After almost 15 years, Bethel Church continues to thrive amid a revival culture that has produced not only countless miracles, but also a youth movement now expanding into stadiums
Melissa Roberts can’t remember a time when it wasn’t revival at Bethel Church. Since she was 4 years old, the only kind of church gatherings she’s known have featured an atmosphere of extreme spiritual hunger, passionate worship and supernatural encounters with God.
The now-16-year-old barely flinches when worshippers collapse around her during a service as the Holy Spirit spontaneously moves without anyone touching anyone. She hardly bats an eye anymore when she hears of people being declared cancer-free the week after she laid hands on them. And recently she didn’t gawk in amazement as a massive tumor disappeared from a baby’s forehead while she prayed for healing.
Christian thriller novelist Mike Dellosso knows all about living through nightmares. Here’s the gripping story behind his stories.
Mike Dellosso believes in monsters. He’s seen them. They’ve shown up in the eyes of an alcoholic loved one, a daughter battling a rare blood disorder and his own bout with colon cancer. He’s had to fight them for his life, and he hasn’t always been sure who was winning. But now that he’s faced his worst fears and lived to tell about it, he refuses to look away.
For the last three years, those monsters have been showing up in his supernatural thrillers as beasts that roam dark woods (Darlington Woods), towns with dangerous secrets (The Hunted) and otherworldy screams that warn of untimely deaths (Scream). His fourth novel, Darkness Follows, about a heartless killer and the secrets unearthed through an old Civil War journal, released in May.
I thoroughly enjoyed the April issue’s emphasis on praise and worship and its true meaning. I was raised with praise and worship led by choir, piano and organ. It was a traumatic experience getting used to guitars and drums. Once during a service, the Lord reminded me that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. It taught me that if the leaders playing guitar had a true intention of honoring God, then it was good enough for Him.
Tom Balkcom, Phoenix
Turn It Down, Please
Your April issue on worship does not mention that we have slipped into a culture of loud! Church leaders seem to justify 95 to 115 decibels. Often you can’t even hear yourself sing. My Bible says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” I think this means from the heart. I’m not suggesting that musicians are insincere, but many have become victims of the culture. We all know how precious it is when they tone it down and the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit floods the place.
Dick Schnitker, Frisco, Texas
All Trials From God?
I love Lee Grady’s passion and read “Fire in My Bones” regularly. He writes, “God sends trials to mold our character, crush our pride and break our hard, outward shell so the Holy Spirit can flow through us to touch others” (April). However, if we think and preach that God afflicts us to make us better Christians, then our concept of the cross is too small, the Holy Spirit too abstract and reactive, and our God is not living in us as His tabernacle.
El McMeen, Sparta, N.J.
Don’t Promote The Haters
In “At a Loss for the Word” (April), Troy Anderson recommends seven books that every Bible student needs—two of which are by John MacArthur. Why is a charismatic magazine promoting the writings of one of the leading proponents of the error that the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit aren’t for today? When Charisma lifts up MacArthur as an appropriate source for Bible instruction, after he’s been a hinderance to many receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit for years, I’ll think long and hard when the next renewal request arrives.
You. The ocean. And a book. Here are a few suggestions on what to take for a hot summer read this year—from some of your favorite Christian authors.
Because of my busy writing schedule I don’t read as much as I’d like, but I do enjoy reading while traveling. While flying recently I opened up Lisa Wingate’sTalk of the Town (Bethany House). I’d never read a Wingate book but was immediately pulled in by her quirky characters. It was honestly laugh-out-loud funny and exactly what I needed at that moment in my life. It gave me a whole new respect for lighthearted romance because there are times when laughter truly is the best medicine! I emailed Lisa later and thanked her for writing such a refreshingly fun book.
Melody Carlson is the author of more than 100 books, including Shattered, Never Been Kissed and The Four Lindas.
In April I preached for several days at Casa del Padre, a small but growing church near San Juan, Puerto Rico. The congregation meets in a rented facility with tile floors and folding chairs. They don’t have a worship leader yet, so a CD player provides accompaniment for the singing. The pastor, a gentle guy named Luís, keeps a second job to pay his family’s bills. Up until a few weeks ago, the church’s office was in his garage.
Casa del Padre is not a fancy place. But its lack of sophistication is overshadowed by an amazing level of love. When I ministered on Sunday morning, the meeting began at 10:30, yet I didn’t leave the building until 5 p.m.—not because I preached too long, but because nobody wanted to go home.
I know what you’re thinking: That’s just the way Puerto Ricans are. They’re very relational. It’s certainly true they love to party and that their food—especially the rice, beans, pork and mofongo (mashed plantains)—keeps people coming back for more. But the authentic fellowship I experienced in San Juan can’t be trivialized as an expression of Latino culture. No, this Puerto Rican church understands a biblical secret many of us have forgotten.
The book of Acts tells us that after the first disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit, they were “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, NASB). The Greek word for “fellowship,” koinonia, appears here for the first time in the Bible and then is used 18 other times in the New Testament.
Koinonia, which can be translated “partnership,” is a supernatural grace that causes Christians to love one another deeply. It was not possible before Pentecost because it is a manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Just as dunamis power enables us to heal the sick or work miracles, koinonia unites our hearts so we can work together.
Koinonia is what connected Paul, Luke, Timothy, Titus, Priscilla and Aquila as a team. It is what held the early Christians together in the face of persecution. Koinonia makes us feel like a family. It knits our hearts to one another. It also motivates us to pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens and share with one another materially.
I saw a vibrant example of koinonia in Puerto Rico, so I know it’s alive and well. But it seems that in many parts of the church we have forgotten about the essential need for fellowship and try to build the church without it. We have developed a sterile church model that is event-driven and celebrity-focused rather than genuinely relational. We build theater-style buildings where crowds listen to one guy talk. The crowd is whisked out of the sanctuary to make room for the next group. Many of these people never process with anyone else what they learned, never join a small group and never receive any form of one-on-one discipleship.
The apostles’ teaching of Acts 2:42 is crucial, but teaching without koinonia becomes dry and clinical. The church should be more like a family room than a classroom.
Our lack of relationships has created a void that we fill with technology. We figure if we create a “wow factor” with cool video clips, 3-D sermons and edgy worship bands, the crowds will scream for more. I don’t think so. Trendy can quickly become shallow.
As I travel I find that Christians are starved for meaningful relationships. Pastors often tell me that they don’t have friends. This is sometimes because they felt betrayed in a previous relationship. Meanwhile, many Christians in the pews have given up on church altogether—not because of doctrinal issues, but because they were wounded by someone at church.
What we need is a return to koinonia—but you can’t download it. There’s no app for it. And you can’t fake it. (If you want a concrete example to copy, I can give you the address of Casa del Padre.) This love comes from the Spirit. Let’s reclaim relational Christianity.
J. Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years. He now serves as contributing editor while devoting more time to ministry. You can find him online at themordecaiproject.org. His latest book is 10 Lies Men Believe (Charisma House).
How the unabashed New York evangelist changed countless lives—including mine
It was early evening on April 27 when a phone call let me know the devastating news: David Wilkerson had been killed in a car accident. Dr. George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, had just learned the news and felt I would want to report it. Knowing how important this was, we had a story online within 40 minutes. Our website’s traffic was so great, the site temporarily crashed, and the article had more forwards on Twitter and Facebook than any in Charisma News history.
That’s because David Wilkerson was one of the great Christian leaders of our generation, and his passing is a loss to the global church. He was the model of integrity, and he finished strong in a day when some televangelists are photographed in foreign countries with women they aren’t married to and others are exposed for secret gay activity while publicly opposing the gay agenda. Wilkerson was the paragon of virtue, and his influence was tremendous.
We covered him many times in Charisma—twice on the cover. Wilkerson was best remembered for his book The Cross and the Switchblade and for founding Teen Challenge, which now has centers around the world that help men and women overcome life-altering addictions. In 1987, Wilkerson founded Times Square Church, which has had a great impact in New York City.
What hasn’t been highlighted as often until now is how Wilkerson influenced others in ways he probably never knew. For example, the young Roman Catholics at Duquesne University who received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which sparked the Catholic charismatic renewal, had read The Cross and the Switchblade, as well as They Speak With Other Tongues by John Sherrill, who co-authored Wilkerson’s book with his wife, Elizabeth.
There is a chapter in The Cross and the Switchblade in which Wilkerson tells a Catholic priest that the former drug addicts who received the baptism in the Holy Spirit had more power to live for God. In the book he described what the Bible says in Acts about the Holy Spirit. My longtime friend Bert Ghezzi told me that those books certainly made the students (which included him) more open to the Spirit in those fateful days in early 1967.
It seems nearly every Christian leader from that era has a David Wilkerson story. Dr. Wood remembers that at the time Wilkerson’s dad was pastor of the Assemblies of God church in Turtle Creek, Pa., his own father pastored 30 members at the Assemblies church in nearby Pitcairn, Pa. A young, enthusiastic David Wilkerson wanted to preach in Pitcairn, but Dr. Wood’s father wasn’t sure David was ready and didn’t let him.
John Sherrill remembers that when The Cross and the Switchblade was translated in many languages, sales took off except in one Scandinavian country. Wilkerson suspected the translation was bad, so he had someone read it and discovered the translator had stripped out all references to the power of the Holy Spirit due to a personal theological bias. He insisted the book be republished with the material on the Holy Spirit reinserted. The sales after that took off.
I also was impacted by Wilkerson. I read his book as a teenager, and his description of drug addiction scared me so much I never experimented with drugs, even though it was the norm among many in my generation. I had the privilege of interacting with Wilkerson many times over the years and have my own story about him.
In February 1972, as a junior at the University of Florida, I found out Wilkerson was speaking at a youth rally in Lakeland, Fla. I drove 120 miles from Gainesville with two friends to attend. It was that weekend I met a beautiful woman named Joy, who today is my business partner, my wife and my best friend.
Years later when I took a picture (shown here) with Wilkerson at his church office in New York, I was able to tell him about his influence on my life and career—because without Joy, there would never have been a Charisma magazine.
I, along with millions of others around the world, thank God for the life and influence of David Wilkerson.
Steve Strang is the founder and publisher of Charisma. Follow him on Twitter at @sstrang.To read more of his and others’ reflections on David Wilkerson, plus videos, photos and articles by the New York evangelist, go to wilkerson.charismamag.com.
Remember the kid in elementary school who was teased for reading too much? You know, the girl with thick glasses who didn’t care if she was picked last for kickball because she was too engrossed in a new book. She’d sit alone at recess, lost in a vivid world that came alive in her imagination with every page turned.
Fast-forward 30 years, and it’s funny how the tables can turn on “bookworms” like her. They’re typically the ones now leading corporate boardrooms, arguing federal court cases and pioneering new technologies. Finance expert Dave Ramsey says a common thread among the world’s most financially successful people is their discipline of reading a book almost every week.
I’m not into measuring success by your salary or your profession. Nor am I saying all kids with insatiable appetites for reading end up geniuses. But it’s undeniable that books are powerful, positive life-shapers. In a day when dozens of other media offer more instant gratification, and in an era in which the digital tsunami has drastically altered our cultural landscape and intelligence—for better or worse—books still matter.
Why must I state what’s been a given for hundreds of years? Because when you can carry entire libraries in your pocket (God bless smartphones), you begin to take for granted the power of a single book. That’s exactly what’s happening today, and sadly, we are forgetting that, amid the onslaught of “access anything, anywhere, anytime” information, books can still change things as nothing else can.
There are countless examples of this, but I can’t think of one better suited to highlight in the context of this magazine than David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade. In late April, the Christian world mourned the sudden loss of this spiritual giant (whom we pay tribute to in this issue), yet his legacy will remain through his written words. Wilkerson’s powerful 1963 account of how he risked everything to show God’s love to gang members in New York City (particularly in Brooklyn and the Bronx) has affected millions around the world—and is still as riveting today as it was back then. Sure, reading habits may have changed since Wilkerson penned his first book, but the spiritual value contained on those printed pages has not.
I was reminded of this when I visited Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., to write this month’s cover story and saw firsthand what a “revival culture” looks like after 15 years of passionately pursuing God’s presence as a community of believers. Bethel isn’t just a revival culture, it’s a reading culture too. Everywhere I went, people were talking about books by Bethel leaders. Why? Because those books carry the DNA of the church, which in turn, is the very DNA of the Holy Spirit moving there.
We’ve highlighted those and other books throughout this issue not as a generic reminder for you to read more. Instead, I hope they whet your appetite to open their pages and—as only books can do—have your life changed.
Evangelist Perry Stone believes people will experience dreams and visions with increasing frequency as Christ’s return nears. Discover why he says this, as well as the purpose dreams and visions serve and how you can interpret them, at dreams.charismamag.com.