Prayer, Pancakes, and the Presence


Acts 4:31 31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit..

We just kicked off the Spring ’17 semester at Elim Bible Institute and College. In addition to the start of classes and regular college activities, the first week of a semester includes a series of special events designed to give students fun and engaging environments that get them going in the new semester. We call it “Welcome Week.”

20170116_182108.jpgOn Friday evening of Welcome Week, the student council of the freshman class hosted a 2-part event that featured a prayer & worship service followed by a pancake party. It was named “EHOP,” which stands for “Elim House of Prayer/Pancakes.” The pancake party was a fundraiser for an organization that fights human trafficking. Amazingly, an anonymous person paid for all of the pancakes with a large donation (without eating any), which almost doubled the expected funds they were able to raise. The whole EHOP event was wonderful, but the reason I am writing this post is to tell you about something that happened during the prayer service.

The prayer & worship time was held in the auditorium of Elim’s “Tab” building (pictured at the top of the post). There were four students on the platform leading us in a short time of worship with a selection of songs expressing love and devotion to Jesus. After the singing, we broke into small groups to pray for one another. During the small group time, I felt an unusually strong sense of the moving of the Holy Spirit. A student and I spent time praying for each other, and then I decided to get up and take a few pictures of the various small groups spread around the room. At this point, it seemed as though the very air in the room suddenly changed.

As I was walking back to my seat, I felt a sudden heaviness fill the room. It wasn’t a heaviness that was a “downer” of any kind, not that kind of heaviness. It was a heaviness I have come to know as the manifestation of the presence of God when the Spirit of the Lord begins touching people in unusual and intense ways. I could feel the tangible power and presence of God moving over me, and an indescribable sense of peace and love for God flooded my heart and mind. I noticed that a number of students in the same area of the Tab I was in were suddenly being overcome in prayer. There was the sound of intensifying prayers of earnestness and hunger for God, and the sound of students weeping before the Lord.

The presence of God was so heavy that I laid down flat on the floor. The worship team continued with their beautiful love songs to the Lord. While I was lying there, I received a filling of the Holy Spirit like I have not known in a long time. Waves of anointing power swept over me, and the joy and faith exploding out of my heart made me unable to do anything but speak a few feeble words of prayer and worship mixed with broken sobs as I poured out my heart to God. I don’t know how long this went on, perhaps for 10 to 20 minutes. When I finally returned to my seat I noticed that the hour planned for the prayer service was just about up. The students hardly moved. Many of us remained for another 30 minutes as the worship team continued to play.

A student who just started attending Elim this Spring came over and sat down next to me. We talked quietly about the anointing and presence of God in the Christian life. Then he said something about the meeting that I think all who were present would agree with—“I wish the Lord always felt this close!” The sense of the presence of God in the room was just too good to hurry away from. We were all sitting with Jesus together, and it was wonderful. As the student and I continued to talk, I was able to share the story of the first time something like this had ever happened to me when I was a freshman at Elim just like him, and how it scared me at first but changed my life and Christianity forever.

I am thankful for the heritage and vision of Elim and how God has used its people and leaders to shape so many lives, including my own. If you are a praying person, please pray that God will continue to pour out his Spirit on us and help us to train up future leaders and influencers who will choose to put Jesus first, and walk in the fullness of His Spirit all their lives.  

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Christianity in a Post-Christian World

Have you ever doubted the things you believe? Or maybe you’ve wondered if it really matters all that much when you see so many non-believers that seem to be getting along just fine without faith or church?

My own experiences of doubt regarding faith and spirituality have helped me to understand those who don’t share my beliefs, and what’s more, reflecting on my times of doubt have helped me begin thinking about the drastic changes happening right now in people’s values and attitudes towards things like church and Christian living. There’s a massive earthquake going on in the world of faith and spirituality as we’ve known it in the western world, and Christian believers and leaders are finding the need for big changes to the typical modes of sharing faith and being the church.

Today I had the opportunity to give an early morning “sit-down” chat session with a group of students, and these questions were a part. Our topic was one very close to my heart- Christianity’s place in a Post-Christian (or officially, “Post-Christendom”) world; a world that no longer understands the faith, or the way of life that Christians live by. As always when opening things up for a discussion, student contributions helped to enrich the content of the discussion and enhance the things I had prepared in advance.

If you’re interested in these issues or if you’re a searching doubter/skeptic, or you’re trying to understand how to be a Christian in a VERY non-Christian world, you will probably enjoy the rest of my thoughts on the topic below. I would love to receive feedback with your reaction (good or bad), your questions, and further insights.

One thing I find myself thinking about constantly is the way that contemporary western society no longer understands Christianity and the church, and vice-versa, the way that Christianity (and much of the church) in contemporary western society has often failed to understand this lack of understanding! By “understanding” I mean much more than just a list of information or beliefs. I’m talking about a whole system of values, approaches to life, self-understanding, and social connectedness. It’s worth noting that this growing gap is mainly a western phenomenon right now, especially when looking at the past hold of the church as a cultural pillar of western society. That pillar has long since been taken down.

Faith ObstaclesMost people in western cultures simply “don’t get it” anymore. It’s not that they are antagonistic towards faith or church, or purposely avoiding belief; I truly believe that many are searching and open, but the modernist (i.e. certainty-without-question, as an expectation) approach that Christianity has taken in recent decades is no longer as effective as it once was. It tends to turn people off. People react against someone telling them that the authority on truth comes from a source outside of themselves – it’s a tough thing to analyze or describe in only a few words, but it’s the new normal. And people of faith need to understand this reality.

The values of Christianity are also increasingly foreign to our culture, yet wise and experienced leaders know that the visible church that meets together must somehow retain visibility and functionality as the “Body of Christ” in the world, because powerful and transformative things happen when believers meet together! One of the big questions for forward-thinking leaders is, “How?”

Even if people know the beliefs of Christianity and actually find some merit in them, today’s generations are so far removed from orienting their lives around faith, and things like “going to church,” that walking someone into the Christian way of doing life is like taking someone for a ride to the moon. I should add that such a ride to the moon is a very good ride to take! Indeed, my whole life has been transformed through the things that have happened to me as a believer in the Jesus Christ of the Gospels and New Testament. But that doesn’t mean that I have never struggled, questioned, or doubted my faith, or the expression of that faith visibly and corporately. I have taken dives into all of that, even when I was pastoring!

In the long run, uncertainty about what I believe has helped me to understand the world outside of my faith bubbles, and caused me to dig much deeper and harder to find out why I believe the things I profess to believe. As a result of these searches my faith has grown, and I have found higher and more solid ground to stand on.

If I were to summarize the thrust of what I’m hoping to pass on to people (and with God’s help, model myself) it’s this:

In a world where Christianity is foreign, people need to see it lived out for real in the lives of everyday believers, and then feel it in the warmth of Christian love and the presence of God in the life of the church.

If you’re also thinking about the things I’m thinking about you will probably have some things to share. You might even have your own blogs or favorite places to go and read on the subject – it’s a big discussion about a very important need, and this short post barely scratches the surface.

But we have to start somewhere.

I would love to hear from you here in the blog commenting space below.

Thanks for reading!

Soaking in The Presence for my 40th

I just returned Tues. eve from a last-minute retreat getaway and I thought writing a reflection on my trip would make a good start to this blog site. I had planned to make my first blog post on something much less “heavy” (!) or even so personal in nature, but the renewal I experienced during this trip is reason enough to jump right in. I am also aware that I’m writing here on things that may be strange and unfamiliar to some. Feel free to send me a note or ask for more info. I hope this simple little report provokes some of you to greater spiritual hunger, and maybe even inspires faith and openness if you have never experienced the kinds of things that I am writing about. The fact that I’m writing about some rather profound things in such short form gives me some discomfort, but I’d rather just be conversational here instead of heavily analytical.

I had originally planned to attend a group retreat at the nearby Abbey of the Genesee last weekend, which also happened to be my 40th birthday (2/16), but it needed to be cancelled. I still wanted to do something meaningful for the big 4-0, and I found out about a series of revival meetings in Baltimore, MD beginning on the same weekend and with a Christian ministry that I am familiar with. Something just sparked in my heart and mind. I’ve been growing increasingly hungry lately for a fresh encounter with God – not as some kind of quick fix, but in the biblical sense of encounter; to be filled with the Holy Spirit fresh and new, like I read about in the New Testament and like I have experienced at certain times in my life of faith.

What drew me was that these meetings in Baltimore were being led by a ministry that profoundly impacted my life in my early 20s – better to say that my life was transformed, so much so that what happened to me in those meetings when I was in my 20s was a turning point in my life. Too long of a story for this blog post but it’s worth saying that I learned what it means to feel and know the immediate presence of God in a very real way. The name of the ministry is Revival Ministries International, with Dr. Rodney Howard Browne. He is a pastor in Tampa, FL, and a world-traveling evangelist that is widely recognized as one of the greatest revivalists of our time due to the way that the effect of his ministry (and many others like him) has introduced millions of people around the world to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. I knew that attending meetings he leads means one will be confronted with sights and sounds not usually heard in church or Christian meetings – and that are themselves the subject of much controversy. This blog post is in no way an analysis of his ministry, but I can at least say that I do not feel it is necessary to agree with everything a minister says or does in order to be able to value the investment his/her ministry can make in people’s lives. I don’t agree with everything I’ve said or done in ministry! What mattered to me is that I’ve been feeling a need for spiritual renewal recently, and I believed that this would be a good place for it because I know the reputation of this ministry.

I was able to stay for four of the services, two on Sunday and two on Monday. From the very first service Sunday morning I could feel a tangible, explosive joy in the air of that place. This congregation was supercharged with joy and faith in the Lord, and you could tell they really loved each other. As the congregation sang I felt waves of joy and peace flooding my spirit and I openly wept. I don’t know exactly why, but when I am powerfully touched by God’s presence, even when it makes me unspeakably happy – I weep. As the personal prayer ministry time began later on in the service, many people were being dramatically effected – with shouts of joy and laughter, others openly weeping like myself, and plenty of others quietly reflecting as they took it all in. Some were physically shaken as they experienced renewal in the presence of the Lord. Other people were confessing sin and turning back to God. Broken hearts were being healed up. Some were being set free of deep spiritual problems. This same kind of thing continued in each of the services I attended. I felt like a sponge getting soaking wet with fresh joy and faith in the Lord. It’s probably important to mention that I value the non-dramatic moments as well. Altogether I spent hours quietly enjoying the prayerful environment of that place. But it was during the last meeting I attended on Monday evening, and then my waking moments Tues. morning in my hotel, when I received the greatest gifts of the whole trip. I’ll finish by sharing briefly on those two moments.

Late into the Mon. evening gathering the speaker was praying for a whole family, all of them standing about 10 ft. away from me. Suddenly an invisible wave of power swept over me – the only way to describe it is that it’s like electricity suddenly passing over you. The speaker, sensing that this had just happened to me and the group around me, turned to us and said, “The anointing of the Holy Spirit just came upon about 8 of you. Please stand and come here for prayer.” Again, I began weeping with joy as I realized that my quiet hunger for God was being met with a fresh touch of the Spirit’s power. When I was thinking about all of this later in the evening I remembered a moment recorded in the Bible when people were supernaturally healed by God’s power that was working through Paul, so much so that even cloth and clothing that touched Paul had power to heal! Sounds crazy still, even after reading that Scripture so many times (Acts 19:11-12, in the Bible). As strange as it sounds, I believe that it was my nearness to the prayer ministry going on that “swept” me into the activity of the Holy Spirit in that moment.

Some question the legitimacy or soundness of these things. That’s fine, I have no intention of trying to work all that out here. What I know is that I woke up Tues morning, and before I even moved in my bed, I felt the nearness of the presence of the Lord, and just the thought of spending time with Jesus and living my life for him that day warmed me all over. I felt a renewed love for God, and for people, and a fresh desire to live as a follower of Jesus. To me, this is proof enough of the goodness and value of all these things.

About Nathan