Inspiration at New Wine

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but New Wine this year was most inspiring, yet again. Part of it comes from worshiping God alongside several thousand others – but it’s also about the stimulating teaching and spending time with good friends.

The main arena at New Wine, which holds 5,500 and was full for the main sessions

The main arena at New Wine, which holds 5,500 and was full for the main sessions

One of the main speakers was Robbie Dawkins, a Vineyard pastor from gangland Chicago. He’s a big unit – you wouldn’t mess with him even if he is a pastor! Who could forget his story about the gang leader nicknamed Hitler, who vowed to kill him in Church, who was frozen by the Spirit when he turned up, and then turned to Christ when he was in jail for multiple murders?

It was also exciting to hear about the effect that prayer for healing has had on his area. He was keen to emphasise that when he prays for someone, he does not wait for a word from God to give him permission to do so – he prays and trusts that God will respond. He encouraged us to do the same, saying that too often we hold back for fear of looking stupid.

It was inspiring, in a rather different way, to hear the Bishop of Worcester give one of the seminars – partly because he’s the Bishop in this area, but mainly because of his backstory: of the battle his wife is currently undergoing with cancer. He spoke on ‘Healing: the entirety of the Gospel’, and stressed the need that everyone has for both healing and forgiveness. Both he and Robbie Dawkins stressed that if we think the main arena for God’s healing is in the church, then we’re sadly mistaken – it’s primarily a sign for those that don’t know Christ that he is real, alive and that he loves them.

One of the audience members at that seminar also told us about the healing his wife received after an 18 year battle with multiple sclerosis [read about it here] – it’s a remarkable story.

The worship this year was outstanding, led in particular by Martin Smith. He’s a great performer, certainly, but above all he’s someone keen to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Lively worship in the main arena.

Lively worship in the main arena.

One of the joys of New Wine is spending time with friends, and our section of the Trinity Cheltenham site soon became know for its top-quality dinnertimes!

Matt, Caroline, Lisa, Neil, Lorraine, Les and Judith - relaxing after an evening meal

Matt, Caroline, Lisa, Neil, Lorraine, Les and Judith – relaxing after an evening meal

Greatham Creek revisited

Visiting Lloyd and Margaret Williams in Dewsbury with Tom Hiney

Visiting Lloyd and Margaret Williams in Dewsbury with Tom Hiney

I’ve just come back from a trip up north, starting with visiting Tom Hiney in Dewsbury, going via the seals on Tees-side and ending up watching red squirrels in Strathyre (the next blog post).

While in Dewsbury, Tom and I visited Lloyd and Margaret Williams: Lloyd has been a major figure in the healing ministry, if somewhat less well known than his contemporaries David Watson and John Wimber. It was a great opportunity for us to quiz someone with a proven track record in this area, with tricky issues such as “Are there times when it is better to pray for someone to pass away into the Lord’s care rather than to pray for their healing?” (Short answer: yes.)

Common scoter in Greatham Creek

Common scoter in Greatham Creek

I then travelled up to the north east, dropping into Stockton before meeting Jaybee for a day of bird-watching on Tees-side. We spent most of the time in the Greatham Creek area: I enjoyed being able to see birds that hardly ever occur in the West Midlands! Two notable examples were the common scoter, a sea duck, and the red-breasted merganser, a notably colourful bird with a punk hairstyle.

Red breasted merganser pair in Greatham Creek.

Red breasted merganser pair in Greatham Creek.

It was great to be able to catch up with Jaybee. It was meeting him in the first week of my time in Durham, and his showing me around the main birdwatching sites on Tees-side a few weeks later, that led to my taking up birdwatching in a big way. He’s a courageous character, absolutely determined to overcome the ill health that he battles with, and of which he is eager to be completely free.

I’ve always been fascinated by Greatham Creek with its combination of wildlife and heavy industry. This scene, with avocets skimming the water in the foreground, epitomises it.

Heavy industry on Tees-side, with avocets skimming the water in the foreground.

Heavy industry on Tees-side, with avocets skimming the water in the foreground.

Just over the road – which is the main route from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool – is the haul-out point for the seals (just visible in the image below).

The A178 road bridge at Greatham Creek, with the seals languishing on the mudflats beyond.

The A178 road bridge at Greatham Creek, with the seals languishing on the mudflats beyond.

The seals at Greatham Creek

The seals at Greatham Creek

Spot the male redshank unsure what to do when a female flies in... "if in doubt, keep yapping"

Spot the male redshank unsure what to do when a female flies in… “if in doubt, keep yapping”

I was also amused by the antics of a male redshank, who made quite a racket in an attempt to attract a female. One flew in – which seemed to astonish him, as he was silent for a while, not sure what to do. Then he continued his racket, so that she eventually flew off. Some blokes just seem to lack a bit of panache! ūüôā

The banning of Todd Bentley

Todd Bentley’s first book

“Revivalist preacher Todd Bentley refused entry to UK” -thus states the Guardian headline.¬†¬†I am no fan of Todd Bentley, but having seen him live, and having friends who are supporters of his, I am more than normally interested in what’s happening here. The¬†story raises a number of important issues.

A few years ago I went with some friends to a meeting in Dudley to hear him preach: he had the reputation of having a radical style but with dramatic healings taking place in his meetings. He was one of a number of celebrity Christian preachers, often with links to God TV, who would tend to draw large crowds whenever they appeared in this country.

I went with a sense of expectancy, but was disappointed to find that he had a highly manipulative style which, before anything else happened, resulted in many of the audience dropping cash at his feet. It was never explained what this money would be used for. Nevertheless, I spoke with a few who’d been at the front,¬†who said they had seen dramatic events which they took to be of supernatural origin.

Shortly afterwards the Florida Outpouring took place(see here for a helpful review). This was taken to be a dramatic example of God’s supernatural action in a particular locality, and it probably received more media coverage than any event since the Toronto Blessing. A number of friends from my church in Cheltenham went out there and came back there deeply impressed by what was happening. I was under-enthused, having seen him in operation in Dudley, but slightly¬†perplexed that I might have missed something important. In the end, after several months, the event came to an untimely close because of Bentley’s marital difficulties which led to his subsequent divorce and rapid second marriage.

In recent times people have spoken of Bentley’s restoration and there has for a while been talk of his returning to the UK. In the end the legal system has intervened. However there are some important issues that must be addressed. One of these¬†is exemplified by a story which¬†tended to follow Todd Bentley, and is reported in the¬†Guardian:

In one typical claim, he is filmed telling an audience: “And the Holy Spirit spoke to me, the gift of faith came on me. He said, ‘kick her in the face with your biker boot’. I inched closer and I went like this ‚Äď bam! And just as my boot made contact with her nose, she fell under the power of God.”

The story¬†carries with it an important sub-text: I am so in tune with God that even when he tells me to do something bizarre, I know it’s his voice,¬†so I am obedient¬†and amazing things happen in consequence. However,¬†unless such claims can be backed up independently, there is the suspicion that they are no more than self-generated myth. If he has invented the story himself, I suspect many will be glad to have it exposed.

However, Bentley’s claim to be able heal people of cancer (and other major illnesses) is not unusual in charismatic Christian circles. I am a part of these circles and engage in this ministry (see here; albeit not yet with headline results), so I am actively interested when these claims provoke controversy. Whenever serious claims are being made for healing from major illnesses,¬†¬†it is¬†incredibly important that medical evidence¬†is presented so that these claims can be authenticated.¬†A healing from cancer should be possible to document properly.¬†While it is unlikely that¬†medical doctors would want to positively affirm a supernatural miracle,¬†they¬†should be able to confirm the presence and extent of the cancer before the event, its absence afterwards, and¬†that the rapidity of the change is substantially beyond¬†what could¬†be explained by normal biomedicine. (For a well documented example of healing from a serious illness, see here. See also the story of my friend Jono Smithies.)

My suspicion Рand it is no more than that Рis that while Bentley may be a highly manipulative individual, genuine supernatural events were occurring at his meetings. There is a tendency to think that miracles authenticate the spiritual power and integrity of the preacher Рbut this is not a Biblical view (see here). My feeling is that at his meetings, there was a high level of faith in God that there would be healings Рand because of that, God acted, in response to the faith present as opposed to the preacher. Bentley may have abused this for his own ends. It would be interesting to know whether Bentley is another example of a depressingly well-known phenomenon Рof a genuinely Spirit-empowered preacher who started well but was waylaid by his own corruption.

This leaves an awkward question: why would God use such a man in any way? There may be a painful answer. This is that those of us in more conventional church positions are not prepared for the radicalism that God desires, so that we are unable to be used. Perhaps in God’s economy corrupt vessels are better than unusable vessels.

Amazing healing testimony

Most people at Trinity Church know Jono Smithies. He’s a student at the University here on a photography course, and has been a committed regular at church since he arrived. But that’s not the reason people know him: instead, it’s because he had an acute case of Tourette’s syndrome, which led him to manfiest loud tics, sometimes as often as once a minute.

Jono

I first met Jono about two years, as he became a lodger with Dave Slight. I got to know him better when for a while he came along to the Kingdom Renegades group. Jono has a passionate character and a deep faith, both forged in adversity… and he wasn’t just eager for healing, he was desperate for it.

By the end of January this year it became clear that something dramatic had happened to Jono, and he came along to the group to share his testimony of God’s healing.

He started by telling us what it was like to have Tourette’s, which he’d had for as long as he could remember. He described it as a tough journey, ‘very tough, very painful’: ‘I can only describe it as torturing myself a lot of the time’. (This is not too strong a description: it looked like it, as well.)

He became a Christian when he was 7. He said, ‘Throughout my life, God’s character, his nature and his ways have been affirmed. God has always been faithful and true.’ Jono clearly lived in this knowledge: even when he was, equally clearly, not being healed. He and his family prayed for his healing for two decades: and the lack of an answer ‘never took anything away from who I believe God to be.’

Back in 2010 he felt that God was telling him that he would be healed, and this fuelled his desire to experience this healing. For a few days in August last year he experienced several days, tic-free. The tics came back – but even for that short period of time he had experienced a taste of God’s healing power.

Although this was puzzling, Jono continued to eagerly desire full and complete healing. He learned lessons that have power coming from someone who has been through what he has been through: he learned to praise God in the pain. ‘Worship attracts the presence of God… when you praise, you get miracles.’

What happened in January was not planned. He went round to watch a DVD with a friend, but instead they ended up praying for healing from Tourette’s. He has not had a tic since.

Jono is still a noisy character – but now because his extrovert personality is no longer restrained by the tight cage of Tourette’s. In September he will go to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, an extraordinary place which has¬†both¬†the¬†expectation and experience of God’s supernatural power, that has inspired many across the globe. He was accepted on the course before he was healed: but he can now go with his own amazing testimony of God’s healing power.

Click here to see Jono’s own video testimony on YouTube, “The pursuit of a miracle“.

Reality – mystical and earthly

I’ve just had a packed weekend – firstly going down to hear Ian Clayton in Cardiff on Friday and Saturday, and then on Sunday to an event near Bristol to hear Joe Corry.

Ian Clayton at the COBH event in Cardiff

Ian Clayton is¬†described as “part of a new breed of prophetic voices that are teaching a generation to walk in the mystic realm of God” – and is highly regarded by a number of friends in the Kingdom Renegades group. I was therefore very keen to go and hear him speak when he came to Cardiff this weekend, and about a dozen of us from in and around Cheltenham went down.

As someone who moves in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, I’m always keen to hear from those who have developed proficiency in the spiritual gifts, including those who have mystical experiences. I’m all for it: we can hardly be surprised if a supernatural God gives his children supernatural experiences.

However, I do get concerned when there is some confusion between the earthly and heavenly. For example, if someone says “I did not understand science, but then I went up to heaven and Jesus gave me a scroll and said ‘eat this’, and I did, and now I understand science”, and then proceeds to spout baloney which would not pass muster even among creation scientists, then some doubt is cast on the credibility of what this person is saying. Prophetic insights are often allegorical in form (see for example Jer 13, 18 &¬†24; Amos 7 & 8 ) so it is really important to discern whether the understanding being given is meant to be technically correct, or an allegorical insight.

My general advice to prophets and preachers on speaking about science would be, unless you really understand the subject, don’t. If you really feel that you need to, then check what you are saying with someone who does. In my experience, even those preachers who have taken this amount of care rarely say anything that requires the use of¬†a scientific example, and would be better served with something more everyday. I sometimes suspect that the preacher wants to show off his intelligence, and this is in danger of seriously backfiring. If you are an expert on the supernatural, or on the charismatic gifts, or on the mystical realities of heaven – stick to what you know, because that’s what people come to hear.

The best part of the two days was being able to spend quality time with friends. An unexpected delight when I arrived¬†was to bump into three friends from Stockton, Rachel, Julie and Jenny. It was really good to be able to connect with them and to catch up on life up there. On the Saturday evening I joined Julie, Jenny and Pat¬†¬†in¬†the Mad Hatters Cafe, a relaxing and spacious venue just below where the conference was meeting. As I looked at the menu I realised that, with my name, there was one item I had to order: it was called “Tweedledee, Tweedledum, it’s a burger in a bun”! (It was delicious!)

On Sunday afternoon I went with Dave Slight and a few others down to a meeting south of Bristol, in the home of Tim Bruce, to hear the genial Irish pastor, Joe Corry. After a short sermon, he proceeded to speak prophetically, one by one, into the lives of those there. He did so with great simplicity, and yet with accuracy and power.

Joe Corry in Tim Bruce's front room in Sandford

Supernatural and natural

Woodie, Anna and their daughters

Earlier this week, Woodie came into college¬†with his wife, Anna,¬†and twin daughters – the first time they’d brought their kids in. This would have been a significant event in itself – but this was more than that. Last year Woodie had shared openly with the community about their going for IVF, and that it hadn’t been working. The community prayed, the miracle that was required happened – and then they had not just one child, but twins!

Last weekend Jenny came up to Durham, and on the Thursday evening we went to the Stockton Community Church. We got chatting to a couple we’ll call Mike and Rebecca.¬†He’s been a Christian for a year, whereas she’s adamant that she isn’t.¬†She’d just been in a serious car accident – her car was a write-off, and she was suffering from considerable pain in her neck, left shoulder and side. Later in the meeting Duncan announced a session for praying for healing: one group for those who were suffering in such a way that they would know immediately if they were healed. Rebecca¬†put her hand up for prayer, and Jenny and another lady, Rachel, prayed for her. I was praying with Mike on the opposite side of the table. We then became aware that something had happened: Rebecca was trying out her arm and saying, “this is really weird. I feel no pain. I don’t understand this and I’ve been healed. I don’t even believe in God but I’ve been healed. This is really weird!”

It’s so exciting when God acts supernaturally like this: it’s good to celebrate these events and remind ourselves of them. Sometimes when we get disappointed, we need to remember to focus on God and his sovereignty. My course at Cranmer ends in a week, and unless something miraculous occurs(!) I will end without a curacy. This is not a situation I’d have chosen! But focussing on God and not allowing oneself to be downhearted is really important.

On Thursday afternoon, I had a quick trip to the Durham coast, to see an unusual scoter from Blackhall Rocks, and to visit the colony of nesting Little Terns at Crimdon Dene. My walk to the terns was interrupted by a bold and showy yellowhammer, and I spent some time trying¬†to get as close as possible with my camera. He’d fly off a short distance, but would still allow me to approach quite close. Here’s the best of the pics.

Yellowhammer at Crimdon Dene

Spirit School in Cardiff

Aliss Cresswell at Spirit School in Cardiff

Last Sunday I went down to Cardiff with a few friends to Spirit School, run by Justin Abraham’s Company of Burning Hearts. The focus of the evening was an inspiring talk by Aliss Cresswell, who runs a Spirit Cafe on an estate in Chester where she has seen many healings.

Aliss is someone who has a passion – a burning heart¬†– to see lives restored and saved by Jesus. She has a radical belief in the power of the Holy Spirit to heal people today, saying that the “Kingdom of God is the normal supernatural Christian life”. She sees this impacting the estate in Blacon, where she has seen a very high¬†proportion of non-believers be healed, often instantly.

On one occasion she prayed for the healing of a small child’s lazy eye. Her mum declared herself to be an atheist, but as soon as she saw her child’s eye get healed, she suddenly became interested. As it happens there were people in the cafe who had been delivered of drug addictions, and they were able to witness to her about the Jesus who saves. Later the child’s father was intrigued to know about how his daughter was healed – and he too got saved.

In much of the church in Britain we’ve became so acclimatised to not seeing God intervene supernaturally that we’re sceptical – even cynical – about stories where God is known to move in power. Yet when God does move, the climate of expectation changes.

Although Aliss delights in seeing people experience of God, she knows that there are also other important issues as well: “we want to get wasted on Jesus”, she said, “but we want to see the fruit in our lives. It’s really important to be obedient.” Her priority is to be dependant upon God, and not to act and then hope that God will bless what she’s done. The first thing is to ask what the Holy Spirit what he wants to do, then to hear what he says – and then to do it (which she acknowledges is the difficult part!).

Aliss’s talk was exciting and inspirational. We’re so used to living in a world defined by rational limits – but we need to be expectant that a supernatural God will act supernaturally.