The Holy Spirit and Me – Part 8 (Toronto)

When I first began hearing reports about what was happening at the Toronto Airport Vineyard, in the Spring of 1994, I really didn’t know what to think. I suppose I was curious, and that part of me that was ready for a spiritual renewal was hoping there might be something of substance to this revival or renewal, or whatever it was (at that time many people were still trying to define exactly what it was.) Then my friend Phil, who, at the time was pastor of the Thousand Oaks Vineyard, came back from having spent a week there, and we debriefed about his experience. After hearing his positive report, I made plans and flew to Toronto in June of that year.

My first clue that this was going to be a different kind of experience for me came the first morning after my late arrival the night before. Going down the stairs of the hotel into the lobby, I was met by the sight of a man lying flat on his back, right in front of the registration desk, with another guy praying for him. I remember hearing one of their wives saying, “This is a stretch, even for me!”

I had seen people overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit many times over the years, but never in the numbers or intensity that I saw in that Friday night service. After waiting in line for almost an hour, the doors were opened and the long line of us found our seats in the sanctuary. The atmosphere was truly electric, even before the worship team took the stage. I sat behind three men from England, and, even while the worship team was warming up, they were in stitches, trying as best they could to stifle their laughter. I had heard of this phenomenon before, but had never seen it until now. I was amused, but open-minded, because it was obvious they weren’t trying to work anything up. I was to see much more of this laughter during that week, and got my own, very unexpected mega-dose the following Monday morning at a prayer meeting! As soon as I began to sense a powerful sensation of joy beginning to erupt from deep within me, I got up quickly and went into the men’s room, where I almost came unglued, howling with laughter until my stomach hurt! Now I understand why we will be given new bodies in the coming Kingdom: Our present ones could never handle the joy that awaits us! (Paul tells us, in Romans 14:17, that joy is a major characteristic of the Kingdom of God.)

One night, John Arnott, the pastor, deputized all of us who were Vineyard pastors to help pray for those who had come forward, because there were too many for their ministry team to handle. If you’ve never prayed for people in an environment so intensely saturated with the power of God, you don’t know what you’re missing! Our prayers were precisely on-target, and gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, healing, etc., flowed so freely it made all of us who were praying look incredibly effective! And those who came forward were powerfully touched (many would say transformed) by God’s love and grace.

The Toronto Blessing, as it became known, continues to be controversial, especially because of the more extreme manifestations that sometimes occurred in its later stages. But in studying the history of revivals, those fringe elements seem to accompany almost every revival. As John Wimber once explained, when the power of God hits a group of people, those prone to emotional dysfunction will sometimes act in strange, even bizarre ways. When once asked about whether the Toronto phenomenon was “God,” he replied, “Oh it’s God alright, but it’s God in people, and that’s always the problem.”

John White said almost the same thing, but a little differently, in his book, “When the Spirit Comes with Power.” He said, “True revival has commonly been opposed, because it came dressed outlandishly, a wild and uncouth invader.” But the fact is, nothing short of a nationwide revival can save our broken and desperate nation.

It’s never an easy dance, to embrace the power of the Spirit, while filtering out the fleshly extremes, but if history is any indication, that challenge will probably always be with us. We all long for a revival that’s purely “God,” but as long as God sees fit to entrust the riches of his Spirit to broken and imperfect humans, I’m afraid we will simply have to brace for the struggle. Let’s not cancel the parade just because of some horse poop! Let’s just have the guys in the brooms follow closely behind, but let the parade continue! Even though we will have some messes to clean up, let’s join our hearts together as we earnestly pray, “Come Holy Spirit!”

The Holy Spirit and Me – Part 7 (John Wimber)

I first heard John Wimber at a Calvary Chapel conference at Twin Peaks, California, in 1979. I remember being so impressed with his friendly manner, his easy to follow teaching style and non-religious sense of humor.

A month or so later, I returned to Fuller Seminary to take a new course being taught by Peter Wagner about how to plant new churches. There were roughly 80 students in the class, and Peter divided us into groups of 4 or 5, assigning each group to study a notable church in Southern California. Our group was assigned to study Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda, which had been planted by, and was, at that time, being pastored by John Wimber. Within a few weeks, our group had lunch with John in Orange County, and we were captivated as we talked with him for about two hours. We were all very impressed with him, so much so that one of the guys in the group decided to interrupt his studies at Fuller in order to hang out with John more closely.

Less than two years later, while attending The Vineyard of Santa Monica, where Kenn Gulliksen was the pastor, Kenn made a surprising announcement. (At that time, there were already five or six Vineyard churches that had been planted out of Kenn’s church). Kenn said that John Wimber was now the unofficial “bishop” of these Vineyard churches. “John Wimber!” I exclaimed to my wife under my breath, “This is great!” It seemed God was determined to connect us with John Wimber! Shortly after that, John began teaching his famous class at Fuller (or infamous, depending on your frame of reference) , titled, “Signs, Wonders and Church Growth.”

While we were praying about planting a new church in Camarillo, about an hour north of L.A., we decided to attend the very first Vineyard conference in Orange County.  After that meeting in 1982, we knew that our church was to be a Vineyard, and Kenn Gulliksen took us out to lunch and released us to plant the Vineyard of Camarillo.

Prior to this time, the Lord had been taking John Wimber through a journey of discovery regarding the power of the Holy Spirit, which eventually caused friction between him and the more conservative Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel. Although the small group of Vineyard Churches had still been affiliated with Calvary Chapel, the differences eventually led to a parting of the ways. Because of John’s immense experience as a church consultant for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of churches of many different denominations, I immediately resonated with his openness and affection toward the wider Body of Christ.

When John began holding healing conferences, teaching and demonstrating the power of signs and wonders, I was drawn in deeper and deeper. My Pentecostal roots had found fertile ground in which to flourish, and John provided a model that was substantially free of the heightened emotionalism and esoteric language that had sometimes accompanied those of the Pentecostal or Charismatic traditions in my earlier experience. He was also able to articulate very effectively an apologetic for the experience of the Holy Spirit that was easy to communicate and model in a culturally relevant way.

I owe so much to John Wimber, who enabled me to once again draw near to the wonderful Person of the Holy Spirit, whom I had kept at arms length for years. Even though I continue to have doubts about the way he handled the issues surrounding the “Toronto Blessing,” (some say John had second thoughts as well), I still consider him an apostle, (small “a”) and one who had a profound and positive influence on the Church in the western world.

[Join me next time for “The Holy Spirit and Me – Part 8 (Toronto)”]

The Holy Spirit and Me – Part 6 (Bethesda Church)

My plan, when we were headed for Fuller Seminary, was to land a staff position at a nice, big church. I had seen how hard my dad had had it, when he was the lone pastor of a small Pentecostal church, and I had no interest in following in those footsteps! After all, I was about to invest in an MDiv from Fuller, and felt somehow entitled to a more cushy position with a nice office!

When we first arrived in Pasadena, California, after graduating from Bible College in Oklahoma, we drove down to Westminster, in Orange County, to visit Jane’s aunt. She informed us that Homer Taylor, pastor of Bethesda Church in Rosemead, wanted to meet us and talk with us about possibly helping him in some capacity. What was interesting was that Jane’s dad had been pastor of Bethesda Church when Jane was in elementary school.

We decided to give Homer Taylor a call, and ended up attending the Sunday service that week. You probably have never been to a church like Bethesda. It was a small, inner-city church, situated in a residential neighborhood, with a badly worn parking lot and pealing paint. We were unprepared for what we saw that Sunday morning. There were about twenty to thirty people over 60, one teenaged girl, and about fifty kids under twelve, who came pouring out of two buses! Beside Felix, who drove one of the buses, we were the only ones there in our twenties. Some of the kids came from the Garvey Hills, well known as a gang-infested area.

As the Sunday School songs began, I felt the Spirit warming my heart toward this little church, and I became emotional and vulnerable. On the way home that day, Jane and I agreed that God was leading us to come to Bethesda and help Homer Taylor. And just like that, my vain and grandiose plans for a cushy staff position evaporated! After about six months as Homer’s assistant, he resigned and turned the church over to me. Can you imagine? A twenty-four-year-old seminary student with virtually no experience, becoming a pastor of a church – like a four-year old being thrown into the deep end of a pool!

At Fuller, we had been given examples of pastors who spent 20-40 hours a week in sermon preparation. With a full course load and Bethesda’s four services a week (Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and Friday night), I was lucky if I got to spend two or three hours preparing a sermon! Several times I even had Jane drive, while I sketched the outline for my sermon during the 20-minute trek from Pasadena to Rosemead!

But during the four and a half years we were at Bethesda, we discovered how much God loved that awkward little church! Much like the humble, flat-roofed, unfinished church building in Plattsburgh, New York ten years earlier, the Spirit didn’t seem in the least put off by the simple surroundings. Week after week, we had some of the most glorious visitations of the Holy Spirit in that church, and although some of those old folks were challenging and hugely dysfunctional, we learned that Jesus deeply loves every one of His kids!

The Holy Spirit and Me – Part 5 (Fuller Seminary)

My exposure to friends and classmates from so many different traditions prepared me well for Fuller Seminary, which was also a melting pot – a sort of microcosm of the Body of Christ in the U.S. In addition to encountering people from many different church backgrounds, I was pleasantly surprised to find a good number of “Spirit-filled” students (I’m using this term broadly, to refer to those who, at some point had spoken in tongues). The year I started my studies there (1975), the Assemblies of God represented the second-largest group on campus, after the Presbyterian Church (and even some of those had had a charismatic experience.) In our small apartment complex, one couple were Spirit-filled Baptists, my friend, Pat, was a Spirit-filled Presbyterian married to a Spirit-filled Episcopalian, and the couple next door were Spirit-filled Mennonites! (Anna baked the most incredible home-made bread!)

One day as I stopped to read one of the popular bulletin boards, someone had posted a newspaper clipping in which Lloyd Ogilvie, the well-known pastor of Hollywood Presbyterian Church, admitted to being a “Pentecostal.” I was surprised that he not only referred to his experience of speaking in tongues, but actually used the term “Pentecostal” to describe himself!

It was not only the students who were charismatic/Pentecostals; several of the faculty were also known to represent this wing of the Church – men such as Russell Spitler, Cecil Robeck, Peter Wagner and Charles Kraft, to name a few. British theologian, Colin Brown, told several of us in the cafeteria that he believed Romans 8:26 refers to glossolalia (speaking in tongues), and told us that, though he was not personally charismatic, he was “very pro-charismatic.” I’m encouraged to find that, even today, there are professors at Fuller who are tongue-speaking Evangelicals.

Many in the Church community may have been surprised to discover that there was such as strong representation of Pentecostals/Charismatics at Fuller, but what really made headlines was when John Wimber taught the class “Signs, Wonders and Church Growth” (MC510 – missions course 510 – in the course handbook). Peter Wagner had invited John to teach this course, which showed the relationship between signs and wonders and church growth in third-world countries. This class became one of the most popular (and controversial) at Fuller. Students would cram into the room to watch as, after his lecture, John would lead a ministry time, when he would give several prophetic messages (or Words of Knowledge), followed by prayer for healing, often with dramatic results. By his own testimony, Peter Wagner’s back was healed in one of these classes!

Unfortunately, a majority of the faculty demanded John Wimber not be allowed to teach the class again, and their position prevailed. It had been a wonderful breath of fresh air in what can sometimes be a stuffy academic environment!

I returned to Fuller in 1979 to take Peter Wagner’s class, Techniques of Planting New Churches. Eighty people signed up for the class, which Pete divided into groups of 4-5 students, and assigned each group to study, and report on, a notable church in Southern California. Our group was assigned to study Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda, where John Wimber was the pastor. The four of us took John to lunch in Fullerton and picked his brain for over two wonderful hours! This was the second time I had met John – the first being a year or so earlier at a Calvary Chapel conference at Twin Peaks, where John and Chuck Smith were the two main speakers. John would, not too longer after that, join with Kenn Gulliksen and take over the fledgling Vineyard movement. I was thrilled to discover, after Jane and I began attending Kenn’s church in Santa Monica, that John Wimber was now the leader of the Vineyard movement. It seemed God was determined to get us into the Vineyard, and this month we celebrate 30 years as pastors of the Vineyard in Camarillo, California!

The Holy Spirit and Me – Part 4 (Southwestern College)

Shortly after my encounter with the Holy Spirit in Fremont, CA, (see previous blog) my pastor took me down to Santa Cruz for the annual conference of the Pentecostal Holiness churches in Northern California. Since he was the superintendent of the conference, he emceed the meetings, and at one point shared with the crowd my recent experience with the Holy Spirit. Present at the meeting was a recruiter for Southwestern College, one of the denominational bible colleges, located in Oklahoma City. He sat down next to me, gave me a school catalog and within two months I piled my belongings into my orange Karman Ghia, and headed the 1,700 miles to Oklahoma City.

I had already taken classes at two colleges, but because I had little inner motivation or focus, my stints at both were only a semester or two. This time it was different. There had been a powerful impartation of the Holy Spirit, followed by a clear confirmation of my call into the ministry, and I was as focused as a missile fired out of a launcher. I excelled in my classes, made quick friendships and met the future Mrs. Smith.

One day, halfway through my first year, our school hosted a guest speaker. He must have had quite a reputation, because the meeting was held in the school gym, rather than in the much smaller chapel. As he shared stories of the many people he had helped bring to faith in Jesus, I became inspired and restless. So inspired and restless that I decided to quit school and go back to California, where there was “real” work to be done. I began telling my friends and teachers that I was leaving, and almost unanimously, they told me I would be making a mistake. After two or three days, the flash of inspiration wore off and I decided to stay. Originally, I had come only to complete the one-year “Bible Certificate” program, but eventually finished up with a B.A., then went on to Fuller Seminary.

The same Holy Spirit who encountered me in Fremont led me to invest four years in a formal bible college education, followed by two more at Fuller. It was during that time that he was beginning to build my internal “rudder,” which would help guide me through many years of life and ministry.

The truth about bible school or seminary is that it’s not only in the classrooms that you learn. I probably learned as much while sitting around the dorm rooms or cafeteria talking to my friends and classmates. I learned during our “outreaches,” like the time we encountered a demon-possessed man in the alley behind the bus depot and stayed with him until 2:00 am the next morning, while we watched a local pastor cast more than a dozen demons out of him. And I learned to appreciate the richness of the whole Church of Jesus, as I interacted with people from various church traditions whose theology and experience were different from mine.

Jesus promised, in John 16:13, that “when the Holy Spirit comes, He will guide you into all truth…” Looking back over the past forty years, I can see clearly how wonderfully and intentionally He was doing that in my life when I was a young man, and He faithfully continues to teach me today.

The Holy Spirit and Me – Part 3 (Encounter in Fremont)

When I was seventeen, my father resigned as pastor of his church in Fremont, California. It was not a happy parting, and I instantly lost my small circle of church friends. I was a senior in high school at the time, and, with this vital support structure ripped away from me, I quickly became vulnerable to a host of temptations.

The next four years were a very rough detour on my road through life. I started and stopped college twice, tried my hand at a dozen jobs (sometimes two or three at a time), and found parties every weekend with my new friends, often helping to mix the drinks. Toward the end of those four years, my language had become polluted and my mind obsessed with bitterness toward my former best friend for a deep, personal betrayal.

During all that time, I often went to some church on Sundays, my soul groping for something solid to cling to while I bobbed up and down on the angry waves around me. It’s amazing how a young man like me, with a history of following Jesus, could sit in so many church services and remain unaffected and unrepentant. Sin had done his job well; his roots had gone deep.

All of that was about to change. From time to time, during those years, I ran into my old friend from church, and one day he invited me to a “revival” at his church. He promised there were girls, so I went. It was a small, Pentecostal Holiness Church, and the music and environment was familiar. Because both of us had been raised in church, we could recognize when the speaker was about to give the altar call, so we got up and left.

The following Friday, Jack invited me again, and I went with him (remembering at least two good-looking girls). This time the speaker paused at some point in his message and said, “There’s a young man here tonight who’s been going through a lot of new and difficult experiences, and tonight the Lord is calling you back.” (Now that was 40 years ago, so I don’t remember the exact words, but that’s close enough). Immediately something was happening in my body. Within three seconds I was simultaneously delivered and gloriously filled with the Holy Spirit, standing to my feet and loudly gushing out a torrent of tongues for several minutes. It was utterly unexpected. I had been ambushed by God!

When I finally calmed down, I realized that the whole church was on its feet, praising God! The pastor came down from the platform, walked all the way around the back of the congregation and came up to me on the third row from the front. The moment I saw him, I threw my arms around him, sobbing violently.

The next day I drove from Fremont to my parents house in San Ramon and told them what had happened. They were moved and my mom hugged me and encouraged me to prepare for the ministry. My dad was not so sure he believed me (he told me that later).

That Sunday I went to both the morning and evening services at the church. Sunday night, while the pastor prayed the benediction, I prayed my own prayer. “Lord, if you’re calling me to preach, please have someone ask me to speak.” The very first person to come up to me, within ten seconds of that prayer, was the youth pastor. He said, “Hey Dan, how about speaking for us Wednesday night?”

With that confirmation and through several other divine appointments, I was off to Bible College within three months, and have never looked back. Over the years, that experience has been an anchor for me. It has also served as the root of my passion for the Person of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit and Me (Part 2 – Out of Africa)

Many of you know that I was born in South Africa, the son of native Afrikaaners (Dutch South Africans). My grandfather was John Smith, the only ordained Pentecostal pastor in a predominantly Dutch Reformed city (Graaf Reinet), at a time when the entire country was controlled, largely, by the Dutch Reformed Church. He was a close friend of David DuPlessis, who would later become known as “Mr. Pentecost,” because he was so influential in bringing the message of the Holy Spirit and His gifts to the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant churches.

My parents told me stories about the early struggles of the Pentecostals in South Africa to gain acceptance by the wider Church, much like the struggles of Pentecostals in America. They also told about how, when John G. Lake visited South Africa in the early 1900’s, two of my ancestors were baptized in the Holy Spirit while walking to one of his meetings!

My father, also Daniel Smith, helped to plant several Pentecostal churches after we moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the early 1950’s, while he pursued a successful career as a brick maker and contractor. It was in those churches, that I, as a young boy, first met Jesus and learned the basics of the Bible. I wouldn’t become familiar with the Holy Spirit for several years.

In 1961 my family moved to Plattsburgh, New York, about 30 miles from the Canadian border, where my father planted a church as part of the Church of God denomination (based in Cleveland, TN). We met in the basement, which was the only part of the building constructed at that point, and as more than a foot of snow often accumulated on the flat roof, it would often leak into the sanctuary. I clearly remember a half-dozen or more containers scattered between the pews on the concrete floor, as the music and preaching were accompanied by the drip-drip-drip of rainwater. Occasionally the service would be interrupted by the oil-burning heater belching out black smoke!

But none of that seemed to dampen the fervor of the congregation or hinder the Spirit from moving in any way! It was in that humble church basement that I first experienced the power of the Holy Spirit as an 11-year-old boy. There was much speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues and prophecy, along with a fair bit of shouting and dancing (this was an interesting group, mostly southern Pentecostals, who had been transferred to Plattsburgh Air Force Base, set squarely in the midst of a Roman Catholic stronghold!)

I didn’t realize it at the time, but God was laying a foundation in my inner being, upon which He would build a profound relationship with His Spirit. And it would be that same Holy Spirit who would follow me through the next tumultuous decade, and who was planning an encounter with me that would change my life.

(Please stay tuned for the next blog in this series: Encounter in Fremont. Also, I welcome your comments and questions!)

The Holy Spirit and Me (Part 1 – The Journey)

Over the past 18 years, I have become passionately committed to following the Holy Spirit, just as I have been committed to following Jesus and the Father. This has been a journey for me, and my relationship with this Person has not been a straight line, but has taken a number of twists and turns. I decided to share my adventure with you, because I know that many of you have as many questions about the Holy Spirit as you have answers. You should know from the beginning that my journey has finally led me to the place I am in today, which is that of a Jesus follower who is passionate for the Holy Spirit, and that I have a great sense of peace and inner convergence in this place.

In the first chapter of John, Andrew and a friend begin following Jesus as he walked past them. Jesus turned and asked them what they wanted, and they replied, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus invited them to spend the rest of the day with them, and so began their new and life-changing adventure. In exactly the same way, I have felt invited by the Holy Spirit to come and spend time with him, and it has been life-changing. He keeps leading me on this delightful and intoxicating adventure, full of new discoveries, yet still filled with enough mystery to keep me pursuing this awesome, yet sometimes seductively illusive God.

Over the past thirty-five years of ministry I have learned many things, but it has only been over the past eighteen years, since I had a breakthrough in my relationship with Him, that I have discovered some profound and precious truths about the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians and Colossians, Paul talks about the element of “hidden-ness” and “mystery” in our faith. This is not something we westerners are comfortable with. We would much rather have answers than questions. But it is precisely that mystery about the Holy Spirit that I find so tantalizing. Because He is God, just as Jesus is God and just as the Father is God, the pursuit of the Spirit is guaranteed to reward us richly!

It can seem that scripture tells us less about the Holy Spirit than it tells us about Jesus or the Father, but I’m beginning to think that may not be true. Scripture says a great deal about the Spirit; just not in the same way it tells us about the other two Persons (my upcoming book has much to say about this). That’s why we have to dig as if mining for gold, and learn His voice and His ways.

Please join me over the next few weeks as I share with you my own journey of discovery, repentance and joy in the Holy Spirit. (God helping me, I plan to post a new blog at least three times a week).

Bert Waggoner’s Forward (cont’d)

An ever-increasing number of books are being written on
the Holy Spirit by scholars and practitioners across the theological
spectrum. Yet they are not only writing about the Holy
Spirit in redemption—inspiring the Bible, convicting sinners,
illuminating the Word. These are all very important functions
of the Spirit, but they are only a small part of the Spirit’s work.
There is much more. The Spirit speaks to us, gifts us to serve
both in the church and the world, and anoints us to do the
works of Jesus such as preaching the gospel, healing the sick,
and freeing people from spiritual bondage. The Spirit builds
the church to be a reconciling community that breaks down
the walls of prejudice, destroys sectarianism, and cares for creation.
There is nothing in our lives that the Spirit is not related
to in some way.

The Wind and the Rudder adds another very helpful book
to this genre. It is a very practical guide for those who want
to live in the Spirit and who need some skills to help them
do so. It is not written by an armchair theoretician. Dan is an
experienced practitioner who has learned to live naturally in
the supernatural. He has prayed for the sick, prophesied, and
cast out demons. He not only tells you what the Spirit wants
to do in your life, he also shows from years of experience how
to cooperate with the Spirit in a non-religious way. Your heart
will be warmed, your mind will be challenged, and your faith
will be strengthened in the reading.

Berten A. Waggoner
National Director
Vineyard USA

From Bert Waggoner’s Forward to The Wind and The Rudder (more to follow)

There was a time, and it was not long ago, that the Evangelical
church and much of the rest of the church was afraid of the
gifts of the Spirit. Praying for the sick, speaking in tongues,
and prophesying were at the least held suspect or at the most
demonic. Theologies had developed that said all of these gifts
and many more had been a vital part of New Testament experience,
but with the full development of the Bible, they were no
longer needed and thus ceased to operate when the canon was
closed. The Bible then replaced the Spirit; it became the only
way that God could speak.

But things have changed. Early in the twentieth century the
Pentecostal movement erupted on the world scene that caused
a tsunami of the Spirit accompanied with signs following such
as those once rejected or ignored gifts. This was followed in the
Sixties by a second spiritual tsunami called the Charismatic
movement that upset the spiritual landscape in old-line denominations,
the Roman Catholic church, and many Evangelical
churches. Though many in the church would continue to say
that they are neither Charismatic nor Pentecostal, they would
also go on to say that they believe all of the gifts of the Spirit are
for today and that they want those gifts to be expressed in their
churches. It could be rightly said that the twentieth century
was a century in which the Holy Spirit’s work was forcefully
felt through all the church.