This is from an email to a friend...
My first introduction to the Pentecostal church was when I was about 11. My mom worked with a lady named Renee who attended a United Pentecostal church. It was one of those churches where women wear dresses, never cut their hair, etc. Mom liked Renee, but she did not like the church at all and she made it very clear. We went once to hear Renee sing, and all I remember other than Renee having a fabulous voice is Mom talking about people faking speaking in tongues. And that colored my opinions of Pentecostalism and (because I didn't know any difference) Charismaticism for a very long time. When I was in high school, I sang at an Assembly of God youth service. At the end, the youth pastor started praying over kids and got really intense with one girl who started crying hysterically. I was under the impression that she was frightened. I don't know if I was right or not, but I was frightened.
Still, there were topics never addressed in my own church, and I always felt that the Sunday school lessons were incredibly shallow. When I was in the sixth grade, I wanted to be in church all the time. My parents didn't, but they took me and would then come pick me up. I became a professing Christian in August after my 12th birthday, and occasionally I would pull out my Bible and try to read it. Sometimes it spoke to me, but there were still a lot of things I didn't understand. But I did believe. In my mind, it wouldn't be in the Bible if it wasn't true. So when it said Jesus healed people, I believed it just like I believed what was in my history book. When it said Jesus cast demons out of people, I believed it. I believed that God could still do these things, although it never occurred to me to ask Him to heal me. In fact, I was uncomfortable when someone asked if she could pray for me and I found out she wanted to pray for my healing. I had thought maybe she noticed I was depressed and she wanted to pray for that.
When I was in high school, a friend asked if I ever wished I could see. The discussions I had with him were probably the first real and honest discussions I had about healing. We prayed about it, and I let it go. I was more concerned about Jesus being my friend emotionally and helping me get through my loneliness--and that He was doing. I drew very near to God because of my loneliness, and I turned out songs on a regular basis. Writing songs was my form of praying.
When I went to AU, I was convinced that God wanted me singing and writing music, doing audio production, arranging, etc. I was also interested in teaching, and first I planned to major in elementary education and take some music classes on the side. Elementrry ed wasn't working out well--no one could figure out how I was going to teach, and they certainly didn't want to take a chance on me. So I took it as a sign and changed my major to Christian ministried and decided to minor in music business. And I felt very at home with this decision until I left AU.
It was during my first year at AU that I started to confront that hard questions. I discovered that I would have to question and examine things even if I had always believed them. Otherwise, I could not be ready to give an explanation for the hope I have in Jesus, and that is Biblical. I needed to build my faith on a rock-solid foundation, not on routine.
The event that prompted this was a discussion about healing. I wrote about it in my journal, and I've examined it several times since then. Everything came down to two questions. Does God still heal? And if so, then why doesn't He heal me? Is it because I don't have enough faith, because I'm somehow not good enough for Him?
I was very lonely and depressed that spring. Blindness was a huge problem--I was perceived by many people as being dependent because I chose to walk sighted guide a lot, didn't like to go to dinner alone, etc. This perception spread as I looked for roommates for my sophomore year, and the hall directors would warn girls about my dependency when the girls told them they were interested in rooming with me. I had one friend, Angi, who was willing but who had already committed to room the first semester with someone else. But Angi stood by me through all the discussions, spent nights with me when I was hurting, etc. She invited me to do things with her and her boyfriend, Greg, and they went to my uncle Mike's house for Easter with me.
In mid-April, Angi started telling me about a prayer group that was meeting at people's houses. Did I want to go? Not really, but finally one night I went just because I was afraid I would hurt myself if I stayed alone in my room.
One night was all it took. The experience was very powerful, and I started to come out of my shell a bit spiritually. I'll tell more about the prayer group sometime. For now, I'll say only that it was my first real taste of deep, mature spirituality, and I craved more of it.
I actually wrestled with this for years, and it was aggravated by the fact that I lost my vision completely just a few weeks after I returned to AU as a sophomore. If it took faith for God to heal, then why didn't He heal me?Not only didn't He heal me, but He took away what I had.
I was very skeptical that fall, and the last thing I wanted was for someone to come preaching to me about anything Pentecostal. Leave me out of it! But that wasn't God's plan.
My room was right next to the R.A.'s office, and there was a different R.A. on duty every night. One night, the girl on duty, Erin, came over and asked if she could talk to me. I had had all kinds of trouble with people in the dorm, and I figured she was probably going to tell me someone had complained about my guide dog or something. But I also liked Erin, so I let my guard down a bit.
Erin wanted to know if I had heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. My guard went back up. Just great. She was going to start talking to me about speaking in tongues. I don't remember what I said, but I let her talk for a few minutes and told her I would think about it.
After she left, I did think about it. I didn't like it--it was too much like what I had seen at the Assembly of God. But at the same time, if it was real, I certainly didn't want to shut the door on God. So I prayed and told Him that if it was real, I wanted it. And then I went on about my life. Nothing happened that night. Nothing happened that month.
In November, I met Vicki in person after emailing for two months. Our meeting was beautiful. I was still struggling with the healing issue, and I had lost my vision in October. Vicki was a true nurturer and was gifted in the ministry of peace, and she used her gifts at all times. Sadly, she was also very vulnerable and was married to someone who cared not a whit for her spirituality. I learned to pray in earnest because of Vicki. I ached for her to be comforted and for an end to the abuse she was experiencing, and prayer was all I could offer.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I was at home, and my dad took me and my cousin to see Twila Paris in concert on Friday. Every moment that day I had been praying, and I had been praying in new ways. The songs and even the order of songs at the concert spoke to me, healing situations in my own life. Then suddenly one of the songs shifted my attention to Vicki again, and I was touched very deeply. I knew that I was praying, but I realized that my mouth was moving and the words I was whispering were incomprehensible to me. Sitting there between my dad and my cousin, I understood that the baptism of the Spirit was real and was not just for Pentecostals. I don't believe it began when I whispered those words. I believe it began earlier that week, but the experience at the concert was the outward manifestation that drew my attention to the truth.
In January, 1992, I was still struggling with the questions about healing. I was grieving my lost vision. I had been diagnosed with glaucoma, and the doctor said that I probably would not see again. I was hurting, and I certainly was not comforted reading about miracles in the Bible. Healing obviously wasn't for me, and I was deeply hurt and angry about it. Eventually, I wasn't even sure I really believed in any of those miracles, and I told God so. And that is when the miracle happened to me.
I was sitting on my bed, and I had bowed my head and was writing in my journal file with my keyboard on my lap. I lifted my head and was getting up to get a tissue when I noticed my roommate's light on over her desk. I did a double take. I didn't know there was a light over there, and I certainly shouldn't be seeing it. I went around and started turning lights on and off, staring at them. I was very confused, but in my heart I knew what was happening. God was answering me. He was telling me that yes, He could do this and yes, I was good enough for Him. And the only proper response for me was to draw near to Him. So I started going to the Charismatic church with Angi. They believed in these things and would help me make sense of what was happening.
Over the next three days, my vision increased dramatically. It continued to increase over the next few months until I could identify a few colors. In June, I had surgery to bring the pressure down, and while my right eye was patched I discovered that I had a very small amount of vision in my left eye, which had been written off since I was a baby.
There is much more to this story, and I'll explain it all in time. I don't know why God didn't heal me completely, although I have a few ideas. It doesn't matter now. But for several years I wanted it badly enough that my desire affected my choice of churches. I don't doubt God's ability to heal now. Whether or not He heals me completely, I know that He can do it and that He cares for me and knows my heart and doesn't require me to achieve some standard of faith before He will bless me. He just wants me to give Him all of the faith that I do have, even if that means I just confess my anger and doubt. He can take it and work with it. And I know now that I must worship in a church where the people (especially the leaders) are people of faith or at the very least people who are honest about their struggles.
I think the key to what I want in a church is openness and freedom. I'm not at all comfortable in churches where one has to do certain things at certain times. This is one reason why I dislike "high church". Worrying about whether I'm doing the right thing at the right time is a huge distraction for me. So is the issue of not being able to participate, like in the singing of hymns with 15 verses. There are times when I want to sit back and listen to God talk to me, but there are times when I want and need to participate actively in worship. I think I've just put my finger on why I like the more "contemporary" style of worship. The choruses and shorter songs are easier to memorize and often sung more frequently, so I get more exposure to them and have more opportunities to be a participant rather than a spectator.
I do think some (perhaps many) people get carried away with the concept of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There is significance for me in the fact that two months passed between the time I prayed and the experience I had, and it's something I hold on to. God gave me the experience when it was needed. He gave the gifts that fit the situation. I don't believe that it is appropriate, and in fact I believe it is not Biblical, to sit around seeking to be "filled with the Spirit" (as evidenced by speaking in tongues)--and that's the quickest way for me to be driven from a church. I need the freedom to be expressive in worship, and I need to be encouraged in my faith, but I also want and expect maturity from the church leadership. I also don't necessarily insist on attending a Charismatic/Pentecostal church. In Anderson I left the Charismatic church and eventually settled on a Church of God with a very mature leadership. The congregation was less expressive than what I would have found in an Assembly of God, but the thing that impressed me most was the pastor's insistance on putting faith into action and (for lack of a better phrase) "walking the walk". He was vulnerable and honest with us about his own struggles, and I liked that a lot. It enabled me to trust him.