that range from somewhat unbalanced to the truly revolting.

Boon: Roman Catholic, Ecumenical Catholic and Orthodox Charismatics. This is not a wholesale endorsement of all things Catholic, Orthodox OR Charismatic, but I think that, overall, the opening of the Catholic and Orthodox churches to the moving of the Holy Spirit has been a boon for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I have personally enjoyed many delightful hours in heartfelt worship and fellowship experiences with Spirit-filled Catholics wherein we have found our hearts, souls and conversations being led by the Spirit to an emphasis on the Lord Jesus (John 14-16 prophesied this). Much more could be said on this topic, but for now I'd just like to give a shout out to my friends Father Peter and Father Joe!

(Note to the Fundamentalists who have already listed me on their "He's a Heretic" websites -- here's some more fuel for your fire!)

Bust: Conferences, Conferences and More Conferences - After forty years or so in this thing, I'm pretty conferenced out. By the looks of it you might think that there is a verse in the Bible that reads: "For God so loved the world that He held a conference..." We've had conferences on Signs and Wonders, Power Evangelism, Victorious Faith, Worship, Intercessory Prayer, Church Planting, Effective Leadership, Healing, the Father's Heart, and a host of other topics. It's not that I haven't attended my fair share of such conferences and I'm sure you'll see me at some in the future and, okay, I've even led a few of my own. But, seriously, I think this emphasis on a conference for every issue has gotten a little out of hand.

Boon: Empowering Women in ministry. Kathryn Kuhlman, whose well-known healing and preaching ministry straddled the Pentecostal, Evangelical, and Charismatic movements, seems to have provided a hint of things to come when it comes to the notion of empowering "Spirit-filled" women for ministry as a result of the Charismatic, neo-charismatic and Third Wave movements. Just as surely as the "Full Gospel Businessmen" Fellowship was an early expression of the empowerment of "laymen", "Womens Aglow" soon followed with a life of its own. The implications of the last generation of empowering women for ministry within the Charismatic, neo-charismatic and Third Wave streams are still being expressed, refined, critiqued and advanced.

Thanks for all your thoughtful responses on Facebook and on my blog to the previous two "charismatic" posts. Shall I keep going?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Needed: Sandlot Spirituality

Ever seen the movie "The Sandlot"? The 1993 film is the story of Scotty Smalls and his first summer in suburban L.A., circa 1962. At first, Smalls struggles to fit in to his new neighborhood. But, one day, he joins some local kids in an improvised game of baseball played "sandlot" style. Sandlot ball is a lot different than organized Little League baseball, dominated as it is by grownups, vigilant umpires and regulation uniforms, equipment and fields. Before long, however, Scotty learns that sandlot ball has its own attractions.

Maybe the best thing about sandlot baseball is that the kids play without grownups. They organize themselves, practice whenever they want to or can, and improvise around the challenges that go with playing on an ungroomed, roughshod field. They even figure out their own ways to deal with "the beast" -- a dangerous and fearsome dog as large as a Buick that threatens to gobble up anyone or anything that enters its domain just over the outfield fence.

The first time Scotty plays sandlot ball with his new friends he learns a most important lesson: new players must earn the respect of their teammates. You don't make the team because your parents signed the paperwork and paid the entry fee. You make the team because you figure out how to make your own contribution to the overall group. Scotty figures this out during the very first trial run at playing sandlot ball with the other boys. A mistake and the ridicule that follows causes him to leave the field in shame. But Benny Rodriguez, the best player in the hood, lends his respect and his help to Scotty so that he is able to return to the team and take his own place among his peers.

One of the key points of tension in the film is when the boys' arch-rivals, The Tigers, show up to mock the sandlot players which results in a showdown game at The Tigers manicured field. Legitimacy will be determined by skill, teamwork and commitment and not by who has the nicer surroundings.

Looking back, I could say that my own Christian experience was formed by "sandlot spirituality". Our rag tag band of young believers were decidedly "un-pro" in our look, our method and our organization. Like the "Sandlot" kids, we were left to figure out a good many things about how to follow Jesus, serve His cause, glorify His Father and respond to His Spirit. And, oh, the mistakes we made! But when I think about the things that were formed in me during my "sandlot" days as a Jesus-follower, I would never trade the sheer love of the game I learned for the lure of "church success" as defined by the church establishment.

Frankly, I'm a little concerned about what today's aspiring young church leaders are told about legitimacy in ministry. I'm concerned about the messages -- intentional and unintentional -- that are telegraphed to them about what it takes to be "legit" in ministry, in church planting or in personal spiritual development. It seems to me that some of these "grownups" need to leave the kids alone -- let them make their own mistakes, hone their own instincts and enjoy their own successes -- while offering to mentor them rather than squeeze them into their mold. Having played a few years in the "big leagues" myself, I am looking for a few associations with some young spiritual entrepreneurs who just want to follow Jesus in the everyday places and take their own chances with the gifts, talents and callings they feel inside.

At the end of "The Sandlot" movie, we see the grown up Scotty Smalls in the radio booth where he is an announcer for the LA Dodgers. On the field below, Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez, his childhood friend and mentor, steals home plate in a fantastic move. The quick "thumbs up" Benny flashes at Smalls reminds them both that the bond they forged on the sandlot is a bond that lasts a lifetime.

Here's to sandlot spirituality and the players it produces!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Charismatic Boons and Busts

In my last post, I observed that the Charismatic/Neo-Charismatic/Third Wave movement is now fifty years old. In this post, I step back (as someone with 40 years of my own charismatic history) to note some of the worthy and, uh, less worthy contributions so far.

Boon: A quantum leap in the theology of the Holy Spirit.
The onset of the charismatic movement has put an unprecedented focus on the Person and works of the Holy Spirit - especially among mainline evangelicals and Roman Catholic theologians, leaders and "lay people". The comparative dribble of Holy Spirit-focused theology that existed before the spread of the charismatic movement has turned into a tidal wave with some notably good contributions. For the most part, this has been a good thing. It's almost as if the Church finally got to really meet the One Jesus promised would be with them forever for the first time.

Bust: A quantum leap in bad theology of the Holy Spirit.
By "bad theology" I mean theology of the Spirit, His Person and His works that run the gammut from reactionary (cessasionist dispensationalism) to just plain silly (list far too long to include in this little blog). By "bad theology" I mean theology that is not grounded solidly in Scripture. By "bad theology" I mean theology that flippantlay exploits the Spirit, His gifts and His power instead of reverencing and honoring Him as God. By "bad theology" I mean theology that turns the Third Person of the Godhead into a Bartender. You get the idea...

Boon: The tremendous outburst of Spirit-empowered compassion ministry including everything from Teen Challenge to the practice of healing prayer as a staple in church life. One of the best legacies of both the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements has been the ongoing outwardly-focused emphasis on the hurting, the poor, the needy and the lost that is grounded in Jesus' own mission statement: "the Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor..." in a manner similar to the way the modern missionary movement is grounded in Jesus' Great Commission.

Bust: Personality cults. This probably doesn't need a great deal of explanation if you have been around "charisma" for more than about ten minutes. John Wimber said it best: "I'm tired of hearing about THIS great man of God and THAT great man of God. I'm ready to hear about the Great God of Men!" Amen!

Boon: The emphasis on so-called "lay ministry" and marketplace/everyday place ministry. There is no denying that -- once the Spirit got loose among the so-called "lay people" -- their "leaders" had to play catch up! He (the Spirit) did not wait for church big shots to give Him permission to start falling on everyday people and empowering them with boldness, creativity and spiritual vitality (see Acts 10 for the first example of this phenomenon!).

Bust: The Prophetic Movement. I know this is controversial, but I think I've paid my dues to be able to comment on "the Prophets". While I maintain a firm conviction in the reality of prophetic gifts including prophecy, the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom, my evaluation of all this emphasis on "the prophets" and their endless emphasis on God's "next big thing" is pretty much a distraction from our timeless call to simply and consistently follow Jesus as His disciples -- proclaiming His word and doing His works until He returns. For me, the bottom line is this: if all this prophetic mania evaporated tomorrow would anyone who was consistently seeking to follow and obey Jesus really miss it?

Boon: Music -- especially worship music.

Bust: Music -- especially worship music.

I love to worship, privately and corporately. I love to get on my face, kneel before the Lord, close my eyes, lift my hands, weep, laugh, keep my mouth shut in reverant awe and open in it glorious praise. The legacy of charisma has been a wonderful outpouring of worship that has truly raised my appreciation for the greatness of God and His imminence when I open up my soul to Him in worship. That said, the notion of Spirit-inspired "worship" has also suffered a truckload of indignities, shallowness and downright foolishness that almost -- but not quite -- drown out the benefits and blessings of charismatic worship experiences for me.

My favorite illustration comes from a pastor who was sitting next to me in a large meeting where the "worship band" was cranking up the volume to uncomfortable levels in the name of ... well, I don't know why. This man turned to me, flustered, and spoke the following words: "Was there worship before electricity"?

Well spoken.

Since this is getting to be a pretty long post, I'll see what you all think of what I have commented on so far before continuing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Now, Charismatics?

The so-called Charismatic Movement began in April of 1960 - 50 years ago. It was then that Episcopal priest, Father Dennis Bennett, told his Van Nuys, California congregation that he had received the fullness or "baptism" of the Holy Spirit and was now speaking in tongues. How could he have known that, before long, literally millions of others would share the same testimony? Taken together, the charismatic, neo-charismatic and classical Pentecostal movements represent an unprecedented spiritual avalanche that has picked up a very wide variety of personalities, sub-movements and influences as it has powered its way down the mountain of history.

The list of charismatic and neo-charismatic persons of influence includes: Oral Roberts, Jack Hayford, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Earl Paulk, Paul and Jan Crouch, Mike Bickle, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, John Wimber, Bob Mumford, Pat Boone, Derek Prince, Bill Johnson, Kathryn Kuhlman, Larry Christenson, Ralph Wilkerson, Michael Harper, David Watson, T.D. Jakes, David Wilkenson, Father Eusebius Stephanou, Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens, Father Rick Thomas, Wayne Grudem, Mario Murillo, Paul Cain, David DuPlessis, J. Rodman Williams, Demos Shakarian, Todd Bently, Ruth Carter Stapleton, Ted Haggard, C. Peter Wagner, Lonnie Frisbee, and Kevin Ranaghan -- among many, many others.

Fifty years hence, a number of those who qualify to be on the list of charismatic influences have either passed away, fallen away, or watched their impact dim. I've even started to see the term "post-charismatic" get thrown around -- and perhaps that is not unreasonable, at least in the Western World. Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, leaders and movements are still much stronger outside Europe and the U.S. So, one wonders what is next. It seems to me that, after fighting so hard to win a place of acceptance at the evangelical table, the charismatics and neo-charismatics (including so-called "Third Wave" movements) are at a crossroads. Do they bet the farm on the edgier and more controversial personalities, sub-movements and spiritual distinctions of their movement? Or, do they dial back and find new alignments with other evangelicals (excluding, for a moment, the much smaller contingencies of Roman Catholic and Orthodox charismatics)?

Today's newer and smaller movements such as the new Reformed, "Emergent" and Simple Church tribes have their charismatics, but these hybrid associations feel more like the backwash between waves more than the waves themselves.

The fifty years that followed Father Bennett's infamous announcement have been powerful, interesting, puzzling, disconcerting, inspiring, confounding, disappointing and thrilling on both a local and global level. But influential new, younger leaders are not exactly waiting in the wings as the charismatics and neo-charismatics wind up Act Three of their show. What next? An encore? A falling curtain? Or, to borrow a phrase from Monty Python, "something completely different"?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Living in the Power of Four

Really enjoyed speaking to the men of the Anaheim Vineyard last weekend on the topic of "Living in the Power of Four". It was an "in house" mini-retreat on the Church campus that went Friday night and through lunch on Saturday -- a nice way to pack in a good time together, including two meals, worship and some ministry time.

One of the key themes around the Power of Four teaching that Dr. Steve Bagley and I have developed is the question: "Who do you need in your life at this time to become the man God has called you to be?" Just a note here: we mostly present this to men, but more and more women are enthusiastically embracing the P4 model so their core question would be "Who do you need in your life at this ime to become the woman God has called you to be?"

The Power of Four concept is about four members of the same sex setting their own time and place to meet, usually weekly, to walk with each other as Christ-followers who are seeking to be real, transparent, and available to know one another and be known. A P4 group is not a Bible study, prayer meeting, accountability group or recovery group - although Scripture, prayer, accountability and restoration all "show up" whenever believers get serious about really sharing their lives with one another in a "safe" environment.

I have been in P4 groups for several years now and find it to be one of the most anchoring, empowering, life-changing and fulfilling chunks of time I spend with others in the course of a week. At the Anaheim gathering, Paul Mills, one of my fellow group members (along with Dr. Bagley) shared some of his testimony of what it is like for him as a "thirtysomething" to give and take with a guys who are in other seasons of their lives (I'm in my fifties and Steve is in his sixties). He also shared about some of his personal struggles and how God has used our group to enable him to be a better husband, father and Jesus-follower.

The guys were very receptive and it is my hope that new P4 groups will form out of the 80 or so men that came to the event. The whole thing was recorded and also filmed, so watch for how you can get in on this! I'm also very happy to come to your church, retreat or other setting and share about the benefits and "how-to's" of "Living in the Power of Four".

Friday, February 5, 2010

Escape to My Prairie Home

Spent a little over two hours last night in a packed movie theater escaping to St. Paul, Minnesota for the "live" broadcast of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion on the big screen. This particular Fathom production of the long-lasting weekly live radio event included special guest Elvis Costello who, it turns out, makes a darn fine radio drama character actor as well as a unique and engaging singer/songwriter!

What is it about this whole Prairie Home thing that causes 4 million people a week to huddle up around their radios and give a listen to a bygone form of entertainment? What is it that has kept this phenomenon in full gear for 3 1/2 decades? Turns out to be a lot of the same factors I like about my church life right now: simplicity, focus and a heartwarming intimacy.

If you are new to the PHC experience, let me pause to explain. See, each weekend, Keillor assembles talented regulars and a guest or two for a two hour performance in front of a live audience in a not-too-large theater in St. Paul, MN. Things move swiftly between musical performances, a bit of spontaneous banter, humorous recurring mini-dramas like "Guy Noir: Private Eye" and "Lives of the Cowboys", the unlikely offerings of fictional "sponsors" such as "Powdermilk Bisquits" and "Be-Bop-a-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie and Pie Filling", and some fine, fine, superfine old-timey musical performances.

About the music: there's gospel, honky-tonk piano, a couple horns, folk, jazz stylings and more -- all done in a rather "unplugged" mode. But it is Garrison Keillor's gift for storytelling as the lights dim low that grabs you and just won't let you go. Yes, these are the fictional tales that make up his "News From Lake Wobegon" segment of the show.

Over the years I have been as up-close-and-personal with Garrison Keillor as he has breathed out one of these captivating storytelling segments as I have been with the finest of preachers I've heard. Last night was no exception as Mr. K talked about making peace with a brittle relative thanks to banana bread, Bailey's Irish Cream, and a pair of dilapidated old skis. I think it is safe to say that you'll never hear a finer description of what it is like for a young boy to pee in the snow on a bitter cold Minnesota winter's night than you will in Keillor's current flight of fancy.

But, back to the music -- it keeps coming on in a variety of shapes and styles -- all of it grand! The Hopeful Gospel Quartet (Keillor, Robin and Linda Williams and the hard-working vocalist Heather Masse), finger-style guitarist Pat Donahue, the spine shivering talent of the two singing Steele sisters: Jearyln and Jevetta and, of course, Mr. Costello.

There are instrumental jams, solo moments, and various other combinations of singers and musicians that keep the two hours light, sweet and fast moving. And it is all held together by the amazing musical director, Rich Dworsky, who burns up the keyboards in a manner that causes the HD image of his hands to blur just slightly as he cascades up and down the ivories.

It's all good fun, it's a getaway like no other and it makes the sorrows of this world melt away like snow in the Minnesota spring as -- for just a little while -- the PHC crew transports you a different kind of place and time than you can find anywhere else.

If you are fleet of finger, you might be able to snag a ticket for the February 9th encore screening in Irvine, but don't wait 'cause those tix are sure to go fast. And, if you do go, arrive early, get a good seat, and enjoy the pre-performance wanderings of Garrison and a cameraman as they wander around downtown St. Paul while the big Dane (Keillor) acts as a very informal tour guide. Otherwise, visit the PHC website for rebroadcasts of earlier shows or listen this weekend on your FM dial.

Thanks to my friend, Rob, for taking me to this wonderful world away and thank you for reading my recollections and reflections!