Saturday, May 24, 2008

Possum of Discernment

This is a prophetic picture. The unfortunate creature is the Possum of Discernment. Its nefarious line-painting executioner would be any revival machine with the words “Judge Not” painted on its side in big red letters.

The idea of picturing discernment as a possum came to me while listening to a sermon last week on how to process Lakelands Bentley & the BAM-lets (not to be confused with Bennie & the Jets).

The pastor made the following insightful observation:

“Those of you with the gift of discernment have actually felt like you’re on the wrong side of the fence.

“I believe that God is calling you to refine things and to speak out, but when there’s a wave of excitement going through the room, the last thing you want to do is go, ‘Excuse me, I gotta concern about what’s going on here ...’

“You think to yourself, ‘I should just sit down, and shut up. And maybe it would be best – you know – if I just quietly sneak out and find a new church.”

He went on to encourage anyone with the gift of discernment to exercise it, even when it’s not popular. And that’s when I thought of the Possum of Discernment.

And why the Possum of Discernment often feels like – and ends up as – Revival Roadkill.

The wave of excitement” often feels more like a thundering tsunami than a slight surge in the surf. And believers with a genuine gift of discernment get worn out/worn down by these kind of reactions if/when they speak up:

  • You’re resisting/quenching the Spirit

  • You have a religious spirit (or its variant: Don’t be such a Pharisee)

  • Judge not, lest ye be judged (sometimes accompanied by “thus saith the Lord”)

  • Unity is where God commands the blessing, but you’re sowing division

  • God offends the mind to reveal the heart (translation: “Your brain’s in the way. Shut it off.”)

  • The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life

  • Have you ever repented for going to seminary and getting filled up with man’s wisdom? (Less common, but a fellow pastor once asked me this, in all seriousness.)

The relentless, heavy-handed repetition of these accusations feels like a steamroller is grinding you into the pavement. Many gifted discerners retreat from the line of fire and become functional Possums of Discernment. They sit down, shut their mouths, and hope for the best. The irony is that – whether they speak up or hold their peace – Revival Roadkill is in their future.

I found The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse to be an incredible resource. I’ve loaned out my copy numerous times, and have no idea who borrowed it last. Highly recommended.

The book includes a chapter on the all-important question: “Should I stay or should I go” (cue The Clash). I can’t recall the entire check-list from the chapter, but I recall clearly the one line that helped me immensely: “If you came for the first time today, knowing what you now know, would you join this church? If the answer is a clear NO, why are you staying?”

One thing is certain: adopting the Possum of Discernment position is to choose passivity, and passive people are the doormat everyone scrapes their boots on. Either decide to stay and ring the four-alarm firebell long and loud, or choose the better part of valor, according to Prophet Gump: “Run, Forrest! Run!”

Passivity = Possum = Roadkill.

Monday, May 12, 2008

BAM! (thunk...)

I’ve been getting a few emails about the “revival” in Lakeland, Florida, under the auspices of Todd “Bam Bam” Bentley, wondering what my thoughts were on all of it.

Disclaimer: Im not a guru on this matter. Yes, I wrote a book about this kind of stuff, but that doesn’t mean I’m qualified to pass judgment fairly, impartially, and omnisciently on all things Bentley.

Having said that, here’s a few thoughts anyway:

Q: Is the Holy Spirit actually at work in these meetings?

A: I don’t doubt it for a second.

But the anointing, presence, or power of the Spirit is never a rubber stamp of approval. Quick examples: Samson (Judges 13–16), King Saul prophesying – naked! – in spite of himself (1 Samuel 12:23–24), or Balaam, hired to curse the Israelites yet prophesying blessing because the Spirit intervened (Numbers 22–24).

As soon as we equate the manifest, powerful presence of the Spirit with approval of theology or methodology, we’re in trouble. Balaam’s donkey could give testimony to this.

Q: But what about all those healings – could they be true?

A: Some are probably real.

And probably a significant amount won’t be. It’s hard to tell, because a lot of healing-claiming types will say they’re healed even when they aren’t. Their belief in the necessity of a “positive confession” means they have no choice but to say they’re healed, even if there’s little or no evidence. (Wendy, my sagacious wife, wonders where the line between “speaking in faith” and “bald-faced lying” might be.)

And – typically but regrettably – some reports of healing will be exaggerated, embellished, or proven later to be complete fabrications. I truly wish, as someone who does believe in the Spirit’s power to heal (and having witnessed some genuine healings myself), that this wasn’t the case, but unfortunately ...

Q: Does Todd Bentley have wacky teachings that are of the incredulous forehead-slapping variety?

A: Do bears fart in the woods?

If you spend even a little time wandering through the bowels of Todd’s website, you can easily find stuff – like partnering with angels of finance, or claiming that St. Paul told Todd during a visit to Paul’s cabin in the third heaven that the book of Hebrews was co-written by Paul and Abraham the Patriarch – that ranges from straining credulity to outright laughable. Don’t take my word for it; try reading some of Todd’s sermon transcripts. Not everything is bogus and “out there,” but there’s an abundance that is.

(Update: Todd's website was later sanitized to remove the most obviously outlandish posts. Fast forward another month: the entire website disappeared into the ether.)

Q: Must I really cast my discernment under the wheels of the revival bus in order to receive what the Spirit is doing in Florida?

A: Only if the Spirit has decided that the Book He inspired is no longer relevant.

I’ve written about the famous Bereans (Acts 17:11) before, but it bears repeating:

  1. The Bereans were eager and teachable, not judgmental, critical, or nit-picky. They didn’t want to miss what God was doing (as this newcomer named Paul was telling it). 
  2. The Bereans were NOT gullible. They didnt naively accept anything coming down the pike. They kept the Bible as their source and grid for evaluating what heard, regardless of any oratory skills Paul possessed or how many signs and wonders he may have performed in their midst. 

So, I guess I could sum up with: Don’t assume the worst, but don’t let “revival fever” affect your brain. Don’t be paranoid, but don’t be gullible.

You will not quench the Spirit by checking things by the Book that the Spirit co-authored. Or, to quote a more reputable source than yours truly:

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22, emphasis added).”