Our Church, a Dwelling Place for God
When God led us to start a church in the Houston, Texas area in 1999, we never pictured all that would happen in our church or our lives. All we knew was that we had a burden to reach people in our area and never wanted to have “church as usual.”
Having been an avid student of church growth, I was confident of the type of church that would work, so sure that I did not stop to ask God His opinion. Instead I believed that demographic studies, surveys of the community’s opinions, and a plethora of proven programs to address nearly every felt need would secure a growing church in an affluent neighborhood.
All the offensive parts of Christianity and the gospel would be set aside in order to attract the largest crowd possible. A church growth “guru” once said that when you go fishing you can put one hook in the water and have the potential to catch one fish. But in order to catch more fish, you need more hooks in the water. We were going to put lots of hooks in the water. I forgot that when Jesus fished, He used a net, and now He does the same when fishing for men.
Although we have seen what man can do to grow churches, there is a resounding sense of lack growing within the hearts of many faithful church goers. I believe that it is a divine discontentment with “church as usual.” The season has now come when God wants “ownership” of His church returned to Him.
GOD DERAILS MY PLANS
“There must be something more” became a heart cry for us corporately and for me as a pastor. Growing up in a conservative, fundamental church, I received a solid Biblical foundation and strong love of the Word branded into my heart. While I am eternally grateful for these, I couldn’t help sensing that same divine discontent growing in me.
Our church began praying, worshipping, and setting aside time to listen to God’s voice. I discovered that many people were bored with “church as usual” and had even given upon participating. But while they had given up on church, they had not given up on God. They just could not find Him at church. Our quest for His presence began. We were not going to be merely “open” to His Spirit – we were going to pursue Him.
By the beginning of 2004, we had gone through a season of transition. I found myself asking many questions about direction and purpose for our church. God led me to go away to fast, pray and hear from Him for a couple of weeks. After spending the first part of my sabbatical in Branson, Missouri, I headed for the first time to Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship for the 2004 Pastor’s Conference.
Just going to TACF was a fairly significant stretch for me. I had heard many negative reports about what was taking place in Toronto all of which conflicted with my heritage. One speaker I had heard had even said that people in Toronto looked like an “octopus on crack.”
Now come to think of it, “enjoyable” Christianity was fairly unfamiliar as well. To make matters worse, the Pastor’s Conference was held in January. Frankly, I like January in Houston a lot more than January in Toronto. So I found myself going to Toronto in the dead of winter. Little did I know or expect that I would be set ablaze with a new passion for Jesus and for ministry.
RECEIVING THE SWORD OF THE LORD
I enjoyed the conference, listening to speakers I had not previously heard, meeting new friends and enjoying the time away, but I did not encounter anything “unusual” or exceptionally powerful until I attended a workshop in which Carol Arnott taught on the subject of impartation. In that session she told of a vision she had about the sword of the Lord.
Carol spoke about how she would not be able to wield this sword but that the sword would wield her. With the sword came great power. She said that the Lord had released her to impart this sword that would bring freedom to many, but it came with a warning: secret sin would kill any and all those who wielded the sword. Trust me, I immediately asked God to show me any secret sin in my life.
After hearing her message, I followed her around as one of her “catchers.” I did this for a couple of reasons. One was to see if anyone fell down dead! The other was to buy time for the Holy Spirit to reveal any secret sin, and if He found any, to reveal it right then. As she imparted the sword to some, I knew what God was asking me to ask for this sword. It helped that no one she had prayed for keeled over dead.
At the end I asked her to give me the same sword. She asked me if there was any secret sin in my life. She gave me that “prophetic look” as if to say, “Don’t lie to me– I can see right through you!” After I fearfully replied, “Not that I’m aware of...,” she prayed for me.
Immediately I fell down and began to have a vision.
In this vision I had both hands on a very large, beautiful sword but had absolutely no control of it. It was true that this sword was wielding me. In fact, I wondered how I was even able to hold it due to its enormous size. It was pure gold making it even heavier, and the sword glistened in the radiant light of this vision.
As it moved with a mind of its own, to my fear, the sword began to turn on me! I fought that with all that I had. However, I could not win. The tip of the sword was resting on my heart. I took a breath and remember the sword plunging itself right through my heart.
When the sword went into me, I felt the pain of it tearing through my heart. But once the sword had gone completely through me, I remember feeling life bursting within me. Real life. It was as if I had been watching black and white television, and now I was beginning to see things in three dimensional colors. Everything looked different. Things sounded different. It was as though I had died, and the enemy didn’t want to kill me anymore because I was already dead. But as the vision continued, I was able to hurt him! I was able to see people set free. This went on for a long time. I don’t know how long I was down on the floor, but when I got up everything had changed. I have never felt more alive or free.
WHEN I WENT HOME FROM TORONTO
When I returned to Houston, my first Sunday back at church was Super Bowl Sunday and Houston was the host to the Super Bowl. I remember watching the news early on Sunday morning and hearing the news commentator saying, “The eyes of the world will turn to Houston today.” My heart began to cry out that eyes would turn to this city for much more than a football game, for of the outpouring of God’s Spirit.
From the very beginning of the service, something was different. Before the service, some people were commenting about how I looked different. One lady hugged me, and as she pulled back, she said, “WOW you are burning up – do you have a fever?” I broke into laughter. She walked away bewildered but by the time the service ended, we all understood.
Worship was different. Prayer was different. The manifest presence of God was in the room!
I simply shared some of what had occurred while I was gone. Before going to Toronto, God said that I had become frustrated because I was still trying to build a church. Then He said that He was exclusively responsible for building His church. Instead He was calling me to build a dwelling place for Him. This was a new marching order. God would build His church; we would build a place where He could stay. Now our goal is that when we leave church, God would be glad He came. If nobody “gets anything out of worship,” we want to rest in confidence that the Lord did.
I offered to pray for anyone who wanted prayer. Then the tangible presence of God fell. We did not leave our church until 3:30pm that day! People were healed. They cried, laughed, yelled, rolled on the floor, shook, but the most important part of the day was that when people left, they knew they had met with the presence of God. We fell more in love with Jesus because we had experienced a new level of His love for us.
We have never recovered from that Sunday! While I never laughed in Toronto (I did cry quite a bit), I would pray for some and then I would fall down in laughter. It carried on for quite a while this way. As we left, I began to pray, “God, I don’t want this to be a one-day wonder.” Thank God, He has answered that prayer.
GOD CLEANS HOUSE
One thing we were not expecting was that God began a work of cleaning His house. I once heard Graham Cooke say that he was always encouraged when he entered a church and saw sin everywhere. The reason he was encouraged by this is that the Holy Spirit and sin will not coexist in the same place. When you see sin, it simply means that the Holy Spirit has moved in and is cleaning house! The revelation of sin and weakness is God’s invitation to healing and freedom. I realize that we do not have problems; we simply have opportunities to trust God’s grace for solutions. And His solutions are wonderful.
One day I was in the mire of some very serious sin issues that had surfaced in the congregation. While struggling through that, I felt laughter coming upon me. I remember thinking, "God, I can't be laughing while so many are hurting." His answer to me was that in Psalm 2:4, He laughs at His enemies! I allowed myself to laugh.
On another occasion, I was again bogging down. Finally, I put my cell phone aside, closed my office door, grabbed my guitar and entered into the Presence of the Lord. Once there, I felt His peace and His Joy. I said, "Lord, it's so much better here." The Lord responded, "Then why did you leave? This is the place created to dwell!"
While we are still learning much, we are hopelessly addicted to His presence! Our prayer is that this addiction will only increase. His presence is what we were created for. Anything else is putting a square peg in a round hole - you can make it work but it never fit perfectly! The primary purpose in life is not to grow a great church, become an apostolic center, or "do" all the stuff of Acts 2. We are designed to abide in His presence and invite others to dwell there as well. Before Jesus sent his disciples out, He first called them to Himself. This is the Church's destiny. It is from this place that disciples are made and God's purpose on earth are accomplished. We do not know where the River is going to take us, but we now know this. We love His presence, and we say "MORE LORD!"