Just like the cat that wanders into the barn at milking time, we ventured this past week into the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowhip gathering. It was their annual Pastors and Leaders Conference. We were among 1,000 men and women from all over North America, Europe, Asia and Africa all who had gathered for a squirt of warm milk from God.
Is it the warmth and shelter of the barn that gathers them? The church is big and well organized with skilled musicians and worship leaders. Is it the Farmer that all these cats come to visit? The guest preachers from California and British Columbia had excellent messages prepared for us. Or, is it the milk? These pastors and leaders are hungry for an experience of God’s Holy Spirit that fills, warms, and nourishes them deep down in their bellies. That’s why I was there.
I’ve written before about my journeys in the Evangelical, Charismatic world. Even though I’ve spent a fair bit of time in these circles, I still feel a stranger there. Of course, I also feel like a stranger in the Mainstream circles of God’s Church. Maybe I’m just strange? The patriarchal language, the evangelical lingo, and the lack of social-political analysis, still feeds my critical and righteous judgements about the place. But the way I feel when I enter into the Spirit’s presence there is just so empowering. It touches me in a place that is hungry, hurting, and heavy.
The guy from California, Bill Johnson, is just so normal when he talks about God’s super-natural activity. Pretty much any kind of affliction that you can imagine, he’s seen corrected by a squirt of love from God. From headaches to limbs re-grown and everything in between, God is opening eyes and hearts with unbelievable gifts. Bill doesn’t really try to explain it. He simply admits that he can’t explain why some people don’t get what they ask for and others get more than they ever thought possible. As he puts it, God doesn’t consult with him first.
A Presbyterian professor of Old Testament tells us about his experiments with hard core prisoners in a Federal Institution. He challenges the guys to experiment with the Holy Spirit. He says “you’ve experimented with all kinds of drugs and other risky business, why not risk just receiving the Holy Spirit on your hands – even if you don’t want it in your hearts or heads?” He tells us about how their hands get warm and start tingling and then, when they place their hands on each other – in places of pain or illness – the Holy Spirit does the rest. Now, the professor has just received approval to teach a course at the university about faith healing. He says that in his experience, it is much more challenging to reach church people with the reality and practice of this good news than the cons.
You can check out Patricia King on her webshow called Extreme Prophetic. She tells us, with a good deal of humour, about her journey through Judgement and Righteousness. How, as she ventured into each different branch of God’s church, she was totally convinced that what they were doing was hurtful and wrong. God kept telling her however, that each branch belonged to him. She was treating God like a Sacred Cow that needed her protection. Instead, God kept pushing her to broaden her vision of all that God was doing – in all kinds of different ways.
When Patricia came across the silly, wild, unbelievable effects of the Holy Spirit in Toronto, she was again sure that it was all wrong. (You hear this same story told over and over and over again at this church) And then Daddy God took her in his arms and she just melted.
The message she had for us was pretty simple – child simple. Love, love, love – forgiveness, grace, focus on Christ’s purpose and God’s will and love, love, love. Nothing new about those words. What is new is the tangible, healing, potent presence of what those words can only paint a picture of.
They call it the Toronto Blessing. It is now a historical event that will go down in church history along with the Great Awakening of the Wesley brothers and the birth of Pentecostal church at the Sousa Street mission in California. The secret to the wildfire spread of this good news across the globe is that when you get it – you gotta share it. And the more you share – the more you get. As Bill Johnson said “that’s why we call it the River and not the Lake.”