Monday, August 16, 2010

Angels and Holy Smoke

A Modern Tale of Signs, Wonders and Miracles

By Ken Raggio

In 1984, my young family and I moved to a little town in Central Texas to assume the pastorate of a small church congregation of about 50 people. It was a cowboy community, as ranching was the primary industry. The county was inhabited by 4,000 people, 5,000 head of cattle, and 10,000 hogs. The two largest employers were a feed mill and a manufacturer of western-style leather belts.

We worked hard and long for the first year or two, trying to win the hearts of the people, and begin an outreach into the community. I confess that I was a city-slicker far out of my element. I knew nothing of riding horses, hunting deer, running herds of angora goats, milk dairies or hog farms.

My only specialty was having church. I could preach and teach and sing and make music. We prayed and asked God to help us reach lost souls and build a church.

I purchased a weekly time-slot on the local AM radio station so I could broadcast a thirty minute program every Sunday morning. Since there was only one radio station in the county, I had a captive audience. The radio station scheduled my Pentecostal preaching right before the local Church of Christ minister. After several weeks on the air, I happened to leave the radio on one morning after my program concluded. I discovered that the Church of Christ minister was using his thirty minutes every Sunday to attempt to refute everything I had just said on my earlier time-slot. It became a real challenge to prepare the most convincing program I could each week that could not be effectively refuted.

One Saturday night, I went into the church alone to record the thirty-minute program for the next morning's broadcast. It was almost midnight when I cued up the tape to record that program. I said a prayer, made some announcements, played a recorded song, and then preached a twenty-minute sermon. Every week, when I finished the task, I would get in my car and drive a few blocks over to the radio station and drop off the tape-recorded program for the next morning's broadcast.

But that night, something very unusual happened. Since it was late, and I was in the building alone, I only turned on one row of lights, which only dimly lit the auditorium. My work-station was at the audio-recording equipment located in the sound booth in the back corner of the auditorium.

As I preached the sermon onto the tape, I felt the inspiration and Presence of the Lord as I spoke. When I finished the thirty-minute program, I stopped the tape and pressed the rewind button.

I looked up toward the pulpit and the platform. When I did, I saw movement. There was a door to the outside located on the left side of the stage. I saw a row of angels walk through the unopened door and walk across the front of the auditorium and stand as if they were soldiers at attention. They were in a shadowy, spirit-form. I watched as one of the angels walked back toward the door, then turned up the aisle along the wall. He came to the third-from-the-last pew on that row and stopped. He stood at the end of that pew for what seemed like a few minutes. Then he and all the other angels vanished.

I sat in the sound booth dumbfounded. I did not know what I had just witnessed. I could not imagine why they had come, or what they were doing. I prayed and asked God to tell me what I should think about what I had just seen.

After a while, I took the tape recording out of the machine, went to my car, drove to the radio station and dropped it off in the front office.

As I drove home, I questioned the meaning of the angelic visitors. I decided that I would pay particular attention on Sunday morning to whoever sat in the pew where the angel had stood. That place on the pew was not normally occupied, so I was curious to see who, if anyone, would sit there the next morning in the church service.

The Sunday morning schedule consisted of two segments. The first hour was for Sunday School. All ages were divided into classes, and I taught the Adult Bible Class in the auditorium. At the end of the first hour, all the classes were dismissed, and everyone came into the auditorium for a worship service of singing and preaching.

During the Sunday School Class in the first hour, nobody sat on the special pew. I felt a little anxious about that. But when people began to come into the auditorium from their classes, the church pianist sat down on the end of that pew. She had never sit there before during a service. As the morning worship service began, I spoke to her from the pulpit. "Sister Neita, I want to tell you that I have been waiting all morning to see who would sit in that pew today, because last night, I saw the angel of the Lord standing at the end of that pew. I do not know for certain what it means, but I believe that he left a blessing for whoever sat in that pew. We will just wait and see what happens." With that, we opened the service with praise and worship.

That night, in the Sunday evening service, Sister Neita's 76-year-old father came to church. That was really big news, because for her entire lifetime, she had been trying to get her father to come to church with her, and he had refused. She and her mother had been faithful to God for all those years without the support of her father. He never did like church, and would never come.

But that night, he sat on the back pew, and lifted his hands in worship when the rest of the congregation worshipped. He listened carefully to the sermon as it was preached. At the end of the service, when the invitation was given to come to the altar and pray, Horice walked down the aisle, knelt at the altar, and wept bitterly as he repented of his sins and gave his heart to God. Suddenly, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave him the utterance.

When that happened, the entire congregation "went wild" praising and worshipping God, for indeed a notable miracle had just happened before their eyes. Sister Neita and her mother wept and praised God when they saw him born of the Spirit that night. The very next Sunday, he was back in Church again. This time, he presented himself for water baptism. After praying for more than forty years for God to save him, his wife and daughter stood and watched as I baptized him in the name of Jesus for the remission of his sins. He came up out of the water, again speaking in tongues, worshipping God and weeping for joy. That was one of the most exciting conversions that little church had ever seen.

The news of Horice's conversion traveled all over town. Nobody could believe that old Horice had gotten religion. He seemed the most unlikely person. But God knew his heart, and the angel of the Lord came to minister to that family that year. In the months following, I saw both him and his wife receive miraculous healing of acute heart ailments, as prayer was made in their home. He had been at the point of death on several occasions, but was strengthened, and enjoyed several more years of good health. Horice became a faithful saint, and often testified about how thankful he was that God had mercy on him and saved his soul.

Horice's conversion seemed to be only the beginning of the greatest revival that church had ever seen in its 50-year history.

I received a phone call from my Pastor, John Harrell. He told me that there was a man in his congregation who was having much success teaching home Bible studies to new prospects. A high percentage of his prospects were coming to church and being born again. He suggested that I should invite him to come to our church and instruct my congregation in how to conduct effective home Bible studies. I eagerly accepted his suggestion, and made the phone call to schedule a three-day seminar to begin the very next Sunday.

I spent several days that week in fasting and prayer for the success of those meetings. On Sunday afternoon, the guest minister arrived, and we prepared for the Sunday evening service to begin at 6 PM.

Before the service began that night, one of the saints came to me with a special request for prayer. Her husband's brother and family were visiting in the service that night. She told me that their 10-year-old daughter had gone blind, and asked that we have special prayer for her if we thought it was appropriate. I told her that we would.

During the first part of the service, I led the congregation in singing and worship. When the time came to introduce the speaker, I whispered to him that we had a special request for prayer. I quickly told him the details, and gave him the names of the girl and her parents.

As soon as he stepped to the pulpit to speak to us, he went directly to the matter of praying for the little girl. "Arthur and Rosa, would you like to bring your little daughter forward so we can pray for her tonight?" Rosa stepped out into the aisle with her blind daughter, and they began to walk to the front of the building.

Suddenly, one of the saints began to deliver a message in tongues, (as the Apostle Paul taught about in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 14:22). After the message in tongues was given, another saint interpreted the message. The Spirit said, "I am Jehovah Rapha of the Old Testament - the Lord that Healeth. I am Jesus Christ of the New (Testament). I took thirty-nine stripes for your healing, and tonight I will heal you."

The little girl screamed out, "I CAN SEE!! I can see!"

Before prayer was even made, God performed an amazing miracle of healing for 10-year-old Lori. Spontaneous praise rose up in the congregation. The people lifted their hands and their voices and wept as they worshipped God for the notable miracle they had just seen.

The minister walked down the aisle toward the child and her mother. He laid his hands on the mother's head, and she began to speak in other tongues as God filled her with the Holy Ghost. Shortly, he turned and saw the father standing with his hands in the air, weeping and worshiping God. He walked over and laid his hand on the young dad's head and he also began to speak in other tongues as God filled him with the Holy Ghost.

That night was the beginning of a great wave of blessings that swept over that city for more than a year.

The next day, on Monday, they took the little girl to the doctor and confirmed that she had indeed received a miraculous healing. Her best eye had 20-20 vision. Her acute glaucoma had disappeared. The twitching that she had had for so long had stopped. She could see perfectly, and could even read again. She did not even need glasses.

The word spread quickly among her family and friends.

We never did finish that seminar. Instead of having a seminar, we began to have evangelistic services. Relatives of the "miracle girl" came to church Monday night, and six adult members of that family came forward to repent of their sins and give their lives to God. All six were filled with the Holy Ghost that night and spoke in tongues as the Spirit of the Lord came upon them.

Several teenage boys were sitting on the front row that night. As he preached his sermon, the minister suddenly discerned, without having been told, that one of them had been suffering for some time with a leg injury. He walked over to the teenager and said, "When you go to the doctor this week to have it examined, your leg is going to be perfectly well."

The minister had no other way of knowing, except by the Spirit, what he had just said. But the facts were that the young man had been seriously injured on his shin in a sporting accident. His leg had been severely infected for several months. He had been going to a wound clinic for treatments, and the treatments were not working very well. His lower leg had been in bandages for months, and he was scheduled to go back to the doctor the very next morning to have another treatment.

However, when he went to the doctor the next day, they found as they removed the bandages, that his leg was perfectly healed without even a scar. The news of that miracle quickly spread through his family and around town. That night, several more new faces were in the congregation.

One young couple came with their baby, who was less than a year old. For months, their infant had suffered with a horrible skin disease that looked like the chicken pox. The poor child looked awful, and the parents were obviously stressed from the ordeal. The baby had spent days in the local hospital without any improvement. Then she was taken to a regional hospital, where more tests and treatments were performed, still with no improvement. Finally, the child was taken to a large hospital in Fort Worth, where even more tests and more treatments were done.

The baby's grandmother came with the parents and stood for prayer. We anointed the child with oil, in the name of the Lord, and prayed (according to James 5:14-15). The entire congregation prayed the prayer of faith that night.

At 8 o'clock the next morning, the doorbell rang at the parsonage. I answered the door to see the same grandmother, mother, and baby standing there. The baby looked like a brand-new child. The horrible splotches had completely disappeared overnight, and the baby's skin was perfectly healed from head to toe. It was an amazing sight to behold. Both the grandmother and the mother laughed and cried as they rejoiced over what God had done.

What began as a three-night seminar, became instead a six-week series of revival services. FORTY-THREE MEMBERS of the little blind girl's extended family came to church, repented of their sins, received the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, and were baptized in water in Jesus' name for the remission of their sins.

It was a glorious time. During that time, I walked into the church one Sunday morning to prepare the building for the morning services. As I unlocked the doors and turned on the lights, I saw that the auditorium was filled with smoke. I was alarmed to see it, and wondered what was going wrong. It appeared that something was on fire. I quickly went through the entire building looking for the source of the smoke. At last, the only cause I could imagine was that the air conditioning system must be pumping smoke into the auditorium.

But I checked all the air conditioning systems, and there was no problem anywhere with the air conditioning. Suddenly, it occurred to me that there was no odor, and no physical source of the smoke.

That is when I realized that the presence of the Lord was in the place. This, I thought, must be the Shekinah - the glory cloud, like Moses saw in the Tabernacle.

The miracles and healings and conversions continued unabated. Over the next few months, over one hundred and twenty people were baptized and were filled with the Holy Ghost in that little church. The congregation grew from 50 to 125 in attendance. The stories of the miracles we saw could fill a book.

I was attending a ministers' conference a few years later, and listened with amazement to a minister from a large Pentecostal church on the East Coast tell a story that sounded amazingly similar to ours.

He told about being alone in his church auditorium on a Saturday night as he walked the aisles and prayed for God's blessings on the Sunday services. As he stood in the low lights of an empty auditorium, he saw a line of angels enter the front of the building and walk around the entire building. He stood in silence as they moved for several minutes, then suddenly disappeared.

"God! What am I seeing?" he asked. "Those are the angels of revival," came the answer.

In the year following that occurrence, that congregation experienced the greatest influx of new souls in its entire history. Over 800 people were baptized in Jesus' name and received the gift of the Holy Ghost that year.

So the days of miracles are over?

Don't you believe it.

I've seen angels and holy smoke.

 = = = =

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Preach The Gospel To Every Creature

Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned," Mark 16:15-16.

"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come," Matthew 24:14.

I got my first taste of mass-media Ministry at the age of 18. While attending Bible College, I was a singer and soloist in the "Revivaltime" Choir - which sang weekly on 650 radio stations around the world on the ABC Radio Network. I sat behind the legendary C.M. Ward during that year of college, as he preached to an audience of many millions, live every Sunday night. Having personal contact with the "Revivaltime" staff, I was privy to the thousands of letters that came in the mail each week from listeners all over the world. That was both an exciting and a sobering experience to see the hunger in the souls of men and women from every walk of life, asking for more of God.

Returning to Beaumont, Texas in 1971, I joined the staff of a church with a national radio and television ministry. I became the editor of a Christian magazine with a circulation of 35,000 per month, and I traveled around the United States holding gospel crusades with my Pastor, B.H. Clendennen, as the crusade pianist and soloist, meeting with our television viewers in major cities from Spokane, Washington to Rochester, New York, and scores of other cities in between.

I made the connection between the media and the people. I saw, at that young age, the vast potential of the media - print and broadcasting - for delivering the gospel message to the masses.

For more than forty years since then, I have been engaged in the ministry - the preaching and teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As an Evangelist and as a Pastor, I have ministered in hundreds of Churches in about forty states in the US, and in several countries. As a writer, I have been the editor of three Christian magazines, and written hundreds of articles for several major publications. As a broadcaster, I have produced hundreds of live and recorded radio programs, and dozens of television and video programs.

But today, the potential for ministry via the Internet surpasses anything I have ever experienced. Whereas print and broadcast media require vast outlays of cash, and are generally labor intensive, the Internet levels the playing field, and opens the door for virtually anyone with a computer to enter into world-wide Missionary Evangelism.

I published my first Christian website in 1996, and for several years, most of my articles had first-page listings on Yahoo on a wide variety of Biblical keywords. Literally many millions of people have visited my website and a multi-generational ministry has followed. Articles that began as a Sunday morning sermon have circled the globe, and in many cases, been translated into other languages and republished in the form of tracts, Bible Study handouts, and articles in newspapers and magazines in dozens of languages.

What began as a (very) part-time endeavor is now the heart and soul of my ministry. My Daily Bible Studies (four mini-lessons per day) now circulate to subscribers in at least 211 nations. The letters I receive by email each day are more than I can answer.

At the present time, I am in the fourth year of a self-imposed Sabbatical, having returned to my home church in Texas and to my Pastor since 1983, Rev. John W. Harrell. The death of my wife, Dixie, to cancer in 2003 precipitated several major changes in my direction. I am currently writing six books, and producing a 26-week video teaching series that will constitute a complete Pentecostal Bible curriculum - teaching the entire Bible, with special emphasis on Prayer, Doctrine, Holiness and Bible Prophecies about the Last Days. I am also working on a musical project to record an album of songs I have written.

All these, with God's help, will go to every nook and cranny in the world. I have prayed since my youth that God would enable me to produce a comprehensive Bible curriculum that will be used by Pastors, Evangelists and Missionaries in every nation on earth.

My biggest enemy is time. Jesus is coming, and time is running out. I know of no other endeavor that is more needful than the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God never told me to save the world. But He did tell me to preach to the whole world. What THEY do with what they hear is between them and God.

"For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel," 1 Corinthians 9:16-18.

"Not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved," 1 Corinthians 10:33.

Preach the Word!

And, please. Would you pray for me and this ministry?
Thank You. God bless you.

Ken Raggio

PS: Be sure to visit my main website and subscribe to the free Daily Bible Studies.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Does The Church Have The Holy Ghost? It's A Fair Question.

Rev. B. H. Clendennen died in December, 2009, at the age of 86, after having spent the last 16 years of his life circling the globe, preaching and establishing his "School of Christ International" in more than 130 nations.

I was profoundly influenced by him from the age of 19, following my Bible College days. A close, personal friend introduced me to him in May of 1971, and Pastor Clendennen hired me on the spot to work with him in the ministry. We were kindred spirits. He and I were traveling companions in the ministry for almost three years, until after I married and entered into full-time preaching ministry of my own.

When I first went to work for Pastor Clendennen, he was pastoring a Pentecostal congregation of about 500 people in Beaumont, Texas. He needed a singer/musician to travel with him in crusades around America. He also gave me the task of being the Editor of his monthly magazine, which circulated to about 35,000 households. I was the Church pianist and the choir director. I produced scores of radio programs, and participated in the weekly television broadcasts. After a while, he made me his Associate Pastor, and I filled the pulpit in his absence, and helped tend to the care of the Church members.

In those days before Christian television networks existed, he expanded his ministry into about 30 radio markets and 150 television markets. We traveled 2-4 days every week, on average, to hold gospel crusades in cities across America. Every month, I personally edited and proof-read his articles for the magazine. I also edited literally hundreds of his recorded messages for publication.

Pastor Clendennen's preaching was heavily influenced by the writings of T. Austin Sparks. Sparks was a minister from England and Scotland who wrote prolifically in the early 20th century. Among his recurring themes was the subject of the enmity between the old man and the new man - the carnal mind versus the mind of Christ.

To this day, because of that teaching, virtually everything I know and believe about Christian living is challenged by the question, "Is this carnally-minded, or is this the mind of Christ?"

"For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his," Romans 8:5-9.

I was convinced, early on, that God has no use whatsoever for the carnal mind. Pastor Clendennen convinced me in those days (as does the Bible) that the baptism of the Holy Ghost is absolutely necessary to the ability to do the will of God.

Without the Spirit of God dwelling in a man, it is impossible to please God. Therefore, every believer must be filled with the Spirit. Pastor Clendennen preached that without the Holy Ghost to quicken your mortal bodies, you would not go up in the rapture. I believed that then, and I believe that now.

I have lived to see Christianity supplant that vital truth. A huge percentage of the most influential leaders in Christianity today utterly deny the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.

The classical non-Pentecostals like Billy Graham, W.A. Criswell, and Jerry Falwell were shameless to disassociate themselves from speaking in tongues. Today, Rick Warren, Charles and Andy Stanley, John McArthur and an endless list of highly influential Christian leaders have effectively re-written New Testament Church WITHOUT the baptism of the Holy Ghost and its evidence of speaking in other tongues. Even in the so-called Pentecostal denominations, only a small percentage of their membership actually speak in tongues.

I say, "Whoa!" Is there really a Church without the baptism of the Holy Ghost? Wasn't the early Church BORN on the day of Pentecost? Didn't the entire early Church speak in tongues? Yes, they did! Jesus said, "Ye shall speak with new tongues," (Mark 16:17).

Where is THAT message in contemporary Christianity? How is it that tens of millions of professing Christians are either completely illiterate about the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, or they have been programmed to believe that it is either "of the devil" or is the behavior of lunatics?

Jesus commanded His disciples, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost," (John 20:22). Now, at that particular time, "the Holy Ghost was not yet given," (John 7:39). But Jesus explained, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth," (Acts 1:8).

That was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost in the Upper Room at Jerusalem, fifty days after Jesus died on Passover (and subsequently resurrected).

"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance," Acts 2:1-4.

The true Church is Pentecostal. The true Church is filled with the Holy Ghost and speaks in other tongues as the Spirit of God gives the utterance. The infilling of the believer with the Holy Ghost corresponds doctrinally to Jesus' resurrection from the dead. To receive the Holy Ghost is to receive eternal life.

Nowadays, we have hours of music, ten minutes of preaching, and nobody receives the Holy Ghost.

Imagine that Jesus, instead of commanding His disciples to "receive the Holy Ghost," had said (as does the largest association of Churches in Australia) that Churches should focus on having:
  • enjoyable, superbly run meetings that people enjoy and want to come back to, and which create ‘transcendence’ through music and the arts;
  • preaching that is relevant, practical and inspirational—that connects with my daily life and needs and struggles, and helps me to flourish;
  • a culture of activism, volunteer service, social action and community involvement.
I will not carry this any further for now. I will just land this plane by saying that it's time for Christianity to re-discover what Christianity really is, and what it really is supposed to be and do. Unless and until the modern Church receives the Holy Ghost - it's not the Church at all.

So, how does one receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost?

Peter answered that question in Acts 2:38-39.

"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."

Receive YE the Holy Ghost.


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