I must pen this letter while the events are still fresh in my mind, so that my experience at the recent Holy Spirit Conference can also become a vehicle of freedom for others.
My wife Rebekah and I have attended at least one Holy Spirit Conference every year for the past six years. Our trips to your city had become a highlight for us each year. In fact, we have dubbed your city as the “vacation capital of the world” because of the wonderful people we know there and your church. I always experienced the gentle and generous presence of the Holy Spirit in your midst and could easily receive the love of your people and also return it.
For my wife Rebekah nothing had changed. But for me, everything was different this year. My soul was in total bondage in the church; I could neither receive nor give of myself to others. Everything was a formality for me and any response to the song leader was an effort. I was sleepy, bored and even critical. I must have felt like dead weight to those who ministered in the pulpit. I brought some real needs to the conference, but none of them were met, at least not directly. In the past, I would linger after each service and visit with friends and strangers, but this time I could hardly wait to get to the parking lot. The highlight of the year was turning into a nightmare for me. Guilt and condemnation for the way I felt brutally attacked me. I looked around wondering if there was anyone else who might be under a similar cloud of oppression.
One evening the thought of sitting like a puppet or prisoner in church so totally overwhelmed me that I could not go. Instead, I went to the house of friends where a group of Believers were getting together for fellowship and prayer. I felt safe and accepted. We viewed the video “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-Comin’” by Anthony Campolo, and later had some refreshments. I asked for prayer. Everyone gathered around me and touched me and sang the song, “Come Holy Spirit, fall afresh on Peter;” and He did. Little by little the cloud of oppression, the vise grip of condemnation, the confusion about where I now fit in the Body of Christ, lifted. Healing came to my frayed nerves and exhausted body. I slept soundly for the first time in many a night. In fact, the next morning I was looking forward to the conference; but I never made it.
We pulled into the church parking lot and parked the car. As we got out of the car, a friend made a beeline for us. We embraced and I knew in my heart that there were words to be exchanged between us. Rebekah knew that it was to be a private matter between us men and went into the church.
My friend poured out his heart. He had been going through the same nightmares that I had experienced. He could no longer give or receive in church, at least not in the particular church he and his wife had been attending for many years. A critical and angry attitude was beginning to rob him of all joy of attending. He felt guilty and condemned for the way he felt. What was wrong?
There was a red pickup truck parked next to our car; and we used it as an altar rail. We prayed fervently in the Spirit. The oppression and confusion lifted and insight came. Joy spread across his countenance. We had stood in the broiling sun for almost two hours; but it seemed like only minutes. My bald head did not even get sunburned.
What did we learn? What was revealed to us? We have been fencing in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God or Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah, or both. Church for some of us is now in a parking lot, at a gas station island, in a canoe, in a barn with bales of hay as seats, in homes, next to a drinking fountain, or at a favorite restaurant while we are enjoying a meal together.
We have been taught, filled, saturated and equipped for many years! When the fullness of Christ - the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God - have matured within our hearts, we cannot be and we must not be corralled. We must now go where the Spirit bids us go. We must go where we can be poured out and serve. We must be given the freedom to go, the freedom to grow, the freedom to fail, and the time to heal when we do fail. The church will serve us best by encouraging us to explore the uniqueness of our calling. It must be willing to recognize each person’s compelling need for spiritual adventure. In fact, we are to be encouraged by the church to try our spiritual wings. We must be liberated from trite and hackneyed phrases that drive us to church by applying guilt and condemnation. When we are ready to graduate, the church must celebrate that another saint has been equipped and encourage us to seek our unique identity in the Body of Christ. This identity is like a hidden treasure and must be discovered by every saint for himself.
I have had numerous occasions to share this letter, both in person and in print. However, I waited eight years before making these words public through the Stretcher Bearers for Christ newsletters. I wanted to be sure these words expressed the Heart of God and not merely my own frustrated soul. Some audiences and individuals have joyfully embraced the words in this letter, while others have vehemently opposed them. I know the great joy of speaking to an audience that is eagerly awaiting the next word; but I also know the frustration and pain in speaking in an atmosphere of bored, polite silence–and on occasion, hostility. I am sure that every shepherd is painfully aware of the mood of the people and is frustrated by his inability to sense and respond to the many diverse individual needs. But I also know there is always that temptation to preach only those things that are applauded.
Since numbers still seem to be a criterion of effectiveness in many places, it is probably difficult to see a church either as a school from which we are to graduate, boot camp, or a hospital from which we need to be discharged. I will therefore challenge those who believe success and size are synonymous, to consider the Word of God in this matter by reviewing chapter 24 in the second book of Samuel. I would like to warn and admonish every shepherd to guard himself against the temptation of defining his effectiveness by the size of his congregation or size of his budget. King David and his whole nation were severely chastised by God for counting the number of able-bodied men under his jurisdiction.
The Holy Spirit is indeed present in your church, but at the moment He is not present for me. By remaining a part of the congregation without having the ability to give or receive, I cloud the atmosphere for both pastors and members. My place of service is somewhere else and for the sake of my soul and sanity, I must find it. I ask the church to release me and others like me so that we can discover our unique place in the Body of Christ. This indeed may thin the congregation of the church for a while, but those who are left will make a more cohesive, vibrant and responsive group. Please do not restrain those who are ready to depart.
I have had occasion to share my experience with others since my return from the conference, and find that I am touching a very sensitive nerve and need in the Body of Christ. Tears of release and great jubilation follow as I share this account. It is time to encourage our people to graduate. It is time to discharge those who have been healed and trained, and to let them go. May God use this letter to bring freedom to many.
There is more that I would like to share with you, but I will wait until we can meet face to face. We have a most beautiful guest apartment as a part of our home. It is set aside to minister to God’s servants. We invite you to come and allow us the joy and privilege of giving to you. Our log home borders a picturesque lake; and we have a wonderful view of the Rocky Mountains rising to 13,000 feet just a few miles away. You are invited to take a holiday. We will do all we can to help you enter into the garden of His rest.
I realize that this letter may be an inspiration to some and an obstacle to others. If it is an inspiration, we would love to hear from you. As you share this letter, you will meet others who feel fenced in or fenced out. Our feeling of isolation will come to an abrupt end as we meet those with a kindred spirit.
I have recently met Jesus in attire with which I can truly identify. I urge you to meet Him or introduce Him to your friends through the story of “JOSHUA.” It is the story of Jesus appearing amongst us in modern-day attire and how we might respond to Him and He to us. “JOSHUA” is written by Joseph F. Girzone and is published by Collier Books.
Jesus has choreographed a unique dance for each of us. Some dance floors are just too small or too crowded for some of us. I am no longer fenced in. I am now dancing with Jesus amongst the churches.
Until we meet face to face, Peter D. Laue, Jesus’ Stretcher Bearer