On a different aspect of the Lakeland Revival, I came across this fascinating quote by Stephen Strader, pastor of Ignited Church where Todd Bentley had ministered, on Brant Russo:
He just showed up on our front lawn and started helping people without permission.
The story goes like this: Brandt Russo goes to Lakeland to help the homeless and poor that are staying at the Ignited Church property. He asks the church to help these homeless but they refuse to do so. So he helps them without the church’s permission (I think he had God’s and that was good enough for him). The cops are called in and he’s arrested for trespassing on the church’s property.
Obviously, things are more complex than stated above. However, while I’ve been more positive about the Lakeland Revival (at least to the extent of defending a lot of it against what I felt have been unjustified criticisms), I think on this issue of ignoring the poor they are not reflecting God’s will or love. But there’s no need to single out Pastor Strader and his church because I’m very sure that faced with such a situation, most churches wouldn’t do much to help the poor and homeless.
I remember going to a church in Singapore that I was considering joining. I was very impressed with this church for various reasons. I was totally blown away at the first service I attended. Not because of the sermon. Rather, what happened was that the pastor stood in front of the congregation after the sermon and spent about 10 minutes talking about a child that the church has come to know and has been looking after. I don’t remember the exact details but I think this child was abandoned by his parents and was a bit problematic. The pastor appealed to the people in the congregation to consider adopting or taking care of him for the long term. And this wasn’t just a short appeal. But the pastor shared his heart and knew that while this was a big decision (!!), his congregation should think about it because he believed that God would want them to show love to the boy even if it meant a big sacrifice to them.
I’m not sure what happened in the end and if anyone actually took this boy in. I doubt it. We Christians have too much on our hands already to care about others. We’re too busy caring for ourselves and our own family to care about others. And I can imagine what a big sacrifice it would be to adopt that boy. And yet, I totally agreed with the pastor that God would want us to do things like that. If it’s too big a sacrifice to us, it just goes to show where our priorities are.
I didn’t join this church in the end because after having good talks with the leaders, I felt that it was a very legalistic church. Not because of the appeal above. I had no problems with that. In fact, I loved it and I’ll always remember it. But because of other matters. I guess that’s the danger. A person or the leadership of the church may know God asks us for our all and recognize that the way the majority of Christians are living nowadays is totally self-centered and that we’re far from living the ideal Christian life. But how does the leadership encourage its congregation to move towards living lives of greater obedience to God? That’s tricky. There’s a really fine line between encouraging others to put God first and being legalistic. The church made a lot of rules which I felt very uncomfortable with and which I felt was very legalistic. While I recognized the hearts and motivations of the leaders, I couldn’t agree with some of the rules they set.
Anyway, back to Russo. I’m very inspired by Russo and people like Shane Claiborne (who inspired Russo). I live my ideal life vicariously through people like them. They live out what I so passionately believe in yet have no courage to live out – at least for now. I’ll end with what Brandt Russo’s mission statement:
Jesus showed His love for us by giving up His life, hoping for the same from us. Our lives are consumed with crap. Time wasted, money blown, relationships ruined, all for the sake of the American dream. The church even seems to strive for this so called American dream. Jesus reminded us not to store up treasures on earth. He believed in simplicity. He urged his disciples to give up everything for the His sake and the sake of the gospel. He didn’t believe that the church was a physical building, but we are the church. Wherever we are, God is. All the money we waste on church buildings with nice landscaping and huge statues is just that, a waste. Jesus taught us that we are blessed from God to be a blessing. If we have “stuff”, its to give it away. Jesus taught that there is so much more to life than food and clothing and shelter. That when we meet the needs of others, our needs become met. That when we decrease and downsize our lives, the more we are able to bless others. He taught us how to be servants. He taught us to love, and we so easily forget. I want to learn the way Jesus loved, that’s my mission statement. Love.
P.S.: Here’s the trailer of a film about people like Russo and Claiborne called The Ordinary Radicals: