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Lakeland - Bentley controversy

I wanted to write about it for some time, but someone did it much better…

June 18, 2008

Pete Grieg wrote recently about the ‘Lakeland Revival’ or ‘Florida Outpouring Meetings’ being led by a 32 year-old, tattooed, Canadian called Todd Bentley and aired daily on GodTV. Thousands have attended since it all kicked off back in April in Lakeland, Florida; still more have checked out video-clips of the meetings on YouTube and other websites; and there are many thrilling reports of healing, salvation, and a deeper desire for God. Many of my friends have been to Lakeland and have been deeply impacted. We are joining with other churches in our city to hold special meetings, inspired by the events in Florida, in our church building here in Southampton, England, so I’m certainly excited. But I confess that I also have questions.

Of course, as with any such phenomenon, opinion is divided between those who denounce the meetings as dangerous, deceptive or distracting, and those who are sure that this is ‘it’ and are therefore joining the crowds of hungry pilgrims bound for Florida. Like a newborn baby, it’s too early to say what the true character of this new life will be, but inevitably more and more people are asking what we think...

The movement and the community

Perhaps the first thing to say is that, because the 24-7 movement really is a movement, our ability to give party-lines on anything is limited! At the heart of the movement, however, is an eclectic and diverse community with an international leadership team which seeks to bring guidance to the movement whilst giving lots of autonomy to national and local teams. We don’t have many positions or policies that are imposed from a central hub but seek to collectively hear God and move forward together, sometimes agreeing, sometimes holding different opinions but remaining committed to one another and the vision God has given us. So if you disagree with what I’m about to say, please don’t abandon the community or the conversation.

With the intensity of interest in this latest ‘rumour of revival’ we have been having various conversations across the leadership of the 24-7prayer community, between Boiler Rooms and in many prayer rooms around the world and we want to offer some perspectives and guidelines.

1. Is this a work of God?

John the Baptist was in prison and had a crisis of confidence in the so-called Messiah. He sent his disciples to check his half-cousin out. Jesus’ response was to invite them to look around, and report back to John what they saw - the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.

Like John the Baptist, we may wonder whether the Lakeland Revival is the thing we have been praying for in our prayer rooms and waiting for in the desert. Whether we like the style of Bentley’s ministry ethos or not, it does seem that there is evidence that God is at work. It is hard to verify all the testimonies of healings, miracles and salvation that are being broadcast daily, but even if it is just a small percentage of reports that are accurate (and we pray that it is more than this) then we are witnessing some amazing signs of God’s power at work. Every morning delegates attending the meetings in Florida are being sent out into the streets of Lakeland to preach the gospel and pray for the sick. 24-7 has always championed this model of taking the prayer out onto the streets, so it’s just wonderful to see this happening amongst people who could so easily ‘hide away’ in an excited Christian bubble.

Of course, Jesus warns us that although signs and wonders can be an evidence of his Kingdom coming, they are not a replacement for the greatest miracle of all which is a real relationship with him: “Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.” (Mat 7:22) In our hunger for miracles, let’s not put Todd Bentley on a pedestal, and let’s continually look for the most important impact of Lakeland on those who don’t know Jesus.

2. Christian TV, platforms and personalities

We bought into the vision of 24-7prayer – a nameless, faceless army of young people, free from materialism, utterly committed to the cause of Christ. Therefore, I suspect most of us have concerns about the style of what we are witnessing in Florida and would question some of the theology and practise of those involved. Many of us probably avoid Christian television and have an aversion to ministry-styles which appear personality-driven and platform-based. The whole approach may seem to fly in the face of the values we espouse such as authenticity (an absence of hype), creativity, friendship and fun, justice, common-sense and humility. Jesus did say that it is ‘the meek’ who will ‘inherit the earth’ (Mat 5:5), so let’s not abandon our convictions. We need these values more than ever in such a context. But let’s also remember that Jesus who was meek, relational, fun and authentic, also preached to vast crowds of hungry pilgrims, he did plenty of controversial miracles, and he always enjoyed jumping out of the religious boxes of anyone who thought they’d got Him taped. What if God actually is choosing to use a brash, young, tattooed, pierced evangelist (with a chequered history) whose theology is questionable and who shouts a lot, to challenge us all to humble ourselves and believe for more? What if the couple who run GodTV and completely re-arranged their schedules in order to broadcast this ‘revival’, really did hear from God? What if God is bigger than our comfortable cultural norms and doesn’t mind some of the stuff that bothers us?

Of course, the role of GodTV in the spread of this phenomenon cannot be under-estimated, with a potential viewership of millions and wall-to-wall coverage. Although similar miracles (and actually greater ones) are happening all over the world, not just in Africa, China and parts of Latin America, but also in hotspots like Redding, California, these ‘revivals’ are not getting the same exposure. 24-7 prayer rooms often report the most amazing signs of the Kingdom, some of which find their way onto this website. And we must also recognise that works of mercy amongst the poor and the preaching of the gospel are also signs of the Kingdom. Jesus didn’t just list miracles in response to John the Baptist’s doubts; he also pointed out that the gospel was being preached ‘to the poor’! Let’s not get so focussed on what’s happening in Florida right now, that we lose sight of what’s happening in Burma, South-West China, Zimbabwe or even amongst our neighbours, over the same period of time.

Let’s resist the idea that this is an exclusive or ultimate ‘it’; that we will somehow miss out on God’s blessings if we don’t go to Lakeland, Florida. Something amazing seems to be beginning in Lakeland, and if you are so hungry for God that you undertake a pilgrimage to go there you will probably be blessed because God loves such hunger. But Lakeland doesn’t have a monopoly on God’s blessing.

I’ve heard some say, and have even said it myself, that we don’t get to hear about the miracles taking place in remote parts of Africa or Asia. But is it just possible that God, who chooses the foolish things to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27), may have ordained Lakeland and Todd Bentley to profile his power and provoke the cynical and ‘sophisticated’ western world?

3. Oh no, not again?

I am aware that, while this may be a new and exciting phenomenon for many in their teens and twenties, many people in their 30’s and 40’s have been a bit disillusioned by all the talk of revival in the mid to late 90s, with things like the Toronto blessing and Pensacola. I have to confess, I bought into it - I was believing for it. You can even hear me declare, ‘dare to believe that this is a generation to see massive revival’ on the Delirious? ‘Live And In The Can’ CD recorded around that time! But it didn’t happen as we thought it should. A number of my friends were so disappointed that they are no longer walking in the Way. Others gave up on church. Some just settled for safety. And now this comes along and it throws up all sorts of questions and all sorts of emotions are churned up again.

I do think we need to be wary of ‘revivalism’ – the sort of cycle of crusading, religious, hyper-intensity espoused by certain wings of Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism too. But whilst rejecting the hype of revivalism, we simply cannot surrender the underlying desire for revival itself.

4. Taking a lead

The word ‘revival’ is not a biblical word. However, we do find throughout the Scriptures times of renewal and restoration; times when the work of God was accelerated. Throughout church history we find similar patterns, seasons of divine grace that propelled the mission of the church forward. It does seem that from time to time God comes to faithful, committed saints to renew and empower them for the task in which they are engaged. The fact is that - without a sovereign acceleration of God’s purposes and an increased awareness of his presence at large - we will never see the church renewed and society transformed in the way we are praying. Business as usual simply won’t get the job done! If this current ‘outpouring’ is for the whole church, and that includes us as the 24-7 community, then the God who loves diversity does not expect us all to copy what we see on GodTV but maybe, just maybe, we have to embrace it and find ways to enculturate in our settings? Maybe, just maybe, God wants us to believe Him together for a fresh outpouring of the miraculous in our prayer rooms and Boiler Room communities?

History will judge whether the outpouring in Lakeland was ‘merely’ a moment of religious revivalism with limited fruit, or whether it was a wider transformational gift to society. Let us pray that it is revival and not just revivalism, because we all need more hunger, more power and more faith. Above all, let’s remain humble and meek and open. That will guarantee God’s grace and our inheritance.

Let’s be discerning. There are bits to embrace and bits to discard (Matthew 13:30). Pressing in for more of God does not mean we endorse the methodology or embrace all aspects of the theology or the practises that we see. For instance, GodTV has been inviting viewers to email prayer-requests to an ‘upper room’ in Jerusalem where they will be laid on an ‘altar’. “I was horrified and deeply saddened,” writes the Bible teacher and network leader, Terry Virgo, “that Christians were being encouraged to do such a thing when the Scripture makes it clear that we have a great High Priest who has gone through the heavens on our behalf. An altar in Jerusalem is hardly relevant!”

And let’s remain focused. I am convinced that, as a movement, we must not be distracted from the vision and strategies that God has given us – the pursuit of transformation through prayer, mission and justice. Lakeland is perhaps best viewed – for the time being – as a prophetic sign for the church, provoking us all to greater hunger for God’s power and especially for His presence. Lakeland is perhaps not meant to be a lake in which we stay and swim, but rather a well, from which thousands are drawing refreshment along the way as they serve Jesus.

More than a decade ago, Professor Richard Lovelace made a helpful observation about the Great 18th century Awakening of Jonathan Edwards whose “final approach to the Great awakening was to subject it to the most rigorous critique, on the one hand, and to solicit extraordinary prayer for its advancement on the other. These,” he says, “are the strategies we need to follow today.” Let’s pray with all our hearts for the advancement of the Lakeland Revival, but let’s not kiss our brains (or our values) goodbye, in the process.

As a movement we must continue to pray, go to the forgotten places and be alongside the downtrodden and marginalised. And we pray that all we do is infused with much more of God’s presence and power.

Come on!

Bio

Billy Kennedy is the Team Leader at New Community Church in Southampton, England. Beyond Southampton Billy serves as friend and advisor to a variety of churches and Christian organisations including 24-7prayer, Pioneer Team and the Christian band, Delirious?. Billy married Caroline, who became a Christian at Community Church, in 1984 and they have three teenage children. David, Erin and Daniel. He plays golf regularly, holds a season ticket for Southampton Football Club, enjoys cooking and entertaining and would like to try his hand at a whole host of other things but time, money and energy always seem to work against him!

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Telma Loux

Another girl from IHOP, Telma Loux, was prayed for yesterday in Lakeland, April 30th. She is diagnosed with a 115 degrees scoliosis, compressing her inner organs.

She was adopted by Derek and Renne Loux few years ago. Derek is a FMA (Forerunner Music Academy) founder here at IHOP-KC. They adopted 3 children altogether and have 2 biological daughters. This spring they are finalizing an adoption of 2 boys from Ukraine, both special needs. Their desire is to build a home for as many orphans as possible, take care of them and give glory to God. Derek is a key leader at IHOP-KC. Lately he is traveling with theCall, leading worship and teaching.

Here is Telma's blog telling about the adoption of these two boys.

Telma is a beautiful, young girl, so full of joy, despite her struglings with health.

Here is Telma's story.

You can watch her being prayed for on April 30th here at about 2:00:00.

They will be there one and a half more days. Please, pray for Telma.

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Kelsey Hays in Lakeland

We know Kelsey. Here is the latest report from Elijah's list about her visit to Lakeland.

By Teresa Neumann: An ElijahList and Breaking Christian News Exclusive:
"Young Girl Goes to Heavenly Surgery Room; Receives Healing From Crippling Diseases"

A desperate missionary family, unfamiliar with healing revivals, takes their daughter to Lakeland where she has an encounter with Jesus. Written and reported by: Teresa Neumann from Breaking Christian News

(Lakeland, Florida)--Pastor Stephen Strader of Ignited Church in Lakeland, Florida, where a massive revival has broken out, contacted Breaking Christian News about an amazing healing that took place there on Saturday, April 26, in which 14-year-old Kelsey Hays was healed from multiple autoimmune diseases.

I telephoned Kelsey's mother, Lesley, of Kansas City, Missouri, on Tuesday, April 29, to ask her for details of what happened. She and Kelsey were still in Lakeland, preparing to fly back to Kansas City where they attend the International House of Prayer (IHOP).

Some background on Kelsey and her family:

At the age of 9, Kelsey was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune related thyroid condition. Later she acquired Hepatitis C, which her mother says she "fought off," but in the process, it left her body weakened and subject to other immunological diseases.

Mr. and Mrs. Hays and their family have been missionaries in Mexico, and most recently, Ecuador for at least ten years. In September of last year, they had arrived back in the states for a furlough. Shortly thereafter in October, Kelsey fell victim to a variety of increasingly serious illnesses. She had her gallbladder removed and during surgery, doctors noticed that her liver was scarred and infected. Later, doctors believed inflammation from the infection had entered the lining of her stomach and was attacking her central nervous system. By April, Kelsey's parents and her baffled doctors were at their wit's end. She was in continual, intense, and severely crippling pain, taking up to 30 pills a day to try and manage it.

Then recently, someone at the Hays' church approached them with news of the revival in Lakeland and offered to pay the family's way there. Though they had never experienced meetings like the ones they were about to attend, the Hays were desperate. Also, Lesley said Kelsey had shared with their church a significant vision Kelsey had in March of this year, the Saturday before Easter Sunday. In the vision, Kelsey said she found herself connected to an IV, standing before the Throne of God. Jesus came down and cut the IV tube and then God the Father came down, removed the IV from her hand, took off her hospital gown and said, "It's done!"

"The day after the vision," noted Lesley, "was the worst day of pain Kelsey ever had."

Saturday, April 26, Lakeland, Florida:

By the time Kelsey and her parents arrived at the venue in Lakeland, it was 6:00pm. The lines of people stretching for blocks outside of the church told them that it was filled to capacity and they would not be able to get in. Standing in the crowd, the Hays' heard story after story of healings and miracles happening around the world, even to those not present in the meetings. Somehow, Lesley and Kelsey were finally able to get in (Lesley thought because they had helped another suffering couple to get in), but Mr. Hays remained outside.

Kelsey was in so much pain and so fatigued, she couldn't walk. Her mother literally dragged, and half-carried her up to the only space available in the balcony, where they began to cry and worship the Lord. "It's all we could do," she said. Standing next to them were a man and woman, complete strangers. The woman turned to Kelsey and said, "I believe God wants to give you new organs" (Kelsey's gallbladder had been removed). The man looked at Lesley and said, "I just saw you in a dream recently. I saw myself carrying your daughter down to the stage to get prayer."

Even though at the time, Todd Bentley was taking testimonies from people who had been healed, the man offered to help take Kelsey down to get prayer. Lesley, unfamiliar with the type of meeting she was in, was afraid of breaking protocol and hesitated. Moments later, Todd stopped the testimonies and said, "I see someone with an IV pain drip in their left arm. Who is that?" Remembering Kelsey's vision of standing before the Throne with her IV, her mother took up the man's offer. He carried Kelsey down to the stage. Todd prayed a simple prayer, touched Kelsey's forehead, and she fell out under the power of the Spirit for about 45 minutes, said Lesley.

What was happening to Kelsey during this time? According to her mother, Kelsey said while she was "out" she was taken to Heaven. She found herself in a celestial surgical room where Jesus stood next to her looking right down at her, directly face-to-face. He said to her, "Keep your eyes on Me, Kelsey. It'll be ok."

She saw angels all around her; she felt them kneading her stomach, doing deep massage on her entire body, especially her legs and arms which had been so weak. At one point while Kelsey was lying on the floor under the Spirit, her mother said Todd announced publicly: "Look! There's angels over her."

When Kelsey finally came to and stood up, Todd asked her how she felt. "I feel nothing," said Kelsey. "I feel NO PAIN!"

watch it here, at about 03:38:00

Kelsey has been in NO PAIN since she experienced God's extraordinary touch of healing! She's feeling just like a 14-year old girl should feel.

You can continue watching this extraordinary healing revival in Lakeland, Florida, and hear the testimonies that come out of it on www.God.tv or www.freshfire.ca.

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