This is the second post in a series: Click here for My Ministry Calling (Part 1)
My experience at AGTS (1995 to 1998) can best be described as God-ordained. It was not easy for Jennifer and me to leave our extended family and travel to what felt like a very remote destination. However, the decision strengthened our resolve and cemented our passion to be Spirit-led ministers of the gospel. I’m dyslexic and therefore education has always been challenging. Many people don’t realize that dyslexia is far more than just mixing up the order or direction of letters. Instead, dyslexia also greatly influences one’s ability to memorize and learn certain information. Most dyslexics struggle mightily with trying to learn a second language.
Along with my dyslexia, I also have a hand tremor that manifests when I am nervous, stressed or over stimulated. At the time, my social anxiety of standing in front of groups was so great that I felt I might never be able to speak in front of a group without shaking. It would get so bad that I could not hold a microphone without everyone staring at my quivering hand. Even so, I felt called and I trusted that God would make a way forward.
My first test at AGTS engaged many of my weaknesses as well as demonstrated the profound love I was to receive throughout my time in seminary. I was in Dr. Hernando’s Greek exegesis class trying to take my first test. It was a simple test to gauge our ability to quickly demonstrate our Greek proficiency. As soon as the test started, my hand began to shake so badly that I couldn’t seem to get the pencil to stay on the page. Although I knew the material, I couldn’t get my nerves and hand to cooperate with my brain. Finally, I went up to Dr. Hernando and quietly explained my predicament. “I know the answers, I just can’t get my hand to quit shaking.”
There are times when the response of just one person can radically affect the course of an individual’s life. Dr. Hernando’s response was such a moment. I think he could see the tears welling up in my eyes and I think he sensed my sincere frustration and even desperation with the dilemma. Dr. Hernando moved closer to me, put his hand on my shoulder and whispered gently, “Don’t worry, just take this test to the library and work on it at your own pace. When you’re done, come back and rejoin the class.”
Although I felt defeated as I walked down the hall toward the library, I felt as if God had planted me in a safe place, in a place where I would grow into the calling God had placed upon my heart. My interaction with Dr. Hernando foreshadowed many such moments to come. Professors such as Dr. Gary McGee, Dr. Benny Aker, Dr. James Railey, Dr. Roger Cotton and many others not only imparted knowledge and wisdom into my life, they also loved me. They didn’t just proclaim the work of the Holy Spirit, they also demonstrated the fruit of the Spirit. It is their kindness and genuine love I most remember and celebrate.
Although there was value to all my classes, I must admit that Benny Aker and Gary McGee were my favorite professors. As I write about Dr. McGee, tears well up in my eyes. I know he is with our Savior, but I still miss the possibility of contacting him for historical perspective on the world we live in. Dr. McGee brought me an authentic perspective concerning the complexities of Pentecostal and Charismatic history. He didn’t gloss over the faults and failings of the very human people God has used to advance His purposes on earth. His willingness to look at the whole picture gave me great peace when confronting my own weaknesses and failings.
One day, I had a very difficult interaction with Dr. McGee concerning one of our classes. I had forgotten to tell him that I would be unable to take the final for our class because I was flying home to Seattle. I failed to tell him this information until the last week of classes. Professor McGee was obviously frustrated that I had not addressed this issue earlier. He even went so far as to express his disappointment with my irresponsibility. He wasn’t inappropriate in how he treated me, but I felt terrible that I had disappointed him. I left his office quickly to keep from crying and embarrassing myself.
I remember that I went around the corner and began to cry. I felt stupid for crying, stupid for being so irresponsible, and stupid for running out of his office. Before I could continue, Dr. McGee came around the corner and found me. He found me in my foolishness and my brokenness. He found me in my weakness, and he loved me. He spoke words of comfort and reminded me that it was going to be all right. After I returned from my trip home, I found a book on postmodernism in my mailbox. Dr. McGee had attached a note telling me that he was going to address postmodernism in his next class because of our discussions in class. Dr. McGee gave me more than a book, he gave me confidence that God was for me.
Dr. Benny Aker was also one of my favorite professors. There were so many things I loved about his class. I loved how he always asked tough questions. I loved how he didn’t reward silly answers. If you gave a silly answer, he kind of just stared at you and then moved on to someone who actually knew what he or she was talking about. He wasn’t mean, but he was exacting. He assumed that you were bright and expected you to give intelligent answers. Some people loved Professor Aker’s classes, others were less fond of the experience. I think this was primarily because of how he tested the class. Professor Aker would talk about all sorts of deep, theological, philosophical things. However, at the end of class you were not always sure what to write down. You didn’t have a clear outline with 5 key points. Instead, you had a page of deep water that seemed to overflow off the page, onto the floor and into a pool of a hundred more questions. To make matters worse for some, his essay tests were often questions we’d never really heard before. We had the knowledge to answer the question, but we didn’t know it was coming until we opened our blue book to write. Professor Aker had a strong belief in in-depth and divergent thinking. He didn’t just test for our ability to relay knowledge, He assessed us to determine if we could take what we had learned and apply it to deeper issues. I loved it! My systematic, linear friends were less enamored.
One of my most powerful spiritual encounters occurred in Professor Aker’s Romans class. In the class we were talking about how God leads an individual. I raised my hand and asked what I thought was a rather difficult question to answer. “Professor Aker, how do you know God’s will for your life?” Professor Aker’s response will stay with me the rest of my life. I don’t have a photographic memory, but this is my best summary of his response. “Well Doug, if you are close to God and you ask Him a question, God’s answer is most likely the first thought that comes to mind.” He then went on to explain that God and Satan are not equally competing forces. It’s not like we have an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other. Instead, Dr. Aker pointed to the closeness of God and to the power of God that is in and with every Christian through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. As Dr. Aker spoke, I immediately understood my problem. My problem was not discerning God’s will, it was instead an issue of obedience. God had been speaking to me through the first things that came to my mind. My problem was that God’s leading seemed too radical. I didn’t want to believe that those thoughts were God’s thoughts. Instead, I wanted to talk myself out of following the close and ever present voice of God. For when I stopped to listen, I knew that God was calling me to plant a church and radically pursue the visions He had entrusted to my care. Dr. Aker didn’t just give me good theological advice, he gave me permission to follow God’s voice. As a result, I became a church planting pastor, a restless evangelist and of all things a radio talk show host.
There are many wonderful stories I could share about my time at AGTS. It wasn’t all signs, wonders and visions; but it was definitely God ordained. One of the most significant God ordained events that occurred during my time at AGTS was when revival broke out in chapel. At the time, chapel was not mandatory but it seemed somewhat obligatory. Consequently, I went faithfully to chapel, even though I wasn’t always in a glorious mood. During my time at AGTS, the school was in the middle of building its current campus. Consequently, our classes and chapels were held on the top floor of the Assemblies of God headquarters. The setting was adequate, but certainly not awe inspiring. The chapel was a simple room with rowed chairs and a piano and lectern in the front. If there hadn’t been a cross in the room and a few wall hangings, it could have easily doubled for a conference room.
Although there were many good speakers at chapel, it wasn’t always that vibrant or energetic. Usually we’d sing a hymn or two, hear a short message and head on out to our next class. If someone had visited some of my first year chapels, they certainly would not have accused us of emotionalism or hyped up worship. Instead, the chapels were very simple, straightforward affairs with a couple songs and a nice, biblically based, word from scripture. At least that’s how things went until that day when the Spirit fell on the chapel and propelled the seminary into revival.
As best as I can remember, this is what happened. We opened chapel with a hymn, accompanied by the piano. We might have sung two hymns, regardless, we certainly had not been whipped up into an emotional frenzy. Next, we did something different. Instead of hearing a sermon, we watched a video where two teenage girls testified how God had radically touched their lives. The girls were shaking under what they said was the power of the Holy Spirit. Each of them testified how God had radically touched their lives and changed everything about them. While I watched the video, I was somewhat conflicted. On one hand, I was distracted or even skeptical of the strange way the girls were acting as they shook and quivered their way through their testimonies. On the other hand, I could tell that they had genuinely experienced something that had led them to a deep love of God.
The video went long and then the chapel bell rang. Normally, we would get up and head to class. However, instead of getting up and leaving, Dr. Gary Kellner went to the front of the chapel and said a few very simple, but powerful words. “Before we leave, I think we should wait upon the Lord.” What followed was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Everyone in the chapel stood to wait upon the Lord. Immediately, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon the chapel. Before I knew what had happened I realized I was lying on the floor. This was odd to me, because I didn’t remember how I got there. Even more odd, I heard someone screaming at the top of his lungs the name Jesus, over and over again. Along with the name Jesus, I could hear a rumble of voices in the room. As I lay on the floor, with my eyes closed, I could ear “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” being yelled over and over again. I had the presence of mind to question, who is doing that, who is screaming the name of Jesus? The answer to that question is still as bizarre to me today as it was then. As I questioned who was repeatedly screaming the name of Jesus, I suddenly realized that it was, in fact, me! I realized that I was screaming the name of Jesus at the top of my lungs while lying on the floor of the chapel.
I need to remind you that nothing even close to this had ever happened at chapel and it had certainly never happened before in my life. Regardless, I realized that I was screaming the name of Jesus at the top of my lungs in AGTS chapel. It was as if Jesus was in the room and I was screaming for Him to see me, to heal me, to touch me. Eventually, I stopped screaming and opened my eyes. All around the chapel, people were lying on the ground. Some were shaking, some seemed out cold. Almost everyone was praying and praising God. The guy next to me, who before that moment didn’t even believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, was now lying on the ground in a fetal position shaking, weeping and praising God.
Immediately I felt as if the Lord had told me to deliver a word that “people need to repent.” I tried to get up off the floor but my body felt heavy and awkward. I did my best to work my way back up to the front where Dr. Kellner was still standing. I tried to tell Him what God told me, but Professor Kellner reached out his hand and touched me. I immediately fell back to the ground on my back. This time my eyes were open and I was aware of what was happening. I propped myself up on my elbows and tried to get Dr. Kellner’s attention. I think he may have heard me, but I don’t even know if it mattered. He looked down at me, and I breathed out, “People…People need to repent.” Then I went back down on my back.
Others were already testifying to the reality of a need for repentance and consequently we spent the next hour or more repenting. Men and women began to confess and repent of their sins. We did most of this under the loving direction of our seminary President Dr. Del Tarr. It was a moment I’ll always remember. The Spirit of the Lord fell on our seminary chapel, people repented, and revival changed the hearts of many. Following that service, we had many other power encounters in the school and throughout the town of Springfield. During that season, I learned to pray with faith, to give prophetic words and to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. I also learned that I don’t always have control over the direction of my life. In fact, I learned that I could trust God to not only lead me, but to equip me with the skills necessary to fulfill His calling for my life.
The other day, I heard someone say that revival has never broken out in a seminary. The people in the room laughed because seminary is an easy target. When I heard the joke and the laughter, I wanted to interrupt the room. I wanted to tell everyone that those words were false. In fact, I know they are false because I experienced revival at AGTS. Not only did I experience a corporate expression of revival at AGTS, but I also experienced a personal renewal in my faith and calling. During my time at AGTS, I grew in my knowledge of the written and resurrected Word of Jesus Christ.
(To be continued…)