19:1 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?”
So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. 7 Now the men were about twelve in all.
This passage is the one God used to turn my life upside down. It was shocking, humbling, and almost embarrassing, yet it explained so much of what was wrong with me and my church. John's baptism was one of emptying. It focused on our sins and our need to repent. It crested a huge vacuum that religion and/or self-reliance used to fill. The void at the time was intentional. John very openly preached that One was coming after Him to fill that void. However these disciples in Ephesus missed it. They apparently never met Jesus. They went back to Ephesus and remained as it were stunted believers. Paul recognized the problem pretty much immediately.
Now let me share what happened to me and the rest is between you and the Lord. In the spring of 2005 two things were happening to me simultaneously. The first was that I began studying out this new revelation - Spirit baptism. The second thing is that shortly after the journey began I started getting sick.
At the time I was an associate pastor and I started sharing what I was finding with my senior pastor. He was interested. We both kept searching. We were convinced we were missing this baptism. We read. We prayed. We even co-preached a month long series on what we were finding. Some took notice. One of our churches even started a small group study to begin their own search. While all this was happening I was getting more sick. I went to a clinic and they immediately started doing tests. They sent me home with no answers but scheduled for more tests. Finally they discovered a growth in my bladder. They weren't sure if it was cancer or not but they booked me for surgery to remove it. I had been part of several anointings by that point in my life and I was determined to give this illness, whatever it was, into God's hands. My senior pastor agreed to do the anointing. My family came, my elders came, and a trusted friend. We knelt before God and gave the entire situation to Him. I specified to the group that I was not asking for healing. I was asking for God's will to be accomplished in and through whatever was happening.
Many things happened during that time, too many to list here but I'll share two specific ones. When I was studying Acts I noticed how bold the disciples were to make Jesus known. They even prayed specifically for boldness. I knew boldness was something I lacked. One evening during this time I received an email from a former professor who described himself to me as a backslidden Presbyterian. He had never emailed me since my class with him ended and it was just a short generic "How are you doing?" type of email. I began to respond with the typical "I'm well" when I felt an overwhelming urgency to tell him the truth. So I began to share the journey I was on both physically and spiritually and ended by urging him to consider his own walk with God. Never in my life had I been so bold. I turned off the computer and went to bed. As I was lying there a distinct message came to me I will never forget. "If I take this away will you be as bold for Me then as you were just now?"
Soon after I was searching for a quote and 'accidently' came upon this: "In 1846, while at Fairhaven, Massachusetts, my sister (who usually accompanied me at that time), Sister A., Brother G., and myself started in a sailboat to visit a family on West's Island. It was almost night when we started. We had gone but a short distance when a storm suddenly arose. It thundered and lightened, and the rain came in torrents upon us. It seemed plain that we must be lost, unless God should deliver.
I knelt down in the boat and began to cry to God to deliver us. And there upon the tossing billows, while the water washed over the top of the boat upon us, I was taken off in vision and saw that sooner would every drop of water in the ocean be dried up than we perish, for my work had but just begun. After I came out of the vision all my fears were gone, and we sang and praised God, and our little boat was to us a floating Bethel."
When I read the story the same distinct 'voice' said to me: "This message applies to you too."
In May of 2005 I was lying on a gurney waiting for surgery to remove the growth. My urologist (who had a heavy accent) came and said "If it's the bad kind we will start treatment right away. If it's not we'll begin regular check ups."
To this I responded "The good or bad kind of what?"
"You have cancer, didn't anyone tell you? I'll meet you in the recovery room."
When I woke up he came shortly after. His face was the most serious I had ever seen it. He told me it was larger and worse than he thought. It was sent to the lab and he would call me himself in one week.
During all this I was at peace. Complete peace. My wife was alarmed at how peaceful I was. The week passed and he didn't call. 8 days, 9 days, 10 days passed. Finally after two weeks Tracey announced she couldn't take it anymore and she was calling herself. The secretary answered and she promised he would call right back. He did. His message was bizarre. He said he hadn't called because he didn't know what to tell me. The pathology report said there were no living cancer cells. He knew that couldn't be right so he went to the lab and did the test over himself. Same result. He said he knew he took a living cancerous tumor from my bladder so he didn't know what to do or what to tell me.
Long story short I had several checkups after that. Nothing came back. He even said in front of a nurse and an intern at one of my checkups that it was a miracle.
Some time after that I was at prayer meeting and sharing my continued frustration that we need the baptism of the Holy Spirit and I couldn't understand why nothing was happening. One of the ladies sitting around the table said "Pastor if you are waiting for supernatural confirmation that God has given you His Spirit is being healed from cancer not evidence enough?"
I am a sinner. I do not walk on water or heal the sick. What I can tell you is all of these things and more did happen and ever since that spring of 2005 my walk with God is different. I am more bold. My focus is not on a religion of eliminating sin as the main focus, but rather on being filled with the presence and character of God. We need His Spirit. Not just once, but daily. We'll talk more about that tomorrow...