Monday, June 30, 2008

On The Selling of Donkeys, Bright Lights and Charismania

You need to understand something before you read this post. I love Graham Cooke. Of the men in my stream of Charismatic faith that I am most familiar, he is the one voice that I consistently love to hear. His understanding of the Father and His ways, leave others behind in the dust. His teachings have pulled us through so many hurtful times in our lives where we have brokenly asked the Father to give us some sort of revelation on what we were experiencing. Add to that my delight in reading him say that the minute he gets a business card from someone and sees the word “apostle” before the name he throws it immediately into the trash and I was a fan for life.

The other day though I listened to a short 10 minute clip (view here if you like) of a story he told of a man in the midst of going about his busy life, who suddenly hears weeping from his neighborhood that no one else on the sidewalk can hear. After a few days of feeling like he was crazy he understood it to be a sound that God wanted him to hear. It changed this man’s life and it has changed the neighborhood that he now lives in and loves.

I loved the story and am still glad that after coming out of much of “charismania” I still believe that God does things like this. But at the end of the story, Graham does something that I believe epitomizes the charismatic renewal and the major problem that I have with the whole thing.

He says this at the end of the story: “It makes you really wonder about what sounds we are too busy to listen to. And I wonder sometimes if we stopped on the street and listened in the realm of the spirit…Would we be able to hear the sound that God is hearing in a neighborhood, in a community. And if we heard that voice…what might God be asking of us? What request might come from heaven that might radically change our life.”

I'm sorry, but I wouldn't have gone there. My problem with the exhortation that Graham gives at the end is this: Why take this story and make it about us and what we need to be doing? Why not glory in the fact that we have a God who, when He wants us to hear Him, makes sure we can. A God who wants to communicate with us. A God who will not be missed. A God who, even if we are busy on our own path - as this man was - will still break into our world and speak to us. Why take this story and then make it something that we have to do? Something we have to replicate?

This story is not primarily about us trying to hear God!!! It is about God making Himself heard! (and of a man's obedience when he hears God) It is a story of hope. It is not a story of “should” or duty.

In my old church - we would have used this story to start a new ministry of going around our neighborhoods trying to hear the voice of God. It would bring the guilt of not doing something (in this instance - listening for the voice of God) and the anxiety that we would miss something big - which always seemed to be accompanying my life :)

And that is what charismatics do so well. They take a “happening” of God. A healing, a time of visitation, a time of soaking, a time of laughter and joy, a time of weeping or a really great story and try to duplicate it the next night and the next night. Suddenly you have the “anointed” one that will bring this “happening” to your group. Soon he will have conferences to speak at and books to write so that others can have this happen to them too. It becomes about the man or woman and not about the God who did a work one day in a specific place at a specific time.

Of course we should have our ears attuned to what God has to say. Listening for the voice of God is a good thing to do. There is nothing evil in what Graham is saying - In fact in his defense I know that I were sitting with him and discussing this post I am sure he would agree with me. But it is a brilliant example of the replication of the charismatic experiences that we see today.

He loves me. He wants to communicate with me. And if he has something important to say He might just show up and knock me off my proverbial donkey, blind me with a bright light and speak out loud to me.

Now here's hoping that if that does happen I won't go towards the mass marketing of the selling of donkeys and bright spotlights and calling it God.


Jeannette Altes said...

Wow. I get it. That is exactly what so many try to do. Kind of like Peter wanting to build a monument when he saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah. The Bible even says that when Peter said this, he was just babbling (depends on the translation).

I like what a friend told me last fall when I was fretting (seriously) about whether I was being deceived and going off the deep end - had been asking God for instruction. She told me that God had more than adequately demonstrated to her that He knew how to get her attention and that she would do what she knew to do - go in the direction he last pointed (if you will) and trust that He would correct the course if it needed correcting - and He would not have difficulty in telling her if that was the case. Yeah. Simple. ;-)

Sara said...

this is a great post. I'm so glad that my relationship with God doesn't come down to whether or not I can do a good enough job . . .

Maria said...

I think it's a mark of our (ok, my) insecurity that we want to pin God down in this way -- God's speaking to people out in their neighborhoods, so we better get out there and listen, etc. It's more an attitude of faith to put our confidence in God's ability to communicate (who made our ears, anyway?) than ours to hear.

Tyler Dawn said...

Hey Barb,

Funny how themes repeat in our lives. My husband and I were just chuckling over our last vacation, which was a horrible disappointment because we tried to duplicate the one before it, which was just amazing. The first was amazing because it was a God-thing, a unique gift, and when we tried to reproduce it, well, it was just a complete and utter failure.

It's true what you said, this is the same thing we used to do in church. sigh.

Anonymous said...

As a person, like you, who has enjoyed Graham's teachings..I get it.
My friend had to remind me, when GC has said something that threw me for a loop, that he is just as susceptible to throwing out a "should" as the next person. Like you said, if challenged, he'd probably agree with you.
What Katherine said about her friend, if God wants to make a course correction, He is more than capable. That's part of what trusting Him is....letting Him direct in that gentle way that He does.
Maybe our charismatic tendency to try to repeat the amazing things that God our desperate need to be in control. Somehow, if we can explain that 'this' is the way God works, than you must be wrong, I must be right, and now we can enjoy the 'abundance'. Like trying to make a math formula work on a spiritual life...
I know I lived like that for quite awhile..and I still must say that one of the biggest challenges of walking with God closely, is trusting that He'll guide me, and catch me when I fall. That's intense trust...and intense relationship.

Sarah said...

Barb, this is a great post. (I too have been greatly blessed by GC.) This is actually the very concern I have about the 'missional' movement. Something that I believe is a change in mindset (and therefore, direction - so in a way, the missional movement is a form of repentence) turning into something performance-oriented. The 'are you doing enough' attitude? Are you thinking/living missionally enough? I like how you emphasized that God initiates these things. That is something I believe is important for us missional-minded to remember as well. (At least I'm trying to remember it!) :)

Ruth said...

Okay so am I the only one who until very recently never heard of Graham Cooke? The funny thing is that I just saw him last week at a very small venue in the town next to mine. Someone heard he was going to be there and recommended it. I had never heard about him before.

And by George do you know what the crux of his message was? He said don't go expecting God to do now in the same way he did it in the past. (revivals for instance).

I am reading a book of his I got about the heart of prophecy and I'm really taken with it. It is not a how to book as much as it is a how to be book, if you get what I'm saying.

Barb I get what your point is though. We can exhort others with testimonies and encouragement with out telling them what and how to do it. It is better to motivate by inspiration rather than manipulation.

Tracy Simmons said...

Barb, I so agree! Just a few weeks ago some friends and I were talking about how it must be part of our fallen nature to want to "tame" everything into a neat little "how-to."

We got to laughing over something that happened to me. About a year ago I went and repented to someone that had really done harm to me. They have never repented to me, but I was finally able to see my sin in the situation and knew I needed to repent. When I walked out of that place and got into my car an amazing thing happened: It was like God filled that car and 100% healed me of all the pain this person had inflicted upon me, even though they never took any responsibility for what they had done.

So, our joke with my friends was that we could now create a "how to" that said anytime you were hurt you needed to go repent and then get in your car and there, and only there, would the Lord heal you of your hurts.

We got utterly silly with it, of course, coming up with scenarios like, "What would you do if it were your next door neighbor?" "Oh, you'd still have to drive; the power will only come to you in the car."

Your post just confirmed that we humans really do want to be able to control God and His ways.

Thankfully, He doesn't succumb to our silly efforts!

Great post, as always.

Free Spirit said...

Hey Barb,
Yes, I so see it now. The lens of charismania is just not quite focused on the central subject.
The deviation is so slight, in cases, that it is hard to detect.
Yes, here, he seems to miss the point, as you so accurately stated. It was the wonder of a loving Father on display, and instead we come out making much of the "wonder" of the one affected, as if it should be credited back to him, and, yes, then duplicated.

People come away esteeming the secondary character, instead of the main character who's responsible for the success.

It's the old "esteeming the created, instead of the Creator" trick, just redressed, in sheep's clothing.

Watchman said...

Leaders often have a hard time accepting that their experiences might not have anything to do with anyone other than themselves, and that great insight they received was never intended to become a sermon topic.

I was at a worship conference years ago and attended a seminar on getting your songs published. The rep had several stories of noted songs they found across the globe, and how God was using their songs to bless His people.

I asked the seminar leader if they ever came across a song so holy, so anointed, that they left it alone. He looked puzzled and asked me to clarify.

I explained my point, that in some cases, doesn't God sometimes give a word that is very personal and is only intended between He and a specific person or group of people. I said I have pet names for my spouse and children, but no one knows them but us.

He didn't get it.


Don said...

The desire to control, or to systematize, everything God reveals isn't unique to charismatics, by any means, but I think you are sensitive to how charismatics do it.

The flip side to this is how cessationists labor tirelessly to condemn or pooh-pooh every unusual move/act of God, to maintain control of their cessationist worldview and keep God from escaping from the box they've welded him into. What's sad is that while the charismatics do their thing with excitement and expectancy, the cessationists usually do theirs with anger or condescension.

Mark (under construction) said...

Indeed He might knock you off the donkey, but then He also might of spoken in the stillness of the night and we in the hustle and bustle of the world and the church did not listen or refused to hear - because there were more important things to do.

Barb said...

Katherine, exactly like the Peter and the monument. Jesus was saying we are done with those kinds of things. It is a relationship now. Vibrant and moving. thanks!

Sara, me too!

Maria, You are so right. How quickly we want to control everything.

Tyler, Great illustration. We have done that too. I go back to places now but don't expect the same things. I look for new ones.
And yes we did that in church all the time.

Che, Yep again it is control and wanting to make God work the way we think he should so that he is predictible.

Sarah, I think you have a really important point as to how it relates to the missional movement. Good thoughts.

Ruth, If you don't travel in the circles of some you don't hear the speakers. I love that you got to hear him and isn't it funny that it addresses this exactly. I knew he would agree! His message is so much how to are right.

Tracy, Fun story! Isn't it funny how we do that?

Free Spirit, This was brilliant. "It was the wonder of a loving Father on display, and instead we come out making much of the "wonder" of the one affected, as if it should be credited back to him, and, yes, then duplicated. Thanks, you said it much better than I did.

Watchman, I know when I was a leader I actually thought that God put things in my life to prepare me to teach them to others. I can't believe I took a true thing of God allowing you to go through something so you can comfort others to the twist that He had me experience it to teach others. As If He were not big enough to teach them himself through their own experiences. How blind. I didn't get it back then either.

Don, I was raised a cessationist so I know what you mean. The two are not different much at all.

Mork, We can miss God, I don't mean to say that we can't. But I don't want to encourage listening to God as an act of guilt but as a life of love for him.

Anonymous said...

in my cross-eyed wondering on the web i have stumbled onto your site. I have read some of your "clb" experiences and they sound similar to the church I have left - problem I am having is the church covenant - I broke it, I broke a promise - I guess. - so how do I reconcile this and keep my sanity? I really dont understand it all. What place does a church covenant have in todays new testament world?

Barb said...

Anonymous, We had to deal with that too as we "signed a covenant." But our covenant did not say things like you can never ask questions of the leadership or you can never leave our church body. It had things like love each other, give and take correction and other "heart" attitudes that we essentially did not break in any way. The only one that we "broke" was that we had promised to tithe to the body. We asked to be released from that one when we left. The problem with church covenants that I see is this: 1) they are meant to tie you up more in what is not said than what is actually there and 2) no where in scripture are they EVER mentioned. The Holy Spirit not resting in each person was to guide and direct. Church covenants, in my opinion are saying - we don't trust you to be able to hear and follow the Holy Spirit and so therefore we are going to come up with a document where you promise to do these things that you should be doing anyway.

If you have any more questions, you are free to email me at formerleader (at) hotmail (dot) com

Unknown said...

Hi, i'm typing with a healing dislocated elbow so please excuse any typos.

I found this blog from a blog that I don't entirely agree with but is a good source of information on the entire bentley fallout... i live in his hometown and have come out of charismatic weirdness though not on the scale of you or some of your links. i haven't really been into church for a long time though I certainly have faith, i like much of what you write.

I'm commenting on this post because of the Graham Cooke reference. Cooke is the one charismatic guy that I can't find a box for, which I like. I saw him at a freshfire conference and was pretty surprised by how different he was from every other charismaniac. He was a)calm, b)logical, c)humble, d)did not end his sermon with a crazy wild altar call. In fact it was like "let's pray," short, quick, and over and people left. I think some people were confused because he didn't leave them with an emotional frenzy thing.

anyways, i dunno. The blog I'm reading is really hateful on NAR stuff... and I mean, fair enough, but I just can't find it in me to think that every single person in the NAR or charismatic move, every leader, is that purposely deceptive, evil, 'wolf in sheep's clothing.' some are. some i think are just ... sincere but totally misguided. doesn't excuse how they hurt people but... and i like how you said that whether or not the people leading lakeland are full of it (paraphrase sorry), god still met people there. I don't see why he wouldn't.

but graham cooke, he's the only guy who seems to make any charismatic crap make any logical sense in the real world. i don't agree with all his stuff (or study it at all these days), or the people he can be associated with, but ... i'm having trouble expressing what i mean. i think he's the guy you could have a discussion about this stuff with and have a discussion, not just be told you're wrong shut up. I dunno. Anyways. thanks.

Barb said...

Ryan, Thanks for commenting. I agree. Graham Cooke is one guy you could have a conversation WITH. He had my heart when he said once in an article that when the gets a business card with the title of: Apostle so and so, he just throws it away. He does seem to understand humility. I have always said of Graham that his knowledge and heart of God is so big that when you are in his presence you feel like you are standing on the shore of the ocean and the ocean is all that he knows of who God is. Truly an amazing teacher and prophet in the whole Charasmatic sphere.

I don't think all the guys are evil in the NAR. I think some have been duped. Mostly you will be able to tell when something like the Bently thing comes up. Those that are truly humble and straight forward will admit that they lacked discernment or at least timing. I always take note of anyone who will say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong." That man/woman I can trust. The ones who just give justifications for their actions though - I don't trust. They might be great people but leadership, whether it is church, home or government MUST be able to admit when they are wrong.