As many of you readers already know, I called on Jesus Christ to forgive me of my sins and take over my life when I was 9 years old. I had been through a dramatic and miraculous experience of being shut in a freezer with no means of escape. You can read more about it in the “about me” section of this blog. The experience turned me into a believer of God, and of modern-day miracles.
Even after experiencing such a dramatic salvation experience, I still had bouts of doubt in the following years. I struggled with sin, and at times I wondered how I could possibly call myself a follower of Christ. I was continually rededicating my life, or doing things to feel assured.
Then we moved to New Orleans and started attending a church that had a large number of students from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We were Baptists and my older brother was one of those Seminary students. He and his Presbyterian wife had moved to New Orleans, and had an experience at this church that set them “on fire” for God. They had begun to experience answered prayers and miracles. We all took notice. Although this church had a large influx of Baptist Seminary students, it was not a Baptist church. It was a non-denominational, charismatic church with lots of solid teaching by the Baptist Seminary folks. Being set in New Orleans, the congregation was filled with many Catholics.
What could cause Baptists and Catholics to worship together under one roof? What united them? It was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had found a home where He wasn’t marginalized or emotionalized. He wasn’t a theological third wheel, and He wasn’t a “chill bump” that made you act erratic and uncontrollable. He was and is a genuine person, a living power. He is God. I had never heard the Holy Spirit addressed and presented so consistently in this manner.
Previous to this, I had been taught that there were no additional outpourings of the Holy Spirit. You got everything there was to be gained at the moment of salvation. I was taught that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were gone after the Apostles died out. I surmised that I didn’t need this “experience” because I was already winning souls for Christ. My father had been a baptist deacon, and I believed the same way he did. In spite of our beliefs, we continued to go to my brother’s church anyway. My father was somewhat bewildered by the number of people being saved each week at the altar. New people every week! They were baptizing people every Sunday night. Monday night discipleship classes needed more teachers! This church was growing rapidly, and it grew before our eyes!
My oldest sister believed in the baptist way also. Nevertheless, she went to the altar for prayer about something, and returned saying that she felt very joyous and found herself talking like Fred Flintstone saying something like, “Yabba Dabba Do!” I laughed very hard at this and was quite amused by her new-found exuberance. Her spiritual awareness rose dramatically over the next few months. Her experience had a profound effect upon my thinking and my whole attitude towards this phenomena. Instead of being obstinate towards the whole issue, I became curious about it.
New Orleans was both a place of great darkness, and an oasis of grace. I walked between the two, going alone to the French Quarter and Fat City some nights, and then back to this fascinating church on other nights. I also had some of the coolest co-workers turn to Christ, and I was fascinated by their boldness and utter abandonment to the things of God. But I was still on the fence. On one of those dark nights, the darkness came right up to me and begged me to join in. I walked away and decided to never go back looking for thrills in that place again. I went home and said to God, “I need to know if you know me, and if you can keep me. I’m tired of walking in the darkness. I wish I could be a Christian like my co- worker brothers Ronald and Donald Hayes. I know how you saved me when I was 9. I know my life is not my own. Please help me.”
The following Sunday I went to that church by myself. At the close of the service, the preacher said to the song leader, “Michael, sing ‘I Live Because He Is Risen’ again, and give me the cordless mic. God is about to change someone’s life”. This church was now filled to around 1,800 to 2,000 people, and this preacher knew nothing about me. I closed my eyes and began singing.
Suddenly, I felt that preacher’s hand on my head and he held up the microphone and said these exact words, “For today will be the day of transformation of your life! For you have sat back and watched others plunge into God, but you are not just a young man walking around in the darkness, but I have called you unto myself. Therefore you know that your life is not your own, but that you have been bought with a price. Therefore, seek to glorify the Lord both in your body and in your spirit. For the word of the Lord comes to you expressly this day saying, RISE YOUNG MAN and cast aside every weight and every indecision. For you have said in your heart, what does the Lord prepare for me? Am I touched of God? Am I truly called of the Lord? And God would say, I AM YOUR GOD! And I have called you to rise and follow me! Therefore throw aside every hindrance and arise. For this shall be a new day, beginning this day, for you.”
I was trembling from head to toe. If they hadn’t taped that service, I wouldn’t be able to recall all those words. How could this preacher have known these things? I remember a gentleman named Dr. Cougle coming up to me and praying for me. I learned then that his father was one of my High School teachers. He explained that what just happened was very scriptural and from the Holy Spirit. From that moment, I became thirsty to know this Holy Spirit a lot better.
That happened in January. It wasn’t until that Summer at a Youth Camp that I would ever speak in an unknown language. I had been prayed for several times with no apparent results. At this particular camp service, the altars were filled. I figured I would try one more time. One of the Potter boys was standing alone. I asked for his help and he began praying for me. After 15 minutes, I was ready to quit, but Potter wasn’t. He would not let me go. He grabbed Sister Ina and they prayed earnestly. A half hour went by and I was discouraged and ready to stop. They weren’t. During this time, I kept thinking about the Cajun word “cher” and a few other Cajun words. I needed to get these people away from me and thought if I could just say a few Cajun words then maybe they would let me go. I decided to fake it and opened my mouth and began to say “Cher”.
Suddenly, my mouth took off in one direction while my mind was going in another. I was shocked as unknown words came streaming rapidly out of my mouth while I was still thinking in Cajun. My mind was disengaged from my mouth. I’ve always been able to imitate gibberish, but this was entirely different, and was such a bizarre disengagement. Those first moments were surreal and undefinable. I remember being in an observation mode, listening to myself, and wondering how was this happening. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Not only was I speaking unknown words, but none of them were repetitive. For awhile, I was unable to stop. I was overjoyed! Everybody was! What a party! A spiritual door was opened on that day.
Since that day, I have never doubted my salvation again. The overflow of the Spirit results in even greater assurance. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.–Romans 8:16
This experience of an unknown language was like a door that led to many more events. I’m not saying that you have to speak in tongues in order to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?–1 Corinthians 12:30.
Obviously not. What I am saying is that this particular gift was my sign that someone else was now sharing my body. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.–1 Cor. 14:14.
Do I believe that you have to be Spirit-baptized in order to be saved? No. Let me give you a parallel from the demonic world: Just because a person belongs to Satan doesn’t make them demon-possessed. They may belong to their father the devil, but that doesn’t make them fully possessed (John 8:44). These people in John 8:44 were sealed with the identification as sons of the devil but they still were nothing like the possessed man from the Gadarenes. It is spiritually significant to note that although the possessed man had more outward demonic power, the Pharisees had more demonic influence. For every counterfeit in Satan, there is a reality in Christ. True, dedicated Christians are spirit-sealed with the identification as sons/daughters of God, but that doesn’t make them Spirit-possessed by the Holy One. Yet both have places of power!
When you first enter into Christ, you don’t come into your full destination. You don’t come fully loaded. You don’t give car keys to a child. Does God start by giving you meat or milk? No, you are just at the beginning of a wondrous journey. God always has more for us as we seek! If you’ve been taught that there is nothing more to pursue after you’ve been saved, you should read Did The Disciples Receive The Spirit 3 Times?
Does being Spirit-filled make you better than other believers? Not at all. God has purposed that not all believers are exactly alike. While the Spirit-filled appear to operate more in the power gifts, our cessationist brothers operate with great worldwide influence. We’re on the same team and both have His power in different ways!
Something that further strengthened my faith was an experience that took place on my first mission trip to Peru. Brother Carlos Estrada and Brother Culley were preaching to a group of unevanglized people that had arrived in the town of Tarapoto. Some of them had never heard of Jesus. During the altar call, they came forward for salvation. After receiving Christ, Brother Estrada instructed us to baptize them in the Holy Spirit by laying our hands on them. I went over to a man and did exactly what Brother Estrada said to do. Much to my amazement, this man who had just received Christ began to tremble and quit speaking Spanish. He began to speak in an unknown language that sounded exactly like me when I speak in tongues. His eyes were wide with amazement…so were mine! It’s a universal language!
Last of all, my entire family (including my Baptist deacon dad who was initially angry and threatening when I received the gift of the Spirit) received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The coolest thing was that God used me to impart the Holy Spirit to my mother. From that day forward she became a powerful intercessor with great compassion.
If you want it, Jesus said the Father is willing to pour it out. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks forf a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”–Luke 11:11-13
So, this is another reason why I believe. You see, every time I pray in an unknown language, my faith rises. Why? Because the Spirit is bearing witness with my spirit that I belong to God.
Thank you for reading this. I know that this is not the usual “Defrosting Windows” kind of material that you are used to reading, but I needed to write this right now. Thanks again for bearing with me. Blessings to you!