The Moslems have Mecca.
The Jews (and Moslems) have Jerusalem.
Roman Catholics have Rome.
Where do Protestants go on a pilgrimage?
My mother tells me that her father, Charlie Jay, began his spiritual journey in a revival tent meeting. In 1920 he was ordained.
In July 2008, we find ourselves on a pilgrimage to a revival tent in Lakeland Florida. For over 90 days God’s Miracles, Signs, and Wonders have been astonishing folks and drawing larger and larger crowds every night. Unlike in Grandpa’s time, news has spread over GOD TV on the internet to hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Healings have been reported from people joining the event via computer.
In a tent that could easily contain a football field, five thousand people from 30 nations gather on a Wednesday night in a field reclaimed from Florida swampland. For over an hour we sing God’s praises to wild, thumping, rocking guitars, drums and vocals that lift us from our seats into a jumping dancing praise of the Holy of Holies.
“How many are here for the first time?”
Maybe ½ of the crowds’ hands go up.
“How many are pastors from other countries?”
Maybe 1/3 of the hands go up.
“How many are here to receive something amazing from God?”
It seems that we are in good company. None of my colleagues back home have even heard of this place – but now I feel like I’m part of this crowd.
“This generation is hungry for something more than they already know.”
shouts the preacher. A great cheer goes up.
“The time is NOW.” More cheers.
“A Reformation is happening in Christianity like hasn’t happened since the 1500’s. Denominational differences, prejudices, jealousies are being washed away. The box that we have put Jesus in is being torn open and He is surprising us with how much bigger and bolder and beyond our expectations – beyond our comfort zones – He is moving.” The crowd roars – there is literally a roar that surpasses the cheer of thousands of excited people.
“Indigenous Apostolic leaders are emerging. A new generation of Jesus people are already changing the world. Jesus didn’t come to found a religion. Jesus came to establish a kingdom – an invisible kingdom – without boundaries and institutional limits. A kingdom where God rules our hearts alone and we are freed to be God’s children.”
“Why do we worry about status and power and position and privilege when God has already given us a status beyond all others? We are brothers and sisters of Jesus! What more could we want?”
He invites us to stand. He preaches freedom from all burdens, chains, depressions, anxieties - strongholds of the devil in our lives. He invites us to receive God’s anointing – a fresh power and purpose. I stand and raise my arms and lift my chin (in my Tai Chi stance) and start receiving. It goes through me like little waves of electricity. Nothing shocking but just enough to make my body jolt and wave like a belly dancer. I keep my stance and the waves keep coming.
My mind isn’t registering anything, I just keep listening - “things are changing for you and for the world – the time is now” - and noticing my body’s responses. (I just received another jolt writing this.) I’m sure there was a big smile on my face.
He came up to me and touched me. I opened my eyes and dropped my arms. A very dark, handsome young man had come up to me. His hair was jet black. He had a small trimmed beard and mustache. Not tall, not short. Thin but not skinny. He had a wristband with a red cross on it and I noticed a yellow badge that signified him as part of the ministry team.
“Can your son walk?” he asked. (David’s big honking stroller was in the aisle beside us.)
“Yes he can.” I replied.
“Then what’s wrong with him?”
“He was born with Down’s Syndrome and now he has Autism.”
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“It means that what’s inside of him can’t come out.”
He nodded. “Would you like me to pray for him?”
“Yes I would”
I shifted out of the way so he could step into our row of chairs and stand in front of David.
“My name is Samuel” he said. “Are you his father?”
“Yes I’m Allan and this is his mother Carol. And his name is David.”
Samuel took out a small vial of oil and made the sign of the cross on my forehead. Then he did the same for Carol. Then he poured the oil out onto David’s head.
He put the vial under my nose and gave me a whiff. It was sweet like vanilla but softer like a flower. “It’s called Freedom.” he explained “Ten bucks in the book room.” he shrugged “I’m Samuel – it’s my job.”
He went to lay his hand on David’s head but David was resisting this stranger’s touch. Carol and I each took one of his hands and he stilled for a moment. Samuel prayed for maybe sixty seconds. Then he turned to me and nodded “okay.”
He didn’t smile or say anything else. He had the demeanor of a waiter in a fine restaurant removing the empty plates – his job done. I thanked him and he left.
I bowed my head and thanked God for what he was doing in David.
And then it hit me. Samuel had just anointed David with oil. Samuel had just anointed David with oil! Tears poured from my eyes and I shook with an overwhelming joy at the perfection of God’s gift. I turned to Carol and she was smiling but looking quizzically at me. I explained. “Samuel has just anointed David with oil.” and she burst into tears.
Alana was looking at us both “What?”
“Do you know the Bible story where Samuel anoints David’s head with oil?” I asked (1st Samuel chpt. 16) “Well that guy’s name was Samuel and he just anointed our David. This is why we came here.” I couldn’t get the last words out without sobbing again. Alana’s face burst into a big smile.
David was upset that both of his parents were crying and he had to look into our eyes to see that we were okay. “It’s okay David.” we explained “We are very happy. God has healed you.” I told him and another jolt went through me.
It was perfect. I stood to lift my hands in praise. I saw Samuel again. He was assisting an old woman crouched over and hobbling down the aisle – her long grey hair hung on her crouched over shoulders. She was a Crone who must have seen so much in her life. But here she was learning to walk again like a toddler - claiming a new walk for her life. Samuel was holding her hand, guiding her silently, helping her to walk into the faith of her healing.
He glanced back and I’m sure he saw the tears on my face. He didn’t smile or nod. He was just very matter of fact. Not surprised or proud just calmly doing what God had given him to do. I was surprised that when they came to the end of the aisle he didn’t lead her to the front towards the stage where all the hubbub was. Instead they turned towards the back of the tent, Samuel patiently, slowly leading her like a little child into her healing – out into the world again. “Go baby go.” I prayed.
I didn’t realize then that her weak, hobbled, bent over gait was mine as well. She was walking my own faith journey - walking out from under the burden of doubt and pain. Whenever I begin to doubt what happened to David that night, I remember that image of Samuel leading me slowly, patiently into a new walk of faith with Christ.
God’s gift for David was perfect. We have known since David was very young that God has destined him with a powerful ministry. Others have seen it too and prophesied it. David has always had a powerful effect on people. He pulls prayers from people like a magnet. Like King David he is beautiful to look at. His smiles bless people and they adore his curly blonde locks. He is “beloved” as his name says. The Autism is the devil’s stranglehold on him. (Don’t worry we know the science. Carol knows it better than most doctors.) We know that in time, and with your continued prayers, David will come out from it’s grasp on him – and have a story to tell about it.
Samuel anointed David. But that’s not the end of the story – just the beginning. Don’t stop praying for us. Don’t stop expecting God to do something marvelous and unexpected and beyond what you’ve stopped hoping for. Because the sun and the rain that falls on this family falls on your family too. God’s blessings are for us all – equally and without measure and beyond belief. And sometimes we have to travel far – to pilgrim our way – to leave behind well-tramped ground – to hear old news (2,000 years old) in a new place, in a never-before way.
The next morning I took David to the Hotel pool for a swim. I’ve been taking David to swimming lessons for years. He’s never swam more than a few feet at a time before sinking. This morning he walked right past the shallow end of the pool where the little kids played. He climbed down the ladder, pushed off, and swam to the other side of the pool.
He wouldn’t go with me back across the line to the shallow end. He would push off and do a few spins or a somersault underwater. He’d pull his legs up into a curl and just rest there, still underwater, effortlessly bobbing, like he was in the womb again. Finally, he’d raise his head, gasp in a breath and paddle back to the side of the pool – sometimes stopping to drop his head and drift a bit more before finishing his paddle back to the edge’s safety.
A Shift has happened in him. He’s found a new confidence – a new faith. He trusts in his own buoyancy. He revels in it – playing, resting, noticing. May each of us this summer rediscover our buoyancy in God – trust and revel in the good gifts of our Maker.