Saturday, June 1, 2013

Is Calming Tornados a Christian ministry?

The theology of natural disasters:
The recent tornado that devastated the town of Moore, Oklahoma has again brought to fore the perennial question of natural disasters and how to understand them theologically. Much has been focused on God’s responsibility, or not, in such events, and the general problem of evil. What role does sin have, if any, in precipitating natural disasters? None of these are easy questions to answer.[1]

Let me suggest the focus of the argument is misplaced. What is lacking in the church is an understanding of its authority in Christ to command storms to abate, just as Jesus did in the sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:23-28). We should immediately recall that in the Gospel of John Jesus assured his disciples that we can do all that he did (John. 14:12 ).

However, for most Christians, even Renewalist Christians who believe in the active gifts of the Spirit, stopping a raging storm like the one that destroyed Moore seems beyond the possible. This is so principally because Christians are just now awakening from the long “cessationsit slumber” in which Protestant Christians were taught that miracles of healing/exorcism, and nature miracles were limited to the Apostolic Age. It took wave after wave of pioneers and prophets (often maligned as heretics) to firmly reestablish the healing/exorcism ministry as a legitimate ministry.[2]

Praying against storms:

In fact, nature miracles, as in abating storms, are fairly rare in the histories of Christian saints and heroes of faith, but not entirely missing. For example, St Colomba, a Celtic monk and monastic founder, was famous for several nature miracles, including making rocks float. The following is an account of his praying down a storm.   

At another time the holy man began to be in great danger at sea, for the whole vessel was violently tossed and shaken with the huge dashing waves, and a great storm of wind was raging on all hands. The sailors then chanced to say to the saint, as he was trying to help them to bale the vessel, "What thou art now doing is of little use to us in our present danger, thou shouldst rather pray for us as we are perishing." On hearing this he ceased to throw out the bitter waters of the green sea wave, and began to pour out a sweet and fervent prayer to the Lord. Wonderful to relate! The very moment the saint stood up at the prow, with his hands stretched out to heaven and prayed to the Almighty, the whole storm of wind and the fury of the sea ceased more quickly than can be told, and a perfect calm instantly ensued. But those who were in the vessel were amazed, and giving thanks with great admiration, glorified the Lord in the holy and illustrious man.[3]

Evangelical Christians are too quick to dismiss the Catholic literature of saints’ tales and their miraculous reports, and this is a great loss. Evangelicals are often convinced that the “wrong” elements of Catholic theology would incapacitate any Catholic from ministering a genuine miracle.[4]  That is a flawed argument, and presumptuous of the perfection of Protestant theology. Miracles are done by disciples of Christ, and do not depend on perfect theology of the disciple. Note that when Jesus first sent out the 70 disciples (Luke 7) it was at a stage where they had little understanding of who he was, but they still did healing and exorcisms. Catholics were never hamstrung by cessationsim and thus continued to do the miraculous.  

In my four decades of Renewalist believer I have heard of several “nature miracles,” and in fact ministered one myself  when I was a new Christian (see below).

Let me first recount the story of  a contemporary nature miracle told by Mrs. Karen Fegely, NP. (Nurse Practioner).  She and her husband Garry attend the same Pentecostal church that I assist in, Faith Point Church in Holly Springs, GA. She is director of the Bethsada Community Clinic, a faith based charity that give low cost and free health care to the poor of Cherokee County, Georgia. The clinic has received much attention for its innovative and cost-effevcive ways of providing assistance to the poor, see HERE .  Below ia a picture of Karen and one of her patients at Bethsada Community Clinic.

Before they came to Georgia, the Karen and Garry had spent a decade assisting the Gerald Derstine Ministry and its training camps in Florida and other parts of the country. The Rev. Derstine (b. 1928) was raised a Mennonite, and began his ministerial career as a missionary to the Chippewa Indians in Minnesota. In 1955 his missionary church experienced a full scale Holy Spirit revival, and, like many pioneer charismatic minsters of the time, Deretine was forced out of his denomination. Providentially he began a wider ministry of training others in the gifts of the Spirit at several camps.[5]
Back in the 1970s, Karen was at a youth camp in Minnesota. The camp grounds were on the flood plain of a river, and one particularly stormy evening the waters began rising rapidly, and dangerously. A group was at prayer at the chapel when the waters began streaming in and flooding the floor. Crowding at the altar, the group prayed for relief. and the waters miraculously backed up “in a heap” - as describe in the  biblical accounts of the Hebrew people crossing into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:13) - and then receded.[6]

I believe such nature miracles are more common than most Christians imagine. The problem is that Christian are shy about these things. Long ago St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), one of the pillars of Western theology, has a similar problem.  He reported that for most of his Christian life he had not believed in the healing ministry of the Church. One of the principal reasons for this was that while Christians like to cite the Gospel healing and exorcism miracles they were reluctant to witness about their own experiences in healing prayer.  After he witnessed a healing miracle and became convinced of it authenticity he became active in the healing ministry and encouraged his congregation to witness to any miraculous healings they experienced. [7] 

Now, let me relate one of my own experience with a nature miracles.  This dramatic, but local, incident happened  in 1978, and is not uncommon of what God allows new Christians to experience as a special encouragement. (I am sure readers could supply some similar stories).

When this event took place I already had the baptism of the Holy Spirit and had ministered a few healing (and one exorcism) but was still young in my faith and barely begun in the journey of sanctification  - several serious habits and attitudes were still present. But I was also rapidly reading, in fact devouring, the charismatic literature of the era.  I had just purchased a 19th Century house in central Atlanta, and was in the process of renovating it. It had two brick chimneys. On a summer night a severe storm passed through.  My chimneys began to creak under the force of the wind and I was worried they might topple. During a very sever gust I exclaimed,  “Oh s—t!  They’re going down!”  Then, without thinking, I raised my hands and called out to the storm, “Damn it! In the name of Jesus, stop!” I felt a huge flow of energy through my arms and hands, The wind subsided into a normal rain storm  - and the chimneys stayed put.

Now, I don’t commend this exact wording as either a liturgy or a prayer to stop storms. Rather, it represents God’s gracious acceptance of me at that period in my life. But my prayer had the essential elements of praying against a negative natural event that I learned about later.

I shared this experience later when I married Carolyn, and she successfully prayed against several storms. Once when she was driving alone back from seeing her aged father in Florida she was caught in the tale edge of a spent hurricane.  But the wind and rain were still so severe that she could not see the way and feared the car might be blown off the road. She commanded the storm to subside, and it did, and she continued on her way and got safely home.

The nature theology of Agnes Sanford:

 Agnes Sanford's book Creation Waits  was the first ever work in Christian literature dedicated to the theology of praying nature miracles. [8] It is one reason I believe that Mrs. Sanford deserves to be ranked as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th Century.  (This is a blog, and I would be delighted to receive information on any previous theological works about nature miracles. (Don't bother citing books by liberal theologians who say that miracles are myths - I has a shelf full in my library already.) 

Mrs. Sanford spent most of  her adult years on the East Coast, first at Moorstown, New Jersey as the wife of  Ted Sanford, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church. This was an age when the Episcopal Church was orthodox, althought some of the seminaries were already being corrupted.  It was at Moorstown that she developed a powerful healing ministry, and began propagating it among mainline churches. After the death of her husband in 1960 Mrs. Sanford moved to California where she fully developed her nature ministry. This involved praying for the created order such as plants and the earth itself.  
 Below is a modern icon of Mrs Sanford that was painted by Mark Dukes for St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco (and used by permission).     

The dominion that mankind should have over nature was demonstrated in Jesus’ stilling of the storm in the sea of Galilee, and his pronouncement on the fig tree (Matt 21:19-20).  That nature participates in worship of its creator is an obvious theme of scripture – but rarely understood or preached by Christians. The prophet Isaiah gave us a glimpse of nature and man worshiping together:

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands. Isa. 55:12

Psalm 96:11-12 would support this also:

          Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
          let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
          let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
          Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
          they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, (NIV)

A few notable Christians (and most certainly countless unknown ones) have entered into cooperation and ministry with nature such as St. Francis of Assisi, and George Washington Carver, the famous African-American botanist. Carver’s method of praying over, and talking to his plants, is perhaps the best known among Christian who have communed with plants. This was considered by many Christians to be eccentric, “mystical” and un-scientific, in spite of the fact that he accomplished tremendous discoveries with limited and improvised scientific equipment.[9] 

Like so many things, this biblical insight of the consciousness of plants was brought to popular attention with the secular best selling book, The Secret Life of Plants.[10]  When this work came out many Christian promptly concluded that such unusual activity was occultism – a sad misunderstanding.

In any case, Mrs. Sanford had a Washington Carver like understanding of, and communications with, plants. In a story related to me by Mrs. Barbara Schlemon, a noted inner healing minister, Barbara tells of an incident in, Agnes’ California home. Agnes was scheduled to give a healing lecture in a near by town, and Barbara came to drive her there. She found Agnes amidst a circle of her house plants with arms upraised and deeply in prayer.  She asked Agnes what she was doing and she said "I'm praising the Lord with my prayer group, and they are doing a better job!"[11]

Mrs. Sanford's Creation Waits, was her last book. The title comes from the passage in Romans 8 in which Paul exclaims:
            The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Rms 8:19-21.)

In Agnes’ view, the secret to prayer power in this area is standing in the authority of the Christian:
          "It is far more effective to talk directly to sea or sky, wind or storm, than simply to ask God to do this or that.  We are God's agents upon this earth.  When praying for people we ask in His name and by His power, because we so often lack the necessary understanding of the people for whom we pray.  In praying for nature, however, it is more effective to speak directly to wind or storm or tempest. That, after all is the way Jesus stilled the storm. "Peace, be still!"[12]

Recall that in my privious blog posting I discussed the advances made in the effectivness of Christian healing prayer made by the couple, Charles and Francis hunter. They had discovered that the Bible was serous when it described healing prayer in the New Testament as done by commands, such as "Get up and walk!" etc. This was modeled by Jesus, but also done by all the disciples, as shown in the Book of Acts. Mrs. Sanford's discovery of commanding nature falls under the same category.  That is, of Christians rediscovering their authority in Christ, and utilizing it through commands to cast out demons, heal diseases and speak to nature.

Agnes developed a confidence and authority in this “nature ministry” not seen often even among the famous saints of the Lord. She recounts a bout she had with a threatening wild fire near her home in Monrovia:
One night I awoke after midnight and went out to my upper balcony where I could smell the smoke, and already knew from the papers that the winds were blowing directly towards me. So I called aloud to the wind, muting my voice just a little lest I wake my neighbors: “Hear me, wind!” I said, holding out my hand in its general direction. “You are to swing around now and blow from the west, bring in mist and rain from the sea. Come now! It may take you a little while to do so, but by morning let it be accomplished! …In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I give you this order, and I rejoice, believing it will be so!”[13]
A day later the wind unexpectedly changed direction, and rain came in from the Pacific Ocean. But in fact Agnes was called by the Lord to pray against something more far reaching than wild fires.  It began while she was still living in Westborough, Massachusetts. She felt a strong leading that she had to pray for some part of the earth.

          “Lord, where is it?” I asked, and listened. There came to my mind the northwestern part of the United States, and it seemed that some calamity threatened that region.
          “May I pray that whatever is to happen may be averted?” I asked, and listening heard a negative response. …
          “May I pray for it to be minimized?” I asked and quite distinctly I heard, “Yes.”
          So for three days I prayed for the Northwest, for the land and area itself, and when not in active prayer I held it as an undercurrent to other thoughts. And then there came the earthquake in the state of Washington which just missed being a really destructive one. And my burden was lifted,...[16]

Other nature miracles:
The nature ministry has been slowly coming into acceptance with charismatic and Pentecostal groups. Pat Robinson, the famous Televangelist received much publicity for praying against a hurricane that was threatening the Christian Broadcasting Network complex at Virginia Beach – and was much ridiculed for it in spite of the fact that the hurricane veered off and did not hit Virginia beach. 

After Katrina and Rita devastated New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast (2005) several Pentecostal/charismatic churches in Florida began praying consistently against incoming hurricanes for the next season. Significantly, in spite of dire predictions for the 2006 season, not a single hurricane has touched the Florida seaboard since.[15]
On praying away tornados - a speculative suggestion:
We now return to the recent tradegy at Moore, Oklahoma. Natural disasters like these cry out for the Churches to learn the prayer of command over nature and direct the tornadoes to non-populated areas.  Loosing several  hundred acres of corn is certainly lest costly than loosing a hundred homes and scores of lives. This may be among the last prayer frontiers that the church in the 21st Century needs to recover.

Now, I have no stories relating to the dissipation or veering away of a serious tornado.  I have no doubt that such things have indeed happened as faith-filled and non-cessationist Christians have had to face emergency situations. I believe that the abatement and dissapation of  even a EF-5 tornado such as ravished Moore is not only possible, but should be common within the  Christian community. Prayer is multiplied in its effect when there is agreement among Christians, and with cell phones, smart phones and the social media such as Twitter and Facebook, Christians have the ability to rapidly communicate and agree on prayers for an impending natural disaster.

Imagine the next severe weather front passing through “tornado alley.” Imagine that pastors and lay leaders have already preped their congregations to the use of twitter or facebook to mobilize their congregations to agree with the following type of prayer:

In Jesus’ name, we command this weather front to pass by without damage to buildings or persons. If a tornado cone is needed to release energy it may alight on cropland and woods, but we forbid, in Jesus' name, that it injure or destroy persons or any populated area. We command that the moisture contained in this front be released regularly and not in the form of large hail, but rather that the moisture refresh the crops, and give water to the wildlife and cattle. All this we agree and command in Jesus’ name.

If a tornado has already alighted the twitter prayer might read like this:

In Jesus’ name and in agreement, we command this tornado to lift now, and do no further harm to buildings or people. Amen!

Is such a thing incredible and impossible? Well, one hundred years ago every proper and orthodox theologian (except for the Pentecostals who were considered “loonies”) would have said that praying of a miraculous cure in illness was impossible and a thing only Jesus and the Apostles could do.

I would love to hear your comments, and especially any of your “nature” miracle stories. Do we have a tornado story to share?

A person on Face Book brought this to my attention May, 15,2015. I believe video of a
christian halting a tornado is from the Philippines HERE.


The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my latest book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.

The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]

[1] For a recent charismatic view see HERE
[2] This is one of the themes of  my book, Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation house, 1992.1996), and a theme that will be elaborated in my forthcoming work,  tentatively titled "Recovering Hebraic Christianity" (Tulsa: Word & Spirit).
[3]Adamnan’s Life of Saint Columba, Founder of Hy, ed. William Reeves. (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1874), Book II. Section 11.
[4] This is the core argument of the tragically effective and influential classic of cessationism Benjamin B. Warfield’s Counterfeit Miracles (New York: C. Scribner's, 1918).  The definitive critique of this book is the work by my friend, Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Carismata. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993). This now classic charismatic work can be ordered HERE
[5] See Gerald Derstine, Following the Fire, (Plainsfield: Bridge-Logos, 1980).
[6] The account was related to my wife and me by Mrs. Fegely at her home picnic on Memorial day, 2013.
[7] Augustine, City of God, Bk 8, chapter 2.
[8] Agnes Sanford, Creation Waits (Plainfield: Logos International 1978).
[9]Glenn Clark, founder of the CFO (a para-church summer camp) had the insight and discernment to see there was a great spiritual truth in Carver’s interaction with his plants, see Clark’s, The Man Who Talks with Flowers, (St. Paul: Macalester Park, 1939),
[10] Peter Tompkins, The Secret Life of Plants, (Scranton: Harper Collins, 1973).
[11] Conversation with Mrs. Barbara Schlemon-Ryan, circa, 1985, in Atlanta GA.
[12] Creation, 16. The earthquake she cites occurred on April 29, 1965 and was of 6.5 magnitude.  It killed several persons and caused over $12 millions dollars in damage. 
[13] Creation, 17.
[14] Creation, 3.
[15] See the interesting article by CNN on how strangely quiet the 2006 season was  HERE

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