To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.' For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is proved right by all her children. (Luke 7:31-33)
What is commonly referred to as “The Lakeland Outpouring” or “Lakeland Revival,” began on April 2, 2008, 93 days ago as of this writing. The meetings are being broadcast live every night on God TV to over 240 nations. The central figure in the revival is an unlikely character -- a 32-year old, tattoo-dipped, eighth grade-educated, Canadian evangelist named Todd Bentley who claims to have experienced angelic visitations, visions and “words from the Lord.” (http://www.freshfire.ca/)
In May 2008, my wife, Judy, and I spent four days in Lakeland. We have also been watching the meetings every night live on God TV. This is the first in a series of blog entries about what I have seen first-hand, not a YouTube clip or someone else’s limited second-hand account.
In less than three months, what initially began as a 5-day series of meetings rapidly outgrew the 700-seat Ignited Church in Lakeland and then the nearby 8,000-seat Lakeland Center Arena. On June 10, meetings were moved to a newly-constructed 10,000-seat tent erected at Lakeland's Linder Regional Airport. Thousands of hungry souls from around the nation and the world continue to stream into Lakeland to receive a fresh impartation of the Holy Spirit. Revival is spreading to several other nations and to cities in America.
In less than three months, many Christian theological "watchdogs" have already rejected Todd Bentley as an heretic and Lakeland as a counterfeit move of God. It is as if Lakeland offers a “cause célèbre," a "discernment ropes course" to foster team spirit among "false doctrine police." Since so many seem to have an opinion, tossing my “needle into the haystack” shouldn't poke any other tush in the scrum.
At a time when the Church is in such desperate need of revival and a fresh move of God’s Spirit, I am amazed at the level of "fluting" and "dirging" I am hearing in response to Lakeland. I wonder if Bentley's critics would respond as graciously as he has to the scrutiny, criticism (and death threats, I might add) that he has received?
Are the Gospel, repentance and holiness being preached?
Contrary to some reports, the unvarnished Gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed and demonstrated in Lakeland. Repentance and the need for personal holiness are also being taught and countless numbers are dedicating or rededicating their lives to Jesus Christ. Some are openly confessing sin before a live international audience. Alcohol, drug and sexual addictions are being broken.
Consider Todd Bentley's words in his May 20, 2008 message on repentance:
But what brings you into mercy (and compassion) is repentance. So, when you see repentance, you see mercy. And what do you see when you see mercy? Healing! Repentance, mercy and healing!—which is why I believe that repentance is the most beautiful thing in the Bible—it always brings you into a miracle. The word repent means—to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life; to change one’s mind, and to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary; Matt. 3:8). Genuine repentance is such a radical change in the life of a person that when you look at their character afterwards, you see fruit worthy of repentance. You can tell that something has happened!
Consider Todd Bentley's words in his May 26, 2008 message on repentance:
I believe today God wants us to return to Him. Before mercy and healing, I believe God is saying “I want repentance.” Maybe the Spirit of God has touched the attitude of your heart. Maybe you’ve seen something in your spirit, something that’s been there and God wants to just cleanse the core of your heart.
Does every message in Lakeland make explicit mention of the need for “repentance?” Did the Son of God mention the need for repentance in every one of His teachings? For those who advocate a "seeker friendly" paradigm, are sin and repentance preached in your church every Sunday? Should there be more emphasis on the need for repentance in Lakeland? Perhaps; but give it more time!
Oh Pharisee, Pharisee! The Church in America has needed revival for years. Lakeland began only three months ago. Maybe the Father doesn't want to emphasize sin right now as much as He wants to restore people’s faith that He's actually alive in the Church, not an "opiate of the masses," "God is dead," placebo, fairy tale character like Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny! Maybe he wants to convince the unconvinced of His great love for them by healing them -- even before they are believers!
Many in the Church have reacted "reflexively" to Lakeland, focusing mostly on apparent oddities and things they do not understand, largely ignoring the wonderful things God is doing there. If the American Church is not careful how we steward what God is doing in Lakeland, we could miss out on a visitation from God. Not possible? Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they missed the day of their visitation; they missed Him! (Luke 13:34-35)
How can we capriciously dismiss what God is doing when hundreds, if not thousands are making decisions to follow Jesus Christ? Instead of criticizing, why not find a way to encourage and nurture what God is doing? How can we pray, offer support or, if needed, correction? How can we encourage a shift in emphasis if it is needed? How did Priscilla and Aquila handle misguided Apollos? (Acts 18:26)
While the Church armchairs Lakeland, holding out for the “perfect revival," (How long have we been holding out?) the nation is burning to the ground. Endlessly parsing everything that is said or that happens in Lakeland is a convenient diversion. America is about to be shaken so hard that we may not recover.
If Lakeland is not a move of God, then we need to find the alternative and find it quickly. If repentance is Revival's historical distinctive and we aren’t doing it, let’s get to it. What is stopping us? If we know the word of God well enough to winnow goings on in Lakeland, then we know it well enough to winnow our personal lives.
© 2008 Seeds for Good Soil (Revised 03 July 2008)